I had another blog prepared for today until I read the article “Words to Remember” by Miles Corwin in the June 2009 SMITHSONIAN. I almost died laughing and immediately Googled the lady.
Mrs. Ros, an Irish schoolmarm, was born in 1860, died in 1939, and had her first novel published by her loving husband in 1898. Her three romance novels and liberal collection of poetry succeeded in finding a following of the literary greats of the time, from C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Aldous Huxley, to J. R.R. Tolkien. A dubious following, at best, since Lewis and Tolkien and their comrades held contests to see who could read her books for the longest time with a straight face. And Twain called her IRENE IDDESLEIGH “one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time.”
After reading some of the snippets in the article, I had intended to blog about how the excesses of Victorian society reached its pinnacle (or more accurately, nadir) in her over-the-top verbiage, thankfully followed by the minimalist movements of the twentieth century, but I suspect Huxley nailed it better when he said: “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.” Damned with faint praise indeed! And I think he took a shot at Shakespeare while he was at it.
Googling her name will turn up all sorts of awfully wonderful prose, but to show an example of what had me giggling, here is the first sentence of Delina Delaney:
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?
I tried reducing this to “Have you ever visited a part of Ireland that hasn’t been studied by politicians…” but then I got lost in the circumlocutions and gave up. Stand warned all ye who think metaphor and thesaurii are the path to writerly greatness!
Her poems are hilarious models of simplicity in comparison. From Wikipedia:
“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! 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.”
Come on, have you ever read a better impression of Westminster Abbey?!
And the truly timeless part about Mrs. Ros—she despised critics! All of you bastard donkey-headed mites, clay-crabs of corruption, denunciating Arabs, evil-minded snapshots of spleen, and talent-wipers of a wormy order who happen to be reading this, beware! People who dare criticize a writer’s precious articulations shall hereafter be crushed by nattering nabobs of narcissim. (Hmm, I don’t think I’ve quite reached Mrs. Ros’s level of alliteration, but I’ll keep practicing.)
Go ahead, Google Amanda McKittrick Ros, and see how the greatness of awfulness has been eternally immortalized. Anyone want to compete with her record? Although I suspect the entries in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are already tough competition (2008 winner: Leopold looked up at the arrow piercing the skin of the dirigible with a sort of wondrous dismay — the wheezy shriek was just the sort of sound he always imagined a baby moose being beaten with a pair of accordions might make.– Shannon Wedge, New Hampshire), they’re really simplistic in comparison to Mrs. Ros’s verbosities.
How about a purple prose contest? The person who can write the worst sentence describing a first kiss will win a Mystic book of her choice, because I can’t afford to buy a prized edition of Mrs. Ros!