When Really Bad Writing is elevated to an art form, is it still really bad?
Take, for example, the winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. This contest, sponsored annually by the English Department of San Jose State University, invites writers to submit “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” According to the official rules, the prize for winning the contest is “a pittance” of $250.
The contest is named for English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the much-quoted first line “It was a dark and stormy night,” from his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
The contest attracts more than 10,000 entries. And if you’re not bad enough to win but are noteworthy in your badness, you may be awarded a Dishonorable Mention.
Here is the winner of the 2012 Contest, by Cathy Bryant of Manchester England.
As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.
Or my personal favorite, winner of the Children’s Literature Category by David Nelsons of Falls Church, VA.
He staggered into the room (in which he was now the “smartest guy”) with a certain Wikipedic insouciance, and without skipping a beat made a beeline toward Dorothy, busting right through her knot of admirers, and she threw her arms around him and gave him a passionate though slightly tickly kiss, moaning softly, “Oooohh, Scarecrow!”
With a certain Wikipedic insouciance? What a fine turn of phrase that is. Indeed, based on that alone, I would have to answer my opening question with a resounding “No.”
My intrepid writing partner SusanH, who trolls the ‘Net for such things, sent me a blog post from GalleyCat: Did Amanda McKittrick Ros write the worst novel ever (I keep encouraging – aka “motivationally bullying” – Susan to spend less time on the Internet and more time writing but she spurns that advice)? This is truly elevation of the bad.
There were Amanda McKittrick Ros societies at Oxford and Cambridge. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their fellow Inklings were largely responsible for this enthusiasm: the informal Oxford literary group held sporadic Ros reading competitions, in which the winner was the member who could read from one of her novels for the longest without breaking into laughter … She was a sort of Bizarro World Oscar Wilde: an Irish author who became a London cause célèbre for the complete witlessness of her writing. Her fame even reached the shores of the New World, with no less a figure than Mark Twain crowning her “Queen & Empress of the Hogwash Guild.”
You can download a copy of the novel Irene Iddesleigh and see for yourself, if you are truly a glutton for punishment. But I’ll share with you the opening of the book, so you can save yourself the pain.
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 a 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.
The gloomy mansion stands firmly within the ivy-covered, stoutly-built walls of Dunfern, vast in proportion and magnificent in display. It has been built over three hundred years, and its structure stands respectably distant from modern advancement, and in some degrees it could boast of architectural 10 designs rarely, if ever, attempted since its construction.
So, once again I ask: When Really Bad Writing is elevated to an art form, is it still really bad? As we can see, the answer is still, YES. However, maybe Ms. Ros gets the last laugh: you can still buy her novel on Amazon.
Link to the GallyCat post: