Dark and Stormy

I love having the opportunity to publicly share my silly side … as well as laugh at my own mistakes. Sometimes it is my brain going off on weird tangents. Other times, it is me completely missing the point.

This blog post was written in two parts: Part one before I knew the truth, and part two was after my enlightenment. While I considered rewriting the whole thing to hide my ignorance, this way is so much funnier!

Dark and Stormy Night – Part 1

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Okay, I give up: Why is that such a horrible first line? It sets the mood for Paul Clifford. I think it serves its purpose well: The reader knows it will be light fiction (officially its melodramatic category is “purple fiction”) and a dictionary won’t be necessary.

Paul Clifford
Click the image and read it for free on Google books!

Perhaps I am so drawn to the defense of this poor sentence because it feels like was wrongfully accused. At work, when I mess up, I’m the first one to admit it, and I work to solve the problem I created. While I dislike that situation, I can easily walk away from it after learning how to prevent it from happening again. The situations that stick with with me, however, are the ones where I did nothing wrong yet I’m being blamed. A recent situation like that had me escaping out to my car so I could sob in peace. Although logically I believe in an unfair universe, it still sucks.

This is why I am this sentence’s defender.

Dark and Stormy Night – Part 2

Here is the really embarrassing part that many of you saw coming. When I got home, I realized that “It as a dark and stormy night” was not the complete opening sentence. The whole thing reads:

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.

I had an Emily Litella moment from the classic Saturday Night Live:  “Never mind.”

That sentence really is horrible! I couldn’t help thinking that if Edward Bulwer Lytton had a better editor who broke that monstrosity down – or deleted half of it, it wouldn’t have been terrible at all.

That is when I had a flash of brilliance. That much maligned sentence has achieved something that 99% of all author’s cannot say: Everyone can recite a line (or at least part of it) from that book! Its opening line is keeping people reading this obscure book well past the normal span of any light fiction. I must admit I never would have added it to my Google Book queue without its notoriety.

I hope the sentence appreciates the full power it has over us.

Was I the only one that hadn’t realized that there was more to that sentence than the first part? or Why is it that untrue statements hurt more than genuine mistakes?

2 thoughts on “Dark and Stormy”

  1. I actually knew the sentence and its story (ha – see what I did there), but I’m a Lit major, so…yeah. I love your thought, though – the power that the sentence has over so many. Love it or hate it, the darn thing is so familiar to so many that you can’t exactly ignore it. Well done, Edward!


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