CAN SUCH THINGS BE? Ambrose Bierce.

CAN SUCH THINGS BE? New York: The Cassell Publishing Co., [1893]. Octavo, pp. [i-ii] iii-iv [1] 2-320, flyleaves at front and rear, original decorated mustard cloth, front panel stamped in brown and black, spine panel stamped in black and gold, rear panel stamped in blind. First edition. Like some copies, including both copyright deposit copies, the advertisements at back (leaves [21] 3-8) are excised. The second of two collections of Bierce's short stories published during his lifetime and one of the author's less common first editions. An important book. "Bierce is the finest American author of supernatural horror fiction in the second half of the nineteenth century, clearly dominating the period in between Poe and Lovecraft, and in some ways, a superior craftsman to either of them. That his reputation lags theirs is partly due to the strengths of his own style, which is spare and elliptical (i.e., deflationary) where theirs is lush and hyperbolic (i.e., inflationary). It is the occupational hazard of the satirist, who bows down to nothing, to have no one bow down to him. Bitter Bierce, as he was tagged by his peers, had the sardonic detachment of the newspaper man who has observed more than his share of suffering and depravity. This gave him mainly a detachment from dogmatism. He never lost that warm interest in either observation or speculation, fuels for the creative engine, but he kept each in its own province. As he writes in the last sentence of this book, 'It is not my duty to indue facts and theories with affinity.' One of the hallmarks of Bierce's style is to put physical and metaphysical horrors together in the same room and let them fight it out. This tolerance, or, indeed, fascination with the mysterious, is the beating heart inside the cool composure of these stories. Not the least of the mysteries here is that so many of them have to do with unexplained disappearances, a theme prophetic of the fate of the author himself, who disappeared sometime around 1914, somewhere around Mexico. CAN SUCH THINGS BE? is Bierce's key collection of weird tales. An epigraph to the first story, by 'Hali' (real? invented?) points out the dangers not only of the disembodied ghost but of the disensouled corpse. In this pairing of the spiritual and the material (or rather, the balanced consideration of the two after their dissolution) lies a hint about the nature not just of this story ('The Death of Halpin Frayser') but of Bierce's approach in all these stories. Bierce's ghosts are not the ethereal messengers of the Gothic tradition that colored so much of Victorian weird fiction as well. They are gruesome and grotesque – and malevolent. And Bierce's style, in treating the enigmatic and bizarre with a brevity and vigor gained from journalistic discipline, shows a similar balance of the otherworldly and the matter-of-fact. Elliptical and straightforward, detached and passionate, grotesque and sublime: that's Bierce. At the other end of the book, a final note, appearing after the three very short stories collected as 'Mysterious Disappearances,' advances, in connection with them, the theory of one Dr. Hern of Leipsiz concerning non-Euclidean space and what we would now call black holes. Contrary to Bleiler's characterization of Bierce's tone here as scoffing (Science Fiction: The Early Years, p. 65), we read it as respectful and curious. (It might also be pointed out that, contrary to what Bleiler says [ibid., p. 64], this note, later labeled 'Science to the Front,' appears here for the first time, not in the Neale Collected Works edition [1909].) The note, in fact, puts these stories squarely in the tradition of science fiction as well as supernatural fiction, the wall between these being more permeable to writers of this period than to those of ours." - Robert Eldridge. Anatomy of Wonder (1976) 2-17 and (1981) 1-23. Bleiler, The Guide to Supernatural Fiction 163. Bleiler, Science-Fiction: The Early Years 198. Clareson, The Emergence of American Science Fiction: 1880-1915, pp. 55-65. Clareson, Science Fiction in America 1870s-1930s 073. Clute and Grant (eds), The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), p. 110-11. Clute and Nicholls (eds), The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993), pp. 118-19. Sullivan (ed), The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, pp. 33-4. Survey of Science Fiction Literature I, pp. 283-87. Tymn (ed), Horror Literature 3-21. BAL 1114. Starrett 12. Wright (III) 521. Baird and Greenwood, An Annotated Bibliography of California Fiction 1664-1970 249. Attached to the rear endpaper is a newspaper clipping with a contemporary review of the book, which, though highly critical of it, inadvertently points towards those qualities that readers today find to be virtues, calling the work "characteristic of the crude and undeveloped condition of our west coast literature" and "unrelieved in any way by softer qualities." Early owner's bookplate affixed to front paste-down. Slight spine lean, cloth a bit worn at spine ends, a bit of light dust soiling to cloth, but a solid very good copy. Actually, quite a nice copy of a book seldom encountered in decent shape. (#153231).

Price: $3,500.00

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