Was recently discussing with a friend the famous Hemingway/Faulkner feud. What elevates literary feuds over your ordinary Hatfield vs. McCoy type disputes, we agreed, is the quality of the epigrams. Really, does it get much better than: "Concerning no subject would he be deterred by the minor accident of complete ignorance from penning a definitive opinion" - Roger Scruton's homage to George Bernard Shaw?
The upshot of this conversation was a decision to research other famous literary feuds. Turns out there's not really any one good source, so decided to pull together my researches into this one blog post. I've cited my sources as appropriate, though sometimes I've taken the liberty of adding a snide aside. I believe Hemingway et. al. would approve.
My research revealed that - not entirely a surprise - Ernest Hemingway was a repeat offender: he also feuded with Wallace Stevens and Gertrude Stein. Nor is Hemingway the only serial feuder: turns out luminaries including Naipaul, Vidal, Rushdie and Mark Twain have also been involved in multiple disputes.
- Ernest Hemingway vs. William Faulkner. The feud is famous mostly for the epigrams it generated: First, William Faulkner, speaking of Ernest Hemingway: "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." And Hemingway’s response: "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" Personally, I think they both make valid points.
- Ernest Hemingway vs. Gertrude Stein. As Hemingway remembered, he and Gertrude Stein were once “just like brothers.” But a froideur grew between the two when Hemingway was disparaging about Sherwood Anderson, whom Stein felt was one of Hemingway’s greatest influences. Later, Stein published an unflattering portrait of Hemingway in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Hemingway finally took his revenge in A Moveable Feast, in which he criticized Stein’s prose for its use of “repetitions that a more conscientious and less lazy writer would have put in the waste basket.” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
- Ernest Hemingway vs. Wallace Stevens. After Hemingway heard that Stevens was supposedly trash-talking about him, they got in a scuffle on the streets in Florida. Stevens broke his hand when he punched Hemingway in the jaw. Gotta love Papa for taking it to the street! [SOURCE: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/09/famous-literary-fights_n_820022.html#s236399&title=CS_Lewis_vs]
- Norman Mailer vs. Gore Vidal. If Mailer—the violently sexist homophobe—and “exquisite” Vidal have anything in common, it is their love of a good feud. Mailer—whose past opponents include his second wife, whom he stabbed, Tom Wolfe, critic Michiko Kakutani, Truman Capote, and Germaine Greer—was enraged when Gore Vidal compared Mailer’s The Prisoner of Sex to “three days of menstrual flow” and Mailer to Charles Manson. In response, Mailer head-butted him in the green room of the Dick Cavett Show in 1971, and then told him on-air, that he “ruined” Kerouac by sleeping with him. Six years later at a Lally Weymouth soirée, he threw a drink at Vidal, and punched him. Even lying on the floor, Vidal somehow won the match: “As usual, words fail him,” he sniffed. [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
- Truman Capote vs. Gore Vidal. Capote and Vidal began their lifelong feud in the 1940s. Vidal bitterly resented Capote's usurping of a role he thought rightfully his - the promising young American novelist. "How can you call anyone talented who's only written one book at 23?" Vidal asked. "I've written three books, and I'm only 22!" The pair traded insults for years. Vidal called Capote ''a dumpy little lowbrow" forever peddling "a public relations campaign masquerading as a career". Capote said: "Of course, I'm always sad about Gore. Very sad that he has to breathe every day." Capote's attempt at a reconciliation in 1969 did not stop the insults; when he died, Vidal responded: "Good career move." In his memoirs, Vidal calls Capote "a pathological liar." [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-of-enemies-the-truth-behind-a-30year-literary-feud-440035.html]
- Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez. In what the Times of London has called "possibly the most famous literary feud of modern times," these two Latin American novelists, who were at one time close, spent more than 30 years not speaking before Vargas Llosa wrote a prologue for the 40th anniversary edition of García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. The reason for the feud? Reportedly, it had to do with advice García Márquez gave Vargas Llosa's wife -- to divorce her husband after he had taken up with another woman. [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
- Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Melville and Hawthorne were friends for only a couple of years, from 1850, when they met, until 1852, when they stopped corresponding. As to why this was, one possible reason is Hawthorne's inability to get Melville a job with the U.S. government, which, notes the website The Life and Works of Herman Melville, left the Moby-Dick author "embarrassed and chagrined." [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
- Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ivan Turgenev. There was no love lost among these three 19th century Russian giants, despite the fact that they had much in common, aesthetically and politically. According to a 2008 piece in Salon magazine, they spent many years sniping (Dostoevsky satirized Turgenev in his novel The Possessed) -- an enmity that came to a head in 1861 when Tolstoy challenged Turgenev to a duel. [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
- Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. The French poets met in 1871 and became lovers; within a year or so, the relationship grew fraught. In 1873, they reunited in Brussels, but it took only two days before Verlaine bought a gun and got drunk and shot Rimbaud in the wrist. Verlaine was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to a two-year prison term. [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
- Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Even in the early days of their relationship, there was an undertone of suspicion on Kerouac's part; in a 1952 letter, he wrote that Ginsberg should "leave me alone . . . & dont ever darken me again." But in the 1960s, after Kerouac rejected the counterculture that he and Ginsberg had helped create, things turned truly virulent, with the On the Road writer veering into anti-Semitism to denigrate his onetime friend. [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
- Mark Twain vs. Bret Harte. In his autobiography, written four years after Harte's death, Mark Twain characterized Harte and his writing as insincere. He criticized Harte's writing style, accused Harte of borrowing money from his friends with no intent to repay, and claimed the author financially abandoned his wife and children. If you ask me, though, it doesn't really count as a feud if one of the guys is dead and so (presumably) can't defend himself. [SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bret_Harte]
- Mark Twain vs. James Fenimore Cooper. Another more or less one-sided feud, in which Twain skewers Cooper over perceived deficits in the authors' The Deerslayer and the Pathfinder, which he outlines in an essay entitled: "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses". Here's an example: "In one place in Deerslayer, and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks a record." Can't find any record that Cooper retaliated: perhaps he just let the sales of his books - which were HUGE - do the talking for him!
- Salman Rushdie vs. John Updike. In 2006, John Updike panned Rushdie’s novel, Shalimar the Clown, in The New Yorker, asking “Why, oh why did Salman Rushdie, in his new novel call one of his major characters Maximilian Ophuls?'' Rushdie later responded in The Guardian, “Why oh why ...? Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's probably a male prostitute called ‘John Updike’”. He added that Updike's latest novel, Terrorist, was “beyond awful,” and that Updike should “stay in his parochial neighborhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do.” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
- Salman Rushdie vs. John Le Carre. Salman Rushdie has loathed John Le Carré for years, believing that the writer had sided with his enemies following the publication of The Satanic Verses. Le Carré responded, saying: "I never joined his assailants. Nor did I [proclaim] him to be... innocent. My position was that there is no law in life... that says great religions may be insulted with impunity." Rushdie said that anyone who questioned him was an "ignorant, pompous, semi-literate unperson", and had the final word in an exchange of letters in The Guardian. "It's true I did call him a pompous ass, which I thought pretty mild in the circumstances," he said. "'Ignorant' and 'semi-literate' are dunces' caps he has skilfully fitted on his own head. I wouldn't dream of removing them." [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-of-enemies-the-truth-behind-a-30year-literary-feud-440035.html]
- V.S. Naipaul vs. Paul Theroux. The two writers were friends for decades, with Naipaul acting as a mentor to the younger Theroux. But they fell out in 1996 when Theroux discovered through a bookseller’s catalogue that one of his own books, which he had fondly inscribed to Naipaul and his first wife, was being offered for sale for $1,500. Naipaul told Theroux to “take it on the chin and move on”; Theroux didn’t, and went on to write a book, Sir Vidia’s Shadow, in which he described Naipul’s “elevated crankishness.” Later, Theroux denounced Naipaul’s criticisms of E.M. Forster and Keynes as “the sort of explosive abuse you get from someone whose Valium has worn off.” However, this fued may be destined for a happier ending than most: at the Hays Festival in 2011 the two authors are reported to have talked and shaken hands. [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/8545401/Hay-Festival-2011-Handshake-ends-a-famous-literary-feud.html]
- V.S. Naipaul vs. Derek Walcott. In his book, A Writer’s People, Naipaul wrote that Walcott “went stale,” and “exhausted the first flush of his talent.” Walcott then wrote “The Mongoose,” a poem about Naipaul, which begins: “I have been bitten, I must avoid infection/Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction.” A later part asserts: “The plots are forced, the prose sedate and silly/The anti-hero is a prick named Willie.” [SOURCE: http://flavorwire.com/183467/10-notorious-literary-spats/4]
- Tom Wolfe vs. Norman Mailer, John Irving, and John Updike. In 1998, three writers—Mailer, Updike, and Irving—lashed out against Tom Wolfe’s 1998 novel, A Man in Full. "It's like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine. It makes you wince," Irving said. Norman Mailer, writing in The New York Review of Books, compared reading the Wolfe novel to making love to a 300-pound woman: “Once she gets on top it's all over. Fall in love or be asphyxiated.” In his New Yorker review, John Updike wrote that the book “still amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form.” Wolfe lashed out at each in turn, and collectively called his opponents “the Three Stooges.” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
- Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman. The antagonism between author and critic Mary McCarthy and playwright Lillian Hellman is that rare thing—a literary duel between two female writers. In January 1980, as a guest on the Dick Cavett show on PBS, McCarthy called Hellman “a dishonest writer” and claimed that “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” Hellman—a playwright known for melodrama—responded by filing a $2.25 million lawsuit against McCarthy, Cavett, and PBS. The dispute inspired Norman Mailer—an unlikely advocate of peace—to urge Hellman to drop the case. If she won, he warned, “then every American writer will have to feel that much more tongue-tied at daring to criticize another American writer without qualification.” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
- Henry James vs. H.G. Wells. James, revered as the most sensitive of novelists, grew increasingly incensed by the prolific output of H.G. Wells, the ground-breaking writer of science fiction, whom he accused of valuing substance over style. In 1915, Wells published a parody of the master’s long-winded prose and exalted view of literature. A James novel was, he wrote, “like a church lit, but without a congregation to distract you, and with every light and line focused on a high altar, and on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an eggshell, a bit of string…” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
- Charles Dickens vs. William Thackeray. With the 1848 publication of Vanity Fair, Thackeray—previously seen as either a hack or a sentimentalist—was suddenly competition for Dickens, perceived by most as the greatest English novelist. Tension built between the two authors so that when Edmund Yates, a gossip columnist on the staff of Town Talk, attacked Thackeray in his column, Thackeray assumed the assailant was Dickens. The literary quarters of the Garrick Club soon became a war-field and—lest the controversy should blow over—Yates reprinted the correspondence between himself, Thackeray, and Dickens in his magazine for all to read. [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
- Sinclair Lewis vs. Theodore Dreiser. Theodore Dreiser slapped a drunken Sinclair Lewis after Lewis called him a “son of a bitch who stole three thousand words from my wife’s book” at a literary dinner. That slap, fueled not only by alcohol, but Lewis’ suspicion that Dreiser had also slept with his wife, made national headlines. [SOURCE: http://electricliterature.com/blog/tag/literary-feud/]
- Edmund Wilson vs. Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov, author of Lolita, and the critic Edmund Wilson fell out after a quarter-century of close friendship. The dispute hinged on the translation of a phrase in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. The pair met in 1940 in the United States, after Nabokov fled from Paris. Wilson introduced his work to American editors. In their letters they called each other Bunny and Volodya. But when the critic panned Nabokov's Onegin translation, the friendship cooled amidst a public feud. Wilson had also disliked Lolita, a fact that Wilson's biographer Lewis Dabney felt was the real origin of their feud. Nevertheless, Nabokov never badmouthed his old friend, in spite of the dispute. [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-of-enemies-the-truth-behind-a-30year-literary-feud-440035.html]
- C.P. Snow vs. F.R. Leavis. In the 1850s poet C.P. Snow gave a very provocative and well regarded speech known commonly now as the Two Cultures lecture. Never mind what it was about: what you want to know is that, some three years later, famous British literary critic and English educator F.R. Leavis decided to take a blast at Snow’s speech in another noted Cambridge peroration, the Richmond Lecture. In the process, Leavis generated the mid-century equivalent of a spat between Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. The sheer brutality of Leavis’s assault got everybody talking: It spent far more time denigrating Snow personally than it did dismantling his argument. And ironically, it probably only increased Snow’s fame and notoriety, which by this time placed him among Britain’s and the world’s top tier of public intellectuals. [SOURCE: http://www.scienceprogress.org/2009/04/the-science-lover-and-the-snob/]
- Albert Camus vs. Jean-Paul Sartre. Existential death match! The two had a major falling-out over existential philosophy. [SOURCE: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/09/famous-literary-fights_n_820022.html#s236399&title=CS_Lewis_vs]
- Stephen King vs. James Patterson. After accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Booksellers Association, King said of James Patterson, “I don’t like him, I don’t respect his books because every one is the same.” Patterson later replied, “Recently Stephen King commented that he doesn’t have any respect for me. Doesn’t make too much sense — I’m a good dad, a nice husband — my only crime is I’ve sold millions of books.” [SOURCE: http://therumpus.net/2011/06/brush-up-on-your-literary-feuds/]
- Bevis Hillier vs. A.N. Wilson. The feud between rival Betjeman biographers started when Wilson reviewed the second volume of Hillier's three-volume official biography. He called it "a hopeless mish-mash", adding that Hillier wasn't really a writer. One of Hillier's rules in life is: "Who kicks me, gets kicked back." And kick he did, choosing two of Wilson's books as his non-books of the year in The Spectator. One was The Victorians - from which, Hillier pointed out, Wilson had omitted Brunel. The other was Wilson's novel My Name is Legion, which Hillier described as "flabbily plotted". Enraged, Wilson devoted two Daily Telegraph columns to Hillier, one describing him as "old, malignant and pathetic". Wilson then reviewed the third volume of Hillier's Betjeman biography, calling it "naive" and "clumsy". And so on, building to the moment last year when a letter turned up in the Wilson biography purporting to have been written by a mistress of Betjeman's. It was a hoax letter sent to Wilson by Hillier, and the clue lay in the first letter of each sentence. They spelt the message: "AN Wilson is a shit". [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-of-enemies-the-truth-behind-a-30year-literary-feud-440035.html]
If you enjoyed these, check out The 50 Best Author vs. Author Putdowns of All Time. Not all of these erupted into feuds, but most of them should have!