Besting Bulwer-Lytton

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

It was a dark and stormynight; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it waschecked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is inLondon that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercelyagitating 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 asbooks themselves—It Was a Dark and StormyNight, Son of It Was a Dark andStormy Night, Bride of Dark andStormy, etc.—and now nine contest categories. Behold a sampling of winnersfor 2010:

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

(Molly Ringle—Grand PrizeWinner)

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

“Please Mr. Fox, don’ttake 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 intothe woods without answering a word knowing well that his magic was only goingto be used to make sure his forest would be annexed into the neighboringcommunity of Leaftown where the property values were much higher.  (PeteWatkins—Children’s Literature Winner)

The wood nymph fairies blissfully pranced in the morning light pastthe glistening dewdrops on the meadow thistles by the Old Mill, ignorant of thedaily slaughter that occurred just behind its lichen-encrusted walls, twin 20-tonmill stones savagely ripping apart the husks of wheat seed, gleefully smearingthe starchy entrails across their dour granite faces in unspeakable botanicalhorror 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.

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