Ambrose Bierce’s classic tale of civil war and divided loyalties. Bierce was himself a wounded veteran of the War Between the States, fighting on the northern side of the front. His Civil War stories, including his most famous tale, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge “, all have the flavour of personal experience – and horrror.
Elbert Hubbard’s classic essay, dashed off in just a few minutes and first published in 1899, is in many respects a product of its jingoistic and boosterist times, but it still packs a certain punch today. You can read the original essay HERE. The actual eyewitness account of Lt. Andrew Rowan, the man who, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, risked almost certain death by actually carrying a message from US President Willliam McKinley to the rebel general Calixto Garcia in the mountains of Cuba, and surviving to tell the tale, is a fascinating read in itself. The core message of the story, and Hubbard’s inspirational take on it, lies in this passage:
In instances of this kind, where one’s reputation, as well as his life, is at stake, it is usual to ask for written instructions. In military service the life of the man is at the disposal of his country, but his reputation is his own and it ought not be placed in the hands of anyone with power to destroy it, either by neglect or otherwise. But in this case it never occurred to me to ask for written instructions; my sole thought was that I was charged with a message to Garcia and to get from him certain information and that I was going to do it.
This might not be something you’ve given a lot of thought to, but I’ve often wondered at how some people, instead of hauling it all to the second-hand shop, adopt the leftover clothing of their deceased loved ones and wear it proudly, often without benefit of dry-cleaning. I suspect this behavior goes beyond mere recycling. It seems to have a sort of talismanic quality, reminiscent of the bearskin coats of the ancient berserkers, or the latterday bearskin caps of the palace guards in London, where the wearer is hoping to absorb some of the essence of the original owner. Tonight’s essay touches on this singularly touchy topic, which I’ve never seen written about anywhere else.
No one likes to come in second place, particularly when it’s a question of love affairs and relationships. But let’s face it: How often do we know for sure where we stand when it comes to such things? And do we really, in all seriousness now, want to know for sure…?
In tonight’s tale of romantic runners-up and psychological sloppy seconds by Tessa Hadley, we learn what it’s like to juggle a couple of lovers ourselves – and why a desperate college girl just might be tempted to try it.
In this short story, Kate Chopin effortlessly captures the feeling of pathos and loss that tales of the Civil War always seem to engender within us, regardless of which side of the front we might have stood on if we had been alive at the time and been forced to take a stand. It’s a fine vignette of Southern Gothic and Cajun nostalgia.
John Cheever (1912-1982) was one of the greatest of twentieth century short story writers, his works gaining him the nickname “Chekhov of the suburbs” for his many disturbing tales of life in New York City and its deceptively peaceful looking surroundings. Tonight’s story, first published in 1954, neatly captures the casual cruelty and open terror that lurks within the seemingly normal, middle class, genteel and respectable world of post-World War II American society.