Monday, July 28, 2008

It Was a Smug and Phony Elite...


Who coined the poetic and widely-beloved phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword”?  Why, none other than Edward Bulwer-Lytton, widely reviled as, ironically, the quintessential bad writer — for starting novels with florid lines like “It was a dark and stormy night.”

This strikes me as a great little example of how flexible people’s perceptions are when subjected to peer pressure — we’ve all been told repeatedly that EBL is, in essence, an idiot, but if you were told often enough that “It was a dark and stormy night” is a pithy, emphatic phrase worthy of Hemingway, you’d probably believe it (but then, are you sure you’d think highly of Hemingway’s short, pithy phrases if you weren’t repeatedly told to?).  Most adults are little better than high school students when it comes to looking over their shoulders to make sure that their reactions square with everyone else’s reactions — or rather, with the reactions of everyone cool (but then, why is “cool” good in the first place, really?).

I’m sure most people could be convinced that “The pen is mightier than the sword” comes straight from Shakespeare, and I for one wouldn’t begrudge EBL the resultant, perhaps overdue, admiration.

And let’s not even get started on the topic of modern visual art.  Or literary fiction.  Or moody art films.  Or fashion.  Or “newsworthiness.”  Or politics.  Or religion.  Or poetry (poetry — oh, man, poetry, sheesh…).


jenny said...

i’ve always despised hemingway. “the earth moved”? please.

i’ve always despised thomas hardy, too. i blame my 12th grade english teacher for making me read _return of the native_. i hadn’t even been mouthing off in class or nuthin’.

hmm. i seem to be in a despicable mood this morning.

Todd Seavey said...

You have my support.

Clay Waters said...

Can you tell your Dickens from your Bulwer-Lytton? My results were…sobering. It’s Victorian prose, meaning even these excerpts are slow-going, so might want to set aside a few minutes:

I blame Snoopy, personally.

Todd Seavey said...

And indeed Charles Schulz will be in my March 2009 Book Selection entry. Really.

Jacob T. Levy said...

I’ve never liked Hemmingway’s short, pithy phrases– but I loathe Dickens’ endless paid-by-the-word prose more, and bet I’d dislike Dickens more than EBL in a head-to-head matchup.