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Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce Ambrose Bierce[2†]

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842 – c. 1914) was an American short story writer, journalist, poet, and American Civil War veteran[1†][2†]. His book The Devil’s Dictionary was named one of “The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature” by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration[1†][2†][3†][4†]. His story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” has been described as "one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature"[1†][2†]. His book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (also published as In the Midst of Life) was named by the Grolier Club one of the 100 most influential American books printed before 1900[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was born on June 24, 1842, in Meigs County, Ohio[1†][5†]. He was the tenth child among thirteen children in a poor family. His father, Marcus Aurelius Bierce, was a farmer who named all his children with ‘A’ as the starting letter[1†][5†]. His mother was Laura Sherwood Bierce[1†][5†].

Bierce was raised in Kosciusko County, Indiana[1†][5†][6†]. After about a year in high school, he left home at 15 years of age and joined a newspaper as an apprentice, becoming a printer’s devil (apprentice) on a Warsaw, Indiana, paper[1†][5†][6†].

In 1861, at the outbreak of the American Civil War, he was recruited in the Union Army and commissioned at its 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment[1†][5†]. He took part in the 1861 ‘Operations in Western Virginia’ campaign and was present during the ‘Battle of Philippi’ on June 3, 1861[1†][5†]. He worked as a topographical engineer under General William Babcock Hazen after being delegated as a first lieutenant in 1862. His responsibilities included drawing maps of probable battlefields[1†][5†]. He fought courageously in many military engagements including the ‘Battle of Shiloh’ in April 1862 and the ‘Battle of Kennesaw Mountain’ on June 27, 1864[1†][5†]. Bierce was discharged from the Union Army in January 1865[1†][5†].

Career Development and Achievements

After the American Civil War, Bierce started his career in journalism. In 1868, he began writing a newspaper column called the “Town Crier” for the San Francisco News Letter[7†]. He was soon regarded as one of the most influential journalists in the United States[7†][2†]. His work was considered pioneering in the field of realist fiction[7†][2†].

Bierce worked and lived all over the world as a journalist and poet, spending many years in both the UK and his native US[7†][8†]. His work soon became regarded as some of the best literature of the 19th century[7†][8†].

In 1877, he became associate editor of the San Francisco Argonaut but left it in 1879–80 for an unsuccessful try at placer mining in Rockerville in the Dakota Territory[7†][1†]. Thereafter, he was editor of the San Francisco Illustrated Wasp for five years[7†][1†].

In 1887, Bierce joined the staff of William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, for which he wrote the “Prattler” column[7†][1†]. In 1896, Bierce moved to Washington, D.C., where he continued newspaper and magazine writing[7†][1†].

Bierce’s war stories influenced Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, and others[7†][2†], and he was considered an influential and feared literary critic[7†][2†]. In recent decades, Bierce has gained wider respect as a fabulist and for his poetry[7†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Ambrose Bierce was a prolific writer, and his works encompassed a wide range of genres. Here are some of his most notable works:

Each of these works showcases Bierce’s unique style and his ability to write across a range of genres, from realism to horror to satire[2†][9†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Ambrose Bierce’s work is often characterized by its exploration of death and the supernatural[11†][12†]. His stories, while dark and sometimes violent, are not merely the musings of a man obsessed with death. Instead, they reveal an intellectual fascination with the effect of the supernatural on the human imagination[11†].

Bierce’s writing style is often compared to that of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, with a focus on psychological horror rather than realism[11†]. His stories are known for their black humor and the coolly understated voices of their criminal or psychopathic narrators[11†]. This style serves to reflect a society gone to seed and to poke fun at the murderous state of American life in the West during the Gilded Age[11†].

Despite his reputation as a misanthrope or pessimist, a less moralistic and biographical reevaluation of Bierce’s work reveals a different perspective[11†]. His morally outrageous stories are often seen as “tall tales,” which certainly cannot be taken at face value[11†].

Bierce’s work, particularly his short stories dealing with murder, have been misunderstood as the work of a man who, obsessed with the idea of death, showed himself incapable of compassion[11†]. However, a closer look at his stories reveals an intellectual fascination with the effect of the supernatural on the human imagination[11†].

His contribution to literature extends beyond his narratives. As a lifelong journalist and commentator, Bierce wrote prodigiously[11†]. He was fond of vitriolic epigrams and sketches, together with miscellaneous works of literary criticism, epigrams, and both prose and verse aphorisms[11†].

Personal Life

Ambrose Bierce married Mary Ellen “Mollie” Day on December 25, 1871[2†][1†]. They had three children: sons Day (1872–1889) and Leigh (1874–1901), and daughter Helen (1875–1940)[2†][13†]. Tragically, both of Bierce’s sons predeceased him. Day died in 1889, and Leigh died in 1901[2†][13†]. Some sources suggest that Day’s death was either a suicide or occurred during a duel[2†][14†][15†], while Leigh’s death was related to pneumonia and possibly alcoholism[2†][14†][15†].

Bierce’s marriage to Mollie ended in divorce in 1904[2†][1†][13†]. These personal tragedies, coupled with his experiences during the American Civil War, may have contributed to his reputation as a misanthrope[2†][15†]. Despite his personal hardships, Bierce continued to make significant contributions to American literature until his disappearance in 1914[2†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Ambrose Bierce’s legacy is as multifaceted as his career. As a writer, he was regarded as one of the most influential journalists in the United States[2†]. His pioneering work in realist fiction, horror writing, and satire earned him a place alongside literary giants such as Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Juvenal, Swift, and Voltaire[2†]. His war stories influenced authors like Stephen Crane and Ernest Hemingway[2†], and he was considered an influential and feared literary critic[2†]. In recent decades, Bierce has gained wider respect as a fabulist and for his poetry[2†].

His book The Devil’s Dictionary was named one of “The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature” by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration[2†]. His story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” has been described as "one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature"[2†], and his book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians was named by the Grolier Club one of the 100 most influential American books printed before 1900[2†].

However, Bierce’s most lasting legacy might be his mysterious disappearance. In 1913, he organized all his personal affairs, completed one final visit to American Civil War battlefields, and then set off to Mexico, then in the midst of its own civil war, and disappeared[2†][7†]. Some say he went there in search of the legendary Pancho Villa[2†][7†]. His end is a mystery, but a reasonable conjecture is that he was killed in the siege of Ojinaga in January 1914[2†][1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Ambrose Bierce: American author [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Ambrose Bierce [website] - link
  3. Wikiwand - Ambrose Bierce - Wikiwand [website] - link
  4. Pantheon - Pantheon [website] - link
  5. The Famous People - Ambrose Bierce Biography [website] - link
  6. Britannica Kids - Ambrose Bierce [website] - link
  7. Ohio Reading Road Trip - Ambrose Bierce Biography [website] - link
  8. LiteratureApp - Ambrose Bierce [website] - link
  9. Poetry Foundation - Ambrose Bierce [website] - link
  10. The Project Gutenberg - INDEX OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG [website] - link
  11. eNotes - Ambrose Bierce Analysis [website] - link
  12. eNotes - Ambrose Bierce Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis [website] - link
  13. Encyclopedia.com - Bierce, Ambrose [website] - link
  14. Freedom From Religion Foundation - Ambrose Bierce [website] - link
  15. Mental Floss - Ambrose Bierce, the Dark Humorist Who Disappeared [website] - link
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