Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Worst Writer in the World

After "The Hobbit" came out there was a plethora of JRR Tolkien articles posted all over the internet. One of the articles I happened to come across was about his literary club The Inklings. He, CS Lewis and several other writers at Oxford would meet regularly to discuss what they were working on. They also used to hold regular competitions, reading from Amanda McKittrick Ros' work and seeing who could keep a straight face the longest. I was intrigued. What kind of writing could reduce Tolkien to laughter? Soon enough I discovered Ros' work and let me just say that she is one of a kind.

Born Anna Margaret Ross in Ireland in 1860, she wasn't a prolific writer but what there is should be consumed in small doses. I can honestly say I've never read anything quite like her, perhaps because usually authors try to avoid writing the way she does. Let me give you a quick taste of what I mean and then you can decide for yourself how very unique Ros is.

"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?"

What a diamond in the rough! She appears to have been oblivious to any failings in her work and even in her own lifetime she didn't go unnoticed by critics whom she called: "evil minded snapshots of spleen". An example of their opinion of her work comes from Northrop Frye. He said her novels used "rhetorical material without being able to absorb or assimilate it: the result is pathological, a kind of literary diabetes."

Now perhaps her title as the "worst writer" is harsh but she believed she was a good writer and that her work would be appreciated for years to come. She appears to have loved run-on sentences, flowery description and alliteration, all dangerous areas of writing.

"The living sometimes learn the touchy tricks of the traitor, the tardy and the tempted; the dead have evaded the flighty earthy future, and form to swell the retinue of retired rights, the righteous school of the invisible and the rebellious roar of the raging nothing."

And if that doesn't convince you, in 2006 she posthumously won an award as the worst writer in the world. One way to look at this is despite how her writing may be viewed, she's still being talked about today, more than 60 years after her death and after all, that's exactly what she wanted.


Mythical Monkey said...

You know, I read those examples of her writing you served up, more than once, and I can't make heads or tails of them. And despite all the alliteration, there's no rhythm to them either.


I never like to criticize other people's writing -- I'd be a lousy editor -- but I think I can say Amanda McKittrick Ros was a truly terrible writer.

theduckthief said...

Hehe! There's run-on writers (Joyce, Woolf) and then there's incoherent. Of anyone I've ever read, Ros is the worst.