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Zanoni 2nd.jpg
First edition title page
Author Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Country England
Language English
Genre Fiction novel
Published 1842
Publisher Saunders and Otley
Media type Print
Preceded by Leila: or The Siege of Granada
Followed by The Last of the Barons

Zanoni is an 1842 novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a story of love and occult aspiration. By way of introduction, the author confesses: "... It so chanced that some years ago, in my younger days, whether of authorship or life, I felt the desire to make myself acquainted with the true origins and tenets of the singular sect known by the name of Rosicrucians." A manuscript came into his hands written in the most unintelligible cipher, a manuscript which through the author's own interpretation became Zanoni.[1]


Zanoni, a timeless Rosicrucian brother, cannot fall in love without losing his power of immortality; but he does fall in love with Viola Pisani, a promising young opera singer from Naples, the daughter of Pisani, a misunderstood Italian violinist.[2] An English gentleman named Glyndon loves Viola as well, but is indecisive about proposing marriage, and then renounces his love to pursue occult study. The story develops in the days of the French Revolution in 1789. Zanoni has lived since the Chaldean civilisation. His master Mejnor warns him against a love affair but Zanoni does not heed. He finally marries Viola and they have a child. As Zanoni experiences an increase in humanity, he begins to lose his gift of immortality. He finally dies in the guillotine during the French Revolution.[3]


Bulwer-Lytton humanised Gothic art and evoked its poetry to suit the Victorian era.[4] In Zanoni, Bulwer-Lytton alludes to deep Rosicrucian mysteries regarding the four elements, secrets which only initiated Rosicrucians have the power to reveal, the ultimate goal being the discovery of the Elixir of life and the attainment of immortality and eternal youth. This is all depicted in Zanoni himself who at the time of Babylon abandoned all human passions to become immortal but during the French Revolution, to become human again, he falls in love and dies in the guillotine.

The name Zanoni is derived from the Chaldean root zan, meaning "sun", and the chief character is endowed with solar attributes.[5]


From the viewpoint of Platonism and Neo-Platonism, Zanoni evokes the themes of the four types of divine madness covered in Plato's Phaedrus: These are prophetic, initiatic, poetic and erotic madness.

These four threads are interwoven through the entire fabric of the work, creating an atmosphere of divine madness. Even Zanoni's attempt to become human again becomes an apotheosis with his ultimate sacrifice.[6]

Disraeli prediction

According to occult author C. Nelson Stewart, Bulwer-Lytton is well-versed in Rosicrucian and occult lore, all of which he brings to bear on his novel Zanoni; he also demonstrates a profound knowledge of Astrology in his Disraeli prediction: "... He will die, whether in or out of office, in an exceptionally high position, greatly lamented, and surrounded to the end by all the magnificent planetary influences of a propitious Jupiter."[7]


What influence, if any, Zanoni could have had on Nietzsche is a matter of pure conjecture. A. R. Orage himself re-read Zanoni within two years of having read Thus Spoke Zarathustra and in an article on Zanoni, written in 1902, he mentions Nietzsche for the first time. For Orage, Zanoni's teacher Mejnor's plan to create a race of supermen is most agreeable and a reading subject worthy of Cecil Rhodes.[8]

It is Zanoni's ultimate sacrifice that would give Bulwer-Lytton's friend Charles Dickens an idea on how to end A Tale of Two Cities.[9]

Guardian of the Threshold

Speaking to Glyndon, Mejnour says of the Guardian, "... Know, at least, that all of us – the highest and the wisest – who have, in sober truth, passed beyond the threshold, have had, as our first fearful task, to master and subdue its grisly and appalling guardian."[10]

According to the German Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner, the Guardian of the Threshold is an actual figure of an astral nature which was fictionalised by Bulwer-Lytton in this novel.[11]

Samael Aun Weor refers to Adonai as Zanoni's real Master and to the Guardian of the Threshold as the psychological "I" or reincarnating ego.[12]


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External links

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  1. Bulwer-Lytton, Edward (1874). Zanoni. Routledge. p. xx. ...I found the whole written in an unintelligible cipher. 
  2. McIntosh, Christopher (1997). The Rosicrucians. Samuel Weiser Inc. p. 113. ISBN 0-8772-8920-4. Zanoni loses his immortality by falling in love... 
  3. Bulwer-Lytton, Edward (1853). Zanoni. p. 136. And did Zanoni really feel love for Viola? 
  4. Cross, Wilbur Lucius (1906). The development of the English novel. p. 160. Bulwer-Lytton humanized Gothic art... 
  5. Iampolski, M. B. (1998). The Memory of Tiresias. University of California Press. p. 66. It is worth noting that Zanoni is endowed with solar attributes... 
  6. Roberts, Marie (1990). Gothic immortals. Taylor & Francis. p. 173. ISBN 0-4150-2368-8. The manuscript is indebted to Plato's Phaedrus... 
  7. Stewart, C. Nelson (1996). Bulwer Lytton as Occultist. Kessinger Publishing. p. 29. ISBN 1-5645-9626-5. He will be to the last largely before the public. 
  8. Shaw, Christopher; Chase, Malcolm (1989). The imagined past. Manchester University Press ND. p. 124. ISBN 0-7190-2875-2. ...Orage drew attention to... the character of Mejnour in Bulwer-Lytton's Zanoni. 
  9. Heldreth, Leonard G. (1999). The blood is the life. Popular Press. p. 161. ISBN 0-8797-2803-5. ...and Robespierre imprisons Zanoni along with his wife, the singer Viola. 
  10. Bulwer-Lytton, Edward (1874). Zanoni. Routledge. p. 103. foe is so malignant to man... 
  11. Steiner, Rudolf (1994). Knowledge of the Higher Worlds and Its Attainment (PDF). Read Books. p. 189. ...the highest degree an absolutely real experience... 
  12. Aun Weor, Samael (2007). Logos, Mantra, Theurgy. p. 104. ISBN 1-9342-0604-0. How difficult it is to achieve perfection.