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Last Days of Pompeii
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
If all you know about Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton is the notorious opening sentence of another of his novels, "It was a dark and stormy night ...," and that this is supposed to imply that he wrote overblown purple prose -- I urge you to try The Last Days of Pompeii (first published in 1834). You may be surprised to find yourself in the hands of an expert storyteller and, yes, an often splendid stylist.
Bulwer-Lytton was one of the most popular fiction writers in the 19th century (and his reputation has really only waned in the last 60 years or so). Our ancestors weren't naive dupes; they rightly recognized that there was something exceptional about Last Days. If the book is now out of fashion, it nevertheless remains a fascinating read.
Briefly, the story concerns four people in Pompeii in the period leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that buried the city in ash in AD 79. They are Glaucus, a Greek-born, rich young man who is a bit of a rake (he gambles on the gladiatorial games) but fundamentally decent; Ione, his lover (in the author's words, "The wealth of her graces was inexhaustible -- she beautified the commonest action; a word, a look from her, seemed magic. Love her, and you entered into a new world, you passed from this trite and common-place earth"); Nydia, a blind slave girl passionately and uselessly in love with Glaucus; and Arbaces, a brilliantly malevolent high priest of the cult of Isis.
The reader, too, passes out of "this trite and common-place earth" in the book's pages. The style is of another time, to be sure, one that is unashamedly colorful and romantic. To some poor cynical souls I suppose it will seem corny; to those who still look at the stars and sunsets with awe, the language will resonate with a thousand delicate tints.
Last Days is not only an evocative re-imagination of a historical time and place, and a craftily plotted story; it also touches on deep philosophical matters. Bulwer-Lytton was interested in the Mystery cults of the Roman empire, including that of Isis. Although, probably to avoid offending the conventions of his time, he had Glaucus and Ione eventually convert to Christianity, it's hard to doubt that he was sympathetic to earlier pagan religions. Although Arbaces is the villain, his literary portrait is drawn with keen psychological insight and his religious rites are thoughtfully and strikingly portrayed. (The scene in which Arbaces tries to initiate Ione's brother into the secret -- highly sensuous and erotically tinged -- rituals of the cult is electrifying!) Mystical undertones are not far from the jewelled surface of this novel.
So read this as a period piece, but not in a condescending way; let yourself be drawn into the sun-glazed temples and forums, the loves, the cruelty and the jealousies of ancient Pompeii. See them through a dreamy, extravagant early-Victorian literary sensibility. Give yourself up to Bulwer-Lytton's magic, as so many did in generations before you.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This historically accurate novel is filled with exceptional characters and an intriguing plot. Set in the days before the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvious, the novel highlights several stories at once, dealing with romance, adventure, and treachery. Edward Bulwer-Lytton did an excellent job in making the story deep and colorful. It is perfect for students studying Roman culture, as well as anyone looking for a good novel. This book is definitely a classic worth reading!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a romantic historical novel, with a convoluted and exciting romantic story of passion, hate, revenge, and adventure. So what? There are many books like that, most of them pretty cheap and predictable. The trick, of course, is the writing. Bulwer Lytton, an early Victorian character with his own peculiarities (he was very interested in the mystical cults of Rome) is an extraordinary storyteller. The plot, as I said, is long to summaryze, but it concerns Glauco, a Greek stud who is beloved by almost every woman in the story; Ione, the Naples girl he loves; Nadia, a blind slave who is -of course- in love with Glauco, and the excellently portrayed Arbaces, a priest of the cult of Isis, the Egyptian goddess. Two other interesting characters are Julia, a rich and mean heiress who is, alas, in love with Glauco, and Salustio, a dissipated and drunken Roman.
The plot revolves around the constant intrigues of the characters, which include magic love-potions, betrayals and heroism. But at the back of the action, there is a volcano about to explode and leave this town covered by tons of dust and volcanic rock. The characters are planning their lives and lusting for passion, without knowing that they have no future. Like some of us, maybe.
Summing up, this novel is great entertainment, intelligent fun. The best, in my opinion, is the re-creation of a lost world, a city full of color and passion, living in full while Destiny works its own way.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 1998
Format: Paperback
The novel's situation is always in the back of your mind, the reader always has the tingling nervousness that the volcano is going to explode any time. With this juxtaposition of a love story which is epic and purely inspiring in its purest form the novel is a great read and drags you through the Pompeiin's world. Bulwer excited me most in his description of Glaucus' and Julia's love for each other, it is the most purest and devotional of loves, they are epic figures in a landscape of treachery and shallowness and the reader strives for them to succeed. If you are interested in the Roman culture and its history, plus if you're a romantic at heart who wishes to be in the sun of Italia then read this book. Bulwer's poems sweeten the denseness of his archaic syntax and the Blind girl's song's strike a chord of lovely imagery, I'm still recovering form the read's epicness!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Though the description is overdone and the plot rather creaking, I was caught up by both the description and the story. Glaucus, an Athenian in Pompeii, loves Ione, as does Arbaces, an Egyptian of evil. Nydia, a blind slave, also loves Glaucus. Arbaces kills Apaecides, brother of Ione, who has become a Christian, and then blames the killing on Glaucus, who has become temporarily crazed by a supposed love potion given him by Nydia--after Nydia took it from Julia, who had gotten it from a witch at Arbaces' urging. To illustarte the fulsome style: "The eyes of the crowd folowed the gesture of the Egyptian, and beheld, with ineffable dismay, a vast vapour shooting from the summit of Vesuvius, in the form of a gigantic pine-tree, the trunk, blackness,--the branches, fire!--a fire, that shifted and wavered in its hues with every moment, now fiercely luminous, now of a dull and dying red, that again blazed terrifically forth with intolerable glare!" You will not soon forget this awesome book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton is best known for coming up with the immortal phrase that Snoopy is always typing: "It was a dark and stormy night." Unfortunately, he's never that concise in "Last Days of Pompeii," a bloated and melodramatic historical novel full of Victorian cliches, and without a character who acts like a real person.

It focuses on the final days of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, which was buried in a volcanic eruption in 79 A.D. In particular, it focuses on a virtuous young Roman man, Glaucus, who is stuck in a love quadrangle with a beautiful, equally virtuous young lady, a blind slave girl, and a sinister Egyptian who beguiles the virtuous young lady.

In the background is a turmoil of religious and social problems, with a deadly volcano smoldering behind it all. Then, a murder is committed -- and Glaucus is arrested for the crime, and sentenced to be sent into the arena. When Vesuvius blows, will any of them survive?

"The Last Days of Pompeii" is one of those novels that had immense promise. Unfortunately, Bulwer-Lytton turns it into a Roman soap opera. Rather than focusing on the more interesting aspects of Pompeii, Bulwer-Lytton decided to focus on a contrived web of very boring people.

It doesn't help that "Last Days of Pompeii" is also written in a chokingly dense style, very ornate and full of bad poetry. The dialogue is even worse, with lines like, "'With all his conceit and extravagance he is not so rich, I fancy, as he affects to be, and perhaps loves to save his amphorae better than his wit." Okay, whatever. The story might be more palatable, had Bulwer-Lytton not tried too hard to make the language stand out.

Bulwer-Lytton also seems to have been showing off his knowledge of Roman architecture and clothing, since the descriptions of the atrium and triclinium are more complex than anything he gives the characters. He regularly interrupted the narrative just to lecture readers on historical trivia, on everything from medieval necromancy to Italian herbs.

Apparently in the interest of keeping the novel "human," Bulwer-Lytton introduced some romantic tension. Unfortunately, his characters don't act like real people -- really, who would fuss about their love lives while escaping from an erupting volcano? It's hard to imagine anyone so oblivious and self-absorbed, but the annoying blind slave Nydia apparently can't think of anything else.

Glaucus is a paragon of virtue, despite what Romans of the time were like; he even converts to Christianity for no apparent reason, in keeping with the attempt to make him fit the Victorian ideal. On the flipside, Arbaces is a rather cartoonish -- even slightly racist -- villain, who is just there to make trouble because he wants to.

"The Last Days of Pompeii" is an intriguing idea for a novel, but a flop as Edward Bulwer-Lytton actually wrote it. Too bad the volcano didn't blow a lot sooner.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
Sir Bulwer-Lytton is notoriously know as the one of the worst writers ever. It's his over-the-top style that repels some readers, but intrigues others. I find myself in the latter group. If you're looking for a book full of subtle eloquence and symbolism, this isn't it. At times (most times) the plot and prose seem quite ridiculous, but I think this is why Sir Bulwer-Lytton has become such a cult favorite.

I loved this book. I loved the unreal love triangles and the outrageous emotions of the characters. They were absolute caricatures of normal people, and when you throw them all together it makes for a wonderful travesty. I couldn't help but wonder what new and laughable situation the characters were going to end up in next. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who isn't willing to wade through fantastic and sometimes confusing prose and who doesn't enjoy the ridiculous. Nydia, the blind girl who thinks of nothing but her love for Glaucus, is one of my favorite character simply because she is so completely unbearable.

This is a book for people who enjoy classic literature and a good "B" grade zombie movie. :)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I collect books by the Heritage Press and was eager to add this book to my collection. "The Last Days of Pompeii" is an interesting read for those who are keen on the subject matter. Unfortunately, the book arrived damaged. I was not happy with the way the book was described, since if I had known its condition, I would not have purchased it. I was pleased however, to learn that the seller issued me a full refund upon learning of my experience which is good business practice, as it should be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A romantic historical novel inspired by a famous natural disaster in ancient times and archaeological evidence discovered in Pompeii, this novel was among the most popular works of literature in the nineteenth century though it’s now all but forgotten. ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ is a love story set in that Roman town just before the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried it and most of its citizens in ash. It draws a vivid portrait of the lifestyle of the Imperial Romans, their daily baths, symposia, and gladiatorial entertainments, their religious practices and their homes while presenting a busy plot full of decadent, diabolical seducers, religious fanatics, and glutinous parasites.

The novel is written in an archaic style which distances the drama while simultaneously giving it a kind of ancient dignity. A quote to illustrate: “My eyes loathe the sight of thee!” It’s halfway between Shakespeare and Robert Graves and while it is off putting at first it grows on you and you come to feel that this mannered style is appropriate for a novel about ancient Romans at the peak of their decadence, just hours before their fall. The novel includes several set pieces which describe at length certain Roman customs and buildings. There are detailed architectural descriptions of several Roman houses with their household gods and peristyles, the Roman baths, temples, and the large stadium in which, in this novel, the Christians are thrown to the lions. Bulwer-Lytton proudly points out that the settings he used were in fact based on actual houses excavated in Pompeii which he visited, giving the events a tincture of authenticity despite the over-the-top nature of the story.

The characters range from swooning lovers to mustache-twisting villains, giving the full range of the Victorian English imagination transplanted to the age of Imperial Rome. The main love story involves two Athenians living in Pompeii, Ione, an orphan, and Glaucus who falls in love with her at first sight. Their languid romance unfolds amid dinner parties and poetry readings, though they must face the impediment of Ione’s former guardian, Arbaces, a wealthy, conniving Egyptian skilled at manipulation with an arrogant belief in his own exemption from morality. Of him it is said, “the orgies of his midnight leisure are impure and polluted.” Indeed.

The plot is melodramatic, dependent on coincidence, and highly structured to lead in to the climactic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. This scene, featuring crumbling columns, massive clouds of ash, and desperate crowds fleeing in chaos is analogous to the disaster scenes of the modern action movie so beloved of Hollywood. In fact, this novel apparently enjoyed the same level and type of fame in the 19th century as the film ‘Titanic’ did in the 20th, and it has in common with that film a very similar portrait of an advanced and refined civilization engulfed in a deadly disaster which is also interpreted as a moral judgment on that culture as well as an actual historical incident. The scene of the destruction of Pompeii is a harrowing panoramic portrait of an upended culture in which the blind slave girl Nydia, of whom Bulwer-Lytton writes that “night to her was as day”, is able to lead the young lovers to safety when the dark ash of the volcano turns day into night and only those accustomed to the dark can find their way through the crumbling temples and ruined buildings to safety.

‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ is marinated in the spirit of classicism, including a plot and character inspired by archaeological evidence that Bulwer-Lytton highlights with numerous detailed descriptions of Roman architecture. But undermining this stab at realism and authenticity is its plot which is a bit creaky and will only appeal to readers who can make allowance for the kind of highly artificial story in vogue in the early 1800s. However, give yourself up to that and I think you’ll find this novel a wonderfully entertaining indulgence in the poetic and melancholic fall of Pompeii.
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on March 23, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Loved this book as a child. Great story as a story -- and it's set against the backdrop of Pompeii and its impending destruction when Vesuvius erupts. The whole family is enjoying it anew -- or for the first time for the children.

This is a beautiful edition, with a set of color plates from Pompeii at the beginning.

Highly recommended.
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