The pursuit of painful prose
If the writing talents of the winners of the first, recently held Bulwer Purple Prose Project are any indication, the competition at next year’s event should be quite fierce. Last week, the Stanstead Journal met with Jerome Krause, this year’s Grand Pittance winner of
the Bulwer contest, where contestants wrote the worst opening sentence of the worst novel, a feat that’s a lot harder than it sounds. The contest is named after Lord Bulwer-Lytton, a prolific 19th century writer who was famous for his flowery, hard to follow writing.
An artist and Fine Arts professor who helped to develop Concordia University’s Fine Arts Program, Mr. Krause turned to writing about twenty years ago after suffering permanent damage to his right arm following a vehicle accident. “I saw that I could still do this,” he said as he moved his fingers, “so I started writing historical biographies,” said Mr. Krause at his post and beam home in Way’s Mills. In total, he wrote fifty-two biographies of famous characters like Wild Bill Hickok, Mata Hari and Lady Godiva, basing them on extensive research and filling in the details with ‘in character’ inventions. “It’s a recently recognized category of literature known as ‘creative non-fiction’,” said Mr. Krause who, these days, writes on his own blog spot on the internet.
“When I first heard about the Bulwer Purple
Prose Project, I read about the history of Lord Bulwer and how the small community of Williams Corners had changed its name after meeting him just once; he must have been a charming guy. The contest was to raise money for the Bulwer Community Centre so, I thought, why not help support an Anglophone community – they’re endangered around here.”
Once Mr. Krause had decided to enter the contest, he made a fortuitous discovery: a box of books he’d been given a few years before contained what appeared to be the total collection of Lord Bulwer-Lytton’s works. “They were beautifully bound, published in 1903. I had to split each page to read them; they hadn’t even been read!”
Being familiar with many of Bulwer’s titles, Jerome decided that the first Bulwer book to read would be “Vrill – The Power of the Coming Race”, one of the first science fiction books ever written. Oddly enough, it was the only BulwerLytton book missing from the collection so he had to read it on his Kindle! “He wrote it in 1870 and it’s about underground people taking over the world; Adolph Hitler read it. That book was very difficult to read. Some sentences were two pages long! Then I found that if I scooted over it, the story could be quite engaging.” Tedious storyteller that he was, Bulwer actually mentored the likes of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.
Mr. Krause decided to read a second book, this time opting for BulwerLytton’s most popular one: “The Last Days of Pompeii”. “I found that one to be a page-turner – if you can stay awake.” “Have you read them all?” I asked. “No and I’m not going to, either!” he answered quickly.
Those two readings, it seems, were enough to inspire Mr. Krause to write fifteen opening sentences for the contest, winning not only the Grand Pittance, the top prize, but also three other prizes. “It’s not so easy to write like Bulwer-Lytton. He uses such convoluted language and the writing is all about itself instead of the subject.”
To illustrate that point, the following are a few of Mr. Krause’s Bulwer-inspired sentences. For the ‘Romance’ category, he wrote “Oh!, were I a mote in Edna’s eye where I could swim in her warm tears and look into that one eye, but then she might blow her nose and I’d be smashed into one of those ghastly green hankies her great-aunt gave her on her birthday when, really, she didn’t want any gifts because she was turning thirty and thought she was over the hill, but I didn’t think so.” The ‘Legends’ category inspired this lengthy opener: “Six-toed Pete, failed gunslinger, restored to the Townships following his injudicious attempt to be anointed as an heroic luminary (of any sort) in the Wild West, unluckily was short a few coins after he demanded, and knocked back, a stout rye while haunting Cecil Chute’s Bulwer roadhouse; Cecil was not amused and Pete wasn’t quick on those feet.”
Mr. Krause admitted that he’ll probably enter next year’s contest. “It was a nice way to take part in something of use to a little Anglophone community. It was fun, engaging and helpful and I’m all for that. But I won’t be putting fifteen entries in next time!”
Writer and blogger, Jerome Krause, looks over one of his very old books by ‘purple prose’ writer Lord Bulwer-Lytton at his home in Way’s Mills.