The Bulwer-Lytton Contest
December 16, 2004 3:40 AM   Subscribe

The worst opening lines to the worst novels never written. An international literary parody contest, the competition honors the memory (if not the reputation) of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873). The goal of the contest is childishly simple: entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels.

The original bad opening sentence and inspiration for the contest? From Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford, and made famous by Snoopy: ""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."
posted by zardoz (37 comments total)

 
The night was moist...
posted by veedubya at 4:09 AM on December 16, 2004


This sounds awfully familiar.
posted by mendel at 4:23 AM on December 16, 2004


[This is a good double post.]

Seriously, I had never heard of this or seen the previous links on Metafilter. So thank you, I enjoyed it.
posted by Colloquial Collision at 4:30 AM on December 16, 2004


oops. I did some searching and couldn't find previous posts. Then again, I am a moron, so...

at least Colloquial got something out of it(!)

/goes off to mope
posted by zardoz at 4:44 AM on December 16, 2004


Oh well, zardoz - we end up making a post about every year's Bulwer-Lytton, so it's really no big deal; it would definitely show up here no matter what.

You probably will want to work on your searching a little bit, though, for future posts. Here's the results using "Bulwer-Lytton" in the Google search from the search page.
posted by taz at 4:52 AM on December 16, 2004


Ah. But now I see that 2004 has already been posted. In that case, never mind because the post will be deleted... and definitely work on the search skillz!
posted by taz at 4:55 AM on December 16, 2004


we end up making a post about every year's Bulwer-Lytton, so it's really no big deal; it would definitely show up here no matter what.

I absolutely disagree with this attitude. Anything that happens every year is ipso facto likely to have been posted on MeFi before and should be avoided on that account, even if you can't do a decent enough search to find out. I'm sick of Pirate Day, but Matt loves it so we do it every year; that doesn't mean we have to do Armistice Day, Halloween, Bulwer-Lytton, the Darwin Awards, &c &c &c every fucking year (and twice on Sundays). Sheesh.
posted by languagehat at 5:06 AM on December 16, 2004


Why is it that I didn't notice how rude and condescending the old-timers here could be until I joined up? You know, it seems like once it's been pointed out and apologized for, any more piling on is utterly gratuitous, and really comes of as insular.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:21 AM on December 16, 2004


Get some skin, devils rancher. So far I see abolutely nothing that should get your back up. Maybe in this case it's your own perception?

Anyway, there is now a Meta on this thread.
posted by ashbury at 5:29 AM on December 16, 2004


Hey ashbury, are you pre-stalking me today?
posted by biffa at 5:33 AM on December 16, 2004


Get some skin, devils rancher.
Not a concern. It just seems like so many electrons go to their deaths unnecessarily around here. It's the redundancy that gets me. I've been known to go out of my way to be rude and condescending on the net before, but the piling on has gotten as out of hand as the redundant FPPs.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:39 AM on December 16, 2004


Reminds me of The Eye of Argon, and the many happy nights spent trying to read it.
posted by krysalist at 6:15 AM on December 16, 2004


Well, Devils Rancher, you know what happens to old people. If they don't whine and bitch and complain all the time, they tend to be forgotten. And they love attention.
For example, if languagehat didn't bitch about how he's sick and tired of having a Pirate Day every one of the two years since he's joined, he'd have to actually make a post to be remembered.
posted by c13 at 6:24 AM on December 16, 2004


Hey, c13, go easy on them. They're better than us, remember.
posted by veedubya at 6:35 AM on December 16, 2004


I realise I'm in the minority, but I've always found the Bulwer-Lytton contest crashingly unfunny. It would be so much more amusing if the contestants tried to imitate someone failing to write well, instead of someone succeeding in writing badly -- that is to say, a second-rate novelist aiming for excellence and not quite getting there, rather than a third-rate novelist aiming for mediocrity and landing smack on the target. But other people find it funny, so who am I to judge?

Curiously, Paul Clifford is not the only nineteenth-century novel with that famous opening line. The Revd William Sewell's novel Hawkstone (1845) begins as follows:

It was a dark stormy night, and the wind was sweeping in gusts down the deserted streets of the town of Hawkstone, when Mr Bentley, the young curate, was startled as he was sinking into his first sleep by a strange distant sound, mingling confusedly in the pauses of the wind, and growing louder and louder.

However, my own personal prize for the worst opening sentence in a nineteenth-century novel goes to G.P.R. James for The False Heir (1843):

I trust it is not presumptuous to suppose, that, to that Being, who has revealed Himself to us as a God of mercy and of love, the sight of human fate and all its vicissitudes, the wandering course of each intelligent creature, the effect of every man's actions upon others during his life, the results that follow from generation to generation unto the end of time, the hopes that are formed but to be disappointed, the disappointments which are in reality blessings, the longings for that which would prove destructive, the joys that kill, and the sorrows that make alive, with all the infinite complications of one event with another from the commencement to the close, (which offer to our eyes nothing but a confused inextricable maze,) must be a subject of deep interest.

Now, that's what I call bad writing.
posted by verstegan at 6:37 AM on December 16, 2004


language hat: Relax. Technically, many of the FPPs are just variations of one theme or another, and at least this one is intelligent and funny. And besides, the content is new every year.

Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
posted by sour cream at 6:38 AM on December 16, 2004


This is a dark and stormy post.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:40 AM on December 16, 2004


Arrr! What can ye possibly find wrong with pirate day, ya scurvy dog!?
posted by graventy at 6:59 AM on December 16, 2004


..."I realise I'm in the minority.."
This community has ~20000 members, and commenting or posting something, you pretty much always are in the minority. This is exactly what makes this site different from regular blogs. I think the "old-timers" tend to forget that.
That and the fact that this site's purpose is not to amuse or cater specifically to them. And that no one really gives a shit about what they think of the quality of the posts or comments. Or, for that matter, how long ago they signed up.
posted by c13 at 7:10 AM on December 16, 2004


:), biffa

rancher, it's been mentioned ad nauseum and thread after meta thread has been posted about it, with the latest asking us to be nice. One of metafilter's characteristics is that it's NOT nice. We whine, we cry, we pile on, we flame, we troll, we don't give people a chance - except when we do, and there are plenty of examples of when we do act nice to each other. But anyway, as I mentioned above, I don't think anybody here was being piled on . . . just the opposite, actually.

a copy of this post is in the meta thread
posted by ashbury at 7:18 AM on December 16, 2004


Whoa, dude... it's like deja vu all over again... I thought what happened in MeTa stayed in MeTa?
posted by naomi at 7:21 AM on December 16, 2004


languagehat is exactly right. Except for the part about Talk Like a Pirate Day, which rocks.

What's most annoying is the presumption of the FPP - hey, nobody on MetaFilter has probably heard of this obscure contest that's been going on since before the Web was invented! I'll explain it to them!

OK, so zardoz apologizes for the quintuple-post. Great. That would settle it - except for the other newbies who chime in to defend it because - gasp - they haven't seen it before! well, no duh! They're n00bs! Or - we should post it every year without fail, because... because it happens every year! That's why crotchety old-timers are forced to "pile on" to explain how MetaFilter works, whether you think "no one really gives a shit" or not.
posted by soyjoy at 7:22 AM on December 16, 2004


And that no one really gives a shit about what they think of the quality of the posts or comments.

Quite simply, you're wrong. We should all care about the quality of our little website, newbies and oldbies alike, and your crass little comment should have been precursed with a little bit of thought - I know you wouldn't have posted that little gem of a turd if you had thought whether your pithy comment was worthy or not.

this site's purpose is not to amuse or cater specifically to them.


No, the purpose of the site is to find new, interesting links that most people haven't seen before. The Bulwer-Lytton contest is most definitely not new to most, at least on this site. I'm pretty sure you know this, c13, so you're being deliberately irksome with your comment.

so much for the meta call-out, eh?
posted by ashbury at 7:29 AM on December 16, 2004


While you're explaining how MetaFilter works, please, sir, can you also explain why this discussion is happening here instead of in the MetaTalk thread that was created for this purpose?
posted by naomi at 7:34 AM on December 16, 2004


naomi, the discussion is here, not there, so it would fall on deaf and misunderstanding ears. Much as I would love to discuss it over there.
posted by ashbury at 7:42 AM on December 16, 2004


Oh, I see, it's acceptable to derail the thread here, but only if you're an old-timer. Well, that's fine.
posted by c13 at 7:55 AM on December 16, 2004


Anything that happens every year is ipso facto likely to have been posted on MeFi before and should be avoided on that account

like the World Series?
;)
posted by matteo at 8:09 AM on December 16, 2004


Anyway, the winner this year is lame. It seems as though it's trying very hard to be bad, and therefore coming off forced. I like prior winners (and runners up) that sound as though they had been written in all seriousness. This just seems... contrived.
posted by xmutex at 8:13 AM on December 16, 2004


Lyttle Lytton is a semi-successful attempt to make Lytton funny again.
posted by mendel at 8:54 AM on December 16, 2004


I was spooked when I was reading through the entries and recognized the name of a guy I know. Weird.

Also - I rather liked some of the "bad openings", which I found catchy and engaging. Had I seen some of these in a bookstore while looking for something new to read (as opposed to buying a booklight or a latte) I might have been prompted to read a little more....
posted by TeamBilly at 9:19 AM on December 16, 2004


These are actually good opening lines disguised as bad ones. A properly bad opening line does not inspire laughter; it simply leaves the reader dumbfounded for several minutes:

"A girl got a pet goat. She liked to go running with her pet goat. She played with her goat in her house. She played with her goat in her yard..."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:25 AM on December 16, 2004


I'm sick of Pirate Day

but... but... HAVE YOU NO REGARD FOR TRADITION?!?!?!
posted by quonsar at 12:18 PM on December 16, 2004


Robert Granger, an accomplished linguist, actor, and peddler of phrases and delivery methods guaranteed to soften the hearts of women -- or your money back -- was on the verge of giving up all hope of a monetary transaction, when his customer Alex Hinks, the owner of Brightonville's only pet store, pointed to an item in the brochure and asked, "How much is that dodgy innuendo?"
posted by pmbuko at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2004


Devils Rancher, c13: Chill out, ferchrissake. I wasn't calling out the post, I was responding to taz (whom I love dearly, so I certainly wasn't being seriously nasty). I wouldn't have bothered taking on a repetitious Bulwer-Lytton post (there are so many other battles to fight these days), but I felt I had to counteract her laissez-faire attitude precisely because she's a beloved old-timer and the, er, newer members might think her indulgent remark entitled them to be even more lavish with their repetitious posts. But if you want to feel oppressed, feel free to twist up yer panties all you want -- this is Liberty Hall!
posted by languagehat at 2:57 PM on December 16, 2004


Y'know, I enjoy the Bulwer-Lytton post every year it's posted. It wouldn't be Christmas without it


...whaddayamean all the others were posted in July? Don't dump on my cherished traditions.
posted by Kattullus at 3:39 PM on December 16, 2004


That would settle it - except for the other newbies who chime in to defend it because - gasp - they haven't seen it before! well, no duh! They're n00bs!

I was not defending the double post. If Matt deletes, which he should, for being a double post, so be it. I had just never heard of this Lytton contest before.

Though, I am surprised I hadn't come across the previous posts. w00t! w00t! Lurker since 2000! Holla!
posted by Colloquial Collision at 4:49 PM on December 16, 2004


Devils Rancher, c13: Chill out, ferchrissake. I wasn't calling out the post, I was responding to taz...

Done. I've been reading along here for three years-- just finally hit the "join" button one day when it was functioning. I'm not all that thin-skinned. I'll be an old-timer before you can blink, and I'll be pining for the good old days just as soon as Matt closes then re-opens memberships the next time. PLEASE don't make me type a frigging smileyface.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:21 PM on December 16, 2004


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