This volume is not a first edition, nor is it part of the Libraries’ rare and special collections. It’s in the open stacks, part of a 19-volume set of the novels of Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer Lytton, 1st Baron.
Though this specific title hasn’t circulated during the past few years, some of Bulwer Lytton’s many other novels are still read on occasion. His Last Days of Pompeii has been filmed repeatedly (and badly) beginning in the silent era and up through the 1980s, when it was turned into a TV miniseries.
But if the author is remembered for anything besides plaster-of-Paris columns collapsing on the heads of Hollywood extras as they flee a rain of volcanic ash, he’s remembered for the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Since 1982 the contest has challenged entrants “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.”
That’s right, Paul Clifford is the novel that begins, “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
For years, Bulwer Lytton was among the wealthiest and most popular novelists in England. His books may no longer be selling, but thanks to the opening line of Paul Clifford, his fame endures.
Printed in double columns, this is a reprint edition (of which there are many, given the author’s once-massive popularity), and it’s not a fancy one. But it’s a matched set in a nice binding: half-calf over marbled boards with matching marbled endpapers and edges.