The Ambrose Bierce Boom
Well, this seems to be the season of Ambrose Bierce, that strange chronicler of the Civil War. Probably most of you have read his “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and his Devil’s Dictionary. A bevy of books and shows have recently appeared by Bierce:
- A comprehensive three-volume set of Bierce’s short fiction was published by University of Tennessee Press. (You can view individual titles in the set and other Tennessee Bierce volumes here.) This is the most comprehensive set of Bierce stories I have seen: it collects 249 of his short stories with textual notes; in contrast the Library of America volume mentioned below only has 66 of his stories (plus the Devil’s Dictionary and a Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography.)
- The Library of America volume on Bierce. Although this volume was edited by S. T. Joshi, who was on three editorial teams: (1) of the University of Tennessee Press three-volume short story collection, (2) of University of Georgia’s extended Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, and (3) of the University of Tennessee Press edition of A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography of this version does not use either of them. However, the cheap Amazon price ($22) and the relatively generous selection of works makes this the best current edition for a broad overview of Bierce. By Library of America policy, no opening essay is available in this book, so it is worth reading Joshi’s interview on the topic and his introduction to A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography.
- Walker and Co. has produced a mangled version of “A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults” as Ambrose Bierce’s Write It Right: The Celebrated Cynic’s Language Peeves Deciphered, Appraised, and Annotated for 21st-Century Readers. I cannot recommend this volume because the editor is in war with Bierce and has no sympathy for his views on language.
- A small new publisher in Berkeley, Bart Schneider’s Kelly’s Cove Press is presenting heavily abridged editions: The Best of the Devil’s Dictionary and Civil War Stories.
- Both S. T. Joshi and Bart Schneider will reportedly have an interview on a local public radio program, KQED’s Forum on November 29th at 10 Pacific, and the interview should be available later.
- Bart Schneider also has written a one-man show (performed by Felix Justice) on Bierce that is appearing. I’m not so sure it is good, though. A blurb for the show claims:
Ambrose Bierce made himself at home in many forms of writing, and in the world, from whose surface he seemed to disappear in 1913. Now the infamous San Francisco writer is back, and black, as embodied by Felix Justice in a one-man show called Bierce Returns, written by Bart Schneider. Interesting that in the span of nearly a century, Bierce hasn’t aged at all. Then again, neither has his wit. "War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography," he once observed, and, well, here we are.
The problem is that Bierce never made that statement. However, if you want to watch the show anyway, performance details are here.
- The 2002 opera (libretto: Mac Wellman, score: David Lang), The Difficult of Crossing a Field based on the Ambrose Bierce story was first produced in San Francisco with accompaniment of the Kronos Quartet. I attended the world premier performance, and I found it outstanding, although a local newspaper published a negative review. It was recently restaged by the Long Beach Opera, to a more favorable review. The libretto has been published.
- In other Ambrose Bierce opera news, Rodney Waschka II’s Saint Ambrose and Thea Musgrave’s Occurrence at Owl Creek (recorded by the BBC) are now available on CD.