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The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Updated on December 24, 2009

The Last Days of Pompeiiis a romantic novel by Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton of Knebworth, published in 1834. One of the earliest attempts to portray fictionally daily life in the Roman Empire, it has remained popular despite, or perhaps because of, its excessive didacticism.

Lytton wrote the novel in Italy, after extensive study of the ruins of Pompeii. What he undertook, in substance, was to imagine the people who might have lived in certain of the dwellings uncovered by the excavators. The central figure is Arbaces, a Mephistophelean Egyptian, who is a priest of the Temple of Isis. He has as wards two young Greeks, Apaecides and his sister lone. The youth he has enlisted as a priest of Isis - an unhappy priest unable to stomach the fraudulent oracles of the goddess. lone he seeks to corrupt to his own life of sensuality. Glaucus, a young Athenian, falls in love with lone, and the main action of the story is Arbaces' plotting against the lovers - plotting which culminates in his murder of Apaecides in circumstances which enable him to lay the guilt on Glaucus. The plot is revealed at the last minute by Nydia, the blind flower girl, who cherishes a hopeless love for Glaucus. When the eruption of Mount Vesuvius overwhelms the city (79 A.D.), Nydia guides the lovers to safety through the darkness and then drowns herself. The chief minor character is the Christian Olinthus, who converts Apaecides, and, when they are both in prison, also Glaucus. After their marriage Glaucus converts lone. - Written when the influence of Sir Walter Scott was at its peak, the novel shares Scott's fondness for inflated diction. Nevertheless, it has well-sustained narrative movement and it established a pattern from which subsequent novels of Roman life - Quo Vadis (1896) by Henryk Sienkiewicz, for instance - have seldom varied.


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