Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, subtitled "A Tale of New York", is the first novella written and published by Stephen Crane, under the pseudonym Johnston Smith. The book was published in 1893, when Crane was only 22 years old.
The story describes the life of Maggie, a girl raised in poverty in New York's Bowery. Raised by an alcoholic mother and a violent brother, Maggie takes a job in a sweatshop, but wants to escape. When her brother introduces her to Pete, a friend of his who is full of swagger and boasts, Maggie is smitten, and runs away with him. But Pete quickly grows bored with Maggie, but she can not return home because she has been "ruined". With no other recourse, she becomes a prostitute. The book is a very grim story, and there is no "happy ending". At the time the book was first published, it was considered quite scandalous, and it was a gigantic break from the standard moralistic, sentimental novels of the day.
To the modern reader, of course, the content is not particularly shocking, especially since much of the sexual content of the book is referred to by euphemism or obliquely. The sordid and depressing nature of the book is still notable, though. Most of the characters talk in a dialect consisting of the same curses repeated over and over. The novella is relentlessly grim, with no redemption or insight ever given to the characters. The reader is given very little reason to care about the characters, and for the contemporary reader, the book is more interesting as a historical document than as a literary work. However, the book still has a very important place in literary history, because it was probably one of the first works to portray social realism. When I read Miss Lonelyhearts, I found the difference in tone between that book and most of the books of its era very remarkable. And "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets" predates Miss Lonely Hearts by almost forty years. So while this book might not be the most pleasant book to read, and might seem a bit flat in its emotional tone, it was also a book that led to a revolution in the way that literature would be used to depict society, and the author accomplished this at the age of twenty-two. Although this book was published in the 1890s, it was one of the first works of 20th century literature.