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Bulwer Lytton: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Man of Letters Hardcover – August 16, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hambledon Continuum; 1St Edition edition (August 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1852854235
  • ISBN-13: 978-1852854232
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,486,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

Today, Edward Bulwer Lytton is most famous for the much ridiculed line "It was a dark and stormy night"—the opening of his 1830 novel "Paul Clifford." Though almost all of his work is out of print, he was in his time a best-selling rival of Dickens and a pioneer in several genres; his oeuvre includes historical romances, crime stories, and even science fiction. He was also a strutting dandy who dabbled in the occult and was a successful (if politically eccentric) member of Parliament. Mitchell maintains that "his rehabilitation as an undoubtedly eminent Victorian is long overdue," but this attempt is only intermittently successful. The decision to organize the biography thematically ("A Writer and the Public," "Ghosts and Artists") is ill considered, and its defenses of Lytton's gawdy prose seem strained. Still, it's hard to make the man dull.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Usually remembered only as the author of The Last Days of Pompeii, Edward Bulwer Lytton lives again in this vivid biography--published to mark the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth--as a writer whose novels once rivaled Dickens' in popularity. Mitchell challenges the neglect of Lytton with a compelling narrative of a life that once helped define both the center and the margins of Victorian culture. Though not attempting the critical exegeses typical of a literary biography, Mitchell does limn a remarkable writing career, notable both for its prolific output and for its astonishing influence. Most contemporary readers will marvel at how many Lytton novels they have never heard of--including Pelham, Eugene Aram, The Caxtons, and Night and Morning--once captured huge international audiences. Given that Lytton launched his career with novels notorious for their depiction of degeneracy, Mitchell finds it deeply ironic that post-World War I Britain rejected his works as expressions of Victorian respectability. Readers will see little of staid respectability in Lytton's bitter marital disputes and scandalous affairs, even less in his forays into spiritualism and the occult. Even in Lytton's political metamorphosis from Radical to Tory, Mitchell discerns no drift into complacency, but rather an unresolved quarrel with all forms of orthodoxy. Mitchell may not revive interest in Lytton's novels, but he has succeeded in capturing a complex personality. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Tom Moran on May 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Leslie Mitchell has set himself a daunting task in his new biography of Edward Bulwer Lytton. First, as Mitchell points out early on in the text, while at one point in the Victorian era he vied with his fellow novelist Charles Dickens in popularity, since the end of the First World War he has been almost entirely forgotten - except to be ridiculed as the author of the worst sentence ever to open a novel: "It was a dark and stormy night" (which inspired the Bulwer Lytton Contest for bad writing, which Mitchell, tactfully, does not mention). Secondly, Lytton was, to put it mildly, a very off-putting fellow, who might have been the most personally obnoxious author who ever lived (and try mulling over the implications of *that* statement for a second!).

It doesn't sound promising, does it? A forgotten author who was a real jerk -- who's interested in reading about him? But the fact is that Mitchell has done an admirable job of resurrecting this unsung writer and made him seem worth considering, even if you wouldn't want to sit next to him at a dinner party.

Of course, it helps that Lytton had one of the most famously catastrophic marriages in all of literary history - one that makes the Tolstoys and Fitzgeralds seem like Ozzie and Harriet by comparison. The marriage of Edward Bulwer Lytton and his wife Rosina was a total nightmare. At one point he had her committed to an insane asylum, and she retaliated by writing a series of abusive fictitious accounts of their marriage and humiliating him publicly whenever she got the opportunity. It's pretty grim stuff but it makes for engrossing reading.

The only flaw with this biography is that it is not a straightforward narrative, as most biographies are, but a little more impressionistic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Wilson on July 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm still reading this book (am close to two-thirds of the way through) and have found it to be a very interesting read, and well worth the time.

The chapters and content about Bulwer Lytton and his nightmare of a marriage to Rosina, and his relationships with his mother, children, and brothers, as well as with his friends, associates, and contemporaries, and the English literary critics, not to mention the British public as a whole, have proven particularly of interest to me.

Bulwer Lytton's life was ideal soap opera material much - seemingly MOST - of the time, with episodes and relationships and eccentricities and both perceived and real outrages that would definitely make for a rivetting Hollywood feature movie!

I see that the other two Amazon.com reviewers who have posted reviews before me have only given this book a three stars rating. I easily give it four stars, and would give it five - and am very tempted to - except that a chapter or two I've read so far hasn't fully "grabbed" me - not to mention that, as another reviewer has noted, at least a couple typos can be found to have made their way into the pages of this book, that it would seem that a proofreader should have caught before the time of publication.

Still, those are minor issues for me, and I've genuinely been enjoying reading this interesting book, about a complex and fascinating man I've been aware of for years, but whom I'd never actually known anything about until now.

By the way, I don't see what's so bad about the opening line, "It was a dark and rainy night"! :) That said - yes: Bulwer Lytton's writing definitely had a tendency towards the overly complex and overwrought, much of the time.

I feel fully comfortably able to highly recommend this book. Job well done by author Leslie Mitchell.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Judith C. Kinney on September 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
One wonders how the Victorians ever acquired a reputation for prudery or ideal family life with one affair after another and second families scattered around the globe and their children farmed out to relatives or paid nannies. Perhaps Victoria herself was the only "Victorian," yet who knows what really went on between her and "Mr. Brown"?
Here are Bulwer Lytton and his wife who, after marriage and two children, discovered they heartily hated each other and spent the next forty years, still married, but living apart, violently attacking each other in the public press and neither one of them caring a whit for their two children.
Lytton, a man whose literary works are now virtually forgotten, was once as popular as his contemporary Dickens but didn't have Dickens's talent for self-promotion. Lytton was quick to take offense and lost friends easily. He had a dour personality and was never a happy man, always feeling slighted by friends and the public alike.
Mitchell explores, in separate chapters, L's upbringing; his awful marriage; his children and their fates; his literary career; his political career, first as a radical, then as a conservative, and finally as Secretary of State for the Colonies (a post in which the author claims he did an excellent job); and finally his role as a prophet.
In a book that seems otherwise well written, there were too many typos and grammatical errors.
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