Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton may no longer be a household name, but back in Victorian England, he was something of a big shot. Besides serving in Parliament for nearly 25 years, Bulwer-Lytton was a popular and epically-prolific novelist, poet, essayist, and historian who coined the term “the almighty dollar” and claimed Charles Dickens as a close friend. Despite these lifetime achievements, however, history has not been particularly kind to Lord Lytton. Thanks – or probably no thanks – to an overly-florid writing style considered more imitation than invention, Bulwer-Lytton has been largely banished by modern critics to the unread B-list of Victorian authors. In fact, his most-lasting literary legacy seems to be as the author of this cringe-inducing first line from 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.
Widely considered one of the all-time worst opening sentences to a novel, Lord Lytton’s editor-defying monstrosity has inspired an international effort to turn bad writing into good fun by way of an annual parody competition aptly called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Fortunately for our literary entertainment – and less so for Lord Lytton’s reputation – the hilariously creative winners for 2010 have just been announced.