Episode 9: The Moonlit Road by Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce was a prominent American author in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He is most famous for his Devil’s Dictionary. He served in the Union Army in the American Civil War and his military experience forms the background of many of his stories.

He was born in a log cabin at Horse Cave Creek, Ohio. His ancestors were English puritans. By trade he began as a printer and he was later a journalist. 

He was a controversial figure often mired in argument and litigation. 

At the age of 71, heading for a tour of his old Civil War battlefields, Bierce disappeared. He wrote a letter from Chihuahua, then he disappeared. He was never found.

Bierce published the Moonlit Road in 1907.  This was just about the start of the literary and artistic movement known as Modernism, though its roots can be traced a little further back. While other classic ghost story authors are distinctly Victorian, the heyday of the ghost story, arguably, Bierce appears far more Modern, or even Modernist.

In the Moonlit Road, for example, Bierce uses multiple narrators giving overlapping, but distinct viewpoints of the same event. He uses this technique in other stories. It’s only through the composite that we see what has (may have) really happened, and even then, there are things missing.

There are three narrators to this story, the son, the father (gone mad and forgetful of his true identity) and the mother (now dead as a mournful ghost). The three together give us a fairly clear view of what has happened, but the fourth narrator is missing. Who is the mysterious figure leaving the house by the back door? It’s this figure that drives the husband into a jealous rage, leading him to kill his wife. And his wife is unaware that it is her husband that killed her. He thinks the figure is her lover. She thinks the figure is some monster. Why does the figure hesitate to come in and leave without encountering the wife?

Is the figure a real man? A thief? Or the personification of Death himself — soon to visit Mrs Hetman. 

The leaving out of the fourth witness to the tragedy is masterful, but then so much of Bierce is masterful.

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