IN THE OPENING pages of Conrad's The Nizer of the 'Narcissus', the old seaman Singleton is 'spelling through Pelham with slow labour, and lost in an absorption profound enough to resemble a trance . . . The popularity of Bulwer Lytton in the forecastles of southtrn-going ships is a wonderful and bizarre phenomenon. What ideas do his polished and so curiously insincere sentences awaken in the simple minds of the big children who entanpeople those dark and wandering places of the earth?'
In this absorbing biography of a forgotten Victorian, Leslie Mitchell can no more account for Lytton's extraordinary popularity with unsophisticated readers than Conrad could. His writing was regularly damned by the critics and mercilessly parodied by Thackeray, who particularly disliked the mixture of low-life crime and high-flown sentiment in his