Besting Bulwer-Lytton

January 18: On this day in 1873 the novelist-historian Edward George Bulwer-Lytton died. Although widely read in Victorian England, Bulwer-Lytton is now mostly known for his influence upon other writers. Most famously, he told his friend Charles Dickens that his proposed ending to Great Expectations was too bleak, whereupon Dickens rewrote it to bring Pip and Estella back together. Most infamously, he holds a prestigious place in the history of literary parody for inspiring the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest with this rambling wreck of a sentence, which opens his 1830 novel, Paul Clifford:

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.

After twenty-eight years, the B-L Contest has a half-dozen compilations of contest entries published as books themselves—It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, Son of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, Bride of Dark and Stormy, etc.—and now nine contest categories. Behold a sampling of winners for 2010:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss—a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.

(Molly Ringle—Grand Prize Winner)

 

"Trent, I love you," Fiona murmered, and her nostrils flared at the faint trace of her lover's masculine scent, sending her heart racing and her mind dreaming of the life they would live together, alternating sumptuous world cruises with long, romantic interludes in the mansion on his private island, alone together except for the maids, the cook, the butler, and Dirk and Rafael, the hard-bodied pool boys.  (Paul Chafe—Romance Winner)

 

"Please Mr. Fox, don't take your magic back to the forest, it is needed here in Twigsville!" pleaded little Isabel, but Mr. Fox was unconcerned as he smugly loped back into the woods without answering a word knowing well that his magic was only going to be used to make sure his forest would be annexed into the neighboring community of Leaftown where the property values were much higher.  (Pete Watkins—Children's Literature Winner)

 

The wood nymph fairies blissfully pranced in the morning light past the glistening dewdrops on the meadow thistles by the Old Mill, ignorant of the daily slaughter that occurred just behind its lichen-encrusted walls, twin 20-ton mill stones savagely ripping apart the husks of wheat seed, gleefully smearing the starchy entrails across their dour granite faces in unspeakable botanical horror and carnage – but that's not our story; ours is about fairies!  (Rick Cheeseman—Fantasy Fiction Winner)


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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