What I’m Reading Now: A Dark and Stormy Night

For a lark, I decided to read “Paul Clifford” by Bulwer-Lytton the book that famously begins “It was a dark and stormy night…”

It’s odd that people picked up on that first line to mock as being purple prose, because it pales compared to the full on bad writing that is to come. Here’s a nearly random long, pointless sentence. I could have found much worse, but this will do:

these literary avocations, profitless as they
seemed, gave a certain refinement to his tastes
which they were not likely otherwise to have
acquired at the Mug; and while they aroused his
ambition to see something of the gay life they
depicted, they imparted to his temper a tone of
enterprise and of thoughtless generosity which
perhaps contributed greatly to counteract those
evil influences towards petty vice to which the
examples around him must have exposed his tender

 At times it really seems like a parody or a put-on, but I gather that it is not. I may have gotten used to it or the author may have calmed down a bit, because it seems a little easier to read as I’ve gotten further into it.

It is elitist as all get out. Some Victorian authors ignore the lower classes and some champion them. Bulwer-Lytton just beats up on them, mocks them, ridicules them, etc… It’s quite unclear that he ever actually met any of them, but since he’s writing the book he came confirm all of his own prejudices.

I did enjoy one little bit, a description of a reporter’s job:

Mr. Augustus Tomlinson, a young
man of great promise, who pursued the peaceful
occupation of chronicling in a leading newspaper
“Horrid Murders,” “Enormous Melons,” and
“Remarkable Circumstances.”

That reminds me quite a bit of my own journalism career, although I have been able to keep the number of murder stories to two and in my case I’ve devoted more ink to pumpkins than melons. And, in truth, there should be a mention of zoning meetings and sewage systems…



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