Amanda McKittrick Ros – a local lady

I first heard of this lady in “The Return of the Heroic Failures” by Stephen Pile. She was a novelist and poet, born on the 8th of December 1860 in Drumaness, 13km northwest of Downpatrick, and died on the 2nd of February 1939.

Her output includes her four novels and many sundry bits of poetry but what really marks her out among writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is her distinctive use of the English language.

In her second novel, “Delina Delaney,” she makes an grand opening with a single sentence in a style that could not have been by any other writer.

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?

And the dialogue in her novels is no less rich in literary invention, with threads of speech that would baffle the most ardent admirer of her compatriot James Joyce.

“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!”
“Irene Iddesleigh”

One truly succulent piece of speech comes from “Helen Huddleson” (published posthumously), spoken by Maurice Munro.

“What do I care for all the world and its sections of shams? What care I for its halls of hilarity, its congested clubs of contamination, its showrooms of sacrilege, its morning-rooms of mistrust, its dining rooms of danger, its tea-rooms of test, its lounges of lust, its supper of slander, its ingle-nooks of ill, its forcing-beds of fornication and all enticing etceteras that go to shatter and crooken the straight lines of honest endeavour, when my Helen’s absence is ever present? Nothing whatever.”

And like Thomas Hardy, she excelled both as a poet and a novelist. Her poetical side was brought out in abundance by a visit to Westminster Abbey in London.

Holy Moses! Have a look!
Flesh decayed in every nook!
Some rare bits of brain lie here,
Mortal loads of beef and beer,
Some of whom are turned to dust,
Every one bids lost to lust;
Royal flesh so tinged with ‘blue’
Undergoes the same as you.

The eruption of the First World War brought out the die-hard patriot in her. She may not have been able to serve her country in any military capacity but she used her talents in no small way to encourage the British troops.

Go! Meet the foe undaunted, they’re rotten cowards all,
Present to them the bayonet, they totter and they fall,
We know you’ll do your duty and come to little harm
And if you meet the Kaiser, cut off his other arm.

Eat your heart out, Rudyard Kipling!

‘My chief object in writing is and always has been to write if possible in a strain all my own,’ she once wrote. ‘My works are all expressly my own – pleasingly peculiar – not a borrowed stroke in one of them.’

Nobody who reads and appreciates Amanda McKittrick Ros as I do can deny that in creating a style all her own she amply succeeded.