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On the Cusp, On the Cusp, 0817316515, 0-8173-1651-5, 978-0-8173-1651-8, 9780817316518,

On the Cusp
Stephen Crane, George Bellows, and Modernism
by John Fagg

Trade Cloth
2009. 280 pp.
978-0-8173-1651-8
Price:  $49.95 s

The writer Stephen Crane (1871–1900) and the painter George Bellows (1882–1925) each wrestled with issues specific to their own fields. But both also have much in common: their works contain residual traces of earlier idioms, register the growing influence of mass culture, and pre-empt the formal strategies and experiments pursued by later modernists.
John Fagg tells their stories in alternating chapters that highlight the common vocabularies of art and literature: ellipses, frames, and aphorisms in Crane’s writing, and Bellows’s use of anecdote, schema, and cliché. Chapter Two, for example, locates the narrative form of the “anecdote” in Bellows’s depictions of New York scenes, highlighting the ways painting isolates and relays “small stories.” Re-crossing the disciplinary divide, Chapter Three uses the visual metaphor of narrative “framing” to probe Crane’s New York sketches. By identifying analogous formal and thematic concerns in painting and literature, Fagg offers a broad conception of cultural and aesthetic change that transcends the specifics of either medium. Crane’s and Bellows’s comparable traits, and their complex relationship to modernism, are cast in terms of a wider cultural response to the urban environment, the mass media, and other modern developments circa 1900.

John Fagg is Lecturer at the School of American and Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.

“This book argues that ‘residual forms’ such as the sketch, the anecdote, the aphorism, and the cliché, as used by Crane and Bellows, signal an approach toward modernism that never quite tumbles over the edge into becoming modernism—hence their position ‘on the cusp.’ . . . Among the strengths of the book are its fresh readings of visual and structural qualities in Crane’s and Bellows’s works, such as those that inform the discussion of “A Broken-Down Van” and Bellows’s The Lone Tenement. Fagg’s perspective should reinvigorate the critical discussion of style and structure in art by both men.”—Donna Campbell, author of Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915

“I am impressed with Professor Fagg’s ability to master scholarship in two separate fields, art and literature. His analysis of Crane’s and Bellows’s work, as well as others such as Edward Hopper, is astute with penetrating insights.”—Paul Sorrentino, editor of Stephen Crane Remembered

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