Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Bulwer-Lytton, [Sir] Edward, First Baron Lytton

(1803-1873) UK writer and politician, usually referred to as Lord Lytton; more properly, he was Edward Bulwer until 1838, then Sir Edward Bulwer until 1843, when he succeeded to his mother's estate at Knebworth and became Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and finally he became 1st Baron Lytton of Knebworth in 1866.

EB-L is probably best-known in fantasy for his Ghost Story The Haunted and the Haunters, or The House and the Brain (1859 Blackwood's Magazine; 1905 chap), an archetypal Victorian Haunted-Dwelling story – though it is profound in its assessment and investigation of the Haunting, and remarkably effective in its creation of atmosphere.

EB-L's writing career began with the publication, when he was still in his teens, of Ismael: An Oriental Tale (1820); at the time he was heavily under the influence of Lord Byron. A scandalous affair and a disastrous marriage in 1827 left him penniless – his mother cut off his funds – and something of an outcast. This forced him to write for a living, and his interests turned to other outcasts: criminals and occultists. After his bestseller Pelham (1828) brought him back into society, EB-L remained a critic and observer. He weathered the literary scandals which arose from Paul Clifford (1830) and Eugene Aram (1832), later dubbed "Newgate novels" because they seemed to glorify crime and exonerate the criminal – a charge also levelled against W Harrison Ainsworth.

Although EB-L's fame came with his historical novels, like The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), he remained deeply interested in Rosicrucianism and Occultism, which inspired a series of works starting with Asmodeus at Large (1832-1833 New Monthly Magazine; 1833 US), a post-Gothic extravaganza concerning the narrator's exploits with a Demon.

In 1835, while researching books on Astrology and not long before his separation from his wife, EB-L had a Dream in which the fabric of a novel came to him. He produced an incomplete version as "Zicci" (1838 Monthly Chronicle; in Critical and Miscellaneous Writings 1841) and then reworked it substantially as Zanoni (1842). Bearing some semblance to Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), this was intended to be an Allegory on the human condition, but is too philosophical to work effectively at that level; as a story, however, the tale of an immortal (see Immortality) adept and his Sacrifice for Love became one of the classic works of Victorian supernaturalism. In Zanoni EB-L created the image of the "dweller on the threshold", a phrase beloved by writers of Weird Fiction ever since. The Quest for an Elixir of Life continued in EB-L's A Strange Story (1861-1862 All the Year Round; 1862), which further reworked Zanoni's theme, though shifting more toward the spiritual than the diabolic.

EB-L's own outcast status, and particularly the perished relationship with his estranged wife, continued to fuel his imagination, so that now he himself became an Obsessed Seeker. This culminated in the nonsupernatural but highly charged Kenelm Chillingly (1873). EB-L discovered, through his fiction, that the Quest is often more satisfying than the reward: in the proto-sf novel The Coming Race (1871; vt Vril: The Power of the Coming Race 1972 US) his protagonist realizes that the utopian life he discovers among a scientifically advanced subterranean civilization is ... boring.

EB-L's work was sensationally popular in his day and had a strong influence on other writers. His occult works, along with those of J Sheridan Le Fanu, form the basis of modern Supernatural Fiction.

EB-L's son, the diplomat Robert Bulwer-Lytton (1831-1891), was also a poet and novelist, mostly as Owen Meredith. This pseudonymity has at times caused confusion, especially over the novel The Ring of Amasis (1863), which is sometimes mistakenly attributed to the father, even though EB-L regarded it as immature. The story uses the supernatural (in the form of a Mummy's Ring) to highlight guilt. [MA]

other works: Godolphin (1833); The Pilgrims of the Rhine (coll of linked stories 1834); The Student (coll 1835); King Arthur (1848), a book-length narrative poem (see Arthur).

further reading: The Life of Edward Bulwer, First Lord Lytton (1913) by the 2nd Earl of Lytton; "Lytton the Mystic" by Harold Armitage in The Haunted and the Haunters (1925) ed Armitage, which also reprints EB-L's story and provides analyses on the original location of the haunting; Strange Stories, and Other Explorations in Victorian Fiction (1971) by Robert Lee Wolff; Gothic Immortals: The Fiction of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross (1990) by Marie Roberts.

[Sir] Edward George Earle Lytton, First Baron Lytton Bulwer-Lytton


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.