Writers have been slagging each other off for centuries, and this fun interactive infographic courtesy of the Huffington Post is a good primer on just how ugly it can get.
Unlike modern celebrity slagfests, most of the nastier comments slung between literary greats were decidedly one-sided–and often took place after the offending writer was dead. Take, for example, Mark Twain’s classic attack on Last of the Mohicans author James Fenimore Cooper. Written decades after Cooper’s deaths, it is one of the funniest vivisections of another author’s work ever. “There are a lot of daring people in the world who claimed that Cooper could write English, but they’re all dead now,” Twain wrote in his brilliant Fisking of an essay, Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.
Twain wasn’t just rough on Cooper, of course. A notorious literary crank, he also couldn’t stand Henry James or Jane Austen. He was almost as cantankerous as Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov, who railed against Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, and Fyodor Dostoevsky, the latter of whom Nabokov sorely hated. Sadly, the infographic does not include his most withering comments about Dostoevsky (from Lectures on Russian Literature), saying, as I recall from reading it a decade ago, that Dostoevsky is the rare Russian writer who sounds just as clunky and marble-mouthed in English as he did in his mother tongue.
And the sniping continues. Did you know, for example, that Gore Vidal once said of Truman Capote that he loathed him “the way you might loathe an animal”? Or that Norman Mailer said that J.D. Salinger was “the greatest mind to ever stay in prep school”? Or that Charlotte Brontë hated her own sister Anne’s novel Wildfell Hall, calling it “hardly… desirable to preserve”? Or that D.H. Lawrence said that no one could possibly be “more clownish” and “more clumsy” than Moby Dick scribe Herman Melville (Lawrence was also quite rough on Ulysses author James Joyce, calling his work nothing but “old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations.”)
The full infographic can be seen embedded in its entirety above. If you think writers getting their claws out is a new thing, hovering over some of these historical deathmatches might give you a delicious new perspective on things.