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Brilliantly Bad Books
October 3, 2012 6:58 AM   Subscribe

There has never been another literary figure remotely comparable to “the divine Amanda” (whose real name was Anna Margaret Ross, née McKittrick). She was, many discriminating readers believe, at once the single most atrocious writer who ever lived and also one of the most mesmerizingly delightful. She was supremely talentless—she was wholly incapable of producing a single intelligent or well-formed sentence—and yet her incompetence was so sui generis that it constituted a kind of genius.

via.
previously.
posted by latkes (75 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Luckily, the quotes in the article are short because they caused me physical pain while reading. I suspect it might have been my brain attempting to exit my skull.
posted by tommasz at 7:12 AM on October 3, 2012


Good user_name potential.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:21 AM on October 3, 2012


I seem to remember that she had a particular fondness for the word 'mushroom', which appears with alarming frequency throughout her work.
posted by RokkitNite at 7:21 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: evil-minded snapshots of spleen
posted by Egg Shen at 7:31 AM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


In a quotation, she calls books critics "evil-minded snapshots of spleen." What did the word "snapshot" mean it became associated with photography?
posted by Nomyte at 7:32 AM on October 3, 2012


Loved this. Thanks, latkes!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:38 AM on October 3, 2012


“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!”
That's ... wow. That's something. Beautiful.
posted by feckless at 7:40 AM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Snap-shot.
a. A quick or hurried shot taken without deliberate aim, esp. one at a rising bird or quickly moving animal.

1808 P. Hawker Diary (1893) I. 11. Almost every pheasant I fired at was a snap shot among the high cover.
1846 W. Greener Sci. Gunnery (new ed.) 164 Were a bird to spring in a situation where we could get only a snap shot.
1899 F. V. Kirby Sport E. Central Afr. iii. 42. I got in a snapshot, tumbling her over like a rabbit.
1865 Pall Mall Gaz. 2 Aug. 1 Our courts of law are distinguished from those of other countries by taking snap-shots at justice.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 7:40 AM on October 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


She was born, and certainly started writing, after the invention of photography.
posted by DU at 7:40 AM on October 3, 2012


I think camera snapshot is a metaphor drawing on the original meaning, which is from shooting. A snapshot is exactly what you'd expect - a shot which is "snapped off", without raising or steadying the firearm. So, I imagine she was portraying them as both slipshod and inaccurate.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:40 AM on October 3, 2012


And to answer my own question after a moment's looking: "snapshot" or "snap-shot" is glossed in the OED as "a quick or hurried shot taken without deliberate aim, esp. one at a rising bird or quickly moving animal." Printed examples date back to 1808.

More interestingly, however, the photographic use of "snapshot" dates back as early as 1860. It's clearly a figurative usage, but still — 1860!

For those curious, the quotation is "The possibility of taking a photograph, as it were by a snap-shot—of securing a picture in a tenth of a second of time." It appeared in an 1860 piece in Photographic News.
posted by Nomyte at 7:41 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


She was supremely talentless—she was wholly incapable of producing a single intelligent or well-formed sentence

So, she was what we'd call today a bestselling fiction author?
posted by Rykey at 7:41 AM on October 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


I think it's the archaic use of the word "spleen" that will give that quote greater context.
posted by annathea at 7:42 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Among the literati of London, it was even fashionable for a time to throw Amanda McKittrick Ros parties, where all the guests were required to talk like the characters from Irene Iddesleigh (not that anyone could) and to take turns reading aloud from the text."

Oh, to travel back in time. Awesome link. Thanks!
posted by bloggerwench at 7:43 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, she was what we'd call today a bestselling fiction author?

I was thinking YouTube commenter.
posted by inthe80s at 7:46 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Me, I'm a phlegm man.
posted by Nomyte at 7:46 AM on October 3, 2012


So much better than contemporary fiction.

Most bad writers, after all, tend to be bad in only the most boringly conventional and drearily predictable ways. But the joy of reading Amanda McKittrick Ros is all but inexhaustible. In the realm of bad literature, she was a pioneer of the spirit, tirelessly exploring new frontiers: a true innovator, prodigious and unique. No mere hack could have perfected a style of such horrendous and delirious originality.
posted by destro at 7:51 AM on October 3, 2012


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 ...

Famous some were --yet they died;
Poets -- Statesmen -- Rogues beside,
Kings -- Queens, all of them do rot,
What about them? Now -- they're not!

-- from "On Visiting Westminster Abbey", by Amanda McKittrick Ros
posted by kyrademon at 7:51 AM on October 3, 2012 [26 favorites]


Finally, the literary equivalent of The Shaggs.
posted by Ber at 7:54 AM on October 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


The Bulwer-Lytton Writing Contest has yet another patron saint.
posted by delfin at 7:55 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't see how William Topaz McGonagall is not "remotely comparable" to Ross, except that he dealt only in poetry.
posted by darksasami at 7:56 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Amazing -- the McGonagall of prose
posted by Zonker at 7:56 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh god i write like this
posted by infinitewindow at 8:04 AM on October 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


Perhaps I'm spoiled on "bad media" because of how amazingly bad bad musicians can get, but while this prose wasn't particularly good, it doesn't seem so astonishingly bad as to justify so much excitement.

Please recall that Bulwer Lytton, the patron saint of this style, was extremely popular during his lifetime and for decades afterwards. I have problems with a lot of nineteenth century literature because of the tortured sentence structure - even Dickens, a personal fave, can really subject a sentence to cruel and unusual punishment! - and these examples, while bad, don't seem to be astonishingly awful (and I actually liked "On Visiting Westminster Abbey" as morbid doggerel...)

(Preview: someone else thought of The Shaggs, heh...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:05 AM on October 3, 2012


...but I have to say that McGonagall, whom this thread introduced me to, is an amazingly bad poet. Whew!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:08 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


So she's a Vogon, then.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:11 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Earl of Grape
posted by fallingbadgers at 8:11 AM on October 3, 2012


So, she's the Florence Foster Jenkins of prose.
posted by dnash at 8:12 AM on October 3, 2012


With breathless births of air, I arrived in conjunction at the reading point of her blowsy, brittle - and yet, somehow less than this and more - polyphony, awaiting my errant eyes in their twin gaze to find a sweet uninvoked remembrance of such passages as hers. (Need to fix a typo? Edit)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:17 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read this article and thought Wow, this writer comes off like some PBR-drinking, fixie-riding, bearded hipster in ultra-skinny jeans, finding something that's genuinely bad and ugly to revel in and elevate.

Seriously, it's like "Look at this crazy old loon. She had no idea how bad she sucked. She took herself seriously and had not a clue the degree to which she was a source of derision and laughter at her expense. Let's kick the old, dead lady while she's down and remind people what a fucking talentless hack she was."

I mean, she wasn't out gutting puppies w/ a steak knife, was she? She was a shitty author who had no clue she sucked. The world is full of them, why is she worth pillorying?

Going out of your way to celebrate and promote how awfully mediocre something is long after the creator has died, especially when it's something that's otherwise forgotten and off the radar, really seems like a douche-move.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:23 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


The phrase "poisonous dregs of concocted injustice" could come in handy in a MetaTalk thread some day.
posted by JanetLand at 8:25 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


why is she worth pillorying

As an example to others.
posted by aramaic at 8:26 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not pillorying. Enjoying. (Ed Wood versus Michael Bay phenomenon).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:32 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


It is a sort of Language Poetry.
posted by pracowity at 8:32 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the dust racked
climes of the baren land which dominates large portions of the
Norgolian empire. Age worn hoof prints smothered by the sifting
sands of time shone dully against the dust splattered crust of
earth. The tireless sun cast its parching rays of incandescense
from overhead, half way through its daily revolution. Small
rodents scampered about, occupying themselves in the daily
accomplishments of their dismal lives. Dust sprayed over three
heaving mounts in blinding clouds, while they bore the burdonsome
cargoes of their struggling overseers.

"Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of
hell, barbarian", gasped the first soldier.

"Only after you have kissed the fleeting stead of death,
wretch!" returned Grignr.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:36 AM on October 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


OMG I'm convinced I knew her great-great-grandson in University. I vividly recall a letter he wrote to a Professor pointing out his unique style was brilliance. It contained the gem, ....as I referred in the aforementioned latter place......
posted by Wilder at 8:45 AM on October 3, 2012


Going out of your way to celebrate and promote how awfully mediocre something is long after the creator has died, especially when it's something that's otherwise forgotten and off the radar, really seems like a douche-move.

In his defense, he does address this: At times, I confess, I feel a little guilty about my fondness for Amanda’s books; I fear there has always been a hint of cruelty in the devotion she excites in her admirers. My only defense is that I have come to feel, far from anything like disdain, a very genuine and sincere affection for her over the years, and I am profoundly grateful for the delight she has afforded me continually since I first discovered her writings.

From my thinking, this is a writer who is long dead, so no harm comes to her by our poking fun. And too, how many of her contemporaries are completely forgotten? Maybe being read for your badness is better than never being read at all?
posted by latkes at 8:49 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


You know, his serve could use some work, and his backhand's downright lousy, but no one returns like Grignr.
posted by delfin at 8:50 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Flann O'Brien was a master mimic and parodist of this style of writing. I'm guessing he was steeped in her work but I'm not finding anything about it online or in the index to Anthony Cronin's biography.
posted by otio at 9:03 AM on October 3, 2012


At this point, I feel I should point out that the writings of both Amanda Mckittrick Ros and William Mcgonagall -- as well as many other truly terrible poets -- appear in the classic volume Very Bad Poetry by Ross and Kathryn Petras. A book good enough that I have a backup copy. My mom's gift of this book was my first introduction to the wonderful world of terrible writing.
posted by yeolcoatl at 9:04 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Finally, the literary equivalent of The Shaggs.

At first I was thinking the same thing. But after reading more quotes, now I think this is the literary equivalent of The Room.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:09 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Recently discovered in an old trunk at a garage sale, the unfinished manuscript of her final work, Fifty Shades of Mushroom.
posted by localroger at 9:12 AM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


A woman born before her time. Were she around today she would be a featured blogger on the Huffington Post
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 9:13 AM on October 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have read far worse prose. These sentences aren't jarring or awkward, just... hypnotic. Reading them out loud there's a rhythm. One word flows into the next, ephemerally ignorant of worldly concerns like "readability" or "conveying meaning."

This is not a matter of setting to writing and failing at at. This is grossly misunderstanding what writing is in the first place, setting to it, and succeeding wildly.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:14 AM on October 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


Going out of your way to celebrate and promote how awfully mediocre something is long after the creator has died, especially when it's something that's otherwise forgotten and off the radar

The far braver thing, of course, is to come clean and admit your love. Which is the real hook here, the woman's passion filtered through her overwhelming collection of adverbs, adjectives etc. There's a genuine love of life/universe/everything at play. Not unlike an early Bee Gees song ... or perhaps Aphrodite's Child.

I'll take it over Pearl Jam any day.
posted by philip-random at 9:15 AM on October 3, 2012


She writes like the character Mrs. Malaprop speaks, only without the redeeming quality of the delightful malapropisms.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:23 AM on October 3, 2012


If Amanda McKittrick Ross were alive today, she would doubtlessly be writing Twilight fan-fiction, only changing the characters' names and adding more sex scenes.

Hmmm.
posted by Curious Artificer at 9:25 AM on October 3, 2012


"Among the literati of London, it was even fashionable for a time to throw Amanda McKittrick Ros parties, where all the guests were required to talk like the characters from Irene Iddesleigh (not that anyone could) and to take turns reading aloud from the text."
---
Oh, to travel back in time. Awesome link. Thanks!


While the specifics may be different, the spirit is eternal - I'm going to a midnight showing of 'The Room' this Friday.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:29 AM on October 3, 2012


Don't call me mushroom.

Not fair to...
posted by adamdschneider at 9:29 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


TWinbrook8: Good user_name potential.

These appear to still be available on Metafilter, but I'd grab 'em up quick for your sockpuppets:

eve of glory
risky right of justice
grim sphere
sympathetic soil
ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion
posted by univac at 9:32 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Given some of what passes as literature in our age....
posted by IndigoJones at 9:35 AM on October 3, 2012


Finally, the literary equivalent of The Shaggs.

I was thinking Leoncie myself.
posted by acb at 9:52 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you think about Ross and James Joyce at the same time, what happens to you? Speaking for myself, I get this very weird feeling of complete satisfaction. It's like they complete each other, and create an abiding literary stasis cube.
posted by No Robots at 10:02 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Irene Iddesleigh is available on gutenberg.org, if you dare.
posted by sidereal at 10:16 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Elizabeth Taylor wrote a brilliant novel about exactly this type of author, Angel (1957)--in fact, I'm guessing that Ross partly inspired it.

No, not that Elizabeth Taylor.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:26 AM on October 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow! I want all her writing!
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:45 AM on October 3, 2012


I guess everyone came in here to make a Shaggs joke, but it's more like really lousy prog/art rock.

"When on the eve of glory, whilst brooding over the prospects of a bright and happy future, whilst meditating upon the risky right of justice, there we remain, wanderers on the cloudy surface of mental woe, disappointment and danger, inhabitants of the grim sphere of anticipated imagery, partakers of the poisonous dregs of concocted injustice. Yet such is life."

That could be narration on a Rick Wakeman solo album or that crappy Bowie song about the spider.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:54 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: the obsessive fondness for alliteration, the spasmodically coiling and uncoiling sentences that never arrive at any discernible meaning, the weirdly jarring turns of phrase, the riot of clashing metaphors, the convulsively lurching narratives, the long descriptive passages that seem to correspond to nothing in the physical world, the lunatic perorations in that nightmarish travesty of English, the galloping melodramatic plots that veer off again and again along bizarrely Gothic lanes . . . bad marriages to wicked men, thwarted love, jealousy, sadism, suicide . . . more alliteration . . .
posted by 445supermag at 11:40 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't read these without my interior monologue trying to read these in a Dame Judi Dench/Mrs. Doubtfire voice.
posted by jonp72 at 1:03 PM on October 3, 2012


I read this article and thought Wow, this writer comes off like some PBR-drinking, fixie-riding, bearded hipster in ultra-skinny jeans, finding something that's genuinely bad and ugly to revel in and elevate.

well, you were right about the beard. Maybe he's one of those PBR-drinking, fixie riding Orthodox theologians I've heard so much about...
posted by dubold at 1:04 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's wrong with her writing? It reads like Henry James to me.
posted by Catchfire at 1:56 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Going out of your way to celebrate and promote how awfully mediocre something is long after the creator has died...

I, for one, would never describe this stuff as "mediocre".
posted by steambadger at 1:56 PM on October 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


“Just then they raised the little lad and threw him on the fire, / And wreathed in smiles they watched him burn until he did expire.”

I mean, come on; does that sound like "ordinary or medium quality" to you?
posted by steambadger at 2:00 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sympathise with me, indeed! Ah, no! Cast your sympathy on the chill waves of troubled waters; fling it on the oases of futurity; dash it against the rock of gossip; or, better still, allow it to remain within the false and faithless bosom of buried scorn.

Such were a few remarks of Irene as she paced the beach of limited freedom, alone and unprotected. Sympathy can wound the breast of trodden patience,—it hath no rival to insure the feelings we possess, save that of sorrow.

The gloomy mansion stands firmly within the ivy-covered, stoutly-built walls of Dunfern, vast in proportion and magnificent in display. It has been built over three hundred years, and its structure stands respectably distant from modern advancement, and in some degrees it could boast of architectural designs rarely, if ever, attempted since its construction.


it's like james joyce doing barbara cartland - and it's all here, for you, the whole first novel

do you dare read it?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:46 PM on October 3, 2012


Glad someone else felt the Flann O'Brien link too. The style of the main narrator of At Swim Two Birds strongly resembles this in places.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:54 PM on October 3, 2012


I was reading Irene Iddesleigh and I tried to stop but the harp of hideous helplessness struck forth its tunes of turmoil, trouble, and trial
posted by yoHighness at 6:28 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


And now Irene Iddesleigh is my department's new Lorem Ipsum.
posted by sidereal at 7:59 PM on October 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


How did I miss The Room?!

Not that I'm sure I'm happy to have found it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:29 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to do an Amanda/Lovecraft crossover.
posted by The otter lady at 8:31 PM on October 3, 2012


Elizabeth Taylor wrote a brilliant novel about exactly this type of author, Angel (1957)--in fact, I'm guessing that Ross partly inspired it.

More directly, Marie Corelli, who was serious big money Barbara Cartland level successful in a way this Elizabeth Taylor never was.

(Myself, I couldn't finish Angel. The author was a little too contemptuous of her main character, condescending in the woman's Low Background and Bad Taste, no affection or sympathy for her creation whatsoever. Jealousy over their disparate financial success? Who knows? Anyway, it left a bad taste in my mouth. If you're going to mock someone, mock someone who can fight back.)
posted by BWA at 4:21 AM on October 4, 2012


There has never been another literary figure remotely comparable to “the divine Amanda” (whose real name was Anna Margaret Ross, née McKittrick)

William McGonnagall? Who also had no idea he was a bad author - a poet in his case.

The Tay Bridge Disaster is a "masterpiece"
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
...
(It's already hit rock bottom - snipped before it digs right through the bedrock)
posted by Francis at 10:06 AM on October 4, 2012


previous William McGonnagall fpp:

The New Yorkers boast about their Brooklyn Bridge,
But in comparison to thee it seems like a midge,
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:44 AM on June 9, 2005 [1 favorite −] [!]

posted by Golden Eternity at 10:39 AM on October 4, 2012


The Florence Foster Jenkins of prose.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:00 PM on October 4, 2012


Ring Lardner's great, tragic story "The Maysville Minstrel" fits in nicely, I think, with the subject of discussion; and is always worth mentioning lest it sink into obscurity. In the words of the immortal Stephen Gale:

The Lackawanna Railroad where does it go?
It goes from Jersey City to Buffalo.
Some of the trains stop at Maysville but they are few
Most of them go right through
Except the 8:22


Also worth reading is Randall Jarrell on Bad Poets.
posted by steambadger at 1:44 PM on October 4, 2012


> it's like james joyce

Someone my wife follows on Tumblr posted a short excerpt from Finnegan's Wake the other day. She read it, looked over at me in despair and said "The whole book's like that?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:57 PM on October 4, 2012


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