It was a dark and stormy night …. I could launch into a blog post beginning with this phrase, given that there have been a number of dark and stormy nights recently, but I won’t, because these opening words have come to be considered the epitome of a cliché. They are the opening words of the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by the once-popular novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton. As Wikipedia says: ‘The phrase is considered to represent "the archetypal example of a florid, melodramatic style of fiction writing"’. Bulwer-Lytton’s whole sentence is: ‘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’.
If you can match this purple prose, or do better, then you might like to consider entering the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, run by the English Department at San Jose State University. The contest ‘challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels’. You can see previous winning entries on their website.
Apart from the now well-known and much-mocked ‘it was a dark and stormy night’, Bulwer-Lytton is credited with coining several other phrases that are well known in English, including 'the pen is mightier than the sword' (from the play Richelieu), 'the great unwashed' (also from Paul Clifford), and 'the almighty dollar' (from The Coming Race).
Bulwer-Lytton is also, strangely, linked indirectly to the beefy drink Bovril. In his 1871 novel Vril: the Power of the Coming Race, vril is an occult energy-force. The developer of Bovril, John Lawson Johnston, combined this word vril with bo from bovine to become the iconic brand name.