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Lytton, Edward Bulwer

Entry updated 8 May 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1803-1873) UK author, known as Edward Lytton Bulwer until 1838, when he was knighted, becoming Sir Edward Bulwer. He became Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1843 when he succeeded to the Knebworth estate on his mother's death, a version of his name often used. More simply, he was also known as Bulwer Lytton; the standard editions of his collected works give his name as Lord Lytton. He became Colonial Secretary in 1858-1859 (he signed the documents creating British Columbia and Queensland), and was ennobled, becoming the first Baron Lytton, in 1866.

As a writer, he was active from 1820, becoming well known for such fashionable novels as Pelham; Or, the Adventures of a Gentleman (1828), which established the Silver Fork genre of tales about upper class life, though he is now best remembered for The Last Days of Pompeii (1834). He was versatile and prolific in several genres, and his collected works fill over 110 volumes. His powerful interest in the occult, or more specifically in doctrines associated with the Rosicrucians, surfaces throughout his work, inexplicitly in early Gothic fictions like Paul Clifford (1830 3vols) but becoming explicit in "Zicci" (1838 Monthly Chronicle), a fragmentary tale which was reworked as Zanoni: A Rosicrucian Tale (1842 3vols), and in A Strange Story (August 1861-March 1862 All the Year Round; 1861 2vols; rev 1862 2vols). Both of these feature ruminations on the proper route to the attainment of the elixir of life (see Immortality) and on other occult themes, all through the perspective of a magus. Several other early works – including Asmodeus at Large (January 1832-February 1833 New Monthly Magazine; 1833) and some of the tales assembled as The Pilgrims of the Rhine (coll 1834) – treat horror and fantasy figures and tropes in terms of fantasticated Satire, though one story suggests that dream worlds may exist independently of the world in which they are dreamed (see Virtual Reality); Pilgrims also includes, in "The Fallen Star, or the History of a False Religion", a Proto SF treatment of early humans as examples of a process of Evolution (see Prehistoric SF). The Haunted and the Haunters, or The House and the Brain (August 1859 Blackwood's Magazine; 1905 chap) is a more convincing haunted-house tale which qualifies as marginal sf through its quasiscientific explanations of the malice of the universe as an emanation of impersonal raw Will, a force that manifests itself, superficially, as mesmerism or animal magnetism (see Hypnosis).

Lytton's sole sf novel proper, The Coming Race (1871; vt Vril: The Power of the Coming Race 1972), is a Utopia set in an Underground, a conspicuously "sublime" landscape vividly evocative of the work of John Martin, as noted by Brian W Aldiss in Billion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction (1973); Lytton who thought very highly of Martin, had also drawn on his work in the spectacular though nonfantastic The Last Days of Pompeii (1834 3vols). The inhabitants of this world are an evolved form of Homo sapiens (see Evolution), who are larger and wiser than surface dwellers, deriving their moral and physical virtue from vril, an electromagnetic Power Source of universal utility which fuels flying machines and Automata, illuminates the world, manages the weather (see Weather Control) and even makes Telepathy possible. (In 1886, Johnston's Fluid Beef, a British beef-tea proto energy drink, was renamed Bovril, in honour of vril; the brand continues to be marketed in the twenty-first century.) Females of the Vril-ya are superior to men, a circumstance which shapes the book's thin plot. The narrator, an American who has descended too far into caverns beneath a mine shaft, is condemned to death for Eugenic reasons but two women fancy him, taking the initiative as is normal among the Vril-ya; with the aid of one of them he escapes to tell his tale. He understands little of his superiors' lives, however, and masters nothing of their arts and sciences. Soon, it is clear, the world above will be visited in turn and Homo sapiens will be exterminated. Lytton's lack of horror at science, and the professional gloss of his narrative, help explain the extremely wide influence of The Coming Race, which is one of the seminal sf texts before the age of H G Wells; the doctrinal absorption of Vril into Theosophy post-dated Lytton's death, and the implications it evoked concerning remote control of energy influenced Nikola Tesla. The Coming Race was filmed, very loosely, as The Phantom Empire (serial version 1935; vt Gene Autry and the Phantom Empire; much cut theatre release 1940 as Radio Ranch; vt Men with Steel Faces) (see also Westerns), with Gene Autry (1907-1998) in his first starring role, as a singing cowboy. [JC]

see also: Anonymous SF Authors; Dime-Novel SF; Gothic SF; History of SF; Pseudoscience.

Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, First Baron Lytton

born London: 25 May 1803

died Torquay, Devon: 18 January 1873


Reprints in editions with fewer or more volumes are ignored; all titles below are anonymous, or as by various versions of the author's name, which are not recorded here.

  • Paul Clifford (London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1830) [published in three volumes: binding unknown/]
  • Godolphin (London: Richard Bentley, 1833) [published in three volumes: binding unknown/]
  • Asmodeus at Large (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Carey, Lea and Blanchard, 1833) [binding unknown/]
  • The Pilgrims of the Rhine (London: Saunders and Otley, 1834) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • The Student: A Series of Papers (London: Saunders and Otley, 1835) [coll: published in two volumes: binding unknown/]
  • Zanoni: A Rosicrucian Tale (London: Saunders and Otley, 1842) [published in three volumes: binding unknown/]
  • A Strange Story (Leipzig, Germany: Tauchnitz, 1861) [published in two volumes: first appeared August 1861-March 1862 All the Year Round: hb/]
    • A Strange Story (London: Sampson Low, Son, and Co, 1862) [rev of the above: book is dated 1863: published in two volumes: hb/]
    • A Strange Story; and The Haunted and the Haunters (London: Routledge, Warne, & Routledge, 1865) [coll/omni comprising the above together with "The Haunted and the Haunters: or, the House and the Brain" which first appeared August 1859 Blackwood's Magazine: book is marked as a New Edition Revised, but details of any revisions not established: hb/]
  • The Coming Race (Edinburgh, Scotland: William Blackwood and Sons, 1871) anonymously [hb/uncredited]
  • The Haunted and the Haunters, or The House and the Brain (London: Gowans and Gray, 1905) [novella: chap: this full version first appeared August 1859 Blackwood's Magazine: first separate appearance: in the publisher's Gowans International Library series: pb/uncredited]

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