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The meaning and origin of the expression: It was a dark and stormy night

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It was a dark and stormy night

Meaning

The archetypal example of a florid, melodramatic style of fiction writing.

Origin

it was a dark and stormy nightThe first 'dark and stormy night' was conjured up by the English Victorian novelist, playwright and politician who rejoiced in the name of Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton. It has become synonymous with the Victorian melodramatic style, of which Bulwer-Lytton's many works provide numerous examples. This style has long been out of fashion and considered kitsch and risible. So much so that, since 1982, an annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has been sponsored by the English Department of San José State University, California. Contestants are required "to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels".

Bulwer-Lytton's own florid pre-contest attempt, in his novel Paul Clifford, 1830, began:

"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."

snoopyThe phrase has been used frequently as a comic device by Charles M. Schulz in the popular comic strip Peanuts. The aspiring author Snoopy is often portrayed typing 'a dark and stormy night'.

Bulwer-Lytton's literary efforts weren't entirely in vain. His work was highly popular during his lifetime and he has left us more than 'a dark and stormy night'. For instance, the great unwashed and the pen is mightier than the sword.