Amanda McKittrick Ros - The World's Worst Writer?
Larne's own took on every 'auctioneering agent of satan' and won, in her own inimitable way
‘I expect I will be talked about at the end of a thousand years.’
Anna Margaret McKittrick was born on December 8, 1860 in Drumaness, Co Down, the fourth child of Edward Amlave McKittrick and Eliza Black. Few would have known then that Anna Margaret would become, by her own invention, Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McClelland McKittrick Ros, a writer celebrated and slated in equal measure.
During her first teaching post at Millbrook National School, Larne, in 1887, Anna McKittrick met and married stationmaster Andrew Ross, an admired man in the community, fifteen years her senior. Her first novel was penned and printed eight years into their marriage. Amanda asked her husband to publish Irene Iddesleigh as an anniversary present, the story of a marriage doomed from the first moment by unrequited love.
‘Mocking Angel! The trials of a tortured throng are naught when weighed in the balance of future anticipations. The living sometimes learn the touchy tricks of the traitor, the tardy, and the tempted; the dead have evaded the flighty earthly 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, (1897)
Formidable as she was, perhaps even Mrs Ros had her moments of wide-eyed expectation when self-publishing her first novel. However, Barry Pain, a well known critic of the time, harshly set upon the unknown authoress and her first literary attempt.
This was to strike a hostile relationship between Ros and every critic - or ‘auctioneering agent of Satan’ - from then on. She didn’t grasp that all publicity is good publicity and in her case it brought her books to the attention of people who appreciated her ‘otherness’. She was admired by Mark Twain and Alduous Huxley, who wrote an essay on her style and works, and Sir EV Lucas, who mentioned by name her second novel Delina Delaney in his Mr Ingleside.
Delina Delaney introduces a darkness and bitterness not known in the romantic Irene Iddesleigh. McKittrick Ros’s melodramatic humour has free reign, and is irresistible.
‘“Home again Mother?” he boldly uttered, as he gazed reverently in her face.
“Home to Hades!” returned the raging, high-bred daughter of distinguished effeminacy.
“Ah me! What is the matter?” meekly enquired his lordship.
“Everything is the matter with a broken-hearted mother of a low-minded offspring,” she answered hotly.’
Delina Delaney (1898)
When Andy Ross died in 1917, McKittrick Ros wouldn’t let anyone she felt unworthy to be at the funeral walk behind the cart, preferring to move off at a canter. She also notoriously returned wreaths to mourners, an act that would be an outrageous and desperate act of a grieving widow if it weren’t for the fact that this was Amanda Ros, the public persona she had created ensuring she was never subject to pity.
Some years later, she went on to marry Thomas Rodgers, who provided a more stable financial environment for her literary talents to flourish. She started her third novel Helen Huddleson, in which the characters have the most hilariously-alliterated names yet, including 'Sir Peter Plum' and the 'Earl of Grape'.
Though technically flawed, making them quite laborious to read in parts, Ros’s novels are worth a closer look. Her raw embellishment of simple plots is truly charming. You may find the stuff of Hollywood rom-coms in Amanda’s books but you won’t find the dumbed down transparent characters we are so used to seeing on the big screen.
It is little wonder, when you get a taste for Amanda McKittrick Ros, that sections of the literati in London established special societies to get together and read her astonishing prose and even more absurd verse. It is a captivating thought that while Amanda was at home in Larne, Alduous Huxley may have staggered around a drawing-room perhaps reciting from the unashamedly bitter, irresistibly titled Poems of Puncture:
‘Beneath me here in stinking clumps
Lies Lawyer Largebones, all in lumps;
A rotten mass of clockholed clay,
Which grown more honeycombed each day.
See how the rats have scratched his face?
Now so unlike the human race;
I very much regret I can’t
Assist them in their eager ‘bent’.’
Epitaph on Largebones – The Lawyer
Poems of Puncture (1912)
Of course there was irony in the admiring glances of such intellectual and literary giants, and it remains unclear if Amanda ever really ‘got it’. But there was also a genuine affection for her work that lives on in small bands of fans today.
Larne has recognised her by erecting a plaque in her honour in the local library, something she would probably have publicly acknowledged as appropriate. Good job then, that Nick Page, author of The World’s Worst Writers, is well out of her grasp as he cites her as 'the greatest bad writer who ever lived.' Of course Ros would agree with six sevenths of that sentence.
Amanda Mc Kittrick Ros died on February 3 1939 and almost 70 of those one thousand years later we are still talking about her.
There are very few editions of any of Amanda Ros’ work to be found languishing on bookstore shelves but the Belfast Public Library on Royal Avenue has an excellent collection of first editions, typescripts and also quite a lot of correspondence. Many Amanda Ros fans have made the pilgrimage from all over the world to Belfast for this collection.