The Worst Author in the World

No, of course it's not you!

Good morning, friends. I thought I should let you know I’m feeling much better since the day before yesterday, when I went off on quite a rant! I hope I didn’t scare you off.

A sincere thank you to those of you who tried to make me feel better. I do feel better! Thanks to you, I do. I promise I’ll try to keep those rants to something like semi-annually, if even that.

To make up for it, I dug into my archives and came up with this piece. As you can imagine, it was a total giggle to write, and even now, as I read it again, I’m grinning like that cliched Cheshire.


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Creative writers are the most insecure people on the planet, hands down. (Except for every other creative person, but we’re talking about writers here.)

Unless we’re total narcissists who love every little thing about ourselves, we’re going to hate 96.4 percent of everything we put out there. Maybe not today (because how would we produce anything if we hated it today?) but some day.

There’s a reason for that. It’s because everything we write comes from us. We invent it, we design it, we manufacture it, and once it’s out there, we live with it. It’s wholly, totally ours.

That’s scary! Sometimes it’s so scary we quit. Well, some people quit. You don’t. But admit it — you think about it sometimes. Because creating amazing prose from scratch is hard. And if nobody reads it, it counts for nothing. If nobody reads it you’re crushed. Crushed.

But never mind. I’m going to make you feel better.

I’m going to tell you about the worst author in the world. Bar none. No contest. The worst of the worst.

Her name is Amanda McKittrick Ros. She was born in Northern Ireland in 1860 and died in 1939. Think about how long ago that was. And we’re still talking about her. (She predicted once that she would still be known beyond a thousand years, and she may be right. How prescient of her!)

The consensus, from what I’ve read, is that Amanda McKittrick Ross still holds the worst author title, unchallenged to this day. (A literary group that included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would read her works aloud to see who could do it longest with a straight face. None of that bothered Amanda in the least. She scoffed at critics, claiming at least one of them was being mean because he was madly in love with her.)

 There does seem to be some conflicting views on which of her self-published novels would actually win the title of the Worst of her Worst, but Irene Iddesleigh, published in 1897, ranks right up there in glorious hideousness. It’s out of print, but is available through the Gutenberg Project. I read as much of it as I could and, as you might guess, it was hard to choose the lines most representing how awful that book really is. So I’ll begin with the beginning.

It starts like this:

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 the 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.

Irene, you see, is the protagonist who meets the wealthy Sir John, who courts her and proposes marriage, both of them knowing all along that her heart belongs to Oscar, the poor tutor. She marries Sir John, of course, but it’s doomed from the start. It’ll come as no surprise to you that it ends badly for poor Irene. But what sets this novel apart from other bad novels (and has made Amanda famous as the worst of the worst) is the author’s avid, awful alliteration.

“Leave me now, deceptive demon of deluded mockery; lurk no more around the vale of vanity, like a vindictive viper; strike the lyre of lying deception to the strains of dull deadness, despair and doubt/ and bury on the brink of benevolence every false vow, every unkind thought, every trifle of selfishness and scathing dislike, occasioned by treachery in its mildest form!”

(I think what’s happening here is Irene is thinking she should be sorry for something, but I could be wrong.)

She wrote poetry, too, and what snarky Twitter user wouldn’t be green with envy over this one?

‘Beneath me here in stinking clumps
 Lies Lawyer Largebones, all in lumps;
 A rotten mass of clockholed clay,
 Which grown more honeycombed each day.
 See how the rats have scratched his face?
 Now so unlike the human race;
 I very much regret I can’t
 Assist them in their eager ‘bent’.’
 Epitaph on Largebones — The Lawyer
Poems of Puncture (1912)

So I hope you’re feeling better now. Nobody could be that bad today. On the other hand how many of us will be able to say our writing will be remembered for a hundred years, let alone a thousand?

Mark Twain considered Irene Iddesleigh, as “one of the greatest unin­tentionally humorous novels of all time.” Behold 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!”

I use this picture as my avatar sometimes, and I’ve come to believe it’s Amanda McKittrick Ros writing her putrid purple prose. I should probably stop using it. Hexes and all.

Oh, and by the way. . .Amanda has her fans, even today. The library in Larne, where she lived, has a plaque honoring her on their wall, and a Belfast library holds her first editions, original manuscripts, and much of her correspondence. People come from all over to see them. She’s the Tiny Tim of their literary world — so bad she’s good.

My sources on Amanda, in case you think I’m making this whole thing up just to make you feel better:

Amanda McKittrick Ros - The World's Worst Writer? | Culture Northern Ireland

Words to Remember | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian Magazine

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