Gaskill's essay situates Stephen Crane's well-known fascination with color within the historical and philosophical contexts of the late-nineteenth century. The invention of bright synthetic dyes and pigments and their applications within emerging advertising culture combined with theories of color sensation and perception offered by empirical psychologists to produce new opportunities for and understandings of color experience. Color—increasingly puzzled over in the abstract, apart from any instantiations within objects—came to be regarded as an affective force with direct and controllable effects on human minds and bodies.

In stories such as “The Blue Hotel” and “The Broken-Down Van” and in the novels The Red Badge of Courage and The Third Violet, Crane draws from and contributes to these experiments with abstract or “pure” color. He uses color to explore the networks of sensation, perception, and language that constitute experience, and he develops a literary style that lifts the feeling of colors from their visual appearances in order to bring his language into contact with the sensory and affective force of color. In this regard, Crane's color techniques relate to late-nineteenth-century philosophical discussions of qualia. This essay elaborates on these themes and practices—touching on Goethe's Theory of Colours, Art Nouveau, the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, and chromotherapy—to offer an account of Crane's colors that revises critical accounts of his “impressionism” and that attends to historical understandings of the character of experience.

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