When writers attack

We at Jot 101 are always looking for new examples of bilious, scornful or downright libellous remarks. A number of collections have been scoured and selections made, but in Matthew Parris’s Scorn with extra bile ( 1998) we seem to have found a truly impressive collection of insults, including a very well known one from my own uncle, the first Baron Riddlesden ( aka Denis Healey ).

Some of the better insults are, alas, too long for inclusion, but here are some by writers that are equally entertaining, but pithier. There is also a hilarious semi-parody of the somewhat overrated children’s writer A.A. Milne by Dorothy Parker (photo above).

…an umbrella left behind at a picnic.

George Moore on W. B. Yeats.

A church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an eggshell, a bit of string.

H.G. Wells on a book by Henry James.

A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tried out a few of the old proven ‘ sure-fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

William Faulkner on Mark Twain

I wish her characters would talk a little less like the heroes and heroines of police reports

George Eliot on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and necklaces of romanticist clichés.

Vladimir Nabokov on Joseph Conrad

Tell me, when you are alone with Max, does he take off his face and reveal his mask ?

Oscar Wilde on Max Beerbohm.

He is limp and damp and milder than the breath of a cow.

Virginia Woolf on E. M. Forster.

I thought nothing of her writing. I considered her a beautiful little knitter.

Dame Edith Sitwell on Virginia Woolf.

Mr Lawrence looks like a plaster gnome on a stone toadstool in some suburban garden…he looks as if he had just returned from spending an uncomfortable night in a very dark cave.

Dame Edith Sitwell on D. H. Lawrence.

She had been a very peculiar kind of snob without really belonging to a social group with whom to be snobbish.

Edmund Wilson on Virginia Woolf.

So you’ve been reviewing Edith Sitwell’s last piece of virgin dung, have you ? Isn’t she a poisonous thing of a woman, lying, concealing, flipping, plagiarizing, misquoting, and being as clever a crooked literary publicist as ever.

Dylan Thomas on Edith Sitwell

You could tell by his conversation with volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica he’d been reading. One day it would be Alps, Andes and Apennines, and the next would be 

The Himalayas and the Hippocratic Oath.

Bertrand Russell on Aldous Huxley.

Reading Proust is like bathing in someone else’s dirty water.

Alexander Woollcott on Marcel Proust. Attrib.

Monsieur Zola is determined to show that if he has not genius he can at least be dull.

Oscar Wilde.

Authors are easy to get on with—if you’re fond of children.

Michael Joseph, publisher.

‘ That’s a very good idea, Piglet’, said Pooh. ‘We’ll practise it now as we go along. But it’s no good going home to practise it, because it’s a special Outdoor Song Which Has To Be Sung In the Snow.’

‘Are you sure?, asked Piglet anxiously.

‘Well, you’ll see, Piglet, when you listen. Because this is how it begins. The more it Snows-tiddely-pom—‘

Tiddely what? said Piglet.

( He took, as you might say, the words out of your correspondent’s mouth.)

‘Pom!’ said Pooh. ‘I put it in to make it hummy.’

And it is that word ‘hummy’, my darlings, that marks the first place in ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ at which Tonstant Weader Fwowed up.

Dorothy Parker on The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne, ‘ Constant Reader’ review in the New Yorker.

Oh for the Hour of Herod.

Anthony Hope Hawkins on Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

The covers of this book are too far apart.

Ambrose Bierce, review.

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what he feels about dogs.

Christopher Hampton  

Donkeyosities, egotistical earthworms, hogwashing hooligans, critic cads, random hacks of illiteration, talent wipers of wormy order, the gas-bag section, poking hounds, poisonous apes, maggoty numbskulls, evil-minded snapshots of spleen and , worst of all, the mushroom class of idiots.

Amanda McKittrick Ros on her critics.

It is only fair to Allen Ginsberg to remark on the utter lack decorum of any kind in his dreadful little volume. Howl is meant to be a noun, but |I can’t help taking it as an imperative.

John Hollander on Howl by Allen Ginsberg in the Partisan Review.


To be continued.

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