Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, (1803-73) was a English aristocrat, 1st Baron Lytton and Earl of Knebsworth. He was an enormously popular novelist, and a member of the English Rosicrucian Society, founded in 1867 by Robert Wenworth Little.

According to Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett:

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward George Earle, 1803-73. First Baron Lytton of Knebworth, 1886. English novelist and prolific writer. Member of Parliament as a Liberal from 1831-41; in 1852 returned to Parliament as a Conservative. Of all his works, those most pertinent to the study of ML are Zanoni, an occult novel published in 1842, and The Coming Race, published in 1872, based on speculation about the future of electricity. His son, Lord Lytton, was at one time Viceroy of India.[1]

Early life

Political career


  • Paul Clifford, published in three volumes on April 30, 1830 by Colburn and Bentley, is a story of a man who leads a dual life as both a gentleman and a criminal. The first edition was the largest printing of any modern novel up to that time, and it sold out on the first day. It was Bulwer-Lytton's fifth novel, written when he was twenty-eight, and was the first of four crime novels.[2] The text is available at Project Gutenberg.[6]
  • The Last Days of Pompeii, published in 1934, was a very popular work that inspired at least 10 films, plays, and operas.[3] The text is available at Project Gutenberg [7] and at the Internet Archive.[8]
  • Zanoni was published in 1842 in London by Saunders and Otley. Among its themes are Rosicrucianism, divine madness, love, the elixir of life, and immortality. The Dweller on the Threshold figures prominently. [4] For a plot synopsis, see Ancient Wisdom Publications.[9] The text is available at Project Gutenberg.[10]
  • The Coming Race, published in 1871, was a work of science fiction later republished as Vril, the Power of the Coming Race. The text is available at Project Gutenberg[11] and also at Sacred Text.com. [12]

Other writings


Several of Bulwer-Lytton's phrases have become common usage, such as "the great unwashed" from the novel Paul Clifford, "pursuit of the almighty dollar" from his novel The Coming Race, and "the pen is mightier than the sword" from the play Richelieu.

In the 21st century, Bulwer-Lytton is mostly remembered for his florid writing style. San Diego State university annually conducts the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which participants are invited to compose a deliberately bad opening sentence to a novel. The opening to Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford served as the inspiration for this tongue-in-cheek 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.[5]

The phrase "It was a dark and stormy night" has appeared frequently in American popular culture, including the comic strip Peanuts, the television series Star Trek, and the novel A Wrinkle in Time.[6]

Additional resources


  1. George E. Linton and Virginia Hanson, eds., Readers Guide to The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972), 222.
  2. Marta Miquel Baldellou, "Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford and Poe's tales," The Victorian Web. [1]
  3. "The Last Days of Pompeii," Wikipedia.[2]
  4. "Zanoni," Wikipedia.[3]
  5. "Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest," Wikipedia.[4]
  6. "Paul Clifford," Wikipedia.[5]