The pur­suit of painful prose

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Way's Mills

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!”

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

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.

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