Short Story #200: The Suitable Surroundings by Ambrose Bierce

Title: The Suitable Surroundings

Author: Ambrose Bierce


Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceA boy lost in the woods at night stumbles upon the old abandoned Breede house where he sees a light emanating from the a window.  He slowly approaches the window and looks in to see a man staring at the window with a candle in front of him on a table.  The boy believes the man might be dead and starts to move, but the supposed deadman reels back in fear and blows out the candle.  The boy runs home.  The story moves to earlier in the day when a writer named Colston rebuffs an acquaintance named Marsh for reading Colston's story in the wrong conditions.  Colston insists that if Marsh is to read his ghost story, he should read it in the right atmosphere, not on a trolley car in the morning as Marsh had been doing.  Colston is clearly offended and accuses Marsh of not being brave enough to read it in the right setting.  Marsh takes him up on this challenge and Colston hands him another story he has on him to read in Breede's house at midnight.  The narrative jumps to the following day wherein the boy is bringing several men to the Breede house to reveal the body that he has found.  The men don't believe him but when they get there, they find a body and it is Marsh.  Upon his body is the supposed story by Colston.  However, it is not a story but a suicide note that Colston wrote after having felt guilty about not speaking up with Breede (the old owner of the house) had committed suicide several years ago.  An addendum piece reports that Colston was apprehended while trying to commit suicide and had been admitted into an insane asylum.


I liked this story much more than some of the other Bierce I had been reading.  It had a good amount of moving parts and elements to the story and kept the reader guessing through the entire story.  It was interesting to see Bierce's belief about the nature of relationship between author and reader too:  

"The right to the reader's undivided attention. To deny him this is immoral. To make him share your attention with the rattle of a street car, the moving panorama of the crowds on the sidewalks, and the buildings beyond--with any of the thousands of distractions which make our customary environment--is to treat him with gross injustice. By God, it is infamous!"

Short Story #200 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 7/19/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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