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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Bulwer-Lytton, Edward George Earle Lytton

(1803-1873). English writer and politician, known for his mystical novels particularly Zanoni. He was born Edward Lytton in London, England, on May 25, 1803, the youngest son of Gen. William Bulwer and Elizabeth Lytton. In 1827, he married Rosina Doyle Wheeler, but his mother so disapproved of the match that she cut off his allowance and he was forced to earn his living by writing. After almost ten years of marriage, during which his wife bore him a son and daughter, the marriage ended in a legal separation in 1836. His early novels — Falkland (1827), Paul Clifford (1830), and Eugene Aram (1832) — won him wide popularity, though he is best remembered for his well-researched historical novels, such as The Last Days of Lyons (1838), Richelieu (1839), and Money (1840). He was elected to Parliament in 1831 as a reformer, but by the time of his reelection in 1852, he had become a Conservative. He assumed the name Bulwer-Lytton in 1843 when he inherited the Lytton estate called “Knebworth.” He was made Secretary for the British colonies 1858-59 and was created a Baron in 1866.

Although popular in his time, Bulwer-Lytton’s ornate style and tedious description, reflecting the influence of his friend William Godwin (1756-1836) — whose daughter, Mary, eloped with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and is the author of the novel Frankenstein (1818) — renders him little read today. There is, in fact, a contest named after him and held every year in the U.S. to see who can write the worst, most convoluted opening sentence to a novel. His inclusion here is due to his undoubted knowledge of occult teachings demonstrated in some of his novels — especially Zanoni, a Rosicrucian Tale (1842), A Strange Story (1862), The Coming Race (1871), and The Haunted and the Haunters or the House and the Brain (1859) — to which H. P. Blavatsky sometimes referred. She bestowed high praise on him, saying that he was “one who ranked higher than any other in the small number of genuine mystical writers, for he knew what he was talking about . . .” (CW II:141-2). Again, speaking of elementals, she said, “No author in the world of literature ever gave a more truthful or more poetical description of these beings than Sir E. Bulwer-Lytton, the author of Zanoni” (IU I:285). She then quoted him at length (loc. cit., pp. 285-6). Bulwer-Lytton was himself acquainted with Rosicrucianism, as is indicated in his introduction to Zanoni, and as he later stated in a letter to a friend in 1870. His generally optimistic theosophical view of life is also expressed early in Zanoni when the title character, observing a gnarled tree, which yet has aspired toward the light and has green leaves, likens it to a human life of hardship which, nevertheless, also grows ever toward the light. He says to a dispirited Viola, “So with a gallant heart, through every adverse accident of sorrow, and of fate, to turn to the sun, to strive for the heaven; this it is that gives knowledge to the strong and happiness to the weak. . . . [L]earn the lesson that Nature teaches you, and strive through darkness to the light” (Book I, chapt. 4).

His occult novels, especially The Coming Race, prefigured the works of H.G. Wells (1866-1946) and Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). But he also was concerned with social issues and attacked capital punishment in his novel Paul Clifford.

R.W.B./P.S.H.

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