Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Pompeii. Ancient southern Italian city populated by Greeks and Italians until it was occupied by Rome during the wars that united Italy under Roman rule. In the first century b.c.e., the Roman general Sulla established a colony for his veterans on land near Pompeii that he and his army had taken from his enemies during the last days of the Roman Republic. The long-term effect of the Roman conquest of the Italian peninsula was the progressive decline of local cultures as Roman customs and culture became dominant. Although remnants of Greek and other cultures are seen in the characters of this novel, the romanization of Pompeii and the peninsula was virtually complete by the first century c.e., the period in which the novel is set.

Before Pompeii’s destruction in the volcanic eruption of 79 c.e., the city was a jewel of the Roman world, featuring luxurious houses and seaside villas that were the fashionable dwellings and summer resorts of wealthy Romans. The houses, baths, streets, and temples described by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and peopled by his characters are those that had been excavated and restored when he wrote the book. For example, Glaucus’s house, the House of the Tragic Poet, is a small gem of a house that is built in the typical Roman style but adorned by artworks that reveal his Greek heritage.

The Greek temple pictured with the Triangular Forum may have been the temple in which Glaucus, a wealthy Athenian, worshiped the gods of his ancestors. Glaucus meets his friends Lepidus and...

(The entire section is 631 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Campbell, James L., Sr. Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Surveys Bulwer-Lytton’s career, the influences on his work, and his fictional output. Analyzes the elements that contributed to the writing of the novel, judging it to be a sensationalistic costume romance rather than a serious exploration of Roman history.

Cooper, Lettice. Introduction to The Last Days of Pompeii. London: Collins, 1953. The most relevant of numerous introductions written for various editions of the novel; others of note include one by Bulwer’s son, the earl of Lytton (preserved into the late twentieth century in the Everyman edition), Curtis Dahl’s introduction to the 1946 Dodd Mead edition, and Edgar Johnson’s introduction to the 1956 Limited Editions Club edition.

Fleishman, Avrom. The English Historical Novel: Walter Scott to Virginia Woolf. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971. A study of the English tradition of historical fiction from its beginnings to the start of World War II, when, Fleishman contends, the tradition ended. Praises the novel’s depiction of Roman society and the novel’s use of Roman history in terms of nineteenth century political controversy.

Ford, George H., ed. Victorian Fiction: A Second Guide to Research. New York:...

(The entire section is 412 words.)