Monday, September 5, 2011
The Devil's Dictionary: Review
The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce was much harder going than anticipated. Weighing in at a mere 145 pages, you would think I would have whizzed right through this. Not so much. Bierce was a well-known American journalist, editorialist, short story writer, critic, and satirist. His satiric wit is especially renowned. I had found several mentions of his classic satirical reference book over the years and grabbed a copy up when I saw it on the shelf at our Friends of the Library's book store.
This "reference" book offers up reinterpretations of various terms in the English language. He devotes a lot of entries to lampoons of cant and political doublespeak, as well as other aspects of human foolishness and frailty. The difficulty in reading it now is that I am sure that many of the entries were much more pointed and funny to the reading public of the first decade of the 1900s. There are numerous references that I either didn't get at all or only recognize vaguely. The entries that I "get" are very funny and I wish I understood all of them equally well. It would probably also help if I were more of an Americanist in my reading. If I were as grounded in American literature from the time period as I am in British lit, I'm sure I'd find the humor in a lot more entries.
Some of my favorites:
Oblivion, n. The state or condition in which the wicked cease from struggling and the dreary are at rest. Fame's eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A place where ambitious authors meet their works without pride and their betters without envy. A dormitory without an alarm clock.
Mausoleum, n. The final and funniest folly of the rich.
Egoist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
Telephone, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantage of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
Omen, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.
I suppose this can only count for the R. I. P. Challenge if we base it on the use of "Devil" in the title. I believe I'll read another book. Three stars...barely.