April 29, 2008

The Red Badge of Courage

I do not happen to own a copy of Stephen Crane's classic novel The Red Badge of Courage, therefore I've been considering which version to buy. I say that because the book has been published in umpteen "collectors editions" since its first publication in 1895. All manner of deluxe versions have appeared over the years, from fine presses such as Heritage and the Limited Editions Club, to Franklin Library and Easton Press leather bound editions. The original first edition however (pictured), published in New York by the D. Appleton Co. in 1895 is well beyond most collector's means, with choice copies going for well over several thousand dollars a copy.

Most Civil War bibliophiles know the basic plot of Crane's classic anti-war tale. It follow the trials and tribulations of Henry Fleming, a young northern recruit in the American Civil War who initially holds to visions of gallantry and grandeur. Although the author was born after the war and never participated in battle, The Red Badge of Courage is considered one of the most important war stories ever written. The story treats with the meaning of courage as the young protagonist Henry Fleming is cast into circumstances that take the full measure of his. For the most part, Fleming tries to make sense of the reality of battle and his own role within it, often arriving at somewhat self-serving and egocentric conclusions. Fleming serves in the fictitious 304th regiment and though the grand battle in which he fights is never named, it has since been identified as Chancellorsville.

One interesting version that has caught my eye is a gorgeous two-volume, slipcased facsimile of the author's original manuscript (see pic at right). Published by NCR/Microcard Editions in 1973, each set has a 7 3/4" x 11 1/4" trim size and was limited to 1000 numbered copies. The first volume is titled "Introduction and Apparatus" and is primarily a serious bibliographical study of the novel and the development of the manuscript. It includes a frontispiece color portrait of Stephen Crane. Volume 2 is the actual facsimile reproduction of Crane's handwritten manuscript which shows his various false starts and changes. All of his "crossouts" and notes are present. Both volumes and slipcase are handsomely bound in red buckram. It appears there are plenty of copies in the secondary market with (IMO) sets reasonably priced anywhere from $50 to $150.

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