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Bulwer Lytton: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Man of Letters Hardcover – Jul 29 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (July 29 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1852854235
  • ISBN-13: 978-1852854232
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 16.1 x 23.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 680 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,110,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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By Judith C. Kinney on Sept. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
It Was A Dark and Stormy Life... May 25 2004
By Tom Moran - Published on Amazon.com
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. Each chapter takes one aspect of Lytton's life and discusses it at length. And while I might have preferred a more conventional approach, the method utilized by Mitchell does prove effective. And putting all the information about Lytton's marriage, for example, in one chapter makes it even more harrowing (and entertaining - there's definitely a Merchant-Ivory film in that disastrous mesalliance).

Mitchell makes a token effort at making a case for Lytton as a novelist who can be appreciated today, but the fact is that it's hopeless: Lytton's prose style was so pretentious and convoluted that I very much doubt that he'll ever reach any type of popularity again (unlike his contemporary Anthony Trollope, who has seen an extraordinary renaissance of interest in his work in the past few decades). So what you're left with is the very gaudy life of a man who destroyed nearly everything he touched, but whose very faults make him interesting. So I can recommend this book, and if you go on from this to sample some of Lytton's fictional wares, well, you're a lot more adventurous than me.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Very interesting book. I recommend it. July 20 2010
By D. P. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
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.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Who? Sept. 25 2003
By Judith C. Kinney - Published on Amazon.com
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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