By Bruce Watson
Once derided as a hopeless cynic, American writer Ambrose Bierce now enjoys a superior literary recognition. Witty and sardonic, Bierce speaks to our personal scandal-ridden instances. His savage Civil warfare tales became classics and his Devil's Dictionary is frequently quoted. during this short biography, Bruce Watson explores the sorrow at the back of the wit, and probes Bierce's mysterious disappearance a century in the past.
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Additional info for Ambrose Bierce. The Devil’s Cynic
He was born Ambrose Gwinett Bierce, the tenth child of a struggling Ohio farmer tilling what, in 1842, was the Western Reserve. ” Not much is known of his childhood. Critics have found only his parents’ staunch Calvinism as a source of his vitriol. Laura and Marcus Aurelius Bierce made daily prayer and Bible reading a fixture in their hardscrabble lives, instilling in Ambrose a lifelong hatred of organized religion and yet an unflinching Puritanism. Toward the end of his life, Bierce boasted that no woman had ever seen him naked.
Unable to live in the city, its smoke and fog aggravating his asthma, he fled domestic life in favor of small hideaways in Northern California. Alone, pensive, he wielded the acid pen that still earned him a living. When Bierce started at the Wasp in 1881, he added a new feature to his columns, wry definitions that mocked Webster’s. For the next 25 years he played the devil’s lexicographer. When the 1,000 definitions were later collected, The Devil’s Dictionary was born. It is still in print. Some of the definitions, which frequently surface in modern journalism, seem to have been written yesterday: “Liar, n.
Having narrowly escaped death, Bierce saw the Grim Reaper was a prankster, and mortality, the final joke. “Having murdered my mother under circumstances of singular atrocity . ” begins one story. Another opens: “Early one June morning in 1872 I murdered my father - an act which made a deep impression on me at the time . ” Bierce at his bitterest is an acquired taste. Critics were divided, but with the publication of his stories, aspiring writers on the West Coast flocked to him. He tolerated few human foibles, but he was generous of his time with young talent, reading hundreds of manuscripts and welcoming literary pilgrims to his hillside home.