I’ve had bitter author rivalries on my mind of late. They’re funny things, and demonstrate how petty and vindictive creative people can be. But they’re nothing new. And they’re not exclusive to any one genre. Take these as examples:

Mark Twain on Jane Austen (1898): “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

William Faulkner on Mark Twain (1922): “A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”

Henry James on Edgar Allan Poe (1876): “An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”

D.H. Lawrence on Herman Melville (1923): “Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste, than Herman Melville, even in a great book like ‘Moby Dick’….One wearies of the grand serieux. There’s something false about it. And that’s Melville. Oh dear, when the solemn ass brays! brays! brays!”

Joseph Conrad on D.H. Lawrence: “Filth. Nothing but obscenities.”

W. H. Auden on Robert Browning: “I don’t think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn’t care for him very much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve-year-old girls.”

William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

Vladimir Nabokov on Ernest Hemingway (1972): “As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”

Elizabeth Bishop on J.D. Salinger: “I HATED [Catcher in the Rye]. It took me days to go through it, gingerly, a page at a time, and blushing with embarrassment for him every ridiculous sentence of the way. How can they let him do it?”

H.G. Wells on Henry James (1915): “It is a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost, even at the cost of its dignity, upon picking up a pea which has got into a corner of its den.”

Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”

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