10 Epic Author Smack Downs: When Literary Criticism Gets Ugly

If you can’t same something nice, don’t say nothing at all” is advice not followed by critics when dumping on authors. And authors themselves can be full-on nasty to other authors.

No feelings were spared in the following 10 examples:


1. Ernest Hemingway On Gertrude Stein

“Gertrude Stein was never crazy, Gertrude Stein was very lazy.”

Early in his career Stein had been Hemingway’s mentor! For more about their falling out check out Literary Feuds by Anthony Arthur.

Source: Amazon

2. Samuel Johnson On John Milton

Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure.”

Johnston’s judgement came at the end of his famous essay, “A Study of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost.”

Source: Amazon

3. Mary McCarthy On Lillian Hellman

“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”

McCarthy spoke her pithy line during an interview on PBS. Hellman sued.

Source: Amazon

4. Mark Twain On Jane Austen

“Just the omission of Jane Austen’s books alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn’t a book in it.”

That was probably the nicest thing Twain had to say about Austen in his non-fiction travelogue Following The Equator.

Source: Amazon

5. Harold Bloom On J.K. Rowling

“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.

Bloom’s overblown critique of Rowling is in the The Wall Street Journal.

Source: Amazon

6. T.S. Eliot On D.H. Lawrence

“When his characters make love – or perform Mr. Lawrence’s equivalent for love-making – and they do nothing else – they not only lose all the amenities, refinements and graces which many centuries have built up in order to make love-making tolerable; they seem to reascend the metamorphoses of evolution, passing backward beyond ape and fish to some hideous coition of protoplasm.”

Eliot wasn’t a fan and he let Lawrence have it in his essay, The Contemporary Novel.


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7. D.H. Lawrence On James Joyce

“The last part of [Ulysses] is the dirtiest, most indecent, obscene thing ever written . . . This Ulysses muck is more disgusting than Casanova. I must show that it can be done without muck.”

Lawrence hated being compared to his contemporary according to Compton Mackenzie in My Life and Times: Octave V 1915-1923 by Compton Mackenzie.

Source: Amazon

8. Philip Pullman On J.R.R. Tolkien

“Tolkien, who created this marvelous vehicle, doesn’t go anywhere in it. He just sits where he is. What I mean by that is that he always seems to be looking backwards, to a greater and more golden past; and what’s more he doesn’t allow girls or women any important part in the story at all. Life is bigger and more interesting than The Lord of the Rings thinks it is.”

In an interview for Intelligent Life Magazine, Pullman explained why he wasn’t a Tolkien fan. A Tolkien fan hit back. And he hit back hard.

Source: Amazon

9. Oscar Wilde On Novels In General

“However, one should not be too severe on English novels: they are the only relaxation of the intellectually unemployed.”

The Portable Oscar Wilde contains choice snippets of Wilde’s literary criticism.

Source: Amazon

10. Stephen King On Stephanie Meyer, Suzanne Collins And E.L. James

“I read Twilight and didn’t feel any urge to go on with her. I read The Hunger Games and didn’t feel an urge to go on. It’s not unlike [my novel] The Running Man, which is about a game where people are actually killed and people are watching: a satire on reality TV. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and felt no urge to go on. They call it mommy porn, but it’s not really mommy porn. It is highly charged, sexually driven fiction for women who are, say, between 18 and 25.”

King’s thoughts were shared in an interview with The Guardian.


Source: Amazon

Do you enjoy a good literary smack-down? Or do you agree with Thumper’s father?


YouTube Channel: Stephen Hitchens


Featured image via Flickr

h/t Barnes and Noble