for writers and readers….

My Six Favourite Literary Insults

Literary insultsIt’s not all elegant sentences and good taste in the literary world…sometimes words can wound and sometimes they can bite back…

Mark Twain on Jane Austen

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.

William Faulkner on Mark 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 color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway
He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.

Ernest Hemingway on William Faulkner
Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?

And my favourite from more recent times.

Terry Eagleton, Professor of Cultural theory at the National University of Ireland was highly critical of the poet Craig Raine‘s first novel, Heartbreak.

…the publishers have represented it as a novel, rather as Jedward are represented as singers…The description is true but misleading…

Raine is most famous for his 1970s poem A Martian Sends A Postcard Home (which I often use in creative writing classes). His response to the damning review?

I really enjoyed not reading Terry Eagleton’s review almost as much as he enjoyed not reading my novel

Think the Eagleton/Raine match was a score draw…


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21 comments on “My Six Favourite Literary Insults

    • bridget whelan
      January 23, 2015

      Thanks for the reblog – had a tweet from someone who said Eagleton can’t have read Raine’s novel or listened to Jedward. I thought she was joking until I realised she described herself as the lads’ number one fan.

  1. Jack Eason
    January 23, 2015

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    It’s not just trolls that spew contemptable criticism. 🙂

    • bridget whelan
      January 23, 2015

      I heard Gore Vidal give a talk a few years before he died where he said he no longer criticised living authors, the dead could take it but leave the living in peace. I think he was mellowing with age – or been in too many scraps – but I think he had a point. Having said that, it’s hard not to wince at Twain’s comments about Jane…

  2. Cate Russell-Cole
    January 23, 2015

    I’d like to hit Mark Twain with his own shin bone for that! 🙂

    • bridget whelan
      January 23, 2015

      I’ve been reading more of his comments: there is an unpublished essay where Twain imagines entering Austen’s world like a barkeeper, dismissive of everything he sees, but inside is ashamed that he can’t appreciate something whch is clearly fine and well crafted. I think he recognised the society she descrtibed and the characters she brought to life and hated her for describing it so well that it got under his skin. I feel much the same about modern jazz….

      • Cate Russell-Cole
        January 23, 2015

        I can live without the modern jazz, but style envy… yup, that I understand. 🙂

  3. noelleg44
    January 23, 2015

    My, my, Bridget – these big authors also have big egos. Imagine that. This post was an eye-opener and actually quite fun!

  4. Let's CUT the Crap!
    January 23, 2015

    Big egos and much posturing. Tsk. Tsk. Great post.

  5. Ali Isaac
    January 23, 2015

    Great quotes! It’s fun to see these famous others getting all sniffy about each other! Entertaining post!

    • bridget whelan
      January 23, 2015

      Sniffy is the right word – although I think that Hemingway probably made the best point.

      • Ali Isaac
        January 23, 2015

        I quite liked ‘I greatly enjoyed NOT reading his review, as he greatly enjoyed NOT reading my book’…’nuff said!

  6. bridget whelan
    January 23, 2015

    Feel that one might come in useful sometime…!

  7. cornfedcontessa
    January 24, 2015

    Reblogged this on cornfedcontessa and commented:
    Interesting read.

  8. Suzanne Joshi
    January 24, 2015

    Thanks, Bridget. Now none of us need feel bad about our writing. 🙂

    • bridget whelan
      January 29, 2015

      I suppose puts our own bad reviews into some kind of context – I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of these tongues. Beware a witty critic who can write…

  9. wendyannedarling
    January 26, 2015

    What I love about these is how well they are written. Nothing like the review trolls on Amazon! 😀

    I think my favorite insult ever is Winston Churchill’s ‘Never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man.’ I’m don’t know whether he was leveling this at anyone in particular but I’m definitely saving it up for one of those days when it’s raining idiots. The only problem with this one would be the recipient of said insult wouldn’t understand it; unlike yours above!

    • bridget whelan
      January 29, 2015

      Thank you for sharing the Winston Churchill quote – I haven’t heard it before. One to be saved for the right time!

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This entry was posted on January 21, 2015 by in Quotes and tagged , , , , , .


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