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Ambrose Bierce

For those who like the darkness and eeriness of Edgar Allan Poe or The Twilight Zone, give Ambrose Bierce a try, if you haven't already.

Although not as well known as he once was, Bierce was a masterful author with a biting, cynical wit. Thus, his works range from short stories such as "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," to non-fiction such as Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults (of which I have a second edition), to his sardonic The Devil's Dictionary, and even to journalism.

His "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" has been filmed a number of times, including a TV version for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a Cannes-winning French version later shown on The Twilight Zone. There don't appear to have been any versions of "A Psychological Shipwreck," filmed, but it would have made a fine episode for the Twilight Zone.

In 1913, he even rode with Pancho Villa's army in the Mexican Revolution, until he disappeared somewhere around the end of 1913 or the beginning of 1914.

As a sample of his wit, here are a few representative quotes, from The Devil's Dictionary:
  • ALONE, adj. In bad company.
  • AMBIDEXTROUS, adj. Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket or a left.
  • BEAUTY, n. The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.
  • BIGOT, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
  • BRIDE, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
  • ELECTOR, n. One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man's choice.
  • GRAVE, n. A place in which the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student.
  • HOMICIDE, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homocide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another -- the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.
  • HUSBAND, n. One who, having dined, is charged with the care of the plate.
  • LAWYER, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.
  • MARRIAGE, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
  • PEACE, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.
  • POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage
  • POLITICIAN, n. An eel in the fundamental mud upon which the superstructure of organized society is reared. When we wriggles he mistakes the agitation of his tail for the trembling of the edifice. As compared with the statesman, he suffers the disadvantage of being alive.
  • PRESIDENT, n. The leading figure in a small group of men of whom -- and of whom only -- it is positively known that immense numbers of their countrymen did not want any of them for President.
  • VOTE, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.
(Source: Among various pages from The Devil's Dictionary. Be forewarned: Not everything there is exactly "politically correct.")
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