Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s astounding success was due in part to an accurate understanding of the tastes of the middle-class reading public, which had been created by Sir Walter Scott’s vast historical panoramas. More than his ability to cater to an already formed taste for historical romance was involved in his immense popularity. Bulwer-Lytton was a member of the House of Commons which brought political reform to England that in its eventual success spelled the end of aristocratic rule and shifted the governing power to that same middle class.

In THE LAST OF THE BARONS, the author tells the story of the downfall of the Earl of Warwick, a powerful baron of the House of Lancaster, who had managed to secure the throne for Edward IV at the expense of the rightful monarch, Henry VI, the saintly if unworldly head of the House of York. More important, Henry was also backed by the London middle class, the tradesmen and mercantilists who were themselves about to assume a measure of political power in the fifteenth century.

By relating with his evident approval the eventual restoration of Henry, Bulwer-Lytton was advocating the rights of the commons to determine its own political destiny. In Bulwer-Lytton’s version of Warwick’s failure and Henry’s success, readers witness an express denial of the concept of the divine right and a delineation of the idea of representative government, a political philosophy which, if it was not accepted until the seventeenth century, in England found its initial impetus during the time of his novel.

Finally, in the wisdom, brave deeds, and demand for equality on the part of the London goldsmith, Nicholas Alwyn, whose heroics are accomplished at the expense of the power-hungry aristocrats, readers see the author’s democratic values celebrated, all designed to appeal to the political prejudices of the growing middle class of Victorian England.