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The Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce (1911)

Introduction


Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842-1914?) was an American satirist, critic, poet, short story (horror) writer, editor, and journalist. Bierce was a contemporary, acquaintance, and competitor of Mark Twain. While Twain's humor was rather light-hearted and based on the behavior of his characters, Bierce's humor was sardonic, political, and based much more on language.

Contents

Ambrose Bierce
Ambrose G. Bierce
  1. Early life and Military Career
  2. Journalism
  3. The McKinley Accusation
  4. Literary Works
  5. Disappearance
  6. Bierce in Popular Culture
  7. Primary books
  8. Selected Stories of Ambrose Bierce
  9. References
  10. External Links
  11. Preface to The Devil's Dictionary
  12. The Devil's Dictionary

Early Life and Military Career

Born in a rural area of Meigs County, Ohio, Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce lived during his adolescence in the town of Elkhart, Indiana. At the outset of the American Civil War, Bierce enlisted in the Ninth Regiment, Indiana Volunteers, as part of the Union Army. In February 1862, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant and served on the staff of Gen. William Babcock Hazen as a topographical engineer, making maps of likely battlefields. He fought bravely in several of the war's most important battles, at one point receiving newspaper attention for his daring rescue under fire of a gravely wounded comrade at the battle of Girard Hill, West Virginia. In June 1864, he received a serious head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain and spent the rest of the summer on furlough, but returned to active duty in September, and was ultimately discharged from the army in January 1865.

His military career, however, resumed when, in the summer of 1866, he rejoined Gen. Hazen as part of the latter's expedition to inspect military outposts across the Western plains. The expedition proceeded by horseback and wagon from Omaha, Nebraska, arriving in San Francisco near the end of the year.

Journalism

In San Francisco, Bierce received the rank of brevet Major before resigning from the Army. He remained there for many years, eventually becoming famous as a contributor and/or editor for a number of local newspapers and periodicals, including The San Francisco News Letter, The Argonaut, and The Wasp.

Bierce lived and wrote in England from 1872 to 1875. Returning to the United States, he again took up residence in San Francisco. In 1879-1880, he went to Rockerville and Deadwood, South Dakota, in the Dakota Territory, to try his hand as local manager for a New York mining company, but when the company failed he returned to San Francisco and resumed his career in journalism.

In 1887, he became one of the first regular columnists and editorialists to be employed on William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, eventually becoming one of the most prominent and influential among the writers and journalists of the West Coast. In December 1899, he moved to Washington, D. C., but continued his association with the Hearst Newspapers until 1906.

The McKinley Accusation

Because of his penchant for biting social criticism and satire, Bierce's long newspaper career was often steeped in controversy. On several occasions his columns stirred up hostile reaction that created difficulties for Hearst.

One of the most notable of these incidents occurred following the assassination of President William McKinley when Hearst's opponents made a poem Bierce had written about the assassination of Governor Goebel in 1900 into a cause célèbre. Bierce meant his poem, written on the occasion of the assassination of Governor William Goebel of Kentucky, to express a national mood of dismay and fear, but after McKinley was shot in 1901 it seemed to foreshadow the crime:

"The bullet that pierced Goebel's breast
Can not be found in all the West;
Good reason, it is speeding here
To stretch McKinley on his bier."

As a result, Hearst accused by rival newspapers and by Secretary of State Elihu Root of having advocated McKinley's assassination. Despite a national uproar that ended his ambitions for the presidency (and even his membership in the Bohemian Club), Hearst neither revealed Bierce as the author of the poem, nor fired him.

Literary Works

His short stories are considered among the best of the 19th century. He wrote realistically of the terrible things he had seen in the war in such stories as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", "Killed at Resaca", and "Chickamauga".

Bierce was reckoned a master of "pure" English by his contemporaries, and virtually everything that came from his pen was notable for its judicious wording and economy of style. He wrote skillfully in a variety of literary genres, and in addition to his celebrated ghost and war stories he published several volumes of poetry and verse. His Fantastic Fables anticipated the ironic style of grotesquerie that turned into a genre in the 20th century.

One of Bierce's most famous works is his much-quoted book, The Devil's Dictionary, originally a newspaper serialization which was first published in book form in 1906 as The Cynic's Word Book. It offers an interesting reinterpretation of the English language in which cant and political double-talk are neatly lampooned.

Bierce's twelve-volume Collected Works were published in 1909, the seventh volume of which consists solely of The Devil's Dictionary, the title Bierce himself preferred to The Cynic's Word Book.

Disappearance

In October 1913, the septuagenarian Bierce departed Washington on a tour to revisit his old Civil War battlefields. By December, he had proceeded on through Louisiana and Texas, crossing by way of El Paso into Mexico, which was then in the throes of revolution. In Ciudad Juárez, he joined the army of Pancho Villa as an observer, in which role he participated in the battle of Tierra Blanca. He is known to have accompanied Villa's army as far as the city of Chihuahua, Chihuahua. After a last letter to a close friend, sent from that city on December 26, 1913, he vanished without a trace, becoming one of the most famous disappearances in American literary history. Subsequent investigations to ascertain his fate were fruitless. After many decades of speculation, his disappearance remains a mystery, and his (unconfirmed) date of death is generally listed as "1914?".

In one of his last letters, Bierce wrote:

"Good-by–if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico–ah, that is euthanasia".

For more discussion of Bierce's demise, click here .

Bierce in Popular Culture

  • Robert W. Chambers borrowed several terms and fictional locations (including, for instance, Carcosa and Hastur) from Bierce, for use in his book of horror short stories, The King in Yellow. The horror writer H.P. Lovecraft later incorporated these into his own work, as did other authors who later extended Lovecraft's characters and themes, collectively creating the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Robert Bloch's short story "I Like Blondes" (published in Playboy, 1956) is constructed around a group of alien bodysnatchers frequenting Earth. The narrator's host body's "name was Beers...Ambrose Beers, I believe. He picked it up in Mexico a long time ago."
  • At least three films have been made of Bierce's story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". A silent film version was made in the 1920s. A French version called La Riviére du Hibou, directed by Robert Enrico, was released in 1962. This is a black and white film, faithfully recounting the original narrative using voice-over. Another version, directed by Brian James Egan, was released in 2005. The 1962 film was also used for an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone: "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". The presentation was rare for commercial television in that it was offered without commercial interruption. A copy of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" appeared in the ABC television series Lost ("The Long Con", airdate February 8, 2006).
  • Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes wrote Gringo Viejo (The Old Gringo), a fictionalized account of Bierce's disappearance. Fuentes' keenly observed novel was later adapted as a film, Old Gringo, with Gregory Peck in the title role.
  • Bierce appears as a character in the 2000 film From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (set in 1913, a prequel to the original From Dusk Till Dawn). While traveling to join up with Villa, Bierce is first attacked by bandits, and then trapped in a bar filled with vampires bent on killing all the humans inside. This clearly fictional adventure also portrayed Bierce, played by Michael Parks, as an alcoholic.
  • Bierce appears as a character in Robert A. Heinlein's novella Lost Legacy (published in the short story collection Assignment in Eternity). In the story, Bierce is part of a league of humans who have learned to use the unused portions of their brains and have advanced mental powers.
  • Bierce appears as the main character and narrator in the story "The Oxoxoco Bottle" by Gerald Kersh. The bulk of the story purports to be a manuscript written by Bierce on his last journey in Mexico, and relates a very strange adventure. The manner of his death, however, remains a mystery at the end.
  • Bierce is referenced in the song "The Fall of Ambrose Bierce" by 'The Stiletto Formal'.
  • Bierce is depicted as a detective in series of mystery novels by Oakley Hall, including Ambrose Bierce and the Queen of Spades and Ambrose Bierce and the Death of Kings.
  • In DC Comics's miniseries Stanley and His Monster, Bierce (or at least a character claiming to be Bierce) appears as a sardonic trenchcoat-clad adventurer into the supernatural, very similar to John Constantine; although Bierce derides Constantine as a clown, he admits that he and Constantine are but two of several trenchcoated occult adventurers at large in the world, perhaps an implication by the writer that the archetype of the sarcastic commentator on the occult, exemplified by Constantine, can be traced back to Bierce as narrator of his own horror stories. When the comic book Bierce learns that the boy Stanley's friend, the nameless Monster, is a demon, he considers vanquishing him, but soon realizes that the Monster is a benevolent demon and instead helps Stanley and his friend against other demons.

Primary Books

  • The Devil's Dictionary.
  • Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (AKA In the Midst of Life) (1892)
  • Can Such Things Be? (1893)
  • Collected Works (1909)

Selected Short Stories by Ambrose Bierce

External Links

References

(From biercephile.com)
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  • Andrews, W.L. "Some New Ambrose Bierce Fables" American Literary Realism 8 (Autumn 1975), 349-52
  • "Another Attempt To Boost Bierce To ImmortaLity," Current Opinion, LXV (September, 1918), 184-5
  • Bahr, Howard W. "Ambrose Bierce and Realism" Southern Quarterly 1 (July 1963), 309-31
  • Barrett, Gerald R. From Fiction to Film: Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (Dickenson Publishing Company, Encino: 1973)
  • Barry, Richard. "The Mystery of Ambrose Bierce" The Mentor (June 1921), pg. 34
  • Bennett, Raine. "Bohemian Supper" Touring Topics (September 1933), pp. 22-4
  • Berkove, Lawrence. "Arms and the Man: Ambrose Bierce's Response to War" Michigan Academician 1 (1969), 21-30
  • Berkove, Lawrence. "'Hades In Trouble': A Rediscovered Story by Ambrose Bierce" American Literary Realism 25, 67-84
  • Berkove, Lawrence. "The Man with the Burning Pen: Ambrose Bierce as Journalist" Journal of Popular Culture 15 (Feb. 1981), 34-40
  • Berkove, Lawrence. "The Impossible Dreams: Ambrose Bierce on Utopia and America" Huntington Library Quarterly 44 (Autumn 1981), 283-92
  • Berkove, Lawrence. "A Strange Adventure: The Story Behind a Bierce Tale" American Literary Realism 14 (1981), 70-76
  • Berkove, Lawrence. A Prescription for Adversity: The Moral Art of Ambrose Bierce (Ohio State University Press: 2002)
  • Bierce, Helen. "Ambrose Bierce at Home" The American Mercury 30 (120, Dec. 1933), 453-458
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  • DeCastro, Adolphe Danzinger. Portrait of Ambrose Bierce (Beakman Publishers, NY: 1974)
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  • Ditko, Steve; Adams, Neal. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," Eerie, No. 9 (May, 1967)
  • East, H. M., Jr. "Bierce--The Warrior Writer" Overland Monthly (June 1915)
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  • Fatout, Paul. "Ambrose Bierce Writes About War." TheBook Club of California Quarterly, XVI (Fall, 1951), 75-9
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  • Fatout, Paul. Ambrose Bierce and the Black Hills (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman: 1956)
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  • Follett, Wilson. "America's Neglected Satirist" Dial 65 (July, 18, 1918), 49-52
  • Follett, Wilson. "Bierce in His Brilliant Obscurity," New York Times, October 11, 1936.
  • Fortenberry, G.E. "Ambrose Bierce: A Critical Bibliography and Secondary Comment" American Literary Realism 4 (Winter 1971), 11-16
  • Fraser, J.M. "Points South: Ambrose Bierce, Jorge Luis Borges" Studies in 20th-Century Literature 1 (1977), 173-81
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  • Friedrick, Otto. "The Passion of Death in Ambrose Bierce," Zero. II (Spring, 1956), 72-94
  • Frink, Maurice. "A Sidelight on Ambrose Bierce" Book Notes (August 1923), 154
  • Gaer, Joseph. Ambrose Gwinett Bierce: bibliography and biographical data (Burt Franklin: 1935)
  • Gaer, Joseph. Ambrose Gwinett Bierce: bibliography and biographical data (B. Franklin, NY: 1968)
  • Gaer, Joseph. Ambrose Gwinett Bierce: bibliography and biographical data (Folcroft Press, Folcroft: 1969) (Buy it)
  • Gaer, Joseph. Ambrose Gwinett Bierce: bibliography and biographical data (Norwood Editions, Norwood: 1976)
  • Gaer, Joseph. Ambrose Gwinett Bierce: bibliography and biographical data (R. West, Philadelphia: 1977)
  • Gale, Robert L. An Ambrose Bierce Companion (Greenwood Press, Westport: 2001)
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  • Gerhold, Hans. Medientransfer: Kuizgeschichicten in Kurzfilmen: der Civil War und seine Khunstleusche Verarbeitung Dargestellt an den short stories von Ambrose Bierce und ihren filminschen adaptionen von Robert Enrico [A study on the transfer of written story to film in Robert Enrico's trilogy of Bierce films.] (Lit, Mhunster: 1983)
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  • Grattan, C. Hartley. Bitter Bierce: a Mystery of American Letters (Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., Garden City: 1929)
  • Grattan, C. Hartley. Bitter Bierce: A Mystery of American Letters (Cooper Square Publishers, NY: 1966)
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  • Grenander, Mary Elizabeth. "Ambrose Bierce and Cobwebs from an Empty skull: A Note on BAL 1100 and 1107" Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 69 (May 1960), 261-92
  • Grenander, Mary Elizabeth. "Ambrose Bierce, John Camden Hotten, The Fiend's Delight, and Nuggets and Dust" Huntington Library Quarterly 28 (August 1965), 353-71
  • Grenander, Mary Elizabeth. "Au Coeur de la vie: A French translation of Ambrose Bierce," Boston University Studies In English, I (Winter 1955-6), 237-41
  • Grenander, Mary Elizabeth. "Bierce's Turn of the Screw: Tales of Ironical Terror." Western Humanities Review 11 (Summer 1957), 257-63
  • Grenander, Mary Elizabeth. "California's Albion: Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Tom Hood, John Camden Hotten, and Andrew Chatto." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 72 (1978), 457-62
  • Grenander, Mary Elizabeth. "H.L. Mencken to Ambrose Bierce." Book Club of California Quarterly News Letter 22 (Winter 1956), 5-10
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  • Hall, Carroll C. Bierce and the Poe Hoax (Book Club of California, San Francisco: 1934)
  • Harris, Leon. "Satan's Lexicographer" American Heritage 28 (April 1972), 57-63
  • Harte, Walter Blackburn. "A Tribute to Ambrose Bierce," The Biblio, Vol. IV, No. 1 (July, 1924), 680-1
  • Hartwell, Ronald. "What Hemmingway Learned from Ambrose Bierce." Research Studies 38 (December 1970): 309-11.
  • Hayden, Brad. "Ambrose Bierce: The Esthetics of a Derelict Romantic" Gypsy Scholar 7 (1980), 3-14
  • Highsmith, James Milton. "The forms of Burlesque in The Devil's Dictionary" Satire Newsletter (Spring 1970), 115-27
  • Inkersley, Arthur. "Californian Literature" San Francisco News Letter (Christmas 1897)
  • Joshi, S.T. "The Fiction of Ambrose Bierce: A Bibliographical Survey." Studies In Weird Fiction (Summer 1998), 23, pp 31-7
  • Joshi, S.T. "Ambrose Bierce: Horror as Satire" The Weird Tale (University of Texas Press, Austin: 1990)
  • Joshi, S.T. and Shultz, David E. Ambrose Bierce: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary Sources (Greenwood Press, Westport: 1999)
  • Keton, Edna. "Ambrose Bierce and 'Moxton's Master,'" Bookman LXII (September, 1925), 71-9
  • King, Florence. With Charity Towards None, A Fond Look At Misanthropy (St. Martin's Press, NY: 1994)
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  • Leary, Lewis, "Bierce in Business," Saturday Review of Literature, June 9, 1956, p.20
  • Leider, Emily. "'Your Picture Hangs in My Salon': The Letters of Gertrude Atherton to Ambrose Bierce." California History (Winter 1981-2), 333-49
  • Lesparre, Christiane. L'impossible monsieur Bierce ["The Impossible Mr. Bierce"] (B. Grasset, Paris: 1981)
  • Lewis, Oscar. Bay Window Bohemia (Doubleday & Company, Ann Arbor: 1983)
  • Lindley, Daniel. "The Devil and Ambrose Bierce," Biblio (June 1998), Vol. 3, #7, pp 24-31
  • Lindley, Daniel. Ambrose Bierce Takes on the Railroad: The Journalist As Muckraker and Cynic (Greenwood Press, Westport: 1999)
  • Littell, Robert. "Bitter Bierce" New Republic (Oct. 15, 1924)
  • Logan, Andy. The Man Who Robbed The Robber Barons (New York: 1978)
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  • Mariani, Giorgio. "Ambrose Bierce's Civil War Stories and the Critique of the Martial Spirit" Studies in American Fiction 19 (Autumn 1991), 221-8
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  • Nickell, Joe. Ambrose Bierce Is Missing And Other Historical Mysteries (University of Kentucky Press: 1991)
  • Noel, Joseph. Footloose In Arcadia (Carrick & Evans, New York: 1940)
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  • "Ohio Not Sure Where Famous Writer Was Born," News5Net.com, June 24, 2002.
  • Oliver, Lawrence J. and Gary Scharnhorst. "Charlotte Perkins Gilman v. Ambrose Bierce: The Literary PoLitics of Geder in Fin-de-Siecle California." Journal of the West 32 (July 1993): 52-60.
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  • Ruchti, Ulrich and Taylor, Sybil. Story Into Film (Dell, NY 1978)
  • Saunders, Richard. Ambrose Bierce: The Making of a Misanthrope (Chronicle Books, San Francisco: 1985)
  • Schleis, Paula. "Bierce lost at death and birth" Beacon Journal, June 24, 2002
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