19 May 2007

Fumes of Formation. Amanda M. Ros, 1933

Amanda M. Ros. FUMES OF FORMATION. R. Carswell & Son, Belfast. 1933.

Current Selling Prices
$300-$500 /£150-£250

A scarce 44 page book by the extraordinary Amanda Ros. 2000 copies were printed but only 160 bound up; the remaining sets of sheets were destroyed. It never had a jacket, 100 had rounded spines, 60 had flat spines. Flat is best. A collection of poems, whose source the author describes in a note on the title-page: ''This inventive production was hatched within a mind fringed with Fumes of Formation, the Ingenious Innings of Inspiration and Thorny Tincture of Thought.''

Amanda McKittrick Ros (1860 - 1939) is still something of a cult. She is often cited with William McGonagall as an amazingly bad writer. However whereas WM was simply a thumpingly awful writer, Ros could occasionally turn out magical lines such as her dismissal of the critic D.B. Wyndham Lewis as '...a thick-witted, evil-minded snapshot of spleen.' In describing the gilded young hustlers whom she imagined flaunted along the streets of London she wrote:
'Their hair was a light-golden colour, thickly fringed in front, hiding in many cases the furrows of a life of vice; behind, reared coils, some of which differed in hue, exhibiting the fact that they were on patrol for the price of another supply of dye.... The elegance of their attire had the glow of robbery - the rustle of many a lady's silent curse. These tools of brazen effrontery were strangers to the blush of innocence that tinged many a cheek, as they would gather round some of God's ordained, praying in flowery words of decoying Cockney, that they should break their holy vows by accompanying them to the halls of adultery. Nothing daunted at the staunch refusal of different divines, whose modest walk was interrupted by their bold assertion of loathsome rights, they moved on, while laughs of hidden rage and defeat flitted across their doll-decked faces...'
Aldous Huxley wrote that the above passage is in the very spirit and language of John Lyly's 'Euphues' (1578.) Through her intense solipsism and isolation from current literary thought Amanda Ros had arrived 300 years later at the exact stage of development as Lyly and his disciples- '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...'

Fans include Twain, Huxley, Auden, Sassoon, Anthony Powell, Frank Muir and C. S. Lewis. Powell said of her -'She may be a long way from Shakespeare, but she partakes in however infinitely minute a degree, of the Shakespearian power of language.' The Inklings who would meet at the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford for readings of her work - playing a sort of game of trying to keep a straight face for more than a minute while reading from her works and downing pints. Earlier a club of London men of letters (including Lord Beveridge, Desmond MacCarthy, E.V. Lucas and F.Anstey) met specifically to exchange the most ludicrous examples of her work that they could find.In a late interview with the BBC she was asked why she named a villain Lord Raspberry. It is reported that: 'Mrs. Ros put down her teacup with a startled air. "What else should I have called him?" she said.'

VALUE? You could probably build a complete Amanda Ros collection for $1000, for a £1000 they would all be in super condition with the occasional presentation and even signed letter. For £5000 you would be the Roman Abramovich of Ros collectors with a few manuscripts, early jackets and variants, proof copies, portaits, photos and scarce ephemera. There is a ceiling on value and a limited (but keen) coterie of collectors--she is not Sylvia Plath; for the truly borassic collector of Ms. Ros there is a good guide on the web - 'A Pauper's Guide to collecting her works' at Oasis of Futurity ('A Shrine to the Late-Lamented Amanda McKittrick Ros.') Her rarest items are probably the 2 broadsheets from 1915 and 1916 - 'Kaiser Bill' and 'A Little Belgian Orphan' (signed pseudonymously Monica Mayland.) St. Scandalbags (1954) is difficult, as is Poems of Puncture - published by the vanity press Arthur H. Stockwell in 1913. We sold Frank Muir's copy of this (with a few corrections by Ms Ros) in 2005 at £150. Frank had a lot of her books and knew her biographer Jack Loudan. At a London book fair in June 1973 a completist collection formed by a founder of the British Communist Party, one David Mercer of Thames Ditton, was offered by dealer Alf Wallis at £4500 - it contained many manuscripts, letters and rarities. Possibly not a great investment, 34 years later we have less of a taste for oddities, whimsy and weirdness. [ W/Q * ]

One of her rarest books is 'Bayonets of Bastard Sheen ( 50 copies only in 1949). It was culled from letters written between 1927 and 1939 mostly vituperations against critics + a short piece 'Lewis Carroll. A Hasty Evaluation' prompted by the price of £15,400 paid by Dr. Rosenbach for the manuscript. She takes a very dim view of the Carroll book in several letters. Here is a list of her synonyms for critics:

Apprentices to the scathing trade
Auctioneering agents of Satan
Clay-crabs of corruption
Conglomeration of braying opinions
Cornerboy shadows of criticism
Critic cads
Critic Crabs
Critic Curs
Denunciating Arabs
Drunken ignorant dross
Egotistical earth-worms
Egotistic atoms
Evil-minded snapshots of spleen
Gang of drunken swags
Gas-bag section
Half-starved upstarts
Hogwashing hooligans
Intelligibles of bad-breeding
Maggoty numskulls
Maggoty throng
Mushroom class of idiotics
Mushroom class of talent twisters
Poisonous apes
Poking hounds
Poor apes
Public character-tearers
Raging roughs
Random hacks of illiteration
Rodents of State
Scandalizers of books
Scandalmongering critics
Scathers of genius
Scathing circle
Scorchers of rare talent
Scribblers of thick witted type
Scurrilous scribes
Self-opinionated mortals
Starving critic cads
Street Arabs
Talent wipers of a wormy order
Tree of rebuff

Rave on, O rare Amanda!


Anonymous said...

As it happens I quite like Roman o great benfactor of the mighty Chels.

He could be quite the collector given his resources (but is he? Any book trade rumours on the man?).

Bookride said...

I am not sure what Roman A collects apart from goal scorers but some of the billionaire oligarchs do collect books I am told, fine illustrated Russian books not literature but art and illustration. Large books. Occasionally they buy leather bound sets or have them bought for them like many plutocrats, They have been seen at country house sales buying indiscriminately. I think they prefer art and ornaments and Faberge --I have some good Gurdjieff at the moment but I doubt they will go for it. N

Anonymous said...

some rich Russians buy art deco, they spent hundreds of 1000s of euros on Chiparus statuettes recently--Ballet Russes stuff

Jonojono said...

My copy of Fumes of Formation does actually have a jacket - which is identical to the cover.

Anonymous said...

C.S. Lewis was NOT a fan, rather he and the other
Inklings would criticize her greatly. They would try to see who could read her stuff without laughing for the longest.

Anonymous said...

But that goes without saying - it's the only type of fan that Ros has ever had.

Alfred Armstrong said...

Not all the unbound copies were destroyed, actually. I know this because a few years ago I bought one.

I have made it possibly less collectable but much more accessible by having it bound in purple cloth, uniform with my copy of Poems of Puncture, which I also had rebound as the original binding was in tatters.