Writers like to complain about critics but sometimes the vilest, least measured criticism emanates from the envenomed pen of fellow or sister scribes.
To give cheer to those writers among you who might have had a bad review of late (and which of us has not?) and to stir some sympathy in readers, here’s the lambasting that some of the best in the business once received from their colleagues. Sore stuff.
– “Crude, immoral, vulgar and senseless.” Leo Tolstoy on William Shakespeare.
– “A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tried out a few of the old proven ‘sure-fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrige the superficial and the lazy.” William Faulkner on Mark Twain.
– “A monster gibbering shrieks, and gnashing imprecations against mankind — tearing down all shreds of modesty, past all sense of manliness and shame; filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene.” Willam Makepeace Thackeray on Jonathan Swift.
– “He’s spending eternity walking round and round a stately park and the fence is just too high for him to peep over and he’s just too far away to hear what the countess is saying.” W. Somerset Maugh on Henry James.
– “She is magnificently ugly — deliciously hideous. She has a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose… Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes behold me literally in love with this geat horse-faced blue stocking.” Henry James on George Eliot. (And the writing, Henry??)
– “I loathed the Viennese quack.” Vladimir Nabokov on Sigmund Freud.
– “Isn’t she a poisonous thing of a woman, lying, concealing, flipping, plagiarising, misquoting, and being as clever a crooked literary publicist as ever.” Dylan Thomas on Edith Sitwell.
– “He’s impossible He’s pathetic and presposterous. He writes like a sick man.” Gertrud Stein on DH Lawrence.
– “The awful Whitman. This post-mortem poet. This poet with the private soul leaking out of him all the time. All his privacy leaking out in a sort of dribble, oozing into the universe.” DH Lawrence on Walt Whitman.
– “The work of a queasy unergraduate scratching his pimples.” Virgina Woolf on James Joyce.
– “A stupid man, wiht a decided gift for portraying nature in vignettes, never ruined anyone’s morals, I suppose, unless perhaps he had driven some susceptible persons to crime in a fury of boredom.” Ezra Pound on William Wordsworth.
– “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac.
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