Screenwriter William Goldman famously said of Hollywood: ‘Nobody knows anything’. The same is true of writing, as these judgements of writers by writers below go to show.
Leo Tolstoy on William Shakespeare: “Crude, immoral, vulgar and senseless.”
William Faulkner on Mark Twain: “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.”
Willam Makepeace Thackeray on Jonathan Swift: “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.”
W. Somerset Maugham on Henry James: “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.”
Henry James on George Eliot: “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.” (Any thoughts on the writing, Henry??)
Vladimir Nabokov on Sigmund Freud: “I loathed the Viennese quack.”
Gertrud Stein on DH Lawrence: “He’s impossible He’s pathetic and presposterous. He writes like a sick man.”
DH Lawrence on Walt Whitman: “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.”
Virgina Woolf on James Joyce: “The work of a queasy unergraduate scratching his pimples.”
Which all goes to show that, as another writer who knew what he approved of, WB Yeats, once put it, “Opinion is not worth a rush”. Even though he was a man with plenty of them and, indeed, wrote that very line in a very pontifical poem, I agree.
What’s true of writing, and Hollywood, is also true of life. Nobody knows anything. Judgement is best reserved.
But, of course, that’s only my opinion.
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