Jul 26, 2011

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

 The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

Remember Snoopy on his dog house typing away, usually "It was a dark and stormy night."? That opening line is from a book called Paul Clifford, published in 1830 by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton and considered to have the worst opening line in literary history.  So bad that there is a contest each year to award the intentionally worst opening line for an imaginary novel. There are examples below, but first...

....this is the complete opening line from Paul Clifford:

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. 

Ouch. Pretty bad, huh? Here's the rest of the paragraph. I tried getting through the first chapter but couldn't make it. The book is horribly written, even for the 1800s. 

Through one of the obscurest quarters of London, and among haunts little loved by the gentlemen of the police, a man evidently of the lowest orders was winding his solitary way. He stopped twice or thrice at different shops and houses of a description correspondent with the appearance of the quartier in which they were situated,—and tended inquiry for some article or other which did not seem easily to be met with. All the answers he received were couched in the negative; and as he turned from each door, he muttered to himself, in no very elegant phraseology, his disappointment and discontent. At length, at one house, the landlord, a sturdy butcher, after rendering the same reply the inquirer had hitherto received, added,—" But if this vill do as veil, Duimnie, it is quite at your sarvice." Pausing reflectively for a moment, Dummie responded, that he thought the thing profferred might do as well; and thrusting it into his ample pocket, he strode away with as rapid a motion as the wind and the rain would allow. He soon came to a nest of low and dingy buildings, at the entrance to which, in half-effaced characters, was written " Thames Court." Halting at the most conspicuous of these buildings, an inn or ale-house, through the half-closed windows of which blazed out in ruddy comfort the beams of the hospitable hearth, he knocked hastily at the door. He was admitted by a lady of a certain age, and endowed with a comely rotundity of face and person. 

The book was apparently a success when it was published, and is about Paul Clifford, a man who leads a dual life as both a criminal and an upscale gentleman.The contest in his name celebrates the worst fiction people can come up with. This year's winning entry is by Sue Fondrie, an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh:

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. 

To read more bad opening lines, click HERE. To read more about this fun contest, click HERE.

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