Friday, June 18, 2010

The Moonlit Road

Ambrose Bierce (1842–1914?)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps

In a recent issue of the journal Dead Reckonings, literary critic S. T. Joshi mentioned “The Moonlit Road,” proclaiming the story “poignant and terrifying” and “far too little known.” At first, Bierce’s tale reads like a simple whodunit: its three conflicting narratives seem to fit together and “what happened” might seem straightforward, but a closer reading causes hesitation: Where is “Caspar Grattan” living and what happens to him in the end? Who is “767”? Can we trust the “medium Bayrolles”? As Martin Griffin writes in a perceptive essay, the story’s “doubts and implications are not resolved but rather . . . bequeathed to the reader, to see if he or she can make any sense of them.”

Certain aspects of the story echo Bierce’s own life—particularly the themes of suspicion and infidelity. His wife died in 1905, only months before their divorce had been finalized, and he wrote the story the following year (it was published in the January 1907 issue of
Cosmopolitan). The couple had permanently separated two decades earlier when he found letters to her from a Danish man with whom she had become friendly. According to their daughter Helen, the long-distance friendship was never romantic but rather “a decorous and discreet fascination.” But Bierce walked out and never saw her again: “I don’t take part in competitions—not even in love.” Soon after their separation, a far more tragic love triangle occurred. Their seventeen-year-old son Day shot and killed his best friend, and then himself, after the latter had eloped with Day’s girlfriend.

A final note: Although it may be “far too little known,” “The Moonlit Road” became stepfather to one of the twentieth century’s greatest movies. Martin Griffin reminds us that Bierce’s tale was the inspiration for “Yabu no naka” (“In the Grove”), a story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, which provided the plot and characters for Akira Kurosawa’s 1950
Rashomon. (Only the movie’s title and the setting are taken from another story by Akutagawa.)

I
STATEMENT OF JOEL HETMAN, JR.

I am the most unfortunate of men. Rich, respected, fairly well educated and of sound health—with many other advantages usually valued by those having them and coveted by those who have them not—I sometimes think that I should be less unhappy if they had been denied me, for then the contrast between my outer and my inner life would not be continually demanding a painful attention. In the stress of privation and the need of effort I might sometimes forget the somber secret ever baffling the conjecture that it compels.

I am the only child of Joel and Julia Hetman. The one was a well-to-do country gentleman, the other a beautiful and accomplished woman to whom he was passionately attached with what I now know to have been a jealous and exacting devotion. The family home was a few miles from Nashville, Tennessee, a large, irregularly built dwelling of no particular order of architecture, a little way off the road, in a park of trees and shrubbery.

At the time of which I write I was nineteen years old, a student at Yale. One day I received a telegram from my father of such urgency that in compliance with its unexplained demand I left at once for home. . . .If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

3 comments:

Beljacs said...

The most famous life story written
from four views is the one told by
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy the e-short stories very much. I usually have several books going at once. It is nice to be able to finish a story at one sitting.

Thank you for your continuing efforts to bring literature to the busy.

Jed Rink said...

Chilling story!I enjoyed it. Thankyou so much.