Monday, July 28, 2014

Review:: Paul Clifford by Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Paul Clifford (Pocket Penguin Classics)Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Clifford by Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton

This is a marvelous and greatly maligned piece of fiction that begins with this ever over-popularized piece of purple prose.

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.

Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 9). . Kindle Edition.

One must wonder when looking at the Point of View of this novel which seems to be some omniscient narrator who in a rather tongue and cheeky fashion keeps addressing the reader directly through the holes he creates in the forth wall. By the end of the story there are more holes in that wall than there might be in a block of Swiss cheese. This and the florid manor of writing alone cause one to suspect the author has deliberately waxed purple all the way through this seemingly florid bit of prose.

Add to this a later instance of similar quality:

It was a frosty and tolerably clear night. The dusk of the twilight had melted away beneath the moon which had just risen, and the hoary rime glittered from the bushes and the sward, breaking into a thousand diamonds as it caught the rays of the stars.

Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 246). . Kindle Edition.

Granted there is a period here after night, but then how much different is that really than the semicolon of the former. I think that the author is having the last laugh, if he could only see how well quoted he has become.

Beyond such valuable prose this novel holds many things. I've read the analysis that it portrays the injustice of the justice system of the time holding that our hero who ends up being a rogue and highwayman is unjustly convicted and housed among other thieves where he may learn more of the craft of thievery from the real pros. And this does seem to be a major thread that runs through the novel with multitudes of soliloquies about such injustice and the justification for all men to become Robin Hoods. But there is so much more here. What I've mentioned is just the tip of the iceberg.

Another rather important thread that touches early in the story seems almost to address the issue of florid prose or at least perhaps the criticism of such.

For background; in the story, Paul has been orphaned and left to the care of Mrs. Margery Lobkins who is owner of an inn and alehouse and is rough around the edges but seems to have a heart of gold. Mrs.Lobkins who would likely never attempt to have children of her own vows to do her best to educate Paul to the fullest of her ability. To this end she enlists the help of many of her clientele who often do display higher levels of learning in some areas. The trouble is that many of these men are of ill repute and such relationships created with Paul make this reader wonder about the previous assessment that this is primarily a novel about how the system makes the young man go wrong. Enter into this group Mr. Peter MacGrawler; whose station in life seems often to be in question. He is a frequenter of the Lobkins alehouse and an editor of a magazine that promotes prints and critiques literary works. He becomes Paul's tutor and eventually his employer for a brief time after he teaches Paul the art of the critique.

This brings us to what seems to be a most scathing view of what a critique is. Paul is taught in a nutshell how to critique works of which MacGrawler seems to predestine rather arbitrarily to specific fates.

"Listen, then," rejoined MacGrawler; and as he spoke, the candle cast an awful glimmering on his countenance. "To slash is, speaking grammatically, to employ the accusative, or accusing case; you must cut up your book right and left, top and bottom, root and branch. To plaster a book is to employ the dative, or giving case; and you must bestow on the work all the superlatives in the language,—you must lay on your praise thick and thin, and not leave a crevice untrowelled. But to tickle, sir, is a comprehensive word, and it comprises all the infinite varieties that fill the interval between slashing and plastering. This is the nicety of the art, and you can only acquire it by practice; a few examples will suffice to give you an idea of its delicacy.

Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 42). . Kindle Edition.

And as if that isn't enough MacGrawler explains it is not always necessary to read the entire piece; though they may be required to read some of a piece they tickle he offers this further explanation.

MacGrawler continued:— "There is another grand difficulty attendant on this class of criticism.—it is generally requisite to read a few pages of the work; because we seldom tickle without extracting, and it requires some judgment to make the context agree with the extract. But it is not often necessary to extract when you slash or when you plaster; when you slash, it is better in general to conclude with: 'After what we have said, it is unnecessary to add that we cannot offend the taste of our readers by any quotation from this execrable trash.' And when you plaster, you may wind up with: 'We regret that our limits will not allow us to give any extracts from this wonderful and unrivalled work. We must refer our readers to the book itself.'

Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Edward (2012-05-16). Paul Clifford - Complete (p. 43). . Kindle Edition.

Paul does well as a critic, but finds it does not pay well and when he finds that MacGrawler has been pocketing money that belongs to him he quits and this is how he moves into the world of Highwaymen.

It is through the acquaintance of his past that he's caught for someone else crime and sentenced to prison. And somewhere from prison; to escape; to joining the gang, he's introduced to the moral conundrum that allows the thieves to lie, cheat, and steal with a sense of impunity. And Paul becomes a leader among the highwaymen.

This novel is far from over because there is a romance between a roguish rake and gentle lady. There's a mystery about Paul's origins. And there is the moral comparison of those in charge of the governing of men to those who would rob them on the road.

This novel should be a must read, especially by those whose only introduction is through the first line in the novel. Sure it might act as an example of what not to do, but it contains elements that show up even in today's fiction; both romance and fantasy. Along with all the florid passages are a number of threads that feed an interesting plot. Lovers of romance should find this interesting and lovers of such fiction as The Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Cristo will certainly be entertained.

Lastly lovers of the classics in all their purple nature will enjoy this novel and perhaps revel in the humor of the delivery. (I may be seeing some humor that wasn't intended.)

Novels like this make me wonder if today we haven't taken the bite out of good fiction. We've weakened and decayed the author's teeth through a lack of Florid-ation.

J.L. Dobias

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