Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Bad Sentence

Does anybody know if they're still doing the Bulwer-Lytton contest?* You know, the competition "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels," sponsored by the good folks at San Jose State University. Named after Edgar Bulwer-Lytton, Victorian hack writer who nonetheless managed to have not only a career but the respect of actually great writers like Dickens, whom he convinced to give Great Expectations a happy ending because, you know, that's what supposed to happen at the end of a novel, right, Charles? Charles, to his discredit, listened, and we now have a vastly inferior conclusion to one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. But the darker, original ending still exists--and it's curiously much more satisfying--and it's appended to most editions these days, so go reread it and see how it's supposed to end. (Hint: after a lifetime of being mentally warped into a creature of heartless sadism by Miss Havisham, Estella does not suddenly 'get all better' and go off with Pip into a more hopeful future.) Anyhoo--Bulwer-Lytton gets this contest named after him because he's guilty of the sentence that will be familiar to any of the readers of Charles Schultz, the opening sentence of all of Snoopy's abortive novels, and of Bulwer-Lytton's equally abortive Paul Clifford:

"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."

Pretty godawful--it's like Robert James Waller trying to write like Thackeray--and so there's this contest dedicated to other people submitting dreadful opening sentences to what, based on said sentences, would be truly abysmal novels. The earliest winner, from 1983, is the following:

The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails--not for the first time since the journey began--pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.
--Gail Cain, San Francisco, California

Gives you an idea of what they're looking for right? Oh, and by the way, all of this is coming straight off their website, and just in case there's some kind of plagiarism or 'intellectual property theft' thing going on, let me just give you their address: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/lyttony.htm and encourage you to go there for further examples of brilliant humor, much better than anything you'll find here, they're swell, I suck, please don't sue.

Anyway, I'm not going to enter, but if I were, here's what I'd submit:

"The nature of true evil is often so elusive," mused Professor Wagner Thurnstrom, Dean of the Haverscham School of Philosophy, as he ejaculated into the body of the prostitute he had just strangled.

I like it. But then, I'm a horrible, horrible person.

*Editorial Note: The author of this blog has checked, and yes, they are.


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