The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 1. Lord Lytton; Pelham
Lytton’s second and best novel, Pelham, or The Adventures of a Gentleman (1828), is a blend of sentiment, observation and blague. Rousseau, Goethe, Byron and some ultra-sentimental experiences of Lytton’s own youth are drawn upon for the figure of Sir Reginald Glanville. Pelham, on the other hand, is drawn from life, not from books; he is a more credible character in a more credible world than the almost contemporary Vivian Grey, Pelham is a dandy, coxcomb, wit, scholar and lover, and, in many ways, offensive and exasperating; but he is also a staunch friend and an ambitious and studious politician, in these respects differing from the corresponding figure in the preliminary sketch Mortimer. What distinguishes Pelham from its author’s later writings is its concentration of creative and expressive effort; Henry Pelham is the most vivid of all Lytton’s characters; and the earlier chapters have an incisive humorous cynicism which is all too quickly dissipated into mere discursiveness by an influence everywhere apparent in the book, that of the encyclopaedists. Pelham was issued at a time when a publisher’s recipe for popular fiction was “a little elegant chit-chat or so.” The effect was galvanic; Pelhamism superseded Byronism, established a new fashion in dress and made Lytton famous eight years before Pickwick began to appear.