A Psychological Shipwreck

"A Psychological Shipwreck" is a short story by American Civil War soldier, wit, and writer Ambrose Bierce and published by The Argonaut under the title "My Shipwreck" on May 24, 1879.[1] It was included in the 1893 collection Can Such Things Be?

Psychological Shipwreck, 1893
"A Psychological Shipwreck" as published in Can Such Things Be? in 1893

Plot summary

In Liverpool, William Jarrett (the first-person narrator) boards the Morrow, a sailing ship for New York City, with few other companions besides a woman, Miss Janette Harford. They become friendly and connect in a deep way that William assures the reader is not love. However, when he speaks of this feeling to Jannette, she takes up a strange look towards him and continues to look at him before closing her eyes. She appears to have fallen asleep. William looks at the book she is reading on her lap and where her index finger fell. It fell on a passage from Denneker's Meditations about souls meeting and knowing one another from beyond the body. Soon a storm sets in and creates havoc. The ship begins to sink and after Janette is ripped away from William, he passes out.

The narrator awakes in a berth on the City of Prague, a steamship that left at the same time as the Morrow and Jarrett had been originally invited to go aboard with his friend Gordon Doyle. The latter stares at him now trying to deduce what is going on. As William slowly learns, he has been on the City of Prague since she set sail from Liverpool. He also learns that Janette is Gordon's fiancée who was sent on the Morrow so that Doyle could settle things in New York before her arrival. William also notices the book that Doyle is reading which is Denneker's Meditations with a special passage marked, apparently a second copy that Janette had given him. When Gordon and Jarrett arrive in New York, they look for the Morrow to arrive, but it never appears.

In literature

"A Psychological Shipwreck" is quoted in the prologue to American science fiction writer Gene Wolfe's 1975 novella "Silhouette."[2] The theme of apportation -- human consciousness moving instantaneously between physical locations -- is integral to both stories.


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-03-12. Retrieved 2016-03-27.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "(urth) Short Story 71: Silhouette". lists.urth.net. Retrieved 2018-07-05.
Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (June 24, 1842 – circa 1914) was an American short story writer, journalist, poet, and Civil War veteran.

Bierce's book The Devil's Dictionary was named as one of "The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature" by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration. His story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" has been described as "one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature"; and his book Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (also published as In the Midst of Life) was named by the Grolier Club as one of the 100 most influential American books printed before 1900.A prolific and versatile writer, Bierce was regarded as one of the most influential journalists in the United States, and as a pioneering writer of realist fiction. For his horror writing, Michael Dirda ranked him alongside Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. His war stories influenced Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, and others, and he was considered an influential and feared literary critic. In recent decades Bierce has gained wider respect as a fabulist and for his poetry.In December 1913, Bierce traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico, to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. He disappeared, and was rumored to be traveling with rebel troops. He was never seen again.

Short stories

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