The phrase has been used frequently as a comic device by Charles M. Schulz in the popular comic strip Peanuts. “It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.”
Thus began the greatest novel never written by a Beagle. Charles M. Schulz was brilliant and a tremendous influence on my life. And, years ago, I found the seemingly strange start to a novel to have actually been written and is now part of a contest.
The first ‘dark and stormy night’ was conjured up by the English Victorian novelist, playwright and politician who rejoiced in the name of Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton. It has become synonymous with the Victorian melodramatic style, of which Bulwer-Lytton’s many works provide numerous examples. Since 1982, an annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has been sponsored by the English Department of San José State University, California. Contestants are required “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels”.
The original “dark and stormy night” appeared in his novel Paul Clifford, 1830:
“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.”
I hope I write as well as Snoopy. What an imagination! and now to see how my students did with the assignment of creating a sentence beginning with “It was a dark and stormy night.” More on this topic later…