Have you ever visited that portion of Erin’s plot that offers its sympathetic soil for the minute survey and scrutinous examination of those in political power, whose decision has wisely been the means before now of converting the stern and prejudiced, and reaching the hand of slight aid to share its strength in augmenting its agricultural richness?
So begins Amanda McKittrick Ros’s novel, Delina Delaney. I found this quote on the Goodreads site with the tag wtf-does-this-mean. And no, I haven’t a clue either.
Now, literary fashion has changed a great deal since Ros published the book in 1898. If he were writing Bleak House (1853) today, I’m not sure even Charles Dickens would have dared begin with a discussion of the grisly London weather, wonderful though that passage is, complete with mentions of fog, mud, umbrellas and a Megalosaurus. Imagine the tattoo of red pen from a modern editor.
‘Never open a story with the weather’ is one piece of writing advice often given. As is the need to trim your prose of flabby, unnecessary words – edit, edit, edit is our current mantra – and make your writing as clear as a mountain stream to your reader.
None of which seem to have been a priority to Ros.
The writer was famed for her circumlocutory language. When she wrote in her debut novel, Irene Iddesleigh,
When on the eve of glory, whilst brooding over the prospects of a bright and happy future, whilst meditating upon the risky right of justice, there we remain, wanderers on the cloudy surface of mental woe, disappointment and danger, inhabitants of the grim sphere of anticipated imagery, partakers of the poisonous dregs of concocted injustice. Yet such is life
it probably never occurred to her that she could have said –
Why is it we always feel most fed up when something good’s about to happen?
More was … more as far as Amanda was concerned.
She may have been a self-published teacher from County Down, but that didn’t stop her from imagining “the million and one who thirst for aught that drops from my pen” and that she would “be talked about at the end of a thousand years”. One thing she never lacked was confidence in her own work: she once discussed the Nobel Prize for Literature with her publisher, asking “What think you of this prize? Do you think I should make a ‘dart’ for it?”
Some of her best words she saved for her critics, calling them variously,
“auctioneering agents of Satan”
“evil-minded snapshots of spleen”
She had a gift for alliteration if nothing else.
What are we, then, to think of an author who – in her last novel, Helen Huddleson – lumbered most of her characters with a fruit-based name (Lord Raspberry, Cherry Raspberry, Sir Peter Plum, Christopher Currant, the Earl of Grape, Madame Pear)?
Well, I can’t advise any modern writer to ape her writing style and it seems famous authors would support my decision: the literary group The Inklings (which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein) held competitions where the winner was the member who could read from one of her books for longest without laughing.
But I do admire her no nonsense attitude towards critics, the absolute faith she had in her own work and the way she was prepared to defend it.
In these days when most authors are loathe to get into online arguments with readers over snippy critiques or even outright, troll-like oceans of bile, Ros reacted to a poet’s criticism of her debut novel by printing a 20 page rebuttal in her follow up novel.
No shrinking violet, our Amanda.
So if I think she was deluded in her own talents, she had more self-belief than most of us.
And that is definitely something to aspire to.
What do you think of Ros’s verbiage? Do you agree with the critics or do you long for a time when the circumlocutory phrase was en vogue? Are you tired of this demand for tough edits, long for the return of purple prose?