First edition title page
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Text||Paul Clifford at Wikisource|
Paul Clifford is a novel published in 1830 by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It tells the life of Paul Clifford, a man who leads a dual life as both a criminal and an upscale gentleman. The book was successful upon its release. It is the source of the famous opening phrase "It was a dark and stormy night;..."
Paul Clifford tells the story of a chivalrous highwayman in the time of the French Revolution. Brought up not knowing his origins and living an evil life, Clifford is arrested for theft. The love of his life is Lucy Brandon. Brought before her uncle, Judge Brandon, for the robbery, it is unexpectedly revealed that Clifford is Brandon's son.
That revelation complicates the trial, but Judge Brandon tries Clifford and condemns him to death. Clifford escapes from jail. With his lover and cousin, Lucy, he makes his way to America.
Famous first words
Although Paul Clifford is rarely read among the general reading public today, it contains one of the most widely known incipits in English literary history: "It was a dark and stormy night." It is frequently invoked for its atmospheric and neo-Gothic description, often in the mystery, detective, horror, and thriller genres. Because of its Romantic qualities, it has likewise become a textbook example of purple prose.
"It was a dark and stormy night" is only the beginning of the full first sentence:
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.
In popular culture
- The opening of the book was the inspiration for San Jose State University's annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which celebrates the worst in English writing. The contest includes a "Dark and Stormy night" section, which is intended to find the worst introduction that can be made from the beginning of that sentence. The competition highlights literary achievements of the most dubious sort; "We want writers with a little talent but no taste," says San Jose State English Professor Scott Rice.
- The line was also frequently parodied in Charles Schulz' Peanuts comic strip by showing Snoopy repeatedly starting a novel that starts with the first part of the opening sentence.
- The science fiction novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle also borrows the opening line.
- In the book Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. recounts with enthusiasm his reading of Paul Clifford while at sea off the California coast.
- It is also referenced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Royale". The book the episode revolves around starts with the opening line.