His novels were Victorian best-sellers, but Edward Bulwer Lytton is not one of those authors you could say has aged very well.
Admired by King George IV (who, it is rumored, kept a Lytton novel at all of his residences), his popularity was on the same scale as that of Charles Dickens. Now, however, his name is used as a "byword for aesthetic embarrassment and incompetence," and he is perhaps best remembered for the opening line to Paul Clifford : "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals..."
Paul Clifford was an instant hit -- the first printing sold out in a single day. But Lytton did not consider this his best work (that would be sensational Zanoni), nor was it his most popular --that would be the historical romance The Last Days of Pompeii .
Published in 1834, Pompeii was an "epic tale of Roman indulgence, Christian martyrdom, and the cataclysmic eruption of Vesuvius." Translated into at least 10 languages, frequently dramatized, and twice adapted to opera, Pompeii established Lytton as a literary superstar for the rest of the century. Shown here is Lytton's draft of the chapter "Arbaces cogs his dice with pleasure and wins the game." It opens in true Lyttonian style:
"...He avoided the more lighted and populous streets and as he strode onward with his head buried in his bosom and his arms folded within his robe there was something startling in the contrast which his solemn mien and wasted form presented to the thoughtless brows and animated air of those who occasionally crossed his path."
For more information about this item, click here.
The Leon Levy Foundation is generously underwriting a major project to upgrade catalog records for the Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts. The project is the most substantive effort to date to improve primary research information on a portion of this large and highly important collection.