Thu, 8 September 2016
A knot of monks happens upon a gallows in the middle of a dark forest. Hanging from the gallows is a fresh corpse, and underneath the dangling wretch a young woman performs a haunting dance. Ambrose Bierce, today on The Classic Tales Podcast.
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After our long and exciting summer run of Tarzan, I wanted to do something a bit more subtle and literary before we jump into the horrors of October. Ambrose Bierce is most famous for his story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. However, many consider The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter to be his real masterpiece. First published serially in 1891, it has an atmospheric fairy tale feel like many popular stories of the time. The subtle transformation of the monk Ambrosius from innocent monk to violent zealot is where Bierce really shines. When an innocent monk falls in love, his efforts to suppress his natural feelings result in a gradual descent toward calamity.
From the introduction to the 1967 edition, copyright by The George Macy Companies, scholar Maurice Valency writes:
“… his spiritual discomfort is enhanced by his heroic efforts to transcend the normal appetites of a young and healthy body. The consequence is a special sort of erotic frenzy, and a series of rationalizations which end in madness. Insofar as such a story is said to have a moral, it is plain: Nature is not to be denied. If we try to shut it out, it presents itself in another guise, and it becomes terrible…. Love comes to the monk Ambrosius with terrible urgency. Because his heart is pure, his passion is transformed into zeal; his jealousy becomes sacred; his revenge a vocation, and in death he finds his priesthood…. [He is]… the victim of an excess of goodness.”
And now, The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter, Part 1 of 3, by Ambrose Bierce