Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sidetracked by Curiosity

Before continuing our journey through C.S. Lewis-land, I’d like to take a couple of detours. Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, listed “curiosity” as an attribute of lifelong learners. He explained, “The thrill of investigating and researching a new concept or discovering the answer to something previously unknown to us is an exhilarating moment of joy and satisfaction.” (A link to his full talk is located in the column to the right.)

As I was reading background information for my previous post on The Inklings, I became curious about Amanda McKittrick Ros, the novelist who provided entertainment for the group when they tried to read her notoriously bad prose aloud without laughing. My curiosity turned out to be serendipitous, and I’d like to introduce you to Mrs. Ros. (She dropped the final “s” in her married name “Ross” when she became a published author!)

Born in Drumaness, County Down in Ireland, in 1860, Ros attended Marlborough Teacher Training College in Dublin, and eventually became a qualified teacher at the same school in the 1880s. She married a widower eight years her senior in 1887, and died after a fall in her home in 1939 at the age of 79.

Ros wrote poetry and a number of novels, and although she was not widely read, her “eccentric, over-written, circumlocutory” writing style has a cult following among critics as being some of the worst prose and poetry ever written. (This brings to mind Lord Bulwer-Lytton of “It was a dark and stormy night…” fame. See Note #1 at the end of this post.)

While many people mocked her writing (like members of the Inklings), Ros had admirers, including Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley.

Her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh was self-published in 1898 and later published by Nonesuch Press in 1926. It was reviewed by humorist Barry Pain who sarcastically called it "the book of the century." Ros retorted in her preface to Delina Delaney by calling Pain a "clay crab of corruption," and suggesting that he was only so hostile because he was secretly in love with her. Ros may be considered to have had the last laugh, however, for her fame has outlasted his. Furthermore, she made enough money from her second novel, Delina Delaney, to build a house, which she named Iddesleigh.

Nick Page, author of In Search of the World's Worst Writers, rated Ros the worst of the worst. He says that "For Amanda, eyes are 'piercing orbs,' legs are 'bony supports,' people do not blush, they are 'touched by the hot hand of bewilderment.'"

Representative samples of her work (most filled with the overuse of alliteration) include:

“The silvery touch of fortune is too often gilt with betrayal: the meddling mouth of extravagance swallows every desire, and eats the heart of honesty with pickled pride: the imposury of position is petty, and ends, as it should commence, with stirring strife.” –-Irene Iddesleigh

"The living sometimes learn the touchy tricks of the traitor, the tardy and the tempted; the dead have evaded the flighty earthy future, and form to swell the retinue of retired rights, the righteous school of the invisible and the rebellious roar of the raging nothing." –-Irene Iddesleigh

“She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father's slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.” -- Delina Delaney, description of how the protagonist earned money by doing needlework

Visiting Westminster Abbey
“Holy Moses! Have a look!

Flesh decayed in every nook!

Some rare bits of brain lie here,

Mortal loads of beef and beer,

Some of whom are turned to dust,

Every one bids lost to lust;

Royal flesh so tinged with 'blue'
Undergoes the same as you.”

(Recognize this image? See Note #2.)

None of Mrs. Ros' works are in print today. Belfast Central Library holds an archive of her papers, and the Queen's University of Belfast has some volumes by Ros in the stacks. Her books are rare, and first editions command prices of $300 to $1,000 in the used-book market. Festivals and retrospectives in her honor occur at regular intervals in England.

I admire Mrs. Ros for pursuing her dreams of becoming a published author, and for standing up to legions of critics. She must be roundly rotating in her cold, claustrophobic crypt with gleeful guffaws at her perpetual prominence! Or for those of you who have not caught Amanda’s amusing approach to writing—she must be rolling over in her grave with laughter at her continued fame!

Note #1: If your curiosity is still active and you don't know who the Lord Bulwer-Lytton mentioned above is, you might want to check him out. He was a Victorian English novelist, poet, playwright, and politician who coined such phrases as "the great unwashed,” "pursuit of the almighty dollar,” and "the pen is mightier than the sword.” More interesting than his biography is an international literary parody contest named after him; contestants write opening sentences to imaginary novels, copying the famous first line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford: "It was a dark and stormy night..." Cartoonist Charles Shultz' dog Snoopy is also famous for sitting with a typewriter atop his dog house to begin his literary pursuits in the same manner.

Bulwer-Lytton biography,_1st_Baron_Lytton

Winning contest entries

Note #2: Still curious? This is a photo of Sir Isaac Newton's tomb, located in a niche on the north side of the nave in Westminster Abbey in London. The tomb is monumental, with lovely sculptures and elaborate decorations representing Newton's scientific discoveries. Atop the monument is a giant orb with images of planets. If you recognized this photo, you (1) majored in history, art or architecture in college, (2) have visited Westminster Abbey, or most probably (3) saw the The DaVinci Code, in which the tomb stars in the climactic scene of the movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment