October 30, 2004

Feminism questioned: "The Devil's Dictionary"

In this EBSCO article, I finally found researched evidence of my belief that Mr. Bierce may have had some pent-up frustrations about women, spilling into his "Devil's Dictionary":

In "The Haunted Valley" a love relationship ends in death because of a woman's infidelity, a theme Bierce comes back to again and again. In his Devil's Dictionary, Bierce defines female as "one of the opposing, or unfair, sex" (Writings 238); he defines fidelity as "a virtue peculiar to those who are about to be betrayed" (240). Infidelity seems to have touched Bierce's own life at several points. His wartime love affair with Bernie (Fatima) Wright appears to have ended with her turning her attentions to other men. For Bierce, even the "faintest suggestion of disloyalty from someone he loved was unbearable" (O'Connor 42). Wright made an impression on Bierce's life that seems to be beyond her importance as an individual. According to Richard O'Connor, she unknowingly "contributed . . . to some of the bitterest anti-feminist phrases ever written" (42). When Bierce was writing "The Haunted Valley," he was courting Mollie Day, his future wife. Was Bierce entertaining suspicions that Mollie would eventually turn her attention elsewhere as Wright had? We will probably never know, but it remains a fact that infidelity figures prominently in his first published piece of fiction written at the time of their courtship. In 1888, Bierce and Mollie separated; the next year Bierce published many of his Civil War stories that use the ravine symbol coupled with the infidelity theme. The most striking instance of this juxtaposition provides the basis for "The Affair at Coulter's Notch," published in October 1889. During the previous summer, Bierce's son, Day, was killed in a duel over his unfaithful fiancee (McWilliams 76-77). (from A HAUNTING MEMORY: AMBROSE BIERCE AND THE RAVINE OF THE DEAD , By: Conlogue, William, Studies in Short Fiction, 00393789, Winter91, Vol. 28, Issue 1)

Sorry I can't provide a link. EBSCO Host is the devil.

While the Conlogue's article does have some issues of doubt, the parallels in this paragraph alone are staggering.

During my presentation a while ago, the controversy was sparked that Bierce was trying to be an early feminist; however, as this demonstrates, he may just be poking fun at women in general for his enjoyment, rather than impelling a change in society.

I came to Bierce's writings literally, as McNab does, rather than the figurative manner that some in the class seemed to do. While I wasn't as extreme as she is: "I can't read much of Bierce's work: the book grows dusty on the shelf because it makes me depressed, and are there quite enough things in life to get a trans woman down without subjecting myself to pages of printed gloom," I did get angry with him for making women look so incredibly wenchy.

I mean, really, how can you spin some definitions, such as FEMALE, n.
One of the opposing, or unfair, sex, into a positive light, supposedly impelling change? However, I can see where one may be mislead in this assertion. In the woman definition, for example, "the woman is lithe and graceful in its movement, especially the American variety (felis pugnans), is omnivorous and can be taught not to talk,"
Bierce in a literal sense, bashes women, but if turned around, one can see that Bierce may be making a statement that women are being subjected by masters. By the number of the literal definitions, there are definitely more entries with hits on women, such as queen, and earlier in woman and maiden, that one may note the vision of feminity is not conveyed in the most shimmering form.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at October 30, 2004 10:13 AM
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