For those not in the know, Torquay is one of England’s small towns on its south coast. It has also been the butt of many jokes. Kevin Dixon’s “Edward Bulwer-Lytton: Torquay’s forgotten Stephen King, and the man who brought you Bovril” puts the spotlight on the town again by reminding us that Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) lived and died there. He gives an account of Bulwer-Lytton’s fame, while exercising a certain restraint:
Edward certainly had an in-depth knowledge of the occult and he included esoteric ideas in his work. This earned him the respect of the leading figures of the nineteenth century occult revival. Consequently, a number of societies claiming hidden knowledge have seen him as one of their own. He has been suggested as a member of, amongst others, the Rosicrucians, Theosophists and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Debate continues over how close he actually was to these groups.
One of his most popular excursions into the occult was Vril, the Power of the Coming Race (1871). This novel contributed to the birth of the science fiction genre - HG Wells was impressed and it has been quoted as the first of a dystopian tradition of oppressive future societies that led to George Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.
It relates the story of a race of subterranean super beings waiting to reclaim the surface of the earth from the human race. It also features a source of energy called ‘Vril’, a force that can be used to heal, change, and destroy.
Oddly, some readers believed that its accounts were fact rather than fiction. For example, Helena Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, claimed that Edward derived the idea of Vril from ancient Indian writings.
The rest of this piece of local history can be read at the site, This is South Devon. Bulwer-Lytton’s son was Viceroy of India during part of HPB’s stay there. Torquay was also the home of the writer Agatha Christie, who lived most of her life there.