ublic and critics alike responded positively to The Coming Race, "Bulwer's cautionary romance about an advanced society in the earth's interior" (Campbell 125), not knowing that the author of the Blackwood's volume (published in the spring of 1871) was Bulwer-Lytton: the dystopian adventure went through five editions in its first year of publication. The Gulliveresque narrator, an American named "Tish" who describes the utopian achievements of Vril-ya society, is a satirical device for revealing "what Bulwer believes to be an inconsistency in the American national character˝a fondness for social rank and a penchant for democratic leveling" (127). The story probably influenced H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885) in the long term, and provoked an immediate and antithetical response in Samuel Butler's idealistic Erewhon (1872).
The judgment of posterity places Bulwer-Lytton in the second rank of England's nineteenth-century novelists, below Dickens, the Brontës, and Hardy, but on a par with Disraeli, Trollope, and Gaskell. Since most of his female characters are based on Lucy D — - and Lady Caroline Lamb, rarely does he individualize his women sufficiently, Lizzie Morley in The Parisians and Mrs. Colonel Poyntz in A Strange Story, both late works, being exceptions.
His mannered style, full of eloquence and archaism, is a second failing — perhaps his chief failing, since it renders his work somewhat inaccessible to present-day readers. Possibly Paul Clifford was his most influential novel, for as the first "Newgate novel" it led the way in the development of the Victorian novel of crime and detection, and was emulated by Harrison Ainsworth in Jack Sheppard, Dickens in Oliver Twist, and Collins in The Woman in White. Arbaces, Egyptian priest and Victorian villain in The Last Days of Pompeii, has proved to be a durable creation, spawning Dickens's Jonas Chuzzlewit in smoldering resentment, Collins's Count Fosco in intellectual diabolism, and Conan Doyle's Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, in alienated criminal genius. Thackeray and Dickens both built upon Bulwer-Lytton's bildungsromane, as David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Pendennis , and The Newcomes in particular make evident. In terms of artistic theory and modern notions about the novel as being art and popular communication at one and the same time, Bulwer-LyttonÝs ideas in "On the Art of Fiction" (The Monthly Chronicle, 1838) had the most immediate and most lasting effect on Dickens, who applied such techniques as "reversal of fortune" and "multiple catastrophes" early and often.
Bulwer's conception of the strange conjunction of the terrible and the beautiful, the divine exterior coupled with the demonic interior, is evident in the characters of Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville, but again finds its most immediate and powerful expression in such Dickensian creations as Madame Defarge in A Tale of Two Cities. "It is not surprising, too, then, to observe Dickens meditating upon the technical importance of 'sympathy' and of 'idealised effects' which Bulwer had probably discussed with him before elaborating them in the Caxtonia essays of 1862-63" (Christensen 233).
Campbell, James L. Sr. Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
Christensen, Allan C. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Fiction of New Regions. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1976.
Dahl, Curtis. "Bulwer-Lytton." Victorian Fiction: A Second Guide to Research, ed. George H. Ford. New York: Modern Language Association, 1978. Pp. 28-33.
Grosvenor Myer, Valerie. "Bulwer-Lytton, Edward George Earle Lytton, First Lord Lytton (1803-1873)." Victorian Britain An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York: Garland, 1988. Page 103.
"Lytton (of Knebworth), Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron." Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/bcom/eb/article/7/0,5716,50757+1,00.html
Last updated 12 December 2000