“A Psychological Shipwreck,” Ambrose Bierce, 1909

“A Psychological Shipwreck,” Ambrose Bierce, 1909 — After a turn for the worse in his business and the subsequent death of his partner–who could not “endure the fall from affluence to poverty–William Jarrett is exhausted.  He concludes some business in Liverpool and decides that an extended sea voyage home on The Morrow, an English sailing vessel, would be an agreeable diversion.

The ship isn’t meant for passengers, and the only other guests are a young woman named Janette Howard and her servant.  He learns from the servant that Janette is the adopted daughter of a family in South Carolina who took her in after both of her parents died the same day at their home.  Interestingly, the Jarrett and the man share the same name: William Jarrett.  He assumes that this man must be related to him, as he has a branch of family in South Carolina.  He and Janette become close friends.  One night, on the deck, he jokingly suggests that they have a connection.  When she looks at him, he is mesmerized by her eyes, which seem to contain a multitude of persons, all straining to see him.  He comes out of it to find her sleeping, her index finger on a passage in her book, Denneker’s Meditations. The passage speaks of leaving one’s body and crossing paths with one’s kin, unknowing. A storm sinks the ship and Jarrett loses Janette in the sea.

When he comes to, he finds himself in the stateroom of a steamer with his friend, Gordon Doyle.  Doyle confirms that Jarrett never boarded The Morrow; he’s been on their ship for the last few weeks. He also reveals that he’s engaged to Janette and that he has a twin copy of Denneker’s Meditations.  Her family disapproves of their engagement, so they took separate ships to their destination.  However, The Morrow is “never heard from” again.

Comments: Themes of kinship (Jarrett/Janette), dreams, disembodiment, the mind.  See H. Bruce Franklin’s commentary in Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century.

Author: Wikipedia: “Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (born June 24, 1842; died sometime after December 26, 1913) was an American editorialist, journalist, short story writer, fabulist, and satirist.”


About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926 and earlier, dreams/hypnosis, love/family/children, psych/mind/madness. Bookmark the permalink.

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