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The first time that I lectured on Stephen Crane’s 1893 novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets in Writing New York, I worked from the Bedford Cultural Edition, despite the fact that we’d elected to order a cheaper Signet paperback edition for the students to use.

I wanted to show the students how Crane made use of dialect in the novella, and I wanted to highlight the tension between the novel’s “naturalism” and Crane’s fanciful, almost expressionist, use of color imagery.

I began talking about the first paragraph, as it appears in the Bedford edition:

A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil’s Row who were circling madly about the heap and pelting at him.

His infantile countenance was livid with fury. His small body was writhing in the delivery of great, crimson oaths.

“Run, Jimmie, run! Dey’ll get yehs,” screamed a retreating Rum Alley child.

“Naw,” responded Jimmie with a valiant roar, “dese micks can’t make me run.”

Howls of renewed wrath went up from Devil’s Row throats. Tattered gamins on the right made a furious assault on the gravel heap. On their small, convulsed faces there shone the grins of true assassins. As they charged, they threw stones and cursed in shrill chorus.

The little champion of Rum Alley stumbled precipitately down the other side. His coat had been torn to shreds in a scuffle, and his hat was gone. He had bruises on twenty parts of his body, and blood was dripping from a cut in his head. His wan features wore a look of a tiny, insane demon.

On the ground, children from Devil’s Row closed in on their antagonist. He crooked his left arm defensively about his head and fought with cursing fury. The little boys ran to and fro, dodging, hurling stones and swearing in barbaric trebles.

From a window of an apartment house that upreared its form from amid squat, ignorant stables, there leaned a curious woman. Some laborers, unloading a scow at a dock at the river, paused for a moment and regarded the fight. The engineer of a passive tugboat hung lazily to a railing and watched. Over on the Island, a worm of yellow convicts came from the shadow of a building and crawled slowly along the river’s bank.

A stone had smashed into Jimmie’s mouth. Blood was bubbling over his chin and down upon his ragged shirt. Tears made furrows on his dirt-stained cheeks. His thin legs had begun to tremble and turn weak, causing his small body to reel. His roaring curses of the first part of the fight had changed to a blasphemous chatter.

In the yells of the whirling mob of Devil’s Row children there were notes of joy like songs of triumphant savagery. The little boys seemed to leer gloatingly at the blood upon the other child’s face.

I finished reading, glanced up, and saw that the students had puzzled looks on their faces. It was then that I suddenly remembered that there were two versions of Maggie: the original version that Crane had published himself in 1893 and the version published by D. Appleton in 1896, which was altered to make it more palatable (or so it was thought) to the general public.

Here’s what the students had in front of them:

A very little boy stood upon a heap of gravel for the honor of Rum Alley. He was throwing stones at howling urchins from Devil’s Row, who were circling madly about the heap and pelting him.

His infantile countenance was livid with the fury of battle. His small body was writhing in the delivery of oaths.

“Run, Jimmie, run! Dey’li git yehs!” screamed a retreating Rum Alley child.

“Naw,” responded Jimmie with a valiant roar, “dese mugs can ‘t make me run.”

Howls of renewed wrath went up from Devil’s Row throats. Tattered gamins on the right made a furious assault on the gravel heap. On their small convulsed faces shone the grins of true assassins. As they charged, they threw stones and cursed in shrill chorus.

The little champion of Rum Alley stumbled precipitately down the other side. His coat had been torn to shreds in a scuffle and his hat was gone. He had bruises on twenty parts of his body, and blood was dripping from a cut in his head. His wan features looked like those of a tiny insane demon.

No “great, crimson oaths.” Among the things that Crane edited out of the 1896 edition was much of the color imagery that I wanted to discuss! Let’s just say that I had to adapt my planned discussion quickly on the fly! The following year, we adopted the Bedford edition, which has the virtue not only of using the 1893 text, but also of providing useful contextual materials including pieces by Jacob Riis that we would assign in addition to Maggie in subsequent years.

The biggest change between the two versions is the omission from the 1896 of the “huge fat man in torn greasy garments” who approaches Maggie at the end of Chapter 17, the last time that she is portrayed alive in the novella. Readers of the 1893 text have often taken the text’s focus on this unsavory character to imply that he is eventually involved in Maggie’s death. In his absence, the 1896 text suggests that Maggie’s death is a suicide rather than a murder.

I offer this anecdote up as an interesting moment in the history of American literary naturalism and a cautionary tale to instructors who order editions of texts that differ from the ones that they’ve been used to using. Sometimes the new texts have been reset and re-paginated; at other times, as I discovered, there can be more significant problems. Best to discover those somewhere other than the lecture podium!