Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness 20 Apr 2005 13:04:40
- by Weeks and James. ---What William "The Great" McGonagall was to poetry, soprano Florence Foster Jenkins was to singing. A wealthy New York socialite..., she had a vivid image of herself as a diva, a godess of song, but no talent what-so-ever. Her voice was quavery and colorless, she was incapable of following a beat, and she sang wildly out of tune; but she did have a vision, and the money and courage to pursue it. Every year she gave a private recital at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel [in New York]. Accompanied by her pianist Cosme McMoon, Jenkins gave inept performances of standard opera arias and songs McMoon had written for her, such as "Serenata Mexicano," filled with high coloratura passages for her to mangle. Once word got around, tickets for the spectacle were harder to come by than a box at the Met on a Caruso night. She made lavish costumes for her recitals, never fewer than three per performance, which usually included the Angel of Inspiration, a confection of silk, tinsel, and tulle, with full feathered wings. After a taxicab incident in 1943, Jenkins reported that she could sing "a higher F than ever before" - thereby revealing her elastic concept of musical intonation. Rather than suing the taxicab company, she sent a box of cigars to the driver. Her final performance was her Carnegie Hall debut, at the age of 76, it was sold out weeks in advance. A month after this apothesis, she died. Jenkins wrote her own epitaph: "Some people say I cannot sing, but noone can say I didn't sing."
Words to Remember by Miles Corwin, Smithsonian magazine, June 2009 pg 92
- There has never been a shortage of bad writers. Almost anyone can bang out an atrocious book, but to achieve fame and adulation for it takes a certain kind of genius. In this literary sub-genre, Irish writer Amanda McKittrick Ros reigns supreme. "Uniquely dreadful" proclaims the Oxford Companion to Irish Literature. "The greatest bad writer who ever lived," says author Nick Page.
- Ros, who died in 1939, abused (some would say tortured) the English language in three novels and dozens of poems. She refers to eyes as “globes of glare” and legs as “bony supports,” pants as a “southern necessity,” sweat as “globules of liquid lava” and alcohol as the “powerful monster of mangled might.” The Oxford literary group “The Inklings,” which include CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, held competitions to see who could read her work aloud longest while keeping a straight face.
- Mark Twain considered her first book, Irene Iddesleigh, as “one of the greatest unintentionally humorous novels of all time.” Consider this passage: “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!"
- In Ros’ last novel, Helen Huddleson, she named character after fruits, including Lord Raspberry (and his sister Cherry) Sir Peter Plum, Christopher Currant and the Earl of Grape. And Ros’ penchant for alliteration resist restraint: The villainous Madame Pear, she wrote, “had a swell staff of sweet-faced helpers swathed in stratagem, whose members and garments glowed with the lust of the loose, sparkled with the tears of the tortured, show with sunlight of bribery, dangled with the diamonds of distrust, slashed with sapphires of scandals…”
- Ros’ husband, a train station manager in a small Northern Ireland town, financed the publication of Irene Iddesleigh as a tenth wedding anniversary present. A reader sent a copy to humorist Barry Pain, who in an 1898 review called it “a thing that happens once in a million years.” Initially entertained, he soon “shrank before it in tears and terror.” In the preface to her next book Ros attacked Pain as a “clay crab of corruption” and a “cancerous irritant wart.” Like many novelists, she believed her critics lacked the intellect to appreciate her talent and came to believe that her growing legion f detractors conspired against her for revealing the corruption of the ruling class – thereby disturbing, as she put it, “the bowels of millions.”
- In the past century, a few Ros enthusiasts have kept her legend alive. A biography – O Rare Amanda! – was published in 1954; a collection of her most memorable passages was anthologized – Thine in Storm and Calm – in 1988; and two years ago, she was feted at a Belfast literary festival.
- Ros imagined “the million and one who thirst for aught that drops from my pen,” and predicted she would “be talked about at the end of a thousand years.” She’s well on her way.