Thursday, October 28, 2010

First Lines Second Thoughts — Paul Clifford

Boston window through rain.

While the author and the book may be forgotten, the first words to the Edward George Bulwer-Lytton novel Paul Clifford are perhaps the most famous opening words in the history of English literature.


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 house-tops, and
fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps
that struggled against the darkness.


— Edward George Bulwer-Lytton


Published in 1830, Paul Clifford is a tale of crime, romance and dual identities set during the French Revolution. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton's name lives on today in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest where entrants are invited, "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." The tongue-in-cheek contest attracted three entries in 1983. It now regularly attracts more than 10,000 entries per year.

First Lines Second Thoughts is a look at the first lines of well known literary works. On second thought, do these opening words stand alone as poetry?