Monday, September 27, 2010

As Purple as can be

Came across a writer/poet called Amanda McKittrick Ros quite by chance. It has been an exciting discovery, not profound but of the ridiculous sort.

Born in 1860 in Ireland, Amanda (originally named Anna Margaret) was the Headmistress of a school by profession. Her claim to fame is from her famously florid and ridiculous purple prose (and verse). And yes, she was a pathological user of alliterations and hyperboles!

She wrote such classics as The Oasis of Futurity, Irene Iddesleigh, Helen Huddleston and Delina Delaney as well as published volumes of poetry called Poems of Puncture and Fumes of Formation. All in her inimitable style!

Critics of the period sarcastically called Irene Iddesliegh "the book of the century." Amanda of course imagined that the particular critic was hostile because he was secretly in love with her! She called them colourful names such as the "clay-crabs of corruption" and "evil minded snapshots of spleen".

Nick Page, author of In Search of the World's Worst Writers, 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.'"

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?

Page says,"I first read this sentence nearly three years ago. Since then, I have read it once a week in an increasingly desperate search for meaning. But I still don't understand it." (The sentence approximately means, "Have you ever been to that part of Ireland which has been studied by the government, who have aimed to modernise its agriculture?")

The Inklings, a wellknown literary group at Oxford, whose members included C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, held regular competitions to see who could read Ros' work for the longest time without bursting into laughter.

Frank Ormsby, the editor of Thine in Storm and Cabin, an anthology of her work, says, "She alliterated obsessively."

He adds, "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."

Mark Twain elevated her to the same league as Julia A. Moore, the notoriously bad poetess known as the Sweet Singer of Michigan and the "Queen and Empress of the Hogwash Guild until now".

The icing on the cake, at least for me, is this verse called "Visiting Westminster Abbey":
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.
Read more about her:

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