Document Type



Spring 1990


Stephen Crane, Jonathan Townley Crane, Methodist Episcopal Church




English Language and Literature


Stephen Crane was the son and grandson of prominent Methodist ministers, and it is often assumed that his colorful life of excess and adventure was an understandable rejection of that legacy. But his father's prominence during Crane's childhood was tinged with something close to scandal, and what the son rejected is not entirely clear. Indeed, Crane the novelist seems to have inherited certain traits of character from Crane the minister-tenacity of purpose, intellectual integrity, iconoclastic fearlessness-and adapted them to his own ends.

This article attempts to answer the question: Why did Stephen Crane's father, Jonathan Townley Crane (1819-1880), give up the prestigious position of presiding elder in the Elizabeth (New Jersey) district of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1876, and return to the itinerant ministry? The answer may tum out to have a bearing on issues central to Crane studies, such as the reputed differences between the conceptions of God held by Crane's father and his ma~ temal grandfather, and Stephen Crane's own obsessive search for intense experience. It may also help to convey the atmosphere in the Crane household during the years when Stephen, born in 1871, was growing up. I propose, in short, to reveal a momentous and hitherto unsuspected episode in J. T. Crane's life.


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