"It was a dark and stormy night" (1930; 1965 "pup fiction")
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Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sat May 6 14:47:14 UTC 2006
I'm about to write a short story, I'm eating the peanuts that I'd bought for
my three-week honeymoon in Greece and Turkey tomorrow, and all I can think
about is: "It was a dark and stormy night."
The phrase was popularized by Edward Bulwer-Lytton's PAUL CLIFFORD (1930),
and I suppose Fred Shapiro has that. Does Fred have Snoopy's "pup fiction" from
It appears that "it was a dark and stormy night in winter" was the standard
start to a story in the 1820s, and there would be a mysterious stranger at the
door, and so on. The oft-reprinted Dutch short tale, "Jan Schalken's Three
Wishes," dates before 1830 and seems to have popularized "dark and stormy
Author _Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron, 1803-1873._
+bulwer+lytton+baron+1803-1873/-2,-1,0,B/browse) Title Paul Clifford.
Imprint New York, Printed by J. & J. Harper, 1830.
The phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night", made famous by comic strip
artist _Charles M. Schulz_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_M._Schulz) , was
originally penned by _Victorian_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_era) novelist _Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bulwer-Lytton,_1st_Baron_Lytton) to begin his _1830_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1830) novel, _Paul Clifford_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Clifford) . The phrase itself is now understood as a _shorthand_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shorthand) for a certain broad style of writing,
characterized by a self-serious dramatic flair, an attempt to imitate formulaic
styles, an extravagantly florid style, and _run-on sentences_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Run-on_sentence) . Bulwer-Lytton's original opening sentence
serves as example:
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.
—_Paul Clifford_ (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/7735) , available for free
via _Project Gutenberg_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Gutenberg)
Although anyone can write in this style, achieving the worst effects takes
skill. Thus the annual _Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulwer-Lytton_Fiction_Contest) was formed, sponsored by the English
Department of _San Jose State University_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Jose_State_University) , in which the worst examples of "dark and stormy night"
writing are recognized. The winning sentence of the 2002 contest, written by
Rephah Berg of _Oakland, California_ (http://en
.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakland,_California) , explores the theme of troubled love:
On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always
been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper
roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some
off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go
nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now
In popular culture
In the _Peanuts_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peanuts) comic strip by
_Charles M. Schulz_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_M._Schulz) , the
character _Snoopy_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snoopy) was often shown to be
starting yet another of many novels with the canonical phrase.
In _The Royale_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Royale_(TNG_episode)) , an
episode of _Star Trek: The Next Generation_
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation) , the phrase appears as the opening line to the
fictitious novel _Hotel Royale_
_A Wrinkle in Time_ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Wrinkle_in_Time) begins
with this line.
The Saturday Magazine: Being in Great Part a Compilation From the British
Reviews, Magazines, and Scientific Journals (1821-1822). Philadelphia: Jun 8,
1822. Vol. 2, Iss. 23; p. 518 (9 pages)
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain beat furiously against the walls of
the hovel, which was now the habitation of the once prosperous Fairfield.
_A TALE FOR THE TIMES._
Family Vis. Philadelphia Recorder (1823-1831). Philadelphia: Jan 15, 1825.
Vol. 2, Iss. 94; p. 326 (1 page)
It was on a dark and stormy night in winter, that a solitary traveller
alighted at the door of a well frequented tavern in a populous city.
_SELECTED MISCELLANY.; JAN SCHALKEN'S THREE WISHES. A DUTCH LEGEND. _
The Worcester Magazine and Historical Journal (1825-1826). Worcester: Oct 1,
1825. p. 216 (4 pages)
Thus the story goes: one dark and stormy night in winter, as Jan Schalken
was sitting with his good-natured buxom wife by the fire, he was awakened from a
transient doze by a knocking at the door of his hut.
_ORIGINAL.; THE RIVAL HARPS....A SWISS TALE. _
THE WANDERER. Emerald and Baltimore Literary Gazette (1828-1829).
Baltimore: Jan 24, 1829. Vol. 2, Iss. 41; p. 25 (2 pages)
It was a dark and stormy night, several months after...(illegible)
_Comic 4 -- No Title_
Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file). Chicago, Ill.: Jul 15, 1965. p. D1 (1
LINUS: This was a good book, Charlie Brown...
LINUS: I like an author who is versatile.
CHARLIE BROWN: I know what you mean...
CHARLIE BROWN: Of course, some authors become successful simply by
developing a formula...all their stories follow a certain pattern.
SNOOPY (typing): It was a dark and stormy night.
Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file). Chicago, Ill.: Jul 18, 1965. p. 22 (1
We have heard of pulp fiction, but never of pup fiction, until Snoopy took
to his typewriter in the "Peanuts" strip and immediately began to score in the
_SNOOPY'S REJECTED STORY_
Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file). Chicago, Ill.: Jul 22, 1965. p. 14 (1
_ANOTHER SNOOPY STORY_
Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file). Chicago, Ill.: Jul 31, 1965. p. S10 (1
Great Tales of Terror from Europe and America: Gothic Stories of Horror and
Romance 1765-1840, Gollancz (London), 1972
(Including: "Introduction" by Peter Haining. GERMANY: "The New Melusina" by
Johann von Goethe, "The Ghost-Seer, or The Apparitionist" by JF von Schiller,
"The Harp" by Karl Theodor Korner, "The Wild Huntsman! Or The Demon's
Skeleton Chase" by Gottfried August Burger, "The Bride of the Grave" by Johann
Ludwig Tieck, "The Field of Terror" by Baron de la Motte Fouqué, "The Bottle-Imp"
by Johann Karl August Musaus, "The Spectre Barber" by anonymous, "The
Cremona Violin" by ETA Hoffman, "The Fatal Marksman" by Johann August Apel, "The
Devil's Ladder" by Alois Wilhelm Schreiber, "The Hall of Blood" by Professor
von Kramer. FRANCE: "The Witch of Eye" by Francois Baculard D'Arnaud, "The
Unholy Compact Abjured" by Charles Pigault-Lebrun, "The Wandering Jew's Sentence"
by Eugene Sue, "The Parricide Punished" by anonymous, "Louise, or The Living
Spectre" by anonymous Jan Schalken's Three Wishes" by anonymous, "Maredata
and Giulo, or The Ocean Spirit" by anonymous, "Valdrwulf, or The Fiend of the
Moor" by anonymous. AMERICA: "Rip Van Winkle" by a legend, "Memoirs of
Carwin, The Biloquist" by Charles Brockden Brown, "The Adventure of the German
Student" by Washington Irving, "The Christmas Banquet" by Nathaniel Hawthorne,
"The Strange Guests" by anonymous, "Hugues, the Wer-Wolf" by Sutherland Menzies,
"The Possessed One" by anonymous, "Ben Blower's Story" by Charles Hoffman,
"The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe, "Shadow, a Parable" by Edgar
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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