karen_w_newton (karen_w_newton) wrote,
karen_w_newton
karen_w_newton

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Make mine dark and stormy

What writer doesn't want to be remembered? Quite possibly, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, author of these immortal words . . .

"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."

    —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Poor Edward! He also wrote The Last Days of Pompeii but the contest named after him (slogan: Where www means Wretched Writers Welcome) celebrates not his ability to describe an ancient civilization or his strong (Victorian) moral leanings, but just plain bad, overwrought writing. It is in fact, a celebration of the convoluted sentence. Let's look at this year's winning entry by Jim Gleeson:

Gerald began—but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them "permanently" meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash—to pee.


The beauty of it—the way that it lives up (or down?) to poor Edward Bulwer-Lytton's example—is that the underlying sentence is so simple: Gerald began to pee. The rest of the sentence is what makes it so beautifully convoluted. By the time we get to the pee, so to speak, we've forgotten all about Gerald.

I wonder if the searing lava and choking ash is a deliberate homage to EBL's The Last Days of Pompeii or merely serendipity?
Tags: humor, writing
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