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Bulwer-Lytton, in honor of prolix prose
September 26, 2011 - Stephen Browne
"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 housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
So opens the novel "Paul Clifford" written by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton and published in 1830.
I understand the rest of it is pretty bad too. Bulwer-Lytton actually rose a bit further out of literary obscurity with his novel, "The Last Days of Pompei," Which has actually been made into a movie no less than three times, in 1913, 1935, and 1959. He is also known among historians of mysticism and utopian literature for his novel "Vril: the Power of the Coming Race," (1871.)
He also contributed more substantially to English literature by coining the phrases "the great unwashed", "pursuit of the almighty dollar", and "the pen is mightier than the sword", but alas his contribution here is largely unknown and unheralded.
But Bulwer-Lytton has been remembered and memorialized each year, in a contest started in 1982 by Professor Scott E. Rice of the English Department at San Jose State University. The contest entrants strive to "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." It is not necessary to write the rest of the novel.
This year the 29th Grand Prize winner was Sue Fondrie, an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. She evidently likes to use puns and word play in her instruction. I wonder if there ought to be an amateur/professional rule?
Her entry set a record for the shortest B-L Contest winner, coming in at only 26 words.
"Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories."
The runner-up Rodney Reed submitted an entry of more typical length. "As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words."
And since the inception of the contest specific categories have been added. Jack Barry won the Adventure category for this entry. "From the limbs of ancient live oaks moccasins hung like fat black sausages -- which are sometimes called boudin noir, black pudding or blood pudding, though why anyone would refer to a sausage as pudding is hard to understand and it is even more difficult to divine why a person would knowingly eat something made from dried blood in the first place -- but be that as it may, our tale is of voodoo and foul murder, not disgusting food."
Mark Wisnevski won the Crime category with, "Wearily approaching the murder scene of Jeannie and Quentin Rose and needing to determine if this was the handiwork of the Scented Strangler--who had a twisted affinity for spraying his victims with his signature raspberry cologne--or that of a copycat, burnt-out insomniac detective Sonny Kirkland was sure of one thing: he’d have to stop and smell the Roses."
Terri Daniel for Fantasy. "Within the smoking ruins of Keister Castle, Princess Gwendolyn stared in horror at the limp form of the loyal Centaur who died defending her very honor; “You may force me to wed,” she cried at the leering and victorious Goblin King, “but you’ll never be half the man he was.”
John Doble, Historical Fiction. "Napoleon’s ship tossed and turned as the emperor, listening while his generals squabbled as they always did, splashed the tepid waters in his bathtub."
Though I have to say I personally prefer Andrea Rossi the runner-up in this category. "The executioner sneered as the young queen ascended the stairs to the guillotine; in the old days, he thought, at least there was some buildup, a little time on the rack or some disemboweling, but nowadays everyone wants instant gratification."
Mike Pederson for Purple Prose. "As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue."
And there are categories for Science Fiction, Romance, Vile Puns, plus many Dishonorable Mentions in each category.
One of these days, I'm going to enter that contest, "he said as he mused on his own thwarted literary talent while he labored unsung in the gardens of journalism..." you get the drift.
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