Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, May 29, 2009

Amanda McKittrick Ros: My Hero!

by Kerry Blair

Let’s just admit it: as authors we want nothing more than a “million and one” fans “who thirst for aught that drops from (our) pen.” We yearn for our life’s work to be “talked about at the end of a thousand years.” We’re just too modest to admit it.

Well, most of us are too modest. You probably figured out by now that I stole those lines verbatim from Jeff’s mission statement.

No! I didn’t! I stole them from a brilliant “The Last Page” article in this month’s Smithsonian magazine in which Miles Corwin quoted the incomparable Elizabethan novelist Amanda McKittrick Ros. Here is an excerpt from one of her first chapters:

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.

So, what do you think our heroine was doing in that sentence? Delina was, in fact, contributing to the family’s meager income by working as a seamstress. Yes, really. It’s crystal clear in comparison to the lines that begin the book:

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? (Delina Delany, 1898.)

Don’t you just love that name? It makes me want to run out and get a puppy just so I can name her Delina Delany. (Note to husband: no puppy. I swear!)

But back to the opening line. I know she’s talking about Ireland (mostly because I know the book was set there) but that – and that I love it! – are all I know. At least I’m in good company. A contemporary wrote: 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. It is magnificent in its impenetrable mystery; it is the riddle of the sphinx, the smile of the Mona Lisa. It sounds wonderful, but remains impervious to comprehension.

Amanda Ros is my hero! (I bet she loved adverbs almost as much as alliteration!)

Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland McKittrick Ros was born in Ireland in 1860. Her first book was published by her beloved husband in 1898 and soon became a sensation, recognized by some of the greatest literary figures of the generation: C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and J. R.R. Tolkien. It was a rather dubious following, since Lewis, Tolkien and their cronies held contests to see who could read aloud from her works the longest without bursting out laughing. Mark Twain dubbed Irene Iddlesleigh “one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time,” and Huxley observed: "It is remarkable how late in the history of every literature simplicity is invented."

Unlike many of the entries in Storymakers’ recent first chapter contest, Amanda worried not at all about criticism, constructive or otherwise. In the preface to her second book she called one reviewer “a clay crab of corruption” and another “a cancerous irritant wart.” (Like you’ve never thought it? Please.)

Corwin wrote: Ros, who died in 1939, abused (some would say, tortured) the English language in three novels and dozens of poems. She refers to eyes as "globes of glare," legs as "bony supports," pants as a "southern necessary," (my personal favorite) sweat as "globules of liquid lava" and alcohol as the "powerful monster of mangled might."

Her gift for dialogue was equally amazing: “Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!”

Lest you are still not convinced of this woman’s genius, I’ll toss in a poem I found while googling her this morning. It was written upon a visit to the famed 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.”

That is, beyond doubt, the best description of the place I have ever read.

Now that you've been tentatively introduced to this illustrious literary luminary, I can only think of one better use of ten or fifteen minutes of a Friday afternoon than laughing yourself silly over Corwin’s article. That would be to use the time to enter the First (as far as I know) Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland McKittrick Ros Appreciation Contest. Write a first sentence of a novel – any genre – to rival Delina Delany. The only stipulations are that it must be a single sentence and florid enough to please even Amanda.

I don’t know yet what you’ll win. Goodness knows I can’t afford one of her books – sought-after collector’s items around the globe. Nor can I say whether or not the words that “dropped from her pen” will be around in a thousand years. But with the aid of Google, Wikipedia, and good-natured literature professors, they just might!


At 5/29/2009 12:44 PM, Anonymous Melissa Aylstock said...

Enticing providence, the dewy skinned temptress entered the cavernous antechamber gingerly, unawares of the instantaneous enchantment of the rapacious nautical explorers who had not visually supped the soft tissue of a heart’s companion in forever.

At 5/29/2009 4:34 PM, Blogger LexiconLuvr said...

Hee hee hee. That was hilarious!

At 5/29/2009 4:52 PM, Blogger Deb said...

In the minutes after the intrepid sun lifts over the distant burning horizon and the promise of the forthcoming day has yet been marred by the malice of man, hope briefly filters through the iron bars only to scatter through the brevity of time when anger dispels wonder and the illusion of mastering self-destiny vanishes.

At 5/29/2009 4:53 PM, Blogger Deb said...

Try reading that out loud in one breath!!!

At 5/29/2009 8:23 PM, Blogger Deb said...

What? Nobody else dares to try? Let me play again...

Monochromatic desert stones, polished smooth with time, lying dull and dry in the unforgiving sun, began vibrating in a chaotic rhythm as a solid wall of dirty water thundered down the arroyo’s thirsty riverbed, scrafing and tearing at the drought stricken mesquite in its way.

At 5/30/2009 1:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now this does take more than a mind can come up with in one simple sitting, so will you be checking in again before judging for those of us who need more time?


At 5/30/2009 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...Picking up Deb's gauntlet:

The iridescent amphibian poised forbearingly atop the craggy megalith, as the blunderous, vision impaired excursionist fumbled to encompass his image within the confines of her photographic apparatus.


At 5/30/2009 1:29 PM, Blogger Deb said...

I hope you got a good shot of the lizard, Pat.

At 5/30/2009 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After 3 tries, I did. LOL

At 5/31/2009 1:10 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Melissa, Deb, and Anon, you're good, but your sentences still make sense after just one reading so you're nowhere near the league of the inestimable Ms. Ros. She's truly a gem beyond compare--thank the literary powers that be.

At 6/02/2009 2:39 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Here's my contribution. Don't make fun:

Cloyingly I clipped and capered
Toward a towering terrace tapered
Fragrance flowed from fancy flowers
I hovered here for hours and hours.

At 6/02/2009 7:34 PM, Blogger Deb said...

Were we not supposed to make sense? I guess I must be weird, but I actually understood Amanda's first sentence. It may have been a teensy bit long winded, but it got a point across. I liked her attitude. I think she and I would be friends.

At 6/04/2009 2:26 PM, Blogger Heather Justesen said...

I am glad you don't expect the entries to make sense because I couldn't make heads or tales of Ms Ros' first two excerpts--and it's just not worth working that hard. The poetry was nice, though. Then again, poetry isn't necessarily supposed to be easily understood, so maybe that's why I like it better!

At 6/09/2009 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

She languished on the lounge like a layer of lipid liquid, reality stretching in random ribbons of rose-colored cord reeling through the realms of facination in her mind as she sought to recognize the surreal occurence that had rendered her thusly entertained.


Marlene Austin


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