Amanda McKittrick Ros

1860-1939 [née Anna Margaret M’Kittrick; purportedly Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland M’Kittrick after heroine in Regina Maria Roche’s gothic novel Children of the Abbey] b. 8 Dec., Dromaness, nr. Ballynahinch, Co. Down; dg. of Edward Amlane M’Kittrick, head teacher of Drumaness High School; ed., Marlborough Coll., Dublin, TTC, 1884-86; took up post in Larne, and m. Larne station master, Andrew Ross, 30 August 1887 [aetat 17]; given money by him on their 10th anniversary to publish her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh, composed before her 16th birthday, and was described in a review by humourist Barry Pain as ‘the book of the century’, causing him to become an arch enemy, lambasted in Delina Delaney (1898) as a ‘cancerous irritant wart’ and at his death in a poem entitled “The End of ‘Pain’”.

Ros made sufficient money from the novel to built a house in Larne named ‘Iddesleigh’; inherited lime kiln, 1908, and became involved in a 5-year legal battle, forming a hatred of lawyers; suffered the death of Mr. Ross, Aug. 1917, after his retirement two years previously, occasioned by stress of wartime activity; m. Thomas Rodgers, 1922; a final novel publ. posthumously, Helen Huddleson, makes her heroine journey to Stranraer to meet Andres Ross at Larne, describing him as a station agent ‘whose genial manner and exemplary courteousness are widely known’;

reputedly Mark Twain added one of her books to his library of ‘hogwash literature’ [but see infra], also poems, Poems of Puncture (1913); Fumes of Formation (1933); d. 3 Feb. 1939; Helen Huddleson, an unfinished novel, was completed by Jack Loudan (1969), while T. Stanley Mercer edited St. Scandalbags (1954) is a satire on Wyndam Lewis; Aldous Huxley, who called her novels ‘classics’, formed a club with other mock-admirers to exchange quotations; some of her manuscripts are held in the Belfast Central Library Irish Collection; a competition turnign on the challenge to recite her verse at length without smiling was conducted by the BBC Northern Ireland at the John Hewitt bar of the Celebrate Belfast Lit. Festival (26 Sept. 2006). OCEL IF2 DIL DIW ATT DUB OCIL

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  • Irene Iddlesleigh (Belfast: W. & G. Baird 1897; reps. London: Nonesuch 1926; NY: Boni & Liveright 1927), and Do., rep. in Martin Seymour-Smith, ed., Cupful of Tears: Sixteen Victorian Novelettes ([London:] Wolfe Publishing Co. 1965), pp.9-81.
  • Delina Delaney (Belfast: R Aickin 1898; London: Chatto & Windus 1935).
  • Donald Dudley, The Bastard Critic (Thames Ditton, Surrey: Merle 1954), a fragmentary novel.
  • Helen Huddleston, ed. Jack Loudan, ed. [with additional chapter] (London: Chatto & Windus 1969).
, Poems of Puncture (London: Arthur H Stockwell 1913); Fumes of Formation (Belfast: R Carswell 1933).
  • T. Stanley Mercer, ed. St. Scandalbags Together with Meet Irene by D. B. Wyndham Lewis & At the Sign of the Harrow by F. Anstey (Thames Ditton, Surrey: Merle 1954).
  • Bayonets of Bastard Sheen (East Sheen: priv. 1949) [letters];.
  • Frank Ormsby, ed. & intro., Thine in Calm and Storm: An Amanda McKittrick Ros Reader (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1988).

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Aldous Huxley, ‘Eupheus Redivivus’, in On the Margin (London: Chatto & Windus 1923); Jack Loudan, O Rare Amanda!: The Life of Amanda McKittrick Ros (London: Chatto & Windus 1954; 2nd edn., new pref. 1969). See also references to the sentimental novelist in Louie Bennett, by R. M. Fox (1950), p.15.

Media (radio): Denis Johnston, radio feature (BBC, 12 July 1943); George Shiels, adaptation of Irene Iddlesleigh (BBC, 25 July 1943) [unpub.]; “Is this the world’s worst writer?”, BBCNorthern Ireland (19 Sept. 2006) [infra & online].

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Kim Bielenberg, ‘An Irishman’s Diary’, 1 & 2 Jan. 1997, notes that her Irene Iddlesleigh was sent to Mark Twain by John Horner, a Belfast engineer, and proclaimed ‘enchanting’ and one of the great works of ‘Hogwash Literature’; quotes the ordering of the will to be produced: ‘Demanded then and there that the pen of persuasion be dipped into the ink of revenge and spread thickly along the paragraph of blood-related charity to blank the intolerable words that referred to the woman he was now convinced, beyond doubt, had braved the bridge of bigamy.’; also quotes Helen Huddleson, ‘They reached Canada after a very pleasant trip across the useful pond that stimulates the backbone of commerce more than any other known element since Noah, captain of the flood, kicked the bucket.’

Is This the World’s Worst Writer? (BBC/Culture Northern Ireland on Amanda McKittrick Ros).

Literary critics and readers are being invited to judge if a Northern Ireland woman is the world’s worst writer. Amanda McKittrick Ros, who was born in 1860, has been accused of delivering some of the worst passages of literature ever written. Described as formidable, she rejected her critics as being the “auctioneering agents of Satan”.

Now Culture Northern Ireland has challenged “lovers of awful literature” to see if they can read the longest passage from McKittrick Ros’s work while keeping a straight face. Her expectation was that she would “be talked about at the end of 1,000 years” and the organisation hopes the unique nature of her verse can match that.

David Lewis, director of Culture Northern Ireland website, said: “Any writer who is proud of ‘disturbing the bowels’ of her readers and can describe critics as ‘auctioneering agents of Satan’ is worthy of praise in my book. “Ros was an inveterate social climber, claiming to be descended from King Sitrick of Denmark. She even changed her name from Ross to Ros, linking herself with the old family of de Ros.

“In fact, she was a school mistress who married Andrew Ross the station master at Larne Harbour.” It was he who published her debut novel, Irene Iddesleigh, as an anniversary present. It was the story of a marriage doomed from the first moment by unrequited love. Sections of the literati in London established special societies which held gatherings to read her verse and Tom Sawyer author Mark Twain, Brave New World author Aldous Huxley and war poet Siegfried Sassoon were said to be fans.

McKittrick Ros, who was born near Ballynahinch, came top in a book entitled In Search of the World’s Worst Writers by Nick Page. He described her as “the greatest bad writer who ever lived”. Frank Ormsby, editor of Thine in Storm and Calm, an anthology of Ros’s work, said “she alliterated obsessively”. He added: “Even if one has forgotten her work for a few years, you only have to read a few paragraphs and you find the smile broadening on your face. “You begin to realise why her work had such an appeal.”

While her critics were many and often acerbic, the County Down writer is still held in great affection by her fans. She was recognised by the people of Larne, who erected a plaque in her honour in the local library. Amanda McKittrick Ros died on 3 February 1939. The challenge night to recite her verse will end the Celebrate Literary Belfast festival, and takes place at the John Hewitt bar on Tuesday 26 September.

”“Culture Northern Ireland” [BBC News/Northern Ireland] (19 Sept. 2006) - online [view in separate window].

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The Lawyer”, ‘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”.’ (Poems of Puncture, 1912)

Irene Iddesleigh (1897): ‘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.’ (The foregoing both quoted on BBC News - Northern Ireland, as cited in Criticism, supra.

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Blackstaff Catalogue (1988) quotes Brian Fallon’s comparison of Ros with William McGonagall: ‘What he did in verse, she did in prose; and the results are equally hilarious - unconscious humour raised to a level of genius.’

Library of Herbert Bell (Belfast), holds Delina Delaney [&] Fumes of Formation (Belfast 1933); Irene Iddesleigh (Belfast 1907) [[signed copy]; St Scandalbags (Merel Press 1954) [signed by Merel]; Poems of Puncture (London n.d.) [signed copy]; Bayonets of Bastard Sheen (1954) [No. 6 of 50 signed Donald Dudley].

Belfast Public Library holds Iddlesleigh (1897); Delina Delaney (n.d.); Poems of Puncture (1921); Fumes of Formation (1933); Bayonets of Bastard Sheen (1949); St. Scandalbags (1954).

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Jack Loudan: In his study, O Rare Amanda! (1954), Loudan that ‘she writes with a burning imagination that will disregard sense should it hinder the intensity of her invention.’

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