Monday, September 24, 2012

"Life...should be pebbled with principle..."

So very bad that it's good? I defy you to read the quotations from Amanda McKittrick Ros, Authoress, while maintaining your composure. From David Bentley Hart's "Brilliantly Bad Books":
.... 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)
To her admirers (and I am among the most fervent), her books are as inspired in their way as any great works of art could ever be. ....

It was all quite unintentional. She was not some brilliant parodist or cunning absurdist. She was, in fact, almost insanely devoid of a sense of humor. Her visiting card in her later years says it all: “Amanda McKittrick Ros, Authoress, At Home always to the honourable.” She took herself and her art with the utmost seriousness, and regarded all of those “critic crabs”—those “evil-minded snapshots of spleen”—who failed to recognize her genius as spiteful fiends. One could say, I suppose, that she was a brilliant surrealist; but she was so only by inadvertence. ....

.... Amanda was unaware of the sheer scale and robustness of the mockery her book had provoked. She was, in any event, a sublimely arrogant and self-regarding woman, and quite incapable of interpreting adverse comments on her work as anything other than expressions of envy. So she pressed on. Delina Delaney—also privately published at the expense of her haplessly indulgent husband—was a longer, more ambitious work than its predecessor....

It...contains some of the most splendid specimens of her prose. Of the wicked Madam-de-Maine, sitting alone in her bedroom soon after shooting to death the poor old servant who knew it was she who had poisoned Lord Gifford’s pudding, we read: “Her frame sometimes shook to chorus a thirsty sob, as if she were again contemplating a similar ordeal. Eventually, however, the signs of nervousness, that now visited her, died and withered away, and a miraculous peace, sometimes seen on the marbled faces of Roman statuary, that exhibit strongly the polished calm of revengeful rulers, rested on her features.”

It was, sadly, the last of her novels to appear while she was alive. She did, however, produce two volumes of verse: Poems of Puncture in 1912 and Fumes of Formation in 1933. And she printed a few broadsheets for the troops during the Great War, one of which featured her poem “A Little Belgian Orphan,” a tale of German atrocities that begins with the extraordinary line “Daddy was a Belgian and so was Mammy too,” and that includes such plangent couplets as “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.” ....

At times, I confess, I feel a little guilty about my fondness for Amanda’s books; I fear there has always been a hint of cruelty in the devotion she excites in her admirers. My only defense is that I have come to feel, far from anything like disdain, a very genuine and sincere affection for her over the years, and I am profoundly grateful for the delight she has afforded me continually since I first discovered her writings. There really was something madly brilliant about her books, and I treasure them. What better posterity should a writer crave? So, rather than reproach myself, I prefer simply to recall that, as Amanda wrote, “Life is too often stripped of its pleasantness by the steps of false assumption, marring the true path of life-long happiness, which should be pebbled with principle, piety, purity, and peace.”

Again, I could not possibly have said it better.
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were among those who read Amanda McKittrick Ros aloud to uproarious laughter.

The World War I poem quoted above ends:
Go! Meet the foe undaunted, they're rotten cowards all,
Present to them the bayonet, they totter and they fall,
We know you'll do your duty and come to little harm
And if you meet the Kaiser, cut off his other arm.
And upon visiting Westminster Abbey, Amanda McKittrick Ros:
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.
There is apparently a contest held in Belfast which is won by the person able “to read the longest passage from Amanda’s work without laughing.” [Note: I read that the Inklings played this game sometimes when there was no new work by one of the members to read.]

Irene Iddesleigh is available free, here, for Kindle.

Brilliantly Bad Books