Edward Bulwer-Lytton

The other day I was at a friend's place looking through some shelves of old leather-bound books with gilt-edged pages and embossed titles. She collected these solely for decorative purposes, and had arranged them all by colour. One title on the red shelf caught my eye: My Novel by Lord Lytton. The vanity-press burblings of some long-forgotten member of the House of Lords, perhaps?

It turned out to be some of the most hilariously awful writing I'd ever read. A passage featuring a 'Professor Riccabocca' had to be seen to be believed. There doesn't seem to be a full-text version at Project Gutenberg, but you can sample excerpts in these scanned images of pages from the magazine in which it was originally serialised (scroll down the list for links to the My Novel excerpts, which continue here).

Lord Lytton turns out to be Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the author of the famous opening words 'It was a dark and stormy night' and the line 'The pen is mightier than the sword', and creator of the science-fictional Vril, a name that lives on as part of Bovril. And, of course, the inspiration for the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Such a giant of bad writing surely deserves a full-blown revival, like Spike Milligan's favourite poet, William McGonagall (author of such classics as The Moon, The Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay, and Loch Ness). A reissue of My Novel would make an excellent start. As its last line reads, 'Go forth into the world, o my Novel!'


First published in Walking West, 30 December 2000.
This page: 13 February 2001; last modified 16 February 2001.

©2000-01 Rory Ewins