Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842 – circa 1914) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist. He wrote the short story "An Occurrence at
Despite his reputation as a searing critic, Bierce was known to encourage younger writers, including the poets George Sterling and Herman George Scheffauer and the fiction writer W. C. Morrow. Bierce employed a distinctive style of writing, especially in his stories. His style often embraces an abrupt beginning, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, impossible events, and the theme of war.
In 1913, Bierce traveled to
At the outset of the American Civil War, Bierce enlisted in the Union Army's 9th Indiana Infantry. He participated in the Operations in Western Virginia campaign (1861), was present at the "first battle" at
Bierce fought at the Battle of Shiloh (April 1862), a terrifying experience that became a source for several later short stories and the memoir "What I Saw of Shiloh". In June 1864, he sustained a serious head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, and spent the rest of the summer on furlough, returning to active duty in September. He was discharged from the army in January 1865.
His military career resumed, however, when in mid-1866 he rejoined General Hazen as part of the latter's expedition to inspect military outposts across the
During his lifetime, Bierce was better known as a journalist than as a fiction writer. His most popular stories were written in rapid succession between 1888 and 1891, in what was characterized as "a tremendous burst of consummate art". Bierce's works often highlight the inscrutability of the universe and the absurdity of death.
Bierce wrote realistically of the terrible things he had seen in the war in such stories as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", "A Horseman in the Sky", "One of the Missing", and "Chickamauga". His grimly realistic cycle of 25 war stories has been called "the greatest anti-war document in American literature".
According to Milton Subotsky, Bierce helped pioneer the psychological horror story. In addition to his ghost and war stories, he also published several volumes of poetry. His Fantastic Fables anticipated the ironic style of grotesquerie that became a more common genre in the 20th century.
One of Bierce's most famous works is the much-quoted Devil's Dictionary, originally an occasional newspaper item, first published in book form in 1906 as The Cynic's Word Book. It consists of satirical definitions of English words which lampoon cant and political double-talk.
Bierce's twelve-volume Collected Works were published in 1909, the seventh volume of which consists solely of The Devil's Dictionary, the title Bierce himself preferred to The Cynic's Word Book.
Bierce has been criticized by his contemporaries and later scholars for deliberately pursuing improbability and for his penchant toward "trick endings". In his later stories, apparently under the influence of Maupassant, Bierce "dedicated himself to shocking the audience", as if his purpose was "to attack the reader's smug intellectual security".
Bierce's bias towards Naturalism has also been noted: "The biting, deriding quality of his satire, unbalanced by any compassion for his targets, was often taken as petty meanness, showing contempt for humanity and an intolerance to the point of merciless cruelty".
Stephen Crane was of the minority of Bierce's contemporaries that valued Bierce's experimental short stories. In his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature", H. P. Lovecraft characterized Bierce's fictional work as "grim and savage." Lovecraft goes on to say that nearly all of Bierce's stories are of the horror genre and some shine as great examples of weird fiction.