Anna Margaret Ross (née McKittrick), Irish writer known by her pen name Amanda McKittrick Ros, dies on February 2, 1939, at Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. She publishes her first novel, Irene Iddesleigh, at her own expense in 1897. She writes poetry and a number of novels. Her works are not read widely, and her eccentric, over-written, “purple” circumlocutory writing is alleged by some critics to be some of the worst prose and poetry ever written.
Ros is born in Drumaness, County Down, on December 8, 1860, the fourth child of Eliza Black and Edward Amlave McKittrick, Principal of Drumaness High School. She is christened Anna Margaret at Third Ballynahinch Presbyterian Church on January 27, 1861. In the 1880s she attends Marlborough Teacher Training College in Dublin, is appointed Monitor at Millbrook National School, Larne, County Antrim, finishes her training at Marlborough and then becomes a qualified teacher at the same school.
During Ros’s first visit to Larne, she meets Andrew Ross, a widower of 35, who is station master there. She marries him at Joymount Presbyterian Church, Carrickfergus, County Antrim, on August 30, 1887.
Ros writes under the pen name Amanda McKittrick Ros, possibly in an attempt to suggest a connection to the noble de Ros family of County Down. She is strongly influenced by the novelist Marie Corelli. She writes, “My chief object of writing is and always has been, to write if possible in a strain all my own. This I find is why my writings are so much sought after.” She imagines “the million and one who thirst for aught that drops from my pen,” and predicts that she will “be talked about at the end of a thousand years.”
Ros’s “admirers” include Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon, C. S. Lewis and Mark Twain. The publication of her novel Irene Iddesleigh is financed by her husband in 1897 as a gift to her on their tenth wedding anniversary. Twain considers the novel “one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time.” A reader sends a copy of the novel to humorist Barry Pain, who in an 1898 review calls it “a thing that happens once in a million years,” and sarcastically terms it “the book of the century.” He reports that he is initially entertained, but soon “shrank before it in tears and terror.” Ros retorts in her preface to Delina Delaney by branding Pain a “clay crab of corruption,” suggesting that he is so hostile only because he is secretly in love with her. But Ros claims to make enough money from her second novel, Delina Delaney, to build a house, which she names Iddesleigh.
In Ros’s last novel, Helen Huddleson, all the characters are named after various fruits: Lord Raspberry, Cherry Raspberry, Sir Peter Plum, Christopher Currant, the Earl of Grape, Madame Pear. Of Pear, Ros writes, “she 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…”
Ros believes that her critics lack sufficient intellect to appreciate her talent and is convinced that they conspire against her for revealing the corruption of society’s ruling classes, thereby disturbing “the bowels of millions.”
Andrew Ross dies in 1917, and Ros marries Thomas Rodgers, a County Down farmer, in 1922.
Belfast Public Libraries have a large collection of manuscripts, typescripts and first editions of Ros’s work. Manuscript copies include Irene Iddesleigh, Sir Benjamin Bunn and Six Months in Hell. Typescript versions of all the above are held together with Rector Rose, St. Scandal Bags and The Murdered Heiress among others. The collection of first editions covers all her major works including volumes of her poetry, Fumes of Formation and Poems of Puncture, together with lesser-known pieces such as Kaiser Bill and Donald Dudley: The Bastard Critic. The collection includes hundreds of letters addressed to Ros, many with her own comments in the margins. Also included are typed copies of her letters to newspapers, correspondence with her admiring publisher T. S. Mercer, an album of newspaper cuttings and photographs, and a script for a BBC broadcast from July 1943.
A few enthusiasts have kept Ros’s legend alive. A biography, O Rare Amanda!, is published in 1954. A collection of her most memorable passages is published in 1988 under the title Thine in Storm and Calm. In 2007 her life and works are fêted at a Belfast literary festival.
Denis Johnston, the Irish playwright, writes a radio play entitled Amanda McKittrick Ros which is broadcast on BBC Home Service radio on July 27, 1943 and subsequently. The play is published in The Dramatic Works of Denis Johnston vol. 3. He acquires a collection of papers from Ros including the unfinished typescript of Helen Huddleson. These can now be seen as part of the Denis Johnston collection in the library of the Ulster University at Coleraine, Northern Ireland.