One is feted the world over as a titan of English literature; the other is ridiculed as a byword for clunky, artless fiction.
But can anyone tell the difference?
A new study has found that people really are none the wiser about whether they’re reading a Charles Dickens masterpiece or one of the works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, billed as ‘the worst writer in history’.
In a university experiment, more than 9,000 people worldwide were presented with a dozen passages from the novels of the two Victorian authors.
Then they were asked to identify which was the soaring prose of Dickens and which were penned by his unfortunate contemporary.
Startlingly, the average score was a meagre 5.78, meaning that only 48 per cent of answers were correct and respondents would have done better by simply tossing a coin.
To eliminate any suggestion of snobbishness, the researchers also isolated the responses of those at prestigious universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale.
However, even among the educational elite, the success rate rose only to 50 per cent.