Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ambrose Bierce’s Stories

The fact that Henry Armstrong was buried did not seem to him to prove that he was dead: he had always been a hard man to convince.”

                                    First line from One Summer Night

Ambrose Bierce was one of American’s best writers in the 19th century. He was a journalist, critic and short story writer. Bierce never used needless words when it came to his writing. He unlike many of his contemporaries did not use “flowery” prose in his fictional stories.

“Virtually everything that came from his pen was notable for its’ judicious wording and economy of style.” *

This style makes his writing modern even by today’s standards. I admire this most about his stories because a well-respected university professor once stated to me, “When you write cut out the garbage”.

“Bierce’s tales often included: abrupt beginnings, dark imagery, and vague references to time, limited descriptions, and impossible events.”  *

His stories left the details to the imagination of the reader. This style served him particularly well when it came to his short horror and ghost stories.

Bierce born in the 1840s was a Union soldier in the Civil War for four years. Many of his best tales are about war. As a journalist he made more than one enemy. He was a ruthless editorialist, i e., critic, which brought even more enemies to his doorstep. Despite this ire no one denied that fact that he was a very talented writer. So he unlike many critics today actually practiced what he preached.

Bierce entitled his anthology of ghost stories, Can Such Things Be?  This collection of supernatural tales reflects Bierce’s own life experience. He knew the pain and terror of war and he used these feelings to enrich his ghost tales. But unlike the typical scary story he never brought the object of the “horror” too close to his readers. Instead he always kept it slightly at a distance, even blurred--this keeps the reader in the dark, which effectively keeps them on edge. The end result of this makes his stories even more horrifying.

Ambrose Bierce disappeared at the age of 71 while in Mexico gathering information about the Mexican Revolution.

One of his best war stories:

One of his best horror stories:

One of his best ghost stories:

*  Rafferty, Terence (2011, October 28) Ambrose Bierce: The Man and his Demons, The New York Times, Sunday Book Review, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/books/review/ambrose-bierce-the-man-and-his-demons.html?_r=1&

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