Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On "Tales of Soldiers and Civilians" by Ambrose Bierce ****

Ambrose Bierce is a figure whose work has long intrigued me because of my utter unfamiliarity with it. His classic "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" shows up in a ton of anthologies has been made into a good short film. His Devil's Dictionary has many fine short quips. But beyond that, he is a mystery figure.

With that in mind, I listened to a set of ghost stories of his that were available online. And now, because I'm reading more extensively in his time period, I've opted also to read his classic Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. If I'd stopped at just reading the soldier stories, I've have thought I had missed out on an absolute classic. Unfortunately, the second half of the collection, the civilians, is mostly lackluster--familiar ghost stories or melodramatic stories about people dealing with death.

The soldier stories, however, fit quite nicely with the work of Stephen Crane and others of the naturalist school of fiction of Bierce's day. Sometimes, Bierce sticks in the requisite ghost, but here, amid soldiers wasting away, almost ghosts themselves in life, the phantoms seem as if they belong. Bierce seems intent on stripping away the glories of war and presenting us only the gory, sad plight that war drops men--or former men--into. His world is harsh, like our own can be.

The gist of the text I read can be found here at Project Gutenberg.

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