Can Such Things Be? | Part 2 | Ambrose Bierce | Horror | Story Review

Why I Picked The Book?

I was suggested to read Ambrose Bierce while exploring Gutenberg and searching for some good classic horror books. I didn’t wanted to miss the opportunity to read a classic and gothic horror book. So, just started reading it which is a compilation of various short stories. I have given a review of the stories I liked most.      

From Where I Got This Book?

 The stories are available online on and books are also available on Amazon.     

Author Introduction

  Ambrose Bierce was a civil war veteran, poet, journalist and a short story writer. He has many masterpieces  to his name but ” The Devil’s Dictionary” was named as one of ” The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature”. He was born in the year 1842 in United States. The Haunted Valley (1871) was his first story.     


1)A Diagnosis of Death

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“I go no further than a conviction that the living are sometimes seen where they are not, but have been- where they have lived so long. perhaps so intensely, as to have left their impress on everything about them.”

    Dr. Hawver, a doctor visits his relatives for spending a summer. But due to some problems he was not able to stay in his relative’s house, rather he stayed at another house where some other Dr. Mannering was living. But no one knew where Dr. Mannering is now.    Dr. Mannering was a brilliant doctor who could forecast death in advance of several months. One night, when Dr. Hawver was passing through the study when he felt something unusual. He saw Dr. Mannering coming towards him from his portrait lifting his right forefinger like a warning and vanished in thin air.   Was Dr. Mannering alive or it was just an apparition? Against what Dr. Mannering was warning Dr. hawver?    

2)Moxon’s Master

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“What is a ‘Machine’? The word has been variously defined. Here is one definition from a popular dictionary. ‘ Any instrument or organization by which power is applied and made effective or a desired effect produced.’ Well, then, is not a man a machine?”

  Moxon, an inventor and constructor of machines invents something which he still cannot exhibit in broad daylight. He is still confused between what he should call his creation ‘A Man’ or ‘A Machine’. Whatever he has created is still not perfect and a man made horror and Moxon intends to train it like a human being. But his every attempt fails. One night, he was in his workshop with his creation but under suspicious circumstances his mansion is engulfed in fire. No one knows what happened, except, Moxon died.

“Do you happen to recall Herbert Spencer’s definition of life? Life is a definite combination of heterogeneous changes, both simultaneous and successive, in correspondence with external coexistences and sequences.”

  What was Moxon’s creation? How did the house caught fire?     

3)A Tough Tussle

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“Its presence annoyed him, though he could hardly have had a quieter neighbour. He was conscious, too, of vague, indefinable feeling that was new to him. It was not fear, but rather a sense of the supernatural- in which he did not at all believe.”

Brainerd Byring, a brave and efficient second lieutenant was guarding his men in the woods of West Virginia for any surprise attacks. He positioned himself nearby on a rock. He was strong but could not evade the strangeness in the air of the woods.

Suddenly, he saw a dead body of a soldier lying near him. His mind starts playing tricks and an unknown feeling of horror grips his mind and body. The more he concentrates on the dead body, the more he feels the heat in his body. Night passed and in the morning Byring’s dead body was found by his men.

What killed Byring? Was it an apparition or a psychological fear in his mind?

Characters Portrayal  

Ambrose Bierce in these stories have not included too many characters rather he kept it short and simple and narrated it from the point of view of one character only.

In the story Diagnosis of Death, Dr. Hawver tries to investigate a situation but falls victim.

In Moxon’s Master, Moxon is somewhat of a believer that he can create his perfect machine but gradually becomes victim.

In A Tough Tussle, Byring believes that there is nothing like fear of spirits but still his mind plays tricks on him and makes him believe an uncanny presence around him.

My Opinion

If you have ever wanted to read a horror story with ‘malevolent’ and ‘wicked’ characters then this writer is for you. I would totally recommend to read these stories. The alluring part of the stories are that reason for hauntings are for you to decide. And the hauntings are spine chilling and while reading the story you will feel the eerie presence in these . A perfect combination of horror, chills and fear.   

Narrative Style

    The writing style of Ambrose Bierce is not of a descriptive one. Rather, he love to keep his readers hanging in the climax to build up thoughts about the story. The plot shots a sense of psychological fear on the readers. The choice of words for defining a person’s mental state due to an eerie presence is marvellous.     


  • Plot  –   5/5
  • Characters  –   5/5
  • Climax   –   5/5
  • Recommendation  –   5/5
  • Writing Style   –   5/5

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