Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night


Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803 to 1873) was a British politician and author.  He wrote a number of bestselling novels, including Paul Clifford, The Last Days of Pompeii, and Kenelm Chillingly.  He coined the phrases "the great unwashed," "pursuit of the almighty dollar," and "the pen is mightier than the sword."  (I always thought that was Shakespeare!) 

Bulwer-Lytton also gets credits for the trite and well worn novel opening line "It was a dark and stormy night." Even Snoopy, the dog from the Peanuts comic strip, has been known to use this tired old line.  For the record, this is the whole opening line (which was used in the 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.

The Bulwer-Lytton award (sponsored by the English department at San Jose University in California) offers recognition for bad writing, kind of like the Raspberry awards are the anti-Oscars for movies.  Every year, there is a Bulwer-Lytton winner for the worst opening line of a book.  (This is one contest I'd never want to win!)  Below are some of the winners:

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 (2010)

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city, their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N. J.”  Gordon Spik (2008)

Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.   Jim Guigli (2006)

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.   Rephah Berg (2002)

The corpse exuded the irresistible aroma of a piquant, ancho chili glaze enticingly enhanced with a hint of fresh cilantro as it lay before him, coyly garnished by a garland of variegated radicchio and caramelized onions, and impishly drizzled with glistening rivulets of vintage balsamic vinegar and roasted garlic oil; yes, as he surveyed the body of the slain food critic slumped on the floor of the cozy, but nearly empty, bistro, a quick inventory of his senses told corpulent Inspector Moreau that this was, in all likelihood, an inside job.  Bob Perry (1998)

Paul Revere had just discovered that someone in Boston was a spy for the British, and when he saw the young woman believed to be the spy's girlfriend in an Italian restaurant he said to the waiter, "Hold the spumoni--I'm going to follow the chick an' catch a Tory."  John L. Ashman (1995)

There's even a series of books out featuring the highlights of Bulwer-Lytton entries and winners from years past. 

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