When Writer’s Attack … Part II!

If you haven’t read it, you can check out the original “When Writer’s Attack …” post here and then strap yourself in for some more pithy author put-downs.

What’s interesting about author put-downs is that many are not afraid to go for the big hitters. Cervantes’ Don Quixote is regarded as a classic. Unless you’re Martin Amis: “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 … 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.”

24. Paradise Lost

John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, according to Samuel Johnson, “… is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. None ever wished it longer than it is.”

On the subject of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte asked her friend, Sir Walter Scott, “Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would rather have written Pride and Prejudice … than any of the Waverly novels? I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.”

35. edgar-allen-poe

Poor old Jane (as well as Edgar Allan Poe) came in for more stick from Mark Twain: “To me his (Edgar Allan Poe’s) prose is unreadable – like Jane Austen’s. No there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane’s. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

Of course, authors can console themselves with the fact that this whole “slagging authors” lark is a game of swings and roundabouts. Mark Twain too had his critics. William Faulkner called Twain, “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 colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”

In turn, Ernest Hemingway said of Faulkner: “Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes – and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one.”

Of course, Ernest would know.

And on it goes. Tom Wolfe’s opinion of Hemingway: “Take Hemingway. People always think that the reason he’s easy to read is that he is concise. He isn’t. I hate conciseness – it’s too difficult. The reason Hemingway is easy to read is that he repeats himself all the time, using ‘and’ for padding.”

We can probably include George Meredith’s opinion of Charles Dickens in the “Slightly Wide of the Mark” column: “Not much of Dickens will live, because it has so little correspondence to life … If his novels are read at all in the future, people will wonder what we saw in them, save some possible element of fun meaningless to them.”

Meredith wasn’t alone though. The great wit, Oscar Wilde, on Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop: “One would have to have a heart of stone to read about the death of little Nell without laughing.”

Although, not everyone was a Wilde fan either. Noel Coward: “Am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.”

One would think that William Shakespeare – regarded by many to be the greatest writer in the English language – would be immune to such slights. Think again. George Bernard Shaw said: “With the exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his …” adding that, “it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.”

Samuel Pepys was not a fan of Shakespeare’s either: “…we saw ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.”

Even Shakespeare’s supposed friend, Ben Jonson, got in on the act: “I remember the players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that in his writing, whatever he penned, he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, ‘Would he had blotted a thousand.’”

Flaubert said of Balzac, “What a man Balzac would have been if he had known how to write.”

One might think that those who write in the same genre might be sympathetic to their brethren. One would be wrong. Doyenne of crime, Ruth Rendell: “To say that Agatha Christie’s characters are cardboard cut-outs is an insult to cardboard cut-outs.”

25. David Letterman

And just to prove that the art of the literary put-down is still very much alive and well, David Letterman’s on Sarah Palin’s effort: “It’s an excellent book … for standing on when you’re reaching for a better one.”


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