Candlemas: The Crimson Candle by Ambrose Bierce

published in Fantastic Fables 1899

A man lying at the point of death called his wife to his bedside and said:

"I am about to leave you forever; give me, therefore, one last proof of your affection and fidelity, for, according to our holy religion, a married man seeking admittance at the gate of Heaven is required to swear that he has never defiled himself with an unworthy woman. In my desk you will find a crimson candle, which has been blessed by the High Priest and has a peculiar mystical significance. Swear to me that while it is in existence you will not remarry."

The Woman swore and the Man died. At the funeral the Woman stood at the head of the bier, holding a lighted crimson candle till it was wasted entirely away.

observations: And that’s it, that’s the whole story. You might have to read it twice, knowing it is complete, to truly appreciate it. Ambrose Bierce himself is almost too fascinating to be true…

He was born in 1842, fought in the American Civil War, then lived his life as a journalist and writer.

He wrote An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which Kurt Vonnegut thought the best ever American short story, and one that lives on in people’s imaginations. It has been frequently adapted and rediscovered. Its premise is similar to that of William Golding’s (much longer) Pincher Martin.

He wrote the Devil’s Dictionary, a book of cynical funny definitions, for example this: HOSPITALITY, n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.

And at the age of 71 he went travelling in Mexico, where a revolution was underway, and disappeared. No-one knows what happened to him, though people are still trying to work it out.

February 2nd is the feast of Candlemas.

Links on the blog: This Virginia Woolf heroine gets ready for bed by candlelight, whereas last year’s Candlemas women were subject to a powercut.

The picture is from the National Archives of the Netherlands, and her lovely dress and striking attitude are to make up for there not really being any clothes in this very short story. And it's for Dee because it made me think of her.


  1. I was just thinking yesterday that today was Candlemass and how no one celebrates it any more. In some churches they used to take down the Christmas crib then. I doubt they wait so long now.


Post a Comment