From the files of the DIB…The Mrs Miller of prose

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2 (Mar/Apr 2008), News, Volume 16

Amanda McKittrick Ros, a.k.a. Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland McKittrick—possibly the worst writer in the world.

Amanda McKittrick Ros, a.k.a. Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland McKittrick—possibly the worst writer in the world.

ROS, Amanda McKittrick (1860–1939), was born Anna Margaret McKittrick on 8 December 1860 in Drumaness, Ballynahinch, Co. Down, fourth child of Edward Amlave McKittrick, head teacher at Drumaness High School, and Eliza McKittrick (née Black). She followed her father into teaching and as early as 1884 attended Marlborough Teacher Training College, Dublin. During her teaching practice she was a monitor at Millbrook school in Larne, Co. Antrim, and on graduating (1886) returned to the town to work.
Meg McKittrick, as she was then known, married Andrew Ross (d. 1917), widower and stationmaster of Larne railway station (August 1887). Given to aggrandising flights of fancy, she would later describe the poorly educated Ross as the epitome of Renaissance man—not only a trained doctor but the speaker of five languages. He does have the undisputed if dubious distinction of having financed the publication of Irene Iddesleigh (1897), the first novel to appear under the name ‘Amanda McKittrick Ros’. Meg McKittrick claimed that she chose this name because from childhood her full name had actually been Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland McKittrick, in imitation of the heroine of Children of the abbey (1796) by Regina Maria Roche.
Irene Iddesleigh is entertaining because it is dreadful. Alliteration and a gauche style, which often obscures any discernible meaning, are the outstanding features of Ros’s writing. In addition to the eponymous anti-heroine, the novel is populated by characters such as Oscar Otwell, Marjory Mason and Sir John Dunfern. Dunfern asks Irene if she has lured him into a loveless marriage with the words: ‘Was I falsely informed of your ways and worth? Was I duped to ascend the ladder of liberty, the hill of harmony, the tree of triumph, the rock of regard, and while wildly manifesting my act of ascension, was I to be informed of treading still in the valley of defeat?’ When Irene escapes to America and there marries Oscar, her true love, she is described as having ‘braved the bridge of bigamy’.
When reviewed, Irene Iddesleigh was greeted with incredulity by the critics, but despite this, or perhaps because of it, sold quite well. The Rosses built a new house in Larne, which Amanda named Iddesleigh, and in 1898 Delina Delaney was published. A third novel, Helen Huddleston (1969), was completed by Ros’s biographer, Jack Loudan, and published posthumously. The second and third novels display no marked development in either style or theme. By the 1920s she had attracted a sneering cult following. Amanda McKittrick Ros clubs met in London and Cambridge to revel in the hyperbole, and her novels were republished on a number of occasions. She continued to take herself seriously, however, and dismissed critics as ‘a conglomeration of braying opinion’.
She published two volumes of poetry, Fumes of formation (1933) and Poems of puncture (1913), in which a considerable proportion of the verses are attacks upon the legal profession. Lawyers became a target following an unsuccessful legal battle surrounding a limekiln business that she inherited in 1908. During the First World War she adopted the pseudonym ‘Monica Moyland’ and published patriotic broadsheets. She also opened a grocery and drapery store in Larne, but closed this after only six years. In 1922 she married Thomas Rodgers, a large farmer from Clintnagooland, Ballynahinch, Co. Down, and lived there until his death in 1933. She then returned to Iddesleigh, dying on 3 February 1939 at a Belfast clinic under the name ‘Hannah Margaret Rodgers’.
She has been anthologised in Very bad poetry (1997), and an extract from Helen Huddleston is included in The Penguin book of British comic stories (1990) as ‘an exorbitant piece of tosh . . . throwing all the rest into light relief’.

William Murphy lectures in history at the Mater Dei Institute, Drumcondra, and was formerly an editorial assistant with the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography.

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