Metaphors via Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Edward Bulwer–Lytton, an English novelist, playwright, politician, and pretty respectable aphorist, is famous for composing what has come to be universally regarded as the most awful opening line of any novel ever written: “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.” This is the opening of Paul Clifford, published in 1830, and the inspiration for the Bulwer–Lytton Fiction Contest, an annual competition organized by the English Department of San José State University to write “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” The latest winner (sic) is:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss—a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil. —Molly Ringle

Mixed metaphors and outlandish metaphors may be stylistic faux pas, but they are nevertheless brilliant examples of metaphorical thinking. They give so much pleasure because of the joy we find in making sense of seeming absurdity. However far-fetched these comparisons may seem, we can still make sense of them. And because we have to work so much harder to do so, they deliver even greater pleasure. So feast your eyes and minds of some of the other awful first lines honored by the Bulwer-Lytton judges…

She walked into my office wearing a body that would make a man write bad checks, but in this paperless age you would first have to obtain her ABA Routing Transit Number and Account Number and then disable your own Overdraft Protection in order to do so. —Steve Lynch

Elaine was a big woman, and in her tiny Smart car, stakeouts were always hard for her, especially in the August sun where the humidity made her massive thighs, under her lightweight cotton dress, stick together like two walruses in heat. —Derek Renfro

The Zinfandel poured pinkly from the bottle, like a stream of urine seven hours after eating a bowl of borscht. —Alf Seegert

Cynthia had washed her hands of Philip McIntyre – not like you wash your hands in a public restroom when everyone is watching you to see if you washed your hands but like washing your hands after you have been working in the garden and there is dirt under your fingernails—dirt like Philip McIntyre. —Linda Boatright

And finally this one, from an author in Drexel Hill, PA, where I was born and raised (must be something in the water):

Leaning back comfortably in a plush old chair, feet up, fingers laced behind his head, Tom Chambers inventoried his life and with a satisfied grin mused, “Ah, marlin fishing off the coast of Majorca, a bronze star for that rescue mission in Jamir, the unmatched fragrance of pastries fresh out of the oven at Café Legrande, two sons who would make any father proud … I’ve never done any of that.” —Ernie Santilli