When Bulwer-Lytton introduces Glaucus, the romantic hero of the novel, in the opening sentences of his third chapter, he raises several interesting political issues:
Heaven had given to Glaucus every blessing but one: it had given him beauty, health, fortune, genius, illustrious descent, a heart of fire, a mind of poetry; but it had denied him the heritage of freedom. He was born in Athens, the subject of Rome. . . . He was an Alcibiades without ambition. He was what a man of imagination, youth, fortune, and talents, readily becomes when you deprive him of the inspiration of glory. [Book I, Chapter 3]
Interestngly, the novelist never makes clear in what sense Glaucus lacks freedom. The wealthy owner of homes in both Pompeii and Rome, he appears to enjoy the full benefits of Roman citizenship, and when he finds himself falsely accused of murder and then sentenced to be thrown to the lions — well, just one lion — he is the victim, not of a Roman, but of another wealthy non-Roman, Arbaces, the Egyptian high-priest of Isis. The implication of the quoted lines is that the only form of ambition and glory possible is ambition to acquire and to exercise political power — something perhaps understandable in young man who had himself just been elected to Parliament three years before The Last Days of Pompeii saw publication. The novelist, in fact, had a long parliamentary career, first serving eleven years as a Whig Radical and then a decade later another dozen as a Conservative. Since the novel appeared two years after the first Reform Bill, which extended the right to vote to many members of the middle class, one wonders if the novelist made his statements about Glaucus as part of an argument both justifying the first bill and implictly arguing for the extension of suffrage even farther, something that did not happen until 1867.
Last modified 5 March 2007