11 April 2013

Arguably the world's worst novelist

Amanda Kittrick Ross (pen-name Ros) is considered by many to have written the worst novels ever published.  Here's the Smithsonian's description in 2009:
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," sweat as "globules of liquid lava" and alcohol as the "powerful monster of mangled might." The Oxford literary group "The Inklings," which included C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, held competitions to see who could read her work aloud longest while keeping a straight face.

Mark Twain considered her first book, Irene Iddesleigh, as "one of the greatest unin­tentionally humorous novels of all time." Consider this passage: "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!"..

And Ros' penchant for alliteration resists restraint: The villainous Madame Pear, she wrote, "had a swell staff of sweet-faced helpers swathed in stratagem, whose members and garments glowed with the lust of the loose, sparkled with the tears of the tortured, shone with the sunlight of bribery, dangled with the diamonds of distrust, slashed with sapphires of scandals...."
The BBC has a brief biography with a report of a renewed competition to read her work witihout laughing:
Now Culture Northern Ireland has challenged "lovers of awful literature" to see if they can read the longest passage from McKittrick Ros's work while keeping a straight face. Her expectation was that she would "be talked about at the end of 1,000 years" and the organisation hopes the unique nature of her verse can match that.
But this is worthy of note for those who browse library/estate/auction book sales:
As of 2004, none of her works are in print. Her books are rare and first editions command prices of $300 to $800 in the used-book market.
Photo: REUTERS/Linen Hall Library/Handout

Addendum:  Her seminal work - Irene Iddesleigh - is available online from Project Gutenberg.


  1. I feel like the perfect accompaniment to reading one of these masterpieces of the literary arts is to listen to Florence Foster Jenkins' wondrous rendition of Der Holle Rache. http://youtu.be/DjURO9L5fdc

  2. I don't know, I kind of like it. There's some verve and dash there, although demonstrated in a strange and strangulated fashion. It's folk art, art brut, weird but not without fascination. I liked the poem in Wikipedia (Holy Moses, Take a look! /Flesh decayed in every nook!) People tolerate so much dull and pointless writing it's almost a holiday to celebrate the bizarre. I will be keeping an eye out for her in the future, and not because I want to feel superior to this odd Irishwoman.

  3. Irene Iddlesleigh is on Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/files/34181/34181-h/34181-h.htm

  4. OMG! The heretofore unknown great-grandmother of the late Jim Theis is exposed!


    Actual image of story is here:



  5. With all due respect to Ms. Ross, I still feel that title belongs to Ayn Rand.

  6. If I could find the book, I'd torture my book club with it for all the pap they have forced me to read.


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