Amanda McKittrick Ros
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Amanda McKittrick Ros
|Born||Anna Margaret McKittrick|
8 December 1860
Drumaness, County Down, Ireland
|Died||2 February 1939 (aged 78)|
Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
|Pen name||Amanda McKittrick Ros|
|Occupation||Teacher, novelist, poet|
|Alma mater||Marlborough Teacher Training College|
|Notable works||Irene Iddesleigh, Delina Delaney|
Anna Margaret Ross (née McKittrick; 8 December 1860 – 2 February 1939), known by her pen-name Amanda McKittrick Ros, was an Irish writer. She published her first novel Irene Iddesleigh at her own expense in 1897. She wrote poetry and a number of novels. Her works were not read widely, and her eccentric, over-written, "purple" circumlocutory writing is alleged by some critics to be some of the worst prose and poetry ever written.
McKittrick was born in Drumaness, County Down, on 8 December 1860, the fourth child of Eliza Black and Edward Amlave McKittrick, Principal of Drumaness High School. She was christened Anna Margaret at Third Ballynahinch Presbyterian Church on 27 January 1861. In the 1880s she attended Marlborough Teacher Training College in Dublin, was appointed Monitor at Millbrook National School, Larne, County Antrim, finished her training at Marlborough and then became a qualified teacher at the same school.
Her husband financed the publication of Irene Iddesleigh as a gift to Ros on their tenth wedding anniversary, thus launching her literary career. She went on to write three novels and dozens of poems. In 1917 Andrew Ross died, and in 1922 Ros married Thomas Rodgers (1857/58–1933), a County Down farmer.
She wrote under the pen-name Amanda McKittrick Ros, possibly in an attempt to suggest a connection to the noble de Ros family of County Down. Ros was strongly influenced by the novelist Marie Corelli. She wrote: "My chief object of writing is and always has been, to write if possible in a strain all my own. This I find is why my writings are so much sought after." She imagined "the million and one who thirst for aught that drops from my pen", and predicted that she would "be talked about at the end of a thousand years."
Her "admirers" included Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon, C.S. Lewis, and Mark Twain. Her novel Irene Iddesleigh was published in 1897. Twain considered Irene "one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time." A reader sent a copy of Irene to humorist Barry Pain, who in an 1898 review called it "a thing that happens once in a million years", and sarcastically termed it "the book of the century." He reported that he was initially entertained, but soon "shrank before it in tears and terror." Ros retorted in her preface to Delina Delaney by branding Pain a "clay crab of corruption," and suggesting that he was so hostile only because he was secretly in love with her. But Ros claimed to have made enough money from her second novel, Delina Delaney, to build a house, which she named Iddesleigh.
In Ros' last novel, Helen Huddleson, all the characters are named after various fruits: Lord Raspberry, Cherry Raspberry, Sir Peter Plum, Christopher Currant, the Earl of Grape, Madame Pear. Of Pear, Ros wrote: "she had a swell staff of sweet-faced helpers swathed in stratagem, whose members and garments glowed with the lust of the loose, sparkled with the tears of the tortured, shone with the sunlight of bribery, dangled with the diamonds of distrust, slashed with sapphires of scandals . . "
Ros believed that her critics lacked sufficient intellect to appreciate her talent, and was convinced that they conspired against her for revealing the corruption of society's ruling classes, thereby disturbing "the bowels of millions".
Belfast Public Libraries have a large collection of manuscripts, typescripts and first editions of her work. Manuscript copies include Irene Iddesleigh, Sir Benjamin Bunn and Six Months in Hell. Typescript versions of all the above are held together with Rector Rose, St. Scandal Bags and The Murdered Heiress among others. The collection of first editions covers all her major works including volumes of her poetry Fumes of Formation and Poems of Puncture, together with lesser known pieces such as Kaiser Bill and Donald Dudley: The Bastard Critic. The collection includes hundreds of letters addressed to Ros, many with her own comments in the margins. Also included are typed copies of her letters to newspapers, correspondence with her admiring publisher T.S. Mercer, an album of newspaper cuttings and photographs, and a script for a BBC broadcast from July 1943.
A few enthusiasts have kept her legend alive. A biography O Rare Amanda! was published in 1954; a collection of her most memorable passages was published in 1988 under the title Thine In Storm and Calm. In 2007 her life and works were feted at a Belfast literary festival.
Denis Johnston, the Irish playwright, wrote a radio play entitled Amanda McKittrick Ros which was broadcast on BBC Home Service radio on 27 July 1943 and subsequently. The play is published in The Dramatic Works of Denis Johnston vol. 3. Johnston acquired a collection of papers from Ros including the unfinished typescript of Helen Huddleson. These can now be seen as part of the Denis Johnston collection in the library of the University of Ulster Coleraine, Northern Ireland.
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.'" Jack Loudan said that "Amanda is the most perfect instrument for measuring the sense of humour. Alert and quick witted people accept her at once: those she leaves entirely unmoved are invariably dull and unimaginative."
The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature describes her: "Uniquely dreadful".
In Mrs Ros we see, as we see in the Elizabethan novelists, the result of the discovery of art by an unsophisticated mind and of its first conscious attempt to produce the artistic. It is remarkable how late in the history of every literature simplicity is invented. The first attempts of any people to be consciously literary are always productive of the most elaborate artificiality. Poetry is always written before prose and always in a language as remote as possible from the language of ordinary life. ...The Euphuists were not barbarians making their first discovery of literature; ...But in one thing they were unsophisticated: they were discovering prose. They were realizing that prose could be written with art, and they wrote it as artificially as they possibly could... They became intoxicated with their discovery of artifice. It was some time before the intoxication wore off and men saw that art was possible without artifice. Mrs. Ros, an Elizabethan born out of her time, is still under the spell of that magical and delicious intoxication. Mrs. Ros's artifices are often more remarkable and elaborate even than [those of John Lyly, founder of Euphuism]. This is how she tells us that Delina earned money by doing needlework: "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."
Her novel Delina Delaney begins:
Have you ever visited that portion of Erin's plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?
Northrop Frye said of Ros' novels that they use "rhetorical material without being able to absorb or assimilate it: the result is pathological, a kind of literary diabetes".
A poet as well as a novelist, Ros wrote Poems of Puncture and Fumes of Formation. The latter contains "Visiting Westminster Abbey," which opens:
- Holy Moses! Take a look!
- Flesh decayed in every nook!
- Some rare bits of brain lie here,
- Mortal loads of beef and beer.
As of 2013[update], only Irene Iddesleigh is available in a modern edition. This contains appendices with Barry Pain's influential "Review" of the first edition and Thomas Beer's "introduction" to the 1926 edition along with Amanda's own venomous reactions. Her other books are rare and first editions command prices of 300-800 USD on the used-book market. Belfast Central Library has an archive of her papers, and the Queen's University of Belfast has some volumes by Ros in the stacks.
The Frank Ferguson-edited collection Ulster-Scots Writing: An Anthology (Four Courts, 2008) includes her poem 'The Town of Tare'.
On 11 November 2006 as part of a 50-year celebration, the librarian Elspeth Legg hosted a major retrospective of her works, culminating in a public reading by 65 delegates of the entire contents of Fumes of Formation. The theme of the workshop that followed was 'Suppose you chance to write a book', Line 17 of 'Myself' from page 2 of Fumes of Formation.
- Irene Iddesleigh (novel, 1897, current edition 2013) ISBN 9781909721005
- Delina Delaney (novel, 1898)
- Poems of Puncture (poetry, 1912)
- Fumes of Formation (poetry, 1933)
- Helen Huddleson (posthumous novel, 1969)
- Jack Loudan (1954) O Rare Amanda!: The Life of Amanda McKittrick Ros (London: Chatto & Windus 1954)
- Thine in Storm and Calm — An Amanda McKittrick Ros Reader, edited by Frank Ormsby (The Blackstaff Press, 1988.)
- The Dramatic Works of Denis Johnston vol. 3 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1992.)
- List of Northern Irish writers
- Robert Coates
- The Eye of Argon
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton
- William McGonagall
- James McIntyre
- Julia A. Moore
- List of the Lost
- My Immortal
- Ehrlich, Felicity. "Ross [née McKittrick; other married name Rodgers], Anna Margaret [Amanda] (1860–1939), novelist and poet". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
- Murphy, William. "Ros, Amanda McKittrick". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 16 April 2015.
- Words To Remember, Miles Corwin, Smithsonian, June 2009, p. 92
- "The Rocks of Regard". Odd Books. 30 October 2001. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Parsons, Nicholas, The Joy of Bad Verse, London: Collins, 1988, p. 268
- Words To Remember
- Peterkin, Tom (18 September 2006). "Awful author addicted to alliteration achieves acclaim again". Telegraph. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- It was reprinted by Nonesuch Press in 1926.
- Huxley, Aldous, On the Margin, 1923 (essay "Euphues Redivivus" accessed here  21 November 2011)
- "Rhetorical Criticism: Theory of Genres," in The Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton University Press, 1957, p. 329
- Parsons, Nicholas, The Joy of Bad Verse, London: Collins, 1988, p. 272
- McKittrick Ros, Amanda, edited and introduced by Roland Spottiswoode, Irene Iddesleigh, (Ardrigh Books, 2013)
- Works by Amanda McKittrick Ros at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Amanda McKittrick Ros at Internet Archive
- Works by Amanda McKittrick Ros at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- The Rocks of Regard—A brief guide to the life of Amanda McKittrick Ros
- Author information from EIRData
- Euphues Redivivus, Aldous Huxley's essay on Ros