Ambrose Bierce: A Biography

Ambrose Bierce: A Biography

Ambrose Bierce: A Biography

Ambrose Bierce: A Biography

Excerpt

It was the unique distinction of Ambrose Bierce to be referred to as dead when he was living, and to be mentioned as living when he was indubitably dead. His reputation is based on a series of elaborately interwoven paradoxes. Even to attempt a biographical study of his life requires a preliminary analysis of this critical confusion. His name is already a legend and his reputation is almost mythical so far has it been divorced from the central values of his work. Time has crystallized the mistaken opinions of his contemporaries into a generally accepted theory of his work. Such is the fate that befalls the "obscure" type in letters. Myth becomes imposed on myth, legend is interlaced with legend, so that in the course of time it becomes necessary to remove one layer of misunderstanding after another until at least the outline of the original may be traced over the pattern of errors that time has somewhat erased. Perhaps the "myth" is already a tradition and that a dissociation of ideas is impossible. It is a doubt which has often troubled me.

Some men are predestined to be the subject of misunderstanding, as though some quality about their lives invited absurd comment and irrelevant observation. Such a man was Ambrose Bierce. It is seriously to be doubted if there exists another figure in American literature about whom as much irregular and unreliable critical comment has been written. He has been characterized as great, bitter, idealistic, cynical, morose, frustrated, cheerful, bad, sadistic, obscure, perverted, famous, brutal, kind, a fiend, a God, a misanthrope, a poet, a realist who wrote romances, a fine satirist and something of a charlatan. Surely . . .

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