Back Stephen Crane, “The Black Dog”

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

Moonlight, c. 1885–95. Oil on wood panel by American artist Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847–1919). (The Philips Collection)

Stephen Crane was born 149 years ago, on November 1, 1871.

Crane loved ghost stories—he loved telling them, and he loved mocking the telling of them. When he and Cora lived in England, their letters include frequent mention of the ghost, Sir Goddard Oxenbridge, that haunted the manor house they rented in Brede Place. “Bullet wouldn’t harm him, nor steel cut him, so they sawed him in two with a wooden saw [and] sometimes he walks through the house himself in two halves.”

In December 1899 the Cranes hosted a multiday Christmas festival for several dozen neighbors and friends. The centerpiece of the revelries was The Ghost, a musical farce based on the legend of the house specter. Stephen Crane wrote and produced it but he solicited beforehand bits of dialogue and poems from such writers as H. G. Wells (whose creation Dr. Moreau had a role), Henry James, Joseph Conrad, H. Rider Haggard, and George Gissing. That production was a hit with the locals; sadly, the play itself has not survived. By all accounts, it was defiantly lowbrow, but it apparently featured some top-notch performances. Alas, the night after the production, during a dance that was meant to bring the holiday events to a close, Crane began to cough up blood and collapsed from the lung hemorrhage that would kill him six months later. “I remember that party as an extraordinary lark, but shot, at the close, with red intimations of a coming tragedy,” said Wells, who stayed with the Cranes for the full week.

A number of Crane’s stories feature ghosts and several of them feature dogs, but only one of them features a canine apparition. His early tale “The Black Dog” was a parody of ghost stories (and, many believe, a send-up of Ambrose Bierce’s horror fiction). We present it as our Story of the Week selection.

Read “The Black Dog” by Stephen Crane

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