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.
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.”
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.”
Mark (Samuel Clemens) Twain
Virginia Woolf on James Joyce “[Ulysses is] the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.”
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.”
Evelyn Waugh on Marcel Proust (1948)
Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust
Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman
"Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'
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.”
Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
Oscar Wilde on Alexander Pope“There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.”
Oscar Wilde on Alexander Pope
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.”
William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
Gore Vidal on Truman Capote “He’s a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.”
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.”
Lord George Gordon Byron
and if you really want to tell it like it is ...
H. G. Wells on George Bernard Shaw“An idiot child screaming in a hospital.”
H.G. (Herbert George) Welles
George Bernard (G.B.) Shaw
I hope you've enjoyed the cattiness of some of America (and the world's) greatest writers ... nobody can do a smack down like a good writer!
Now, go make something beautiful!