Saturday, 30 September 2006

Amazingly Alliterative Amanda

I have already written about two people who became famous by virtue of their total lack of talent, or even competence, in their respective fields, and whose utter sincerity and devotion to their work gave them a place in the affections of millions. They were the singer Florence Foster Jenkins and the poet William McGonagall.

A friend* reminded me last week of a third who might be added to make up a trio of superlative awfulness: the novelist and poet Amanda McKittrick Ros.

Her prose was described thus:
Alliterative, flowery, with metaphor extended to breaking point and beyond, while meaning peeks intermittently through and between the words, pressed Humpty-Dumpty-wise into service beyond their accepted limits

and the style was established in her very first romantic novel, Irene Iddeslie (1897):
The silvery touch of fortune is too often gilt with betrayal: the meddling mouth of extravagance swallows every desire, and eats the heart of honesty with pickled pride: the imposury of position is petty, and ends, as it should commence, with stirring strife.

Amanda’s second novel, Delina Delaney, begins with possibly the most incomprehensible opening sentence in any literature:
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?

Her poetry was dreadful enough but not in the McGonagall league because mostly it scans quite well. In one of her patriotic First World War poems, A Little Belgian Orphan, she urges the child, in rousing Kiplingesque terms, to:
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.

I have taken much of the above from Oddbooks, a website which pays due homage to Amanda McKittrick Ros and includes such delights as the story of the quarrel over Lord Dunfern’s trousers (note their strange appearance in this woodcut).

In England we greatly admire ambitious people who are magnificently useless at what they do (Eddie the Eagle, for example), but it seems that other nations are better at producing them: not one of my trio of brilliant failures was English.

Many thanks to Grumio, the Soho poet, wit, oenophile and boulevardier, for inviting me to join him at a literary festival in Belfast, where there was a reading of Amanda's works last Tuesday, though unfortunately I wasn’t able to go.

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