Friday, February 16, 2007

Edward's story

Edward Bulwer Lytton "left his papers to his son, with instructions that by him and no one else his Life was to be written." His command echoes oddly his wife's instruction to her own biographer that "on no pretext, 'however plausible and apparently truthful,' should [her papers] be permitted to pass into the hands of the Lytton family." (Note to self: where are they now?) In the event, Edward's biography was written by his grandson, Victor.

Victor Bulwer Lytton, who never met either of his grandparents, says in his preface that the story of their "domestic tragedy" was too painful for either his father or his grandfather to tell, and admits that "the experiences of both in connection with it had been too painful to admit of a calm and dispassionate statement of the facts by either of them." He, of course, will be a truthful and disinterested narrator: "I decided to tell the whole story as truthfully and accurately as possible, in the firm belief that the truth can damage neither the dead nor the living." Hmm.

His description of Rosina begins sympathetically, remarking on her striking beauty, her wit and lively disposition, and noting her "entirely unhappy childhood." However, his description of her character is far less flattering. She is painted as a shallow flirt, who was eminently capable of attracting men's admiration, but had not "the qualities necessary to hold and utilise what she captured." He seems to attempt some sort of even-handedness by implying that it was not her fault that she was shallow and vulgar. The words "child" or "childish" are frequently used in connection with Rosina, and Victor laments the lack of guidance from either parents or husband which could have molded her into a woman truly worthy of admiration.

Victor's writing, while potentially unreliable and certainly biased, is less annoying stylistically than that in the Rosina/Devey bio. Unfortunately, the sources of his information are unclear, which makes it difficult to judge their veracity. He states in the preface that his information came at various times from Edward's autobiographical writings, papers, and correspondence; Robert's unfinished biography of Edward; and research that he himself did in order to ensure historical accuracy regarding dates and other verifiable facts. However, most of the time he doesn't bother to indicate any sources for his assertions.

Two biographies, five narrators, and so far no answers.

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