Dark Tales Sleuth Wrapped Up; The Contentious Life of Rosina Bulwer Lytton

I’ve wrapped up my current Dark Tales Sleuth case by posting the Table of Contents and Attributions for Volume Three of Evening Tales for the Winter. For this last volume, I mostly relied on the attribution information from ISFDB, and limited my research to tracking down original publication information, and more readable versions of the stories. However, one story earned a little more attention: “Nina Dalgarooki.”

Rosina Anne Doyle Bulwer Lytton née Wheeler Lady Lytton cropped
Rosina Bulwer Lytton (1802-1882).
Source: Wikimedia.

Unlike the other stories in this volume, “Nina Dalgarooki” is in fact supernatural; it’s a sort of satirical adult fairy tale about a beautiful Russian countess who wants to turn her beauty on and off: to “ration” it, for when good looks are truly needed. She finds a wizard to help her accomplish exactly that, and takes this power to Siberia, Paris, and London, with amusing results. It’s rather a fun piece!

ISFDB did not credit the story, but I found a snippet from The London Morning Post that attributed the tale to “Mrs. Lytton Bulwer,” the wife of the novelist known at the time as Edward Lytton Bulwer, and now known to us as Edward Bulwer-Lytton. You know: “It was a dark and stormy night” Bulwer-Lytton. The Post snippet said favorable things about “Nina Dalgarooki,” which is significant, in light of what happened afterwards… .

I detail the story more in my post on Dark Tales Sleuth, but Edward and his wife Rosina did not have a happy marriage. Edward’s mother hated Rosina, and cut off his allowance because he married her. This forced Edward to work for a living, and was maybe not the best start to a marriage. Edward was also hot-tempered, a philanderer, and allegedly physically abused Rosina. Things came to a head when Edward insisted on taking his mistress on a trip that Edward and Rosina made to Italy, and by 1836, the couple were legally separated.

“Nina Dalgarooki” appeared in May of 1836; it seems to be one of Rosina’s earlier publications, and I speculate that she turned to writing to support herself. Edward was supposed to pay her a living allowance under the terms of the separation, but apparently he was often late, skimped on it, or didn’t pay it at all. Rosina retaliated in 1839 with her first novel, Cheveley, or the Man of Honour, a thinly-veiled take-down of Edward and his circle.

Edward, by this time an influential novelist, managed to scare the bigger publishers away from working with Rosina. Many of his friends were literary critics, who would also give Rosina’s novels bad reviews. But Rosina kept fighting him, in her novels, in essays and pamphlets, and sometimes in public. The whole thing culminated in 1856, when Edward forcibly committed Rosina to a mental asylum (remember, they were still married) after she publicly denounced him at a campaign speech, while he was running for a seat in Parliament. Luckily, this was a public relations disaster for him, and Rosina was soon released. She died in 1882, nine years after her husband.

So today, Rosina Bulwer Lytton is remembered more for her contentious life than she is for her literature. Maybe her writing would have been forgotten, regardless–does anyone today read Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novels, except to make fun of them? Still, “Nina Dalgarooki,” which seems free of any bile towards her husband, is an enjoyable, amusing, sharp-tongued but relatively light satire, and judging by the published reaction to it, Rosina’s writing career might have gone quite well, under other circumstances.

At any rate, it’s worth checking out.

I hope you enjoy.

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