Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The legacy of Edward Bulwer-Lytton

The 1st time I heard the name Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) was out of the mouth of my college English professor Samuel F. Pickering, Jr.* so I hear it in my mind with his wonderful Tennessee accent. Bulwer-Lytton (1st image) was an English novelist remembered for being not only prolific, but verbose. Here are some of the well-remembered phrases of the writer (2nd image, the library at his family estate Knebworth House):
  • "the pen is mightier than the sword"
  • "the pursuit of the almighty dollar"
  • "the Great Unwashed"
The following quote, which begins with another familiar phrase, is used to inspire entrants of a special literary contest:
"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."
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has been sponsored since 1982 by the English Department at San Jose State University and now attracts tens of thousands of entries every year. Described as "a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels," it accepts multiple submissions, but discourages puns and entries that exceed 50-60 words. The winners of the 2011 competition have just been announced. Though the grand prizewinner is admirable, the winner in the Romance category is the one I find fall-down funny:
"As the dark and mysterious stranger approached, Angela bit her lip anxiously, hoping with every nerve, cell, and fiber of her being that this would be the one man who would understand - who would take her away from all this - and who would not just squeeze her boob and make a loud honking noise, as all the others had."
*This post is dedicated to Sam, a reader of this blog who published his latest book in February.

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