Amanda McKittrick Ros and the Inklings

By Gorman, Anita G.; Mateer, Leslie Robertson | Mythlore, Fall-Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Amanda McKittrick Ros and the Inklings


Gorman, Anita G., Mateer, Leslie Robertson, Mythlore


PICTURE THIS: WE ARE IN THE YEARS AFTER WORLD WAR II. The Inklings have been friends for a long time. J.R.R. Tolkien is no longer reading the manuscript of The Lord of the Rings to his mates. C. S. Lewis has also stopped reading his own work during the Inklings' Thursday night meetings. Now their gatherings focus on conversation. From time to time one of the Inklings reads aloud a poem, perhaps one of his own, perhaps not, and discussion follows. And once in a while, C. S. Lewis opens a copy of Amanda McKittrick Ros's novel Irene Iddesleigh and challenges the members to see which of them is capable of reading the longest "without breaking into helpless laughter" (Carpenter 225-26).

Now picture this: It is 1898. Miss Louie Bennett of Dublin, along with two of her friends and an engineer named Burkitt, has sent English humorist Barry Pain a copy of Irene Iddesleigh. Pain reviews the novel in the magazine Black & White, ironically giving his review the title "The Book of the Century. " Amanda McKittrick Ros is not amused and retaliates with a vituperative attack on Mr. Pain in her next novel, Delina Delaney. Soon Delina Delaney dinners are the rage in London, with guests reciting Mrs. Ros's prose and sometimes playing an "Amanda game" wherein one poses a question and another answers "in keeping with the mood and spirit" of Amanda McKittrick Ros's unintentionally hilarious books (Loudan 52).

And finally a third scenario: It is 1907, and we are in Oxford. An Amanda Ros Society is now presenting weekly readings from her works. With only one copy of Delina Delaney to share among them, some of the members copy scenes from the novel in order to "amuse" friends and family (Loudan 92).

Clearly, when C. S. Lewis opened that copy of Irene Iddesleigh in 1947 in order to provoke laughter among the Inklings, he was not performing an original or isolated act. Rather, he was part of a long-standing tradition of hilarity at the expense of a woman whom Nick Page in his seminal work In Search of the World's Worst Writers labeled "the greatest bad writer who ever lived" (261). Nor was this the first time C. S. Lewis and his friends had laughed at Ros's writing. In a letter to his brother, Major Warren Hamilton Lewis (Warnie), dated November 19, 1939, Lewis reports that he, Charles Williams, Gerard Walter Sturgis Hopkins, and Charles Wrenn were together and "falling into the mention of it by chance, read about half of Irene Iddesleigh right through" (C. S. Lewis 294). Lewis and his friends completed the reading on November 24 "with great enjoyment and some instruction" (297), though he does not say what this instruction entailed. And on November 28, 1946, Warnie Lewis recorded in his diary that at a "pretty full meeting of the Inklings" John Wain "won an outstanding bet by reading a chapter of Irene Iddesleigh without a smile" (W. H. Lewis 197).

Who was Amanda McKittrick Ros, and why have people been laughing at her for over one hundred years? According to Jack Loudan, her biographer, Ros was a "mass of contradiction. [...] She was a Puritan whose language could be unbelievably shocking. At times she was tolerant and kindly, at others she could see no point of view but her own" (180-81).

Amanda often made claims about her life that were typical of her tendency to embellish. It is known that she was born in 1860 near Ballynehinch, County Down, Northern Ireland. It has also been confirmed that she was christened Anna Margaret McKittrick, though she claimed that her mother actually named her Amanda Malvina Fitzalan Anna Margaret McLelland M'Kittrick. Amanda Malvina Fitzalan was the name of the main character in Regina Maria Roche's Children of the Abbey, a novel Amanda loved as a child. (1) Later, when she added the surname "Ross" after marrying Andy Ross in 1887, she altered the spelling to "Ros," partly, Loudan suspects, because "she knew of a family of ancient lineage called de Ros in Co[unty] Down" (26). …

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