Collected Emily Temple
Sigh. Authors just don’t insult each other like they used to. Sure, Martin Amis raised some eyebrows when he claimed he would need brain damage to write children’s books, and recent Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan made waves when she disparaged the work that someone had plagiarized, but those kinds of accidental, lukewarm zingers are nothing when compared to the sick burns of yore. It stands to reason, of course, that writers would be able to come up with some of the best insults around, given their natural affinity for a certain turn of phrase and all. And it also makes sense that the people they would choose to unleash their verbal battle-axes upon would be each other, since watching someone doing the same thing you’re doing — only badly — is one of the most frustrating feelings we know. So we forgive our dear authors for their spite. Plus, their insults are just so fun to read. Click through for our countdown of the thirty harshest author-on-author burns in history, and let us know if we’ve missed any of your favorites in the comments!
30. Gustave Flaubert on George Sand
“A great cow full of ink.”
29. Robert Louis Stevenson on Walt Whitman
“…like a large shaggy dog just unchained scouring the beaches of the world and baying at the moon.”
28. Friedrich Nietzsche on Dante Alighieri
“A hyena that wrote poetry on tombs.”
27. Harold Bloom on J.K. Rowling (2000)
“How to read ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.”
26. Vladimir Nabokov on Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Dostoevky’s lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity — all this is difficult to admire.”
25. Gertrude Stein on Ezra Pound
“A village explainer. Excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not.”
24. Virginia Woolf on Aldous Huxley
“All raw, uncooked, protesting.”
23. H. G. Wells on George Bernard Shaw
“An idiot child screaming in a hospital.”
22. Joseph Conrad on D.H. Lawrence
“Filth. Nothing but obscenities.”
21. Lord Byron on John Keats (1820)
“Here are Johnny Keats’ piss-a-bed poetry, and three novels by God knows whom… No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don’t I must skin him myself: there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.”
20. Vladimir Nabokov on Joseph Conrad
“I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist cliches.”
19. Dylan Thomas on Rudyard Kipling
“Mr Kipling … stands for everything in this cankered world which I would wish were otherwise.”
18. Ralph Waldo Emerson on Jane Austen
“Miss Austen’s novels . . . seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer . . . is marriageableness.”
17. Martin Amis on Miguel Cervantes
“Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over, and the old boy checks out at last (on page 846 — the prose wedged tight, with no breaks for dialogue), you will shed tears all right; not tears of relief or regret but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that ‘Don Quixote’ could do.”
16. Charles Baudelaire on Voltaire (1864)
“I grow bored in France — and the main reason is that everybody here resembles Voltaire…the king of nincompoops, the prince of the superficial, the anti-artist, the spokesman of janitresses, the Father Gigone of the editors of Siecle.”
15. William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway
“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
14. Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner
“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”
13. Gore Vidal on Truman Capote
“He’s a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.”
12. Oscar Wilde on Alexander Pope
“There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.”
11. 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.”
10. Henry James on Edgar Allan Poe (1876)
“An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”
9. Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac
“That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
8. 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?”
7. 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!”
6. 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.”
5. Evelyn Waugh on Marcel Proust (1948)
“I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”
4. 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.”
3. Virginia Woolf on James Joyce
“[Ulysses is] the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”
2. 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.”
1. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce (1928)
“My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”
Bonus:I recently found this letter Mr. Rogers wrote to me when I was 6.
Not quite sure what the final letter was about (from Mr Rogers, whoever he was), but it seems to me that whoever wrote it went to a lot of trouble. OK, it was a bit twee, but they had obviously read this kid’s letter and replied to it, not just churned out some automated answer.
When and where did you grow up that you don’t know about Mr Rogers? He was the host of a long running PBS show for kids called “Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood”. It ran from the late 60’s and into 2000s. I hope it’s still in reruns so my daughter can watch it.
I grew up in London in the UK – obviously they didn’t show Mr. Rogers there!
You really missed out – it’s a sad state our culture is in that we can look at something so simple and good and straightforward for children and judge it so harshly. I grew up with a single mom in a bad neighborhood and the messages that show sent to kids meant a lot to me – I think they mean a lot to every kid who grew up watching him. He was simply one of the best examples of the human race ever, and certainly one of the bravest to be able to do something so nice for children and not worrying about whether he sounded stupid to anyone else.
Mr. Rogers was a television personality. For over 30 years he hosted a children’s show called Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood which was broadcast on public television. As you might guess from his letter, the show focused on teaching children values like honesty, sharing, self-confidence and self-respect. To be honest, I am not doing a very good job of describing it, but it was a favorite part of my childhood and I’m sure many other folks as well.
Check out the wikipedia link for more info:
nice. I love the end letter.
Ha ha! I love the quotes. Mark Twain’s gave me the biggest laugh! Even funnier is a couple down he is being criticized. It just shows how subjective everything is.
Mr. Rogers was awesome! I never wrote him a letter as a kid, but now I wish I had! That would be such a cool thing to have 🙂