Ambrose Bierce and the Dance of Death uses psychoanalytic theory in combination with historical, cultural, and literary contexts to examine the complex motif of death in a full range of Bierce’s writings. Scholarly interest in Bierce, whose work has long been undervalued, has grown significantly in recent years. This new book contributes to the ongoing reassessment by providing new contexts for joining the texts in his canon in meaningful ways.
Previous attempts to consider Bierce from a psychological perspective have been superficial, often reductive Freudian readings of individual stories such as “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “The Death of Halpin Frayser.” This new volume not only updates these interpretations with insights from post-Freudian theorists but uses contemporary death theory as a framework to analyze the sources and expressions of Bierce’s attitudes about death and dying. This approach makes it possible to discern links among texts that resolve some of the still puzzling ambiguities that have—until now—precluded a fuller understanding of both the man and his writings.
Lively and engaging, Ambrose Bierce and the Dance of Death adds valuable new insights not only to the study of Bierce but to that of nineteenth-century American literature in general.
Latin epics such as Virgil’s Aeneid, Lucan’s Civil War, and Statius’s Thebaid addressed Roman aristocrats whose dealings in gifts, favors, and payments defined their conceptions of social order. In The Commerce of War, Neil Coffee argues that these exchanges play a central yet overlooked role in epic depictions of Roman society.
Tracing the collapse of an aristocratic worldview across all three poems, Coffee highlights the distinction they draw between reciprocal gift giving among elites and the more problematic behaviors of buying and selling. In the Aeneid, customary gift and favor exchanges are undermined by characters who view human interaction as short-term and commodity-driven. The Civil War takes the next logical step, illuminating how Romans cope once commercial greed has supplanted traditional values. Concluding with the Thebaid, which focuses on the problems of excessive consumption rather than exchange, Coffee closes his powerful case that these poems constitute far-reaching critiques of Roman society during its transition from republic to empire.
The Language of War examines the relationship between language and violence, focusing on American literature from the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. James Dawes proceeds by developing two primary questions: How does the strategic violence of war affect literary, legal, and philosophical representations? And, in turn, how do such representations affect the reception and initiation of violence itself? Authors and texts of central importance in this far-reaching study range from Louisa May Alcott and William James to William Faulkner, the Geneva Conventions, and contemporary American organizational sociology and language theory.The consensus approach in literary studies over the past twenty years has been to treat language as an extension of violence. The idea that there might be an inverse relation between language and violence, says Dawes, has all too rarely influenced the dominant voices in literary studies today. This is an ambitious project that not only makes a serious contribution to American literary history, but also challenges some of the leading theoretical assumptions of our day.
A Prescription for Adversity makes the revolutionary case that Ambrose Bierce, far from being a bitter misanthrope, was instead both a compassionate and moral author. Berkove, focusing on Bierce's short fiction, establishes the necessity of recognizing the pattern of his intellectual and literary development over the course of his career. The author shows that Bierce, probably the American author with the most extensive experience of the Civil War, turned to classical Stoicism and English and French Enlightenment literature in his postwar search for meaning. Bierce's fiction arose from his ultimately unsatisfying encounters with the philosophies those sources offered, but the moral commitment as well as the literary techniques of heir authors, particularly Jonathan Swift, inspired him. Dating Bierce's fiction, and introducing uncollected journalism, correspondence, and important new literary history and biographical information, Berkove brings new insights to a number of stories, including "A Son of the Gods" and "A Horseman in the Sky," but especially "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," and presents compelling readings of the Parenticide Club tales and "Moxon's Master." A Prescription for Adversity substantiates how Bierce at his best is one of the few American authors who rises to the level of Mark Twain, and the only one who touches Jonathan Swift.
A work of both biography and literary criticism, this book rescues Ambrose Bierce and his literature from the neglect to which it has been assigned by "ill-founded, obtuse and unproductive approaches based on skewed notions of his personality and forced or facile readings of individual stories."
An interdisciplinary study of Katherine Anne Porter’s troubled relationship to her Texas origins and southern roots, South by Southwest offers a fresh look at this ever-relevant author.
Today, more than thirty years after her death, Katherine Anne Porter remains a fascinating figure. Critics and biographers have portrayed her as a strikingly glamorous woman whose photographs appeared in society magazines. They have emphasized, of course, her writing— particularly the novel Ship of Fools, which was made into an award-winning film, and her collection Pale Horse, Pale Rider, which cemented her role as a significant and original literary modernist. They have highlighted her dramatic, sad, and fragmented personal life. Few, however, have addressed her uneasy relationship to her childhood in rural Texas.
Janis P. Stout argues that throughout Porter’s life she remained preoccupied with the twin conundrums of how she felt about being a woman and how she felt about her Texas origins. Her construction of herself as a beautiful but unhappy southerner sprung from a plantation aristocracy of reduced fortunes meant she construed Texas as the Old South. The Texas Porter knew and re-created in her fiction had been settled by southerners like her grandparents, who brought slaves with them. As she wrote of this Texas, she also enhanced and mythologized it, exaggerating its beauty, fertility, and gracious ways as much as the disaffection that drove her to leave. Her feelings toward Texas ran to both extremes, and she was never able to reconcile them.
Stout examines the author and her works within the historical and cultural context from which she emerged. In particular, Stout emphasizes four main themes in the history of Texas that she believes are of the greatest importance in understanding Porter: its geography and border location (expressed in Porter’s lifelong fascination with marginality, indeterminacy, and escape); its violence (the brutality of her first marriage as well as the lawlessness that pervaded her hometown); its racism (lynchings were prevalent throughout her upbringing); and its marginalization of women (Stout draws a connection between Porter’s references to the burning sun and oppressive heat of Texas and her life with her first husband).
In The Unwritten War, Daniel Aaron examines the literary output of American writers—major and minor—who treated the Civil War in their works. He seeks to understand why this devastating and defining military conflict has failed to produce more literature of a notably high and lasting order, why there is still no "masterpiece" of Civil War fiction.
In his portraits and analyses of 19th- and some 20th-century writers, Aaron distinguishes between those who dealt with the war only marginally—Henry Adams, Henry James, William Dean Howells, Mark Twain-and those few who sounded the war's tragic import—Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and William Faulkner. He explores the extent to which the war changed the direction of American literature and how deeply it entered the consciousness of American writers. Aaron also considers how writers, especially those from the South, discerned the war's moral and historical implications.
The Unwritten War was originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1973. The New Republic declared, [This book's] major contribution will no doubt be to American literary history. In this respect it resembles Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore and is certain to become an indispensable guide for anyone who wants to explore the letters, diaries, journals, essays, novels, short stories, poems-but apparently no plays-which constitute Civil War literature. The mass of material is presented in a systematic, luminous, and useful way.
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