Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without

10418545309Brigid Brophy, Michael Levey and Charles Osborne let rip in their iconoclastic 1967 book.

Extracts chosen by publisher Nicholas Parsons in his Book of Literary Lists (1985)


Beowulf ‘Admiring comment on its poetry is about as relevant as praise for the architecture of Stonehenge.’


The York Mystery Plays ‘…The Bach St Matthew Passion, Verdi’s Requiem, the Karlskirche in Vienna, and the sculpture of Michelangelo  are ( as religious propaganda) a far cry from the cynically concocted doggerel of a committee of drunken monks at St Mary’s Chapel, York in 1350.


The Faerie Queen, Edmund Spenser ‘…the punishing length, utter confusion and unremitting tedium of Spenser;s contribution serve not only to impress uncreative minds, but to illustrate generally that English literature is not an easy option’.


Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare ‘…the prototype of Western literature’s most deplorable and most formless form, autobiographical fiction’.


Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’…it is impossible to rate his naïve and fevered imagination any higher than that of the gentlemen who walk through the West End of London with sandwich –board imploring us to flee from the wrath to come’.


Tom Jones, Henry Fielding’(Tom is ) a tom cat of remarkable passivity who has to be seduced of flattered into his series of love affairs and finishes as a jeune premier in a Doris Day musical , married to the girl next door with full parental blessing.’ Continue reading

Laughing at Poetry

Laughing at SwinburneIn the April 24th 1942 issue of John O’London’s Weekly can be found a perceptive view by the essayist Robert Lynd on the subject of risible poetry written by good poets. He takes his cue from an incident a century before when Thomas Wakley, the founder of the Lancet, stood up in the Commons to mock some puerile lines from ‘Louisa’ by the Poet Laureate, William Wordsworth.

Lynd then goes on to wonder whether ‘absurdities were so common in the older poets as they came in the period that followed the French Revolution. Shakespeare and Milton seem never to have descended to such unconscious ludicrousness as Wordsworth. I do not think that any of the older poets ever wrote a line that parodies itself so easily as Swinburne’s :–

Swallow, my sister: O Sister


‘One of Swinburne’s loveliest poems, ‘Before a Mirror ‘, Lynd continues, ‘begins with a verse of extraordinary nonsense –at least, containing extraordinary nonsense—and yet who can fail to be moved by it:– Continue reading

The World’s Worst Author makes an enquiry

Here it is in the letters pages of The First Edition (September -October1924) a curious letter from Amanda (McKittrick) Ros, not quite latching on to the idea of collecting or what the magazine was about.

Poor Amanda---blissfully unaware that her books weren’t collected for their literary merit, but for their production of unintended hilarity. At Oxford in the 1920s undergraduates like Evelyn Waugh and John Betjeman were admirers and it is said that the Inklings, whose members included C.S.Lewis and J.R.Tolkien , held competitions to see how much of a novel or poem by Amanda Ros could be recited before the reader began to laugh uncontrollably. Because most of her books were published privately in small editions, copies weren’t easy to come by. They have remained quite scarce ever since, largely due to loyal followers, who eagerly snap them up. However, today, with her star slightly on the wane, copies, including very early editions, can be found on the Net for under £70.

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