s George H. Spies correctly points out, Edward Bulwer-Lytton — in sharp contrast to Poe — "is perhaps one of the finest examples of a literary figure who was greatly revered during his lifetime and almost completely forgotten after it" (1). Marie Mulvey-Roberts similarly remarks that Bulwer-Lytton's fiction "was read almost as widely as that of his fellow novelist and close friend Charles Dickens. At the present time in his native Great Britain, however, almost all of his novels are out of print" (115-16). Bulwer-Lytton was a complex man of his time — an aristocrat capable of advocating for social reform while acknowledging the hidden satisfactions of Victorian injustice (Lane: 2002, 615); a writer capable of providing an exhaustively realistic portrait of Victorian society while becoming increasingly concerned with theosophical and occult issues. One has to agree with Leslie Mitchell that Bulwer-Lytton was a multi-faceted character (xv).
Paul Clifford, Bulwer-Lytton's fifth novel, was written when he was twenty-eight and published in three volumes on 30 April 1830 by Colburn and Bentley. According to James L. Campbell, "the first edition, the largest printing of any modern novel up to that time, sold all its copies the first day" (38), becoming an immediate commercial success. After leaving behind his early novels of Byronic apprenticeship, as they are so-called, Paul Clifford inaugurated the series of Bulwer-Lytton's four crime novels, acknowledged as the precedents of the Newgate fiction. In Campbell's view, this newly established genre differed importantly from other crime works such as gothic novels, picaresque and rogue stories, and the romantic accounts of banditry, because in the Newgate fiction, the hero was the criminal himself (38). The types of criminals who usually populated Newgate novels were middle-class stock swindlers, common housebreakers, humble servants who robbed their employers, or highwaymen (the so-called aristocrats of crime). It is precisely the highwaymen type to which Paul Clifford belongs.
Keith Hollingsworth designed a three-partite thematic variant which can be applied to any of these criminal heroes, who are
- the object of a search in an exciting chase-adventure, or
- a representative victim of social evils in a problem novel calling for legal or social reforms; or even,
- the subject of a moral or psychological case study in a story examining criminal motivation. (14; qtd. by Campbell, 39).
Paul Clifford definitely belongs to Hollingsworth's second type, since he perfectly embodies Rousseau's romantic noble savage whose inherent innocence is disrupted by social corruption that turns him into a victim of the system in a novel calling for social reform. Paul Clifford is the first of Bulwer-Lytton's crime novels not only to inaugurate this series but also the piece which more likely resembles the novel of purpose, for it seeks to effect a change in the legal system. Actually, Paul Clifford "is criminalized by the system intended to prevent crime" (Worthington: 59). In the preface to the 1840 edition, the author himself mentioned the two purposes he endeavoured to fulfil through Paul Clifford:
First, to draw attention to two errors in our penal institutions . . . the habit of corrupting the boy by the very punishment that ought to redeem him, and then hanging the man, at the first occasion, as the easiest way of getting rid of our own blunders. . . . A second and a lighter object in the novel Paul Clifford (and hence the introduction of a semi-burlesque or travesty in the earlier chapters) was to show that there is nothing essentially different between vulgar vice and fashionable vice — and that the slang of the one circle is but an easy paraphrase of the cant of the other. [v]
Thus, Bulwer-Lytton, who claims that it is often the environment and circumstance that combine to create a criminal, argues that it is necessary to mend the circumstance to redeem the criminal, and not the other way round. Moreover, at another level, Campbell also describes Paul Clifford as "a roman à clef, political burlesque, part satire and part allegory, that suggests that politicians are no better than thieves" (40). In any case, Bulwer-Lytton focuses on the social evils that led his hero to turn to crime. Paul, orphaned at an early age, is raised by his drunken foster mother, Margery Peg Lobkins, and her pickpocket friend, Dummie Dunnaker. Paul spends his early years at the Mug, an inn kept by mother Lobkins that many London criminals use as a meeting place. Fascinated by the splendidly attired highwaymen, their humour, and their pretensions to gentility, Paul becomes acquainted with the highwayman Augustus Tomlinson. When Paul is falsely arrested as a pickpocket, he is sentenced to three months in the house of correction. Nevertheless, Paul manages to escape from prison with Tomlinson, and he joins him to rob a farmer and secure food and clothing. Actually, convinced that he will no longer be able to return to a life of respectability, this is the first criminal act that Paul commits. He assumes the alias of Captain Lovett and becomes the leader of his own gang of highwaymen. At the same time, the early instruction Paul received from his tutor Peter Mac Grawler enables him to lead a genteel life as a fashionable man about town, calling himself Captain Clifford. Paul's dual existence, as a highwayman and as a fashionable figure, leads Bulwer-Lytton to remark that there is not such an enormous distance between vulgar and high-class vice. After Paul meets Lucy, the daughter of the wealthy country squire, Joseph Brandon at a ball, he resolves to abandon crime for an honest life. But before he can do so, he and his band are captured while commiting a robbery, and Paul is tried by Judge William Brandon, Lucy's uncle, who plans to marry his niece to Lord Mauleverer. Brandon pronounces the sentence — death by hanging — and discovers that Paul is own son, whom he repudiated when he discovered his wife was adulterous. Eventually, Brandon has Paul's sentence commuted to transportation to Australia, but Paul escapes to America, where he joins Lucy and he begins an honest and successful life in the new world.
Paul Clifford was first published in 1830, when Poe was twenty-one years of age. Thematically and stylistically, Bulwer-Lytton's novel contains many features that echo Poe's tales. In terms of the plot, Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" is the tale that most closely resembles the situation in which a criminal victim faces his own condemnation. Nevertheless, the treatment of the apparently same theme is rendered in a significantly different manner. Bulwer-Lytton's novel focuses on the causes that lead an innocent man to crime, while Poe's tale deals with the anguishing circumstances that a completely innocent man is condemned to face. In his essay "On Art in Fiction" (1838), Bulwer-Lytton remarked that "in the delineation of a criminal, the author will take care to show us the motives of the crimes" (Worthington 54). Although he never mentions the circumstances that led to his imprisonment, in "The Pit and the Pendulum," the narrator refers to the "sentence — the dread sentence of death — [which] was the last of distinct accentuation which reached [his] ears" (246). Similarly, Paul Clifford also bears witness to Judge Brandon's reading of his sentence to death, and it is mentioned how "as these dread words struck upon his ear, slowly the prisoner rose" (388).
Despite the emphasis on social order that often characterises the Victorian novel, Paul Clifford precisely inaugurates the fiction in which the main character is a criminal, that is, a social outcast. Many of Poe's gothic tales also share this central feature. However, Bulwer-Lytton is very careful to remark that Paul is merely a highwayman, not a murderer, and that, in any case, he is not the one to blame, but merely a victim of circumstance. Moreover, as Conrad Christensen argues, Paul Clifford also has a creative vein, Paul resembling the Romantic hero, as "he uses the sword and pistol not only in his exciting adventures as swashbuckling highwayman but also in an interestingly figurative sense as man of letters" (60). Christensen claims, too, that "highway robbery becomes an especially exquisite form of chivalry, and the novel propounds, as one of its major themes, the notion that criminals are really no worse than lawyers and politicians" (60).
Throughout his tales, Poe is not generally concerned with the reason why his characters feel the impulse to murder, since he is mainly interested in the act itself, and the vicious thoughts and feelings that overwhelm the individual, instead of the causes that aroused them. Moreover, in Bulwer-Lytton's novel, even though Paul is a criminal he is not alone, since he leads his band of criminals. In addition, in his respectable identity, he is warmly welcomed in the elegant gatherings of the upper-class society. Thus, Paul is both an outcast from and an welcome member of society. Such duality in the main character is not frequently found in Poe's tales, in which the criminal is only capable of despicable actions, although his behaviour is never judged. Nevertheless, this duality is translated to the reader, since the fact that the figure of the criminal and the narrator often coincide inevitably leads the reader to establish an ambiguous relationship with the criminal narrator. One of Poe's mainly acclaimed characters, Auguste Dupin, bears some resemblance with Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford precisely as regards this ambiguity. Clifford is described as "a youth of high spirit, and though he was warm-hearted . . . , yet he was rough in temper, and not constantly smooth in speech" (39-40). Clifford is Judge William Brandon's legitimate lost son who fell into disgrace after his mother's dissolute behaviour. Poe describes Auguste Dupin as a "young gentleman of an excellent, indeed of an illustrious family, but, by a variety of untoward events, had been reduced to such poverty that the energy of his character succumbed beneath it, and he ceased to bestir himself in the world, or to care for the retrieval of his fortunes" (143).
In addition to Paul's noble origins and dubious life, he also entertains another type of explicit duality through his post as the leader of the highwaymen and his wish to enter high society to gain Lucy Brandon's love. Poe's William Wilson is precisely the character whose duality is rendered more clearly. In any case, we learn how William finally kills his alter ego, and how, in Bulwer-Lytton's novel, the genteel Paul Clifford and the unlawful Captain Lovett are one and the same person, Paul finally being the one that survives.
Despite Paul's dual relationship with society, he shares some degree of the loneliness and aloofness that can be often ascribed to Poe's characters. At the very beginning of Bulwer-Lytton's novel (which by the way, caused such stir as one of the allegedly worst beginnings in fiction) he describes Dummie Dunnaker in the following terms: "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 wending his solitary ways" (1). To some extent, this descriptive approach is remindful of Poe's "The Man in the Crowd," when the narrator scrutinises the different social groups. It is worth noticing that, as regards the band of the pickpockets, Poe's narrator concedes
there were many individuals of dashing appearance, whom I easily understood as belonging to the race of swell pick-pockets, with which all great cities are infested. I watched these gentry with much inquisitiveness, and found it difficult to imagine how they should ever be mistaken for gentlemen by gentlemen themselves. Their voluminousness of wristband, with an air of excessive frankness, should betray them at once. 
Poe's reference to the need to distinguish pickpockets from gentlemen is remarkably significant and explicitly evocative.
Furthermore, the reversal of roles between criminals and gentlemen is often found throughout Bulwer-Lytton's novel. Paul, an alleged criminal, is of good nature, while Judge William Brandon, a member of the upper social class, constantly entertains the hope of becoming rich through his niece's marriage to a noble man. The issue of not taking for granted people's nature through their appearance is also treated in Poe's "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether," where we discover that the polite managers of the asylum are the actual insane residents.
Moreover, through Poe's denominated marriage tales, the widower and narrator often describes the death of his late wife, quoting her very same words, while he bears witness to the gradual transformation of his young daughter into his late aged wife. In the initial chapters of Paul Clifford, Dummie assists Paul's foster mother, Margery Lobkins, on her deathbed. While beholding her infant, Margery Lobkins wishes he was different from his despicable father (Brandon), while she ascertains the child has his very same features, exclaiming: "You have his eyes, — you have! Out with them, out! The devil sits laughing in them!" (14) Moreover, she swears to haunt Dummie in case he ever reveals to her child the identity of his father.
It is also worth noticing that when Margery is about to die, the narrator draws our attention towards the "large gray cat, curled in a ball, . . . with half-shut eyes, and ears that now and then denoted, by a gentle inflection, the jar of a louder or nearer sound than usual upon her lethargic senses" (14). In Poe's tale "The Black Cat," there is a kind of implicit parallelism set between Pluto and the narrator's wife since, wanting to strike the cat, the narrator ultimately strikes his wife. Furthermore, in Margery's sick chamber, there is "a watch, the regular and calm click of which produced that indescribably painful feeling which, we fear, many of our readers who have heard the sound in a sick chamber can easily recall" (13). This image is reminiscient of "The Tell-Tale Heart" in which, once the murder of the old man has taken place, the guilty narrator confesses "there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton" (305).
Moreover, Paul's first appearnce in society bears some resemblance to Poe's "Masque of the Red Death." Despite the fact that Paul is presumed to belong to the society of gentlemen, nobody knows his real identity, and the schematic journal entry of the following day after the gathering stated: "Mysterious affair, — person lately going about, — first houses — most fashionable parties — nobody knows — Duke of Dashwell's yesterday. Duke not like to make disturbance — as royalty present" (82-83). As if wearing his mask of gentility, the highwaymen Captain Lovett, otherwise known as Clifford in society's highest spheres, comes out at a ball. As in Bulwer-Lytton's novel, society cannot prevent an outcast from entering their luxurious gathering, in Poe's tale, Prince Prospero cannot avoid the Red Death entering his sumptuous palace when "before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before" (272). It is precisely at this ball that Paul encounters Lucy Brandon, the young beauty he had previously beheld at the theatre. The description of this previous encounter again bears some resemblance with Poe's sarcastic tale "The Spectacles," in which the main character falls in love with Madame Lalande despite his short-sightedness.
At some point in the novel, Paul is instructed to become a professional writer by the editor Peter Mac Grawler. His advice as to how to write in order to be published in his periodical "The Asinaeum."bears some resemblance with Mr.Blackwood's teaching Miss Psyche Zenobia in Poe's "How to Write a Blackwood Article." As Paul prefers Romance to Epics and Philosophy, he tells Mac Grawler "I should never be able to read an epic in twelve books, and I should fall asleep in the first page of the Inquiry" (48). As opposed to Mac Grawler, who encourages Paul to write 'serious' and classic literature, in Poe's tale, Mr.Blackwood urges Zenobia to be original and aim at sensational writings claiming that "Sensations are the great things after all. Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations — they will be worth to you ten guineas a sheet. If you wish to write forcibly, Miss Zenobia, pay minute attention to the sensations" (341).
- Poe's Knowledge of Bulwer-Lytton's Novels
- From novel to tale
- Nineteenth-century Transatlantic Perceptions of the Novel and Short Story
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Campbell, James L, Sr. Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Boston: Twayne's Studies in Short Fiction Series, 1986.
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_____. The Subverting Vision of Bulwer-Lytton: Bicentenary Reflections. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004.
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_____. "Fame, Notoriety and Madness: Edward Bulwer-Lytton Paying the Price of Greatness." Critical Survey 13:2 (2001) 115-134.
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_____. "Bulwer's Rienzi as Multiple Source for Poe." Poe Studies 29.2 (December 1996): 66-68.
_____. "Bulwer-Lytton's Influence of Poe's Work, Especially for an Author's 'Preconceived Design.'" Poe Studies Association Newsletter XXVIII: 1 (Spring 2000) 1-3.
Poston, Lawrence. "Beyond the Occult: The Godwinian Nexus of Bulwer's Zanoni."Studies in Romanticism (Summer 1998: 13) 131-161.
Spies, George H. "Edgar Allan Poe's Changing Critical Evaluation of the Novels of Edward Bulwer-Lytton." Kyushu American Literature 17 (1976): 1-6.
Worthington, Heather. "Against the Law: Bulwer's Fictions of Crime." The Subverting Vision of Bulwer-Lytton. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004. 54-67.
Last modified 28 June 2006