As I mentioned that last time I posted about Bulwer-Lytton, it wasn’t that he was a bad writer, he just wasn’t very good at it. I think one of the expressions used to described his style might be purple prose (probably because it’s been beaten into submission!).
“It was a dark and stormy night; </STRONGthe 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.”
–Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
It’s not that Bulwer-Lytton wasn’t a thinker, as he was very good at observations about life and people: “The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man’s observation, not overturning it.”for example.
It’s just that as a novelist he, as many of the writers of the time, wasn’t very good. And to compound matters, Bulwer-Lytton kept inflicting his novels on the public: The Last Days of Pompeii, Eugene Aram, Rienzi, The Caxtons, The Coming Race, and–not least–Paul Clifford.
He also entered some great quotes into our daily use: “the pen is mightier than the sword,” “the great unwashed,(my personal favorite)” and “the almighty dollar.”
In 1982 The English Department at San Jose State University started sponsoring the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.
Over the years the contest has grown and the entries more fun. I understand that some people spend up to a year working on their sentences. I know that the year I entered I spent quite a bit of time on my entry ~ which obviously wasn’t quite enough.
Here are some of this year’s winners:
(this grand prize winner takes a little more concentration than most!)
Gerald began–but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them “permanently” meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash–to pee.
—Jim Gleeson Madison, WI ~ the 25th
The Barents sea heaved and churned like a tortured animal in pain, the howling wind tearing packets of icy green water from the shuddering crests of the waves, atomizing it into mist that was again laid flat by the growing fury of the storm as Kevin Tucker switched off the bedside light in his Tuba City, Arizona, single-wide trailer and by the time the phone woke him at 7:38, had pretty much blown itself out with no damage.
—Scott Palmer, Klamath Falls, OR
This one would have made Bulwer-Lytton exceptionally proud:
Grand Panjandrum’s Award
LaVerne was undeniably underdressed for this frigid weather; her black, rain-soaked tank top offered no protection and seemed to cling to her torso out of sheer rage, while her tie-dyed boa scarf hung lifeless around her neck like a giant, exhausted, pipe cleaner recently discarded after near-criminal overuse by an obviously sadistic (and rather flamboyant) plumber.
—Andrew Cavallari, Northfield, IL
Winner: Children’s Literature
Danny, the little Grizzly cub, frolicked in the tall grass on this sunny Spring morning, his mother keeping a watchful eye as she chewed on a piece of a hiker they had encountered the day before.
—Dave McKenzie, Federal Way, WA
Mary had a little lamb; its fleece was Polartec 200 (thanks to gene splicing, a diet of force-fed petrochemical supplements, and regular dips in an advanced surface fusion polymer), which had the fortunate side effect of rendering it inedible, unlike that other Mary’s organic lamb which misbehaved at school and wound up in a lovely Moroccan stew with dried apricots and couscous.
—Julie Jensen, Lodi, CA
Out of a hole in the ground popped a bunny rabbit which had a long thick orange carrot between its teeth and a big splotch of mud on its back that had dried into a dirt clump the size of a tumor.
—Veronica Perez. Palm Springs, FL
Winner: Detective Stories
I’d been tailing this guy for over an hour while he tried every trick in the book to lose me: going down side streets, doubling back, suddenly veering into shop doorways, jumping out again, crossing the street, looking for somewhere to make the drop, and I was going to be there when he did it because his disguise as a postman didn’t have me fooled for a minute.
—Bob Millar, Hässelby, Sweden
She’d been strangled with a rosary-not a run-of-the-mill rosary like you might get at a Catholic bookstore where Hail Marys are two for a quarter and indulgences are included on the back flap of the May issue of “Nuns and Roses” magazine, but a fancy heirloom rosary with pearls, rubies, and a solid gold cross, a rosary with attitude, the kind of rosary that said, “Get your Jehovah’s Witness butt off my front porch.”
—Mark Schweizer, Hopkinsville, KY
What shocked Juliette as she entered the room was not that there was
an escaped convict under her coverlet snuggling with her best teddy bear, but that there was a knife through his back, “And who,” she wondered out loud, steadying herself against the faux-taffeta wallpaper, “would stab a teddy bear?”
—Katie Alender, Studio City, CA
Hopefully, you will enjoy one more ~ my personal favorite of ALL time. This is the 1983 Grand Prize Winner:
The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails–not for the first time since the journey began–pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.
–Gail Cain, San Francisco, California
All entries from http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/ —
Complete rules for entering are at the site as well.
—more on the date tomorrow