Friday, May 25, 2012

He wrote 'It was a dark and stormy night'

Edward Bulwer-Lytton
It is the birthday of Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803), who may have been the master of the cliché, though he certainly didn't start out that way. Bulwer-Lytton is credited with the phrases "the pen is mightier than the sword" and "it was a dark and stormy night," among others, and was satirized by Edgar Allan Poe, Madeleine L'Engle and even Snoopy in the Peanuts comic strip. Bulwer-Lytton served as a member of Parliament, and at one time was Secretary of State for the Colonies, but it is his writing for which he is most remembered. He made a considerable fortune turning out quite popular dime novels. It's a good thing he was successful as a writer. His mother cut off his allowance when he married an Irish beauty, Rosina Wheeler, against her wishes. He had a tempestuous private life. His marriage to Rosina ended in divorce after his indiscretions. Rosina published a fictional version of their life that bordered on libel. When he ran for Parliament, his ex denounced him publicly and he retaliated with vengeance. He threatened her publisher, refused to let her visit their children, cut off her allowance and, eventually, had her committed to a mental institution. She was released after a few weeks and much public outrage. She continued public ridicule of her ex-husband and wrote of his attacks in her memoir, A Blighted Life (1880). As popular as he was in his own time, his writing has spawned a Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in which contestants submit opening lines in the vein of the author's Paul Clifford (1830): "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." Snoopy, where are you when we need you?

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