THE DIVINE AMANDA.

I can’t resist passing on this wonderful piece by David Bentley Hart about “the inimitable Irish writer Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860–1939)”:

There has never been another literary figure remotely comparable to “the divine Amanda” (whose real name was Anna Margaret Ross, née McKittrick). She was, many discriminating readers believe, at once the single most atrocious writer who ever lived and also one of the most mesmerizingly delightful. She was supremely talentless—she was wholly incapable of producing a single intelligent or well-formed sentence—and yet her incompetence was so sui generis that it constituted a kind of genius.
Most bad writers, after all, tend to be bad in only the most boringly conventional and drearily predictable ways. But the joy of reading Amanda McKittrick Ros is all but inexhaustible. In the realm of bad literature, she was a pioneer of the spirit, tirelessly exploring new frontiers: a true innovator, prodigious and unique. No mere hack could have perfected a style of such horrendous and delirious originality.
“Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!”
(Irene Iddesleigh)

A prose master to rival the genius of William McGonagall—it’s a dream come true! Read the whole thing, and don’t be one of those of those “critic crabs” she called “evil-minded snapshots of spleen.” If you can’t say anything nice, let your frame shake to chorus a thirsty sob.

Comments

  1. …!
    This is better than Joyce at his best. Thank you so much, hat!

  2. I laugh madly every time I think of “Daddy was a Belgian and so was Mammy too.”

  3. Irene Iddesleigh on gutenberg.org.

  4. Judging from the excerpt in the Wikipedia entry on McKittrick, her poetry is also remarkable.

  5. Thank you so much for this! I’m really looking forward to sampling more of her inimitable genius. “So bad it’s good” is a well-explored part of movie culture, but it was nice to learn of someone who transcended the Bulwer-Lytton style in her quest to be the best of the worst.

  6. From her entry in the Oxford DNB, by Felicity Ehrlich:

    Amanda Ross thought that words meant what she chose them to mean, however eccentrically juxtaposed: as she said in a letter, ‘My works are all my own, pleasingly peculiar’. Aldous Huxley, in ‘Euphues redivivus’ (1923), described her style as ‘the result of the discovery of art by an unsophisticated mind’ (Huxley, 137). Although his essay is a model of ironic assessment, other contemporary critics were less diplomatic, and Amanda—a doughty fighter and extremely litigious—expended much time after 1926 in reviling them in prose and verse. ‘“At home” always to the honourable’, as her visiting card proclaimed, she was irresistibly impelled to respond vigorously—often coarsely—to her antagonists. The butt of masculine ridicule, like Margaret Dumont and Florence Foster Jenkins, she stoutly maintained a sense of her own undoubted powers; and while a reader may delight in her verbal incongruities, the enthusiasm behind them is undeniable. Irene is a tragic tale, betrayed by the innocent ambition of its teller, as both Sassoon and Tawney recognized.

    Unable to resist any challenge, when Andy Ross retired Amanda converted part of their home into two shops to boost their reduced income; for a time she also managed a limekiln, whose bequest to her by the owner resulted in a five-year legal battle with his family. She worked indomitably on the vituperative ‘Six months in hell’, her uncompleted diatribe against clergymen, lawyers, critics, and other infringers of her own idiosyncratic Presbyterian code.
    Andy Ross died in August 1917, and on 12 June 1922 Amanda Ross married Thomas Rodgers (1857/1858–1933), a prosperous farmer in co. Down who died shortly after her last poems were published (Fumes of Formation, 1933: ‘the ingenious innings of inspiration and Thorny Tincture of Thought’). She died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast on 2 February 1939.

  7. First thing that came to my mind was Marie Corelli and sure enough (if wikipedia is to be believed), she was a major influence.

  8. Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland McKittrick.
    I can’t find the 2 broadsheet WW1 poems Kaiser Bill and A Little Belgian Orphan, though a line of one and a verse of the other are copied all over the place. She apparently used a pseudonym for writing them: Monica Mayland or Moyland. There’s a 2004 page called ‘A Pauper’s Guide to collecting Amanda M. Ros’ that has some slightly helpful links for buying her books.

  9. Marvellous. Thanks, LH. McGonagall seems an appropriate reference, inspiring the same kind of appalled affection that McKittrick Ros seems to have done.
    Here’s ‘Euphues Redivivus‘, Huxley’s essay on her writing (“The first attempts of any people to be consciously literary are always productive of the most elaborate artificiality”).

  10. marie-lucie says:

    I just read Huxley’s essay on Amanda McKittrick Ros and the Wikipedia article on William Topaz McGonagall. I can’t see much similarity between the two writers except that both were very poor judges of their own talents. There is no resemblance between the “Rabelaisian” (to quote Huxley) exuberance and inventiveness of Amanda Ros and the depressing flatness of McGonagall. I have no desire to read more than those few lines of McGonagall, but I would love to read Amanda’s novels. At least she does not seem to bore the reader.

  11. It’s worth mentioning that a minor but amusing plot point in Gene Wolfe’s novel Peace (which would appeal to many bibliophiles here, I think) revolves around the discovery of a lost work by Amanda Ros.

  12. Thanks, I just ordered a copy of Peace—I love Wolfe’s writing, and the Ros element pushed me over the edge. Can’t wait to read it!

  13. Trond Engen says:

    Just then they raised the little lad and threw him on the fire,
    And wreathed in smiles they watched him burn until he did expire.

    It’s nice to see that there really was such a thing as an original to the broadsheet parodies.
    Does the delight in morbid detail have antecedents in Irish popular poetry? Since it reminds me of Tom Lehrer’s Irish Ballad, I mean.

  14. Thorny Tincture of Thought
    Makes me alliterative pulse race just thinking of her a-scullioning away against tide, time and literary toadies!

  15. Just got Peace!

  16. By the way, what kind of person is named “Ross” and writes under the name “Ros”? I mean, how feeble a pseudonym is that?
    On the other hand, it might just be a publisher’s error. Anne McCaffrey sent a collection of short stories to her publisher with the mildly poetic title Get Of The Unicorn; unfortunately, it saw print as Get Off The Unicorn, and has remained so, with McCaffrey’s reluctant acquiescence.

  17. I’m sorry, but titling your book Get Of The Unicorn is just begging for trouble.

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