Biography of Victorian Adventurer Cora Crane Part 3

About the Victorian era adventurer Cora Crane, wife of Stephen Crane, her history and biography.


CORA CRANE (1868-1910). Victorian adventuress.

When the Spanish-American War erupted, Crane tried to enlist in the navy but was rejected because of TB, so he covered the splendid little war for Pulitzer, behaving gallantly under fire at Cuzco, Guantanamo, and San Juan Hill. Cora, meanwhile, was crusading for women's rights in a complicated scandal only the Victorian world could have created. When Harold Frederic died, his legal wife had his mistress jailed for manslaughter because Kate, a Christian Scientist, had summoned a faith healer to pray for the dying man. Some of this scandal was pure spite, the fury of a woman scorned, and some of it was squalid squabbling over the potential royalties from Frederic's posthumous best-seller, The Market Place. Pillars of Victorian morality, among them prominent publishers' wives, rallied behind the legal wife, raising funds for her children in newspaper campaigns. Cora took the illegitimate children to Brede Place while their mother was in jail, and she ran a parallel campaign to raise funds for them. Considering the extreme precariousness of her own situation, it was a bold thing to do, a reckless and foolhardy thing, prompting Joseph Conrad to call her "the only Christian in sight."

Charges against her friend Kate were ultimately dropped, but that was the end of Cora's luck. Crane returned to Brede Place a broken man, his health crushed by the Cuban climate and the exertions of war, though he hid the extreme seriousness of his condition from every-one. Cora had to manage their increasingly tangled affairs. They were trapped by their own generous folly in a mounting spiral of debt. Tragedy struck at the famous New Year's Eve party in 1900, when Crane collapsed suddenly from massive hemorrhages. Cora's heroic exertions got him to Badenweiler, a Bavarian sanatorium, with his favorite dog, Sponge, but he died almost upon arrival, on June 5, 1900, only 28 years old, his genius forever unfulfilled.

Cora was now a woman alone, spurned everywhere, her writings rejected, her prospects nil. She returned to Jacksonville to run an elegant brothel, the Court. Cora was a bluestocking madam, the American equivalent of the protagonist of George Bernard Shaw's 1898 shocker Mrs. Warren's Profession.

Meanwhile her legal husband, Stewart, had become governor of the British East Africa Protectorate, modern-day Kenya. His death in Nairobi made the Empire widow a real widow, setting the stage for the final tragedy. On a spree in New York City with a young man-about-town named Hammond McNeil, she married him, but he proved to be a violent drunkard who murdered a young man named Harry Parker while Parker was on a picnic with Cora. His defense at the trial was the unwritten law, that a husband has the right to kill his wife's seducer, so Cora's name was dragged through the slime of a truly sordid episode. She died shortly after and rests in Jacksonville's Evergreen Cemetery under a simple stone inscribed, "Cora Crane, 1868-1910."

Cora played many roles, assumed many identities. She dared to live free in the repressive turn-of-the-century world of gaslight and gossamer, becoming an outcast in her own time but a heroine in ours--romantic rebel, realistic entrepreneur, another, activist, adventuress. She was even a pretty good cook. Henry James raved about her doughnuts.

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