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    FRIDAY FOLLIES: The Worst Writer Ever, Abercrombie's scam, and the Eagle Has Landed


    A few weeks ago, when I wrote about the Bulwer-Lytton contest for the worst first sentence of a novel, I had no idea there was actually a worst novel in the world, too.  The consensus, from what little research I've done on the subject, is that Amanda McKittrick Ros is the author who wins, hands down.  (A literary group that included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would read her works aloud to see who could do it longest with a straight face.  None of that bothered Amanda in the least.  She scoffed at critics, claiming at least one of them was being mean because he was madly in love with her.)

    There does seem to be some conflicting views on which of her novels would actually win the title of Worst, but Irene Iddesleigh, published in 1897, clearly ranks right up there in glorious hideousness.  It's out of print, but is available through the Gutenberg Project.   It was really hard to choose the lines most representing how awful that book really is, but here goes nothing:

     I should begin with the beginning.  It goes like this: 

    Sympathise with me, indeed!  Ah, no!  Cast your sympathy on the chill waves of troubled waters; fling it on the oases of futurity; dash it against the rock of gossip; or, better still, allow it to remain within the false and faithless bosom of buried scorn.

    Such were the few remarks of Irene as she paced the beach of limited freedom, alone and unprotected.  Sympathy can wound the breast of trodden patience, --it hath no rival to insure the feelings we possess, save that of sorrow. 

     Irene, you see, is the protagonist who meets the wealthy Sir John, who courts her and proposes marriage, both of them knowing all along that her heart belongs to Oscar, the poor tutor.  She marries Sir John, of course, but it's doomed from the start.  It'll come as no surprise to you that it ends badly for poor Irene.  But what sets this novel apart from other bad novels (and has made Amanda famous as the worst of the worst) is the author's avid, awful alliteration.

    "Leave me now, deceptive demon of deluded mockery; lurk no more around the vale of vanity, like a vindictive viper; strike the lyre of lying deception to the strains of dull deadness, despair and doubt/ and bury on the brink of benevolence every false vow, every unkind thought, every trifle of selfishness and scathing dislike, occasioned by treachery in its mildest form!”

    (I think what’s happening here is Irene is thinking she should be sorry for something, but I could be wrong.)

    I use this picture as my avatar sometimes, but I’ve come to believe it’s Amanda McKittrick Ros writing her putrid purple prose.



      And speaking of words, these two, Abercrombie and Fitch, have always made me snicker.  They're so damned prissy-sounding.  Like two accountants straight out of Dickens.  But somehow the clothing company, around since the 19th century, has latched onto the young, ages 18-22, causing them to overlook how old-fashioned that name is and take to wearing the name on tees, pants, caps, and underwear.  Product placement is everything, I get it. Really.  Now, stop SHOUTING.

    But last week A&F turned the tables on that whole concept.  The company is actually willing to pay someone big bucks to stop wearing their merchandise!   I don't watch "Jersey Shore", so I don't know this guy Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino, but apparently he doesn't fit A&F's image as an approved wearer of their clothing brand.  Also, he's way past 22 years old. (He's 29.)  Also, A&F loves controversy.  I mean loves itReally, really loves it.

    So, okay, it's a publicity stunt, but a pretty clever one.  They're now offering the entire cast of "Jersey Shore" a "substantial amount" of money not to wear their clothes.  No word yet on whether any of the cast members have taken them up on it.  (This could start a whole new trend.  Paying people not to wear a clothing line might someday even have an effect on the jobless numbers. And the world would be a better place.)


    In my travels on the WWW, I found this great new website (New to me, I mean) called "The Awl".  I don't know what it is.  It's a whole bunch of fun and interesting things.  (Their motto is, "Be less stupid". Check it out.)  But today I was wandering around there and found a quote by Maud Newton from her NYT Magazine article called "Another thing to sort of pin on David Foster Wallace".

    I suppose it made sense, when blogging was new, that there was some confusion about voice. Was a blog more like writing or more like speech? Soon it became a contrived and shambling hybrid of the two. The “sort ofs” and “reallys” and “ums” and “you knows” that we use in conversation were codified as the central connectors in the blogger lexicon. We weren’t just mad, we were sort of enraged; no one was merely confused, but kind of totally mystified. That music blog we liked was really pretty much the only one that, um, you know, got it. Never before had “folks” been used so relentlessly and enthusiastically as a term of general address outside church suppers, chain restaurants and family reunions. It’s fascinating and dreadful in hindsight to realize how quickly these conventions took hold and how widely they spread. And! They have sort of mutated since to liberal and often sarcastic use of question marks? And exclamation points! “Oh, hi,” people say at the start of sentences on blogs, Twitter and Tumblr these days, both acknowledging and jokily feigning surprise at the presence of the readers who have turned up there.

    Oh, Jeez.  What can I say? Ya got me...

    That moment sublime:   A story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells about an amateur photographer, Frank Glick, who happened to spot an eagle sitting on a headstone one misty day at the Fort Snelling Cemetery.  He took the picture and then gave it to the widow of the soldier whose headstone the eagle chose to grace. A friend of his sent it to the paper and Jon Tevlin wrote about it.  The story and the picture went viral.  So viral that it brought out the inevitable doubters, who insisted the eagle was too large on that headstone.  It had to be photo-shopped.  The experts came out and said it most certainly wasn't enhanced. A cemetery spokeswoman said there are eagles around there all the time.

    But who really cares?  This particular photo is wonderful on so many levels.  The mist, the bare trees, the sheen on the tops of the asymmetrical rows of headstones, the bit of red in the foreground, the first headstone leading to the focal point, and the eagle posed just right.  It's breathtaking.

    Tevlin said it generated more emails than any other story he'd ever done.  There were 11,000 hits on Facebook when the picture appeared.  The military has ordered copies and it has made its way to Afghanistan where it sounds like they may use it as a basis for a monument to the fallen there.  Bravo, Frank Glick.  This is for you.


    Cartoon of the Week:


    Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press



    Leave me now, deceptive demon of deluded mockery...

    At first I thought she was speaking of a deluded monkey. hahaha The monkey line would have been funnier. hahha

    Great cartoon!


    1. Ms. Ros is maybe overly fond of alliteration and imagery but it seems very un-Christian of Tolkien and Lewis to mock her for fun.  More likely they needed something to practice keeping straight faces at public readings of their own works. :D  Wikipedia had this comment on Ms. Ros' writing by Aldous Huxley, "In Mrs. Ros we see, as we see in the Elizabethan novelists, the result of the discovery of art by an unsophisticated mind and of its first conscious attempt to produce the artistic. It is remarkable how late in the history of every literature simplicity is invented."  Very gentlemanly of him and if you've ever read very early English novels, quite accurate
    2. I remember reading sometime last year that some companies were sending some of their  competitors products to characters on Jersey Shore in orderto trash them.  Guess it may have been A&F apparel.  Maybe what is happening now is their way to counter that.  Kinda funny.
    3. A literary website named The Awl whose motto is Be Less Stupid.  Awls being very pointy tools used to punch holes in things, a site dedicated to deflating things sounds like an Onion wannabe.
    4. That really is a striking photo.  Thanks for posting it.

    Emma, I might have been more charitable toward Amanda myself if not for her own insufferable attempts at self-aggrandizement.  I've had a look at some Elizabethan novels and they're probably equally bad, but for some reason Amanda's are still considered the absolute worst.  Maybe it's because they are the absolute worst.  Or maybe it's because she was so damned full of herself.  Whatever the reason, I found it fascinating that a writer from more than a century ago was still having her works read at festivals, not because they were so good but because they were so bad.

    I don't see The Awl as an Onion wannabee.  The Onion is total satire, whereas The Awl pulls from many sources and presents a full magazine with something for everybody.  (or almost everybody)  The writing is a little uneven, but now that I've found it I'm sure I'll go back to it again.  I liked what I saw there.

    Thanks for the comment on the photo.  It really is great.

    For sure, her writing is LOL florid.  And it is not that I think Christians must be dour and humorless.  I can easily picture Tolkien and Lewis using Ms. Ros' style as a negative example for their students and having difficulty keeping a straight face reading her aloud.  What seems out of the Christian character both espoused is for them is to hold her up to ridicule for entertainment. For my own peace of mind, I think I will give them the benefit of doubt and assume the story is exaggerated.  

    FWIW, the most interesting aspect of the Ros bio is that she self-published and had a large enough audience to make enough from her second book to buy a house.  Quite an accomplishment for her era.  


    Yes, if you're looking at it from their own Christian POV, JRR and CS were being rather naughty.  It could be that it's exaggerated but it's a story gone viral, it seems, so there it is forever.

    I thought the same thing about the money she made -- enough to buy a house.  Just goes to show there is no bad press.  It's all golden when you're trying to make a name for yourself and your detractors do everything they can to help you out.  (Just ask Palin and Bachmann).


    Re:  The story and the picture went viral.  So viral that it brought out the inevitable doubters, who insisted the eagle was too large on that headstone.  It had to be photo-shopped.  The experts came out and said it most certainly wasn't enhanced. A cemetery spokeswoman said there are eagles around there all the time.

    But who really cares?

    "Who really cares" are the people who are clinging to a cherished belief that photography once represented reality/fact and now Photoshop et. al. have changed that. That strikes as absurd if one thinks about it, because photography never represented reality/fact. I.E., from the getgo there are two alterations: a human eye cropping and composing and a mechanical lens adding its own filter to make two-dimensions out of three, along with many many other filters.

    AA, thanks for commenting.  I usually have no problem with enhanced photos, but I admit I'm getting really tired of seeing waterfalls like this.  Every fine art photo of water has to have the open-shutter effect.  Boring!

    open-shutter effect.

    Just chalk it up to pitiful attempts of humans to capture time in a two-dimensional "bottle" (not to mention soooo late 19th/early 20th century: Impressionists & Picasso been there, done that.) wink

    The problem with far to many photographers is that they put too much effort into trying to be artistic. So their photographs come out looking contrived.

    I do not try to be artistic. I just take photographs that I like and let it go at that.

    Me too, C.  Photography is one of my all-time favorite hobbies.  I'll never be a pro but I love being surprised and entranced by what comes out of my camera.  I'm sure a professional photographer would laugh at my efforts but what I do suits me fine. 

    The difference is that mine will probably never be published.  If they were, they'd be open to criticism, because that's the way it works, sorry to say.

    You might be surprised Ramona.  A lot of the pros I have meet are more interested in the photo than how it was done.  As the guy I talked with today said, "Rules are made to be broken."

    Right.  That's true of any creative endeavor.  "Rules are made to be broken".  That can be dangerous, too -- especially if you're working with electricity or some such.

    Oh, I'm kidding.  Forgot to make that clear. ;)

    HA....I made that point to the guy I was talking to. 

    While out taking some pics here in Cleveland, I got to talking to a guy who is a professional photographer. We both believe that as long as the photographer likes the pic, it's nobody's business how he got it or where or whether or not anyone else likes it.

    Photography is an art and in art there are no rules.


    "Leave me now, deceptive demon of deluded mockery; lurk no more around the vale of vanity, like a vindictive viper; strike the lyre of lying deception to the strains of dull deadness, despair and doubt/ and bury on the brink of benevolence every false vow, every unkind thought, every trifle of selfishness and scathing dislike, occasioned by treachery in its mildest form!”

    This sounds like something a character from a Wodehouse novel would utter. Of course, Wodehouse was quite fond of mockery.


    Great picture! Eagles can be quite large and the headstones look small. It could be a non-edited picture. But even if it is photo-shopped it is still beautiful.

    Em, it does sound like mockery, maybe even deluded mockery!   I can imagine how it was read aloud in those days, with great sighs and mopping of brow... 

    They had a way with words.  I've always loved that word "treachery".  In fact, I might use that entire phrase some time to talk about certain politicians.

    Thanks, Ramona. Great cartoon.

    I'm doing a followup story about the eagle-cemetary photograph.  There is a growing suspicion that it was indeed photoshopped.

    In your article you mentioned "The experts came out and said it most certainly wasn't enhanced. " - can you tell me where you read this?

    It's in the article she cited:


    Glick took the photo with an older Nikon camera and a multi-purpose lens. He took more than 60 shots of the bird at the cemetery, from different angles and locations. Some are sharp, some are blurry. Some are not very well composed.

    "But I just like the feel of this one."

    Star Tribune photographers studied the original that Glick sent me and said there's nothing conclusive to say whether it is faked. They also looked at a photo of the bird from the front and said it seemed legitimate, and consistent with the other photo.

    As for the size of the bird?

    The tombstones rise about 22 inches from the ground. Eagles can grow to 37 inches tall. So the proportion seems right.

    I asked a cemetery employee if they ever see eagles.

    "All the time," she said. Her boss concurred.

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