Writers attacking each other with barbs sharper than knives.

James Joyce
James Joyce

Human nature has an ugly face and often a humorous face, especially in the world of the literary arts.

Among writers, there have always been rivalries and envies and petty jealousies, but I think they existed more when great literature came from the great publishing houses in New York and London than they do in the digital world of independent authors.

Today’s writers are frantically trying to build their brands, establish their names, and sell their books.

Why go to the trouble of criticizing authors that no one knows anyway?

I realize there will always be a little backstabbing, some scattered blogs that find fault with a book or an author, and even a few one-star reviews.

But mostly I have found that authors go out of their way to help each other, support each other, promote each other’s work. I have found a lot of good souls on Twitter and Triberr and Facebook who genuinely care about each other’s work.

When one author wins, we all win.

There was a time, however, when the word’s great authors attacked each other with poisoned words and malice aforethought, and they meant every word they spoke or wrote.

Some of the comments were witty.

Some were acerbic.

Some were caustic.

And a few may have even been considered felonious in the literary world.

Check out these examples. Their barbs were sharper than knives.

Lord Byron
Lord Byron

Vladimir Nabakov criticized Fyodor Dostoevsky’s lack of taste, his monotonous dealing were 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.

Friedrich Nietzsche described Dante Alighieri as a hyena that wrote poetry on tombs.

To H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw reminded him of an idiot child screaming in a hospital.

Lord Byron had few kind words for John Keats, writing: Here Johnny Keats’ piss-a-bed poetry, and three ovels 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 driveling idiotism of the Mankin.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that Miss Jane Austin’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.

Jane Austen
Jane Austen

Mark Twain had similar thoughts: 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.

But then, William Faulkner had similar misgivings with the work of Mark Twain, calling him “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.

William Faulkner said that Ernest Hemingway has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary. And Hemingway responded by writing: Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?

Oscar Wilde, in his condescending way, took on Alexander Pope by writing: There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.

Vladimir Nabakov remarked: As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls, and bulls, and I loathed it.

Virginia Woolf dismissed James Joyce and his classic by writing that Ulysses is the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples. D. H. Lawrence agreed. When asked about Joyce, he remarked: 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.

Truman Capote read the beat poet Jack Kerouac and said, that’s not writing. That’s typing.

And how would you have liked to receive the review W. H. Auden gave Robert Browning? He said, 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.

We still have human nature to rear its ugly head from time to time.

We still have a few envies and petty jealousies to contend with.

But when today’s authors attack authors, it’s not nearly as vitriolic as it once was.


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