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“Maggie was the first piece of American fiction to truthfully render urban slum life” – Herzberg

CRANE, STEPHEN. Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (A Story of New York). By Johnston Smith

[New York: Printed for the author], [1893]

Original mustard-yellow wrappers. Some tears along joints and in margins, last two leaves torn, a tear to rear cover. A rare survival in the fragile original paper wrappers. Morocco case.

FIRST EDITION of Stephen Crane’s notoriously rare first book, privately and pseudonymously published, a grim novel about a New York prostitute.

Crane’s friends correctly predicted that no publisher would print a novel about a prostitute. Unable to find a publisher for the work, Crane published it privately using his inheritance from his mother. The novel was printed in late February or early March 1893 by a small shop that usually printed medical books and religious tracts. Crane used the pseudonym “Johnston Smith” for this first publication, later telling friend and artist Corwin Knapp Linson that it was the “commonest name I could think of. I had an editor friend named Johnson, and put in the ‘t’, and no one could find me in the mob of Smiths.”

This scarce 1893 original edition contains the picturesque, melodramatic and “blasphemous” language that required substantial dilution when revised for commercial publication in the much inferior 1896 Appleton edition published under Crane’s name. Swear words were removed, and the section dealing with Maggie’s only successful solicitation of a customer was removed. The unexpurgated text was not printed again until the 1979 Norton edition.

Hamlin Garland reviewed the work in the June 1893 issue of The Arena, calling it “the most truthful and unhackneyed study of the slums I have yet read, fragment though it is. Despite this early praise, Crane became depressed and destitute from having spent $869 for 1,100 copies of a novel that did not sell; he ended up giving a hundred copies away. He would later remember “how I looked forward to publication and pictured the sensation I thought it would make. It fell flat. Nobody seemed to notice it or care for it… Poor Maggie! She was one of my first loves.”

Approximately 38 copies (including this example) are recorded (Joseph Katz, “Maggie … a Census,” Stephen Crane Newsletter, and the unpublished continuation by Prof. Stanley Wertheim). This excellent copy is from a small Crane family cache that surfaced in the 1930s and has long since been absorbed by libraries and collectors.

Maggie is a landmark of American literary naturalism and perhaps the first extended realistic fictional study of New York City’s urban slums” (Wertheim, Stephen Crane. An Exhibition … Grolier Club, 1995).

Provenance: the celebrated library of H. Bradley Martin, Sotheby’s New York, January 30, 1990, lot 2019.