Ambrose Bierce - Thoughts?

Gold

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I've just started reading some of Bierce's work. Back in school we had to read "Owl Creek Bridge" and I liked it, but I've just started reading again on a friend's recommendation.

So far I've read "Haita the Shepherd" and "The Secret of Macarber's Gulch."

From the comments, it seems that Bierce is characterized by dark irony. I can see that in "Owl Creek Bridge."

In "Haita the Shepherd," I also see the irony that happiness only comes to us when we stop searching for it and that when we meet her, we quickly chase her away. However, that's much more melancholy than dark, I would say.

In "Macarber's Gulch," I don't see much irony, just a good story. It's very possible that I'm missing something, though.

I'm interested in some Bierce discussion/criticism and I'd be curious to hear anyone else's thoughts.
 

Fried Egg

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Hi Gold, welcome to the forums!

I don't think my thoughts would constitute most people's idea of literary criticism, but here are my thoughts after reading the "Terror by Night" collection:

It has taken me quite a while to get through this collection, despite there being less than three hundred pages. It contains no less than fifty-one stories so that gives you an idea of how short many of them are. That being said, these are not light and easy reads. It's not the prose which is easy going enough given the time in which these stories were written. It's the density of the text itself that demands full concentration so that all pertinent facts are grasped allowing one to get the full import of the conclusions reached. In my opinion, you do not want to read more than a few of these at a time. I certainly would not have wanted to read the entire collection without breaks.

Many of these stories are set in and around the American civil war and explore the bitter, harshness of life. Cosmic balance is maintained however because bad things that people do are innevitably punished, by supernatural forces beyond the grave if necessary.

Some of the stories really touched me, betraying flashes of Bierce's brilliance while others just left me cold. Sometimes I felt that my own lack of concentration was at fault for failing to grasp the full meaning behind the story while at other times I felt it was just that they had dated poorly, the effect being somewhat less shocking today than it might have been at the time. The themes were quite repetative but again, that criticism would be somewhat dispersed by breaking up the reading of this collection.

A good sampling of a talented writer with a somewhat bleak view of life that dominated his work.
 

j d worthington

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In the main, I'd tend to agree with your assessment, FE. Bierce varies between brilliance and what amounts to well-written hackwork. He was a journalist, after all, and wrote enormous amounts of the stuff, including some of the things which became contents of his tales. Some of his "ghost stories", for example, which were told with a perfect poker face, were part of Bierce's humor at the expense of the more gullible, as he himself had no belief in such things.

On the other hand, pieces "The Death of Halpin Frayser", "The Damned Thing", "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", "Chickamauga", "The Middle Toe of the Right Foot", or even "Horseman in the Sky", leave no doubt that Bierce can often be a very important voice in the field of weird fiction; and yes, all of his work is permeated with his rather grimly ironic view... though this, too, is often because of his view of human hypocrisy when it comes to actually following through on our nobler aspirations.

Have you ever read S. T. Joshi's The Weird Tale? The chapter there on Bierce would likely be of interest to you....
 

Lobolover

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In the main, I'd tend to agree with your assessment, FE. Bierce varies between brilliance and what amounts to well-written hackwork. He was a journalist, after all, and wrote enormous amounts of the stuff, including some of the things which became contents of his tales. Some of his "ghost stories", for example, which were told with a perfect poker face, were part of Bierce's humor at the expense of the more gullible, as he himself had no belief in such things.

On the other hand, pieces "The Death of Halpin Frayser", "The Damned Thing", "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", "Chickamauga", "The Middle Toe of the Right Foot", or even "Horseman in the Sky", leave no doubt that Bierce can often be a very important voice in the field of weird fiction; and yes, all of his work is permeated with his rather grimly ironic view... though this, too, is often because of his view of human hypocrisy when it comes to actually following through on our nobler aspirations.

Have you ever read S. T. Joshi's The Weird Tale? The chapter there on Bierce would likely be of interest to you....

What about "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" then ? I find that doesn't get mentioned often, and it was in fact excluded from a colection of Bierce I once read.
 

Connavar

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That collection sounds very interesting to me FE! Civil war, supernatural mm....
I must see if its in print.

I was reminded to read Bierce by Richard Matheson afterword to one of his stories in Collected Stories volume 1. Him saying Bierce was 1 of 3 authors who made him want to become a horror writer.
 

j d worthington

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What about "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" then ? I find that doesn't get mentioned often, and it was in fact excluded from a colection of Bierce I once read.

I was only mentioning a tiny handful of those I would rate as among his highest. There are quite a few others I left out. But yes, that is one of the more original ghostly tales of its time (the idea has been used by others since, of course), and in fact has been cited as an influence on HPL...

Conn: Either the Wordsworth edition or a volume titled The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce, which brings together the two story collections In the Midst of Life: Tales of Soldiers and Civilians and Can Such Things Be?, The Devil's Dictionary, the collaborative translation The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter (about which there are more than a few amusing stories... the collaboration between Bierce and Danziger/de Castro, that is... one of which is that, at one point, Bierce purportedly broke a cane over de Castro's head... and from what I've read about the latter, he most likely well deserved it...); a collection of his "fables", Negligible Tales, and one of the most peculiar things in literary history, The Parenticide Club, which I think only Bierce could have pulled off so successfully....

This one has seen numerous printings, and should be both fairly easy to find and inexpensive....

EDIT: Yup. Just checked Amazon and here's what I found:

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/Sea...ed+Writings+of+Ambrose+Bierce&sts=t&x=51&y=27
 

Connavar

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This is why i like wordworth editions of classic authors, the books are bad paperback condition but they are so cheap that i dont feel guilty buying expensive book of an author i havent read yet.

I just spent 75 dollars on Jack Vance omnibus im feeling broke book wise if it wasnt Bierce worthworth collection.
 

BAYLOR

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Recently read The Damned Thing. A very impressive story. I wouldn't;t all be surprised if this was the that inspired movie Predator
 
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