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Ambrose Bierce

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Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (born June 24, 1842, Meigs County, Ohio, USA – date of death uncertain, possibly December 1913 or early 1914, presumably in Mexico) was an American satirist, and critic, short story writer, editor and journalist.
Missing image
Ambrose_bierce.jpg
A portrait of Ambrose Bierce, date unknown.

His clear style and lack of sentimentality have kept him popular when many of his contemporaries have become obscure. His dark, sardonic views and vehemence as a critic, earnt him the nickname "Bitter Bierce". Such was Bierce's venerable reputation, that it was feared that his judgment on any contemporary fiction of the day could "make or break" a writer's career.


Contents

Early life and military career

Born in a rural area of southeastern Ohio, he resided 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 resigned from the Army and received the rank of brevet Major. 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 18791880, 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, DC, 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 a storm of hostile reaction which created difficulties for Hearst. One of the most notable of these incidents occurred following the assassination of President William McKinley when Hearst's political opponents turned a satirical poem Bierce had written in 1900 into a cause clbre. Bierce meant his poem, written on the occasion of the assassination of Governor-elect 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.

Hearst was falsely accused by rival newspapers — and by then Secretary of State Elihu Root — of having called for 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" 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 1912.

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 Jurez, 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 and, despite many decades of speculation, his disappearance remains a mystery.

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!

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.

Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes wrote Gringo Viejo (The Old Gringo), a fictionalized account of Bierce's disappearance. Fuentes's keenly observed novel was later adapted as a motion picture, with Gregory Peck in the title role.

Bierce appears as a character in the 2000 movie 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 as an alcoholic. In that movie Ambrose Bierce was played by Michael Parks.

Bierce appears as a character in Robert Heinlein's novella Lost Legacy, (published in the short story collection Assignment in Eternity). In the story, Bierce is one of a league of humans who have learned to use the unused portions of their brains and have advanced mental powers.

External links

de:Ambrose Bierce fr:Ambrose Bierce hu:Ambrose Bierce nl:Ambrose Bierce ja:アンブローズ・ビアス pl:Ambrose Bierce

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