Friday, June 1, 2012

The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky

Stephen Crane (1871–1900)
From Stephen Crane: Prose & Poetry

“He sat with a hand on each knee, like a man waiting in a barber’s shop.” Illustration from the original publication of “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” in the February 1898 issue of McClures’s Magazine.
Heavily and increasingly in debt, Stephen Crane wrote a large number of tales and sketches in quick succession during the years 1897 and 1898, yet his desperate pace did not keep him from publishing four stories that are considered masterpieces of American short fiction: “The Open Boat,” “The Blue Hotel,” “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” and “The Monster.” Although he remained famous primarily for The Red Badge of Courage, Crane and his circle of friends acknowledged the transformation of his art (if not his pocketbook). Just before “Yellow Sky” was published, he wrote from London, “All my friends come here say it is my very best thing. I am so delighted when I am told by competent people that I have made an advance.” The advance, sadly, was short lived; in two years he was dead of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight.

“The Bride of Yellow Sky” is the only story of the four that contains comic overtones. (James Agee played up the story’s humor in the screenplay he wrote for the second half of “Face to Face,” a double-bill feature film released in 1952.) Following a trip to Texas, Crane drafted this parody of the familiar Wild West formula pitching a sheriff against an outlaw. The upright marshal of Yellow Sky, nervously preparing to introduce his new bride to the “innocent and unsuspecting” town, returns from San Antonio in a sleek, modern Pullman train. The town’s drunken gunslinger, however, is a well-worn stereotype—an artifact of the dying, male-only frontier spirit. “As Crane makes clear,” notes the scholar James B. Colvert, the gunman is “a creation of the legend-mongering Eastern imagination, just as his costume is largely a creation of the New York garment industry,” and his relevance to the town is called into question when he comes face to face with its future. In the opening of her book On Writing, Eudora Welty describes what makes the story work so well by focusing on this conflict: “Two predicaments meet here. . . . You might say they gravitate towards each other—and collide. . . . Here are the plainest elements of comedy, two situations in a construction simple as a seesaw.”

Note: A drummer is a traveling salesman.

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The great Pullman was whirling onward with such dignity of motion that a glance from the window seemed simply to prove that the plains of Texas were pouring eastward. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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