The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

XIII. Lesser Novelists

§ 1. Lord Lytton; Pelham

EDWARD GEORGE EARLE LYTTON BULWER was born on 25 May, 1803; on the death of his mother, in 1843, he succeeded to the Knebworth estate and, in the following year, assumed the name of Lytton; he was created baron Lytton of Knebworth in 1866. Ismael and other Poems was published in 1820; his first novel, Falkland, in 1827; and he continued, in the midst of social, editorial and political concerns and disastrous matrimonial relations, to produce fiction, verse and drama until his death on 18 January, 1873. His versatility is not more remarkable than his anticipatory intuition for changes of public taste. In a first phase, he wrote novels dealing with Wertherism, dandyism and crime; in a second, he evolved a variant of the historical romance; in a third, in The Pilgrims of the Rhine (1834), he brought together English fairy lore and Teutonic legend; in a fourth, he imported into fiction pseudo-philosophic occultism;in a fifth, he turned to “varieties of English life,” comparatively-staid and quiet; later still, in The Coming Race (1871), he outlined a new scientific Utopia; and, finally, in Kenelm Chillingly and The Parisians (1873), he portrayed character and society transformed by the vulgarisation of wealth.

Lytton’s second and best novel, Pelham, or The Adventures of a Gentleman (1828), is a blend of sentiment, observation and blague. Rousseau, Goethe, Byron and some ultra-sentimental experiences of Lytton’s own youth are drawn upon for the figure of Sir Reginald Glanville. Pelham, on the other hand, is drawn from life, not from books; he is a more credible character in a more credible world than the almost contemporary Vivian Grey, Pelham is a dandy, coxcomb, wit, scholar and lover, and, in many ways, offensive and exasperating; but he is also a staunch friend and an ambitious and studious politician, in these respects differing from the corresponding figure in the preliminary sketch Mortimer. What distinguishes Pelham from its author’s later writings is its concentration of creative and expressive effort; Henry Pelham is the most vivid of all Lytton’s characters; and the earlier chapters have an incisive humorous cynicism which is all too quickly dissipated into mere discursiveness by an influence everywhere apparent in the book, that of the encyclopaedists. Pelham was issued at a time when a publisher’s recipe for popular fiction was “a little elegant chit-chat or so.” The effect was galvanic; Pelhamism superseded Byronism, established a new fashion in dress and made Lytton famous eight years before Pickwick began to appear.