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35 Author-On-Author Put-Downs

35 Author-On-Author Put-Downs

35 Author-On-Author Put-Downs
Danielle de Wolfe
28 October 2014

In the old days before Twitter and the invention of pop music, all celebrities were intellectuals. If you were in the public eye for something other than politics or murdering someone, it was probably because you'd written a best-selling novel.

Of course, authors are notorious narcissists, unable to accept criticism but perfectly able to dish it out. As our gallery shows, they love nothing more than a good slanging match. Preferably in public.

Turns out that boffins do the best insults...

(All images: Rex)



Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac

“That’s not writing, that’s typing.”


John Irving on Tom Wolfe

“It’s like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine.”


Noel Coward on Oscar Wilde

“Am reading more of Oscar Wilde. What a tiresome, affected sod.”


Gore Vidal on Truman Capote

“Capote I truly loathed. The way you might loathe an animal. A filthy animal that has found its way into the house.”


Vladimir Nabokov on Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Dostoevsky’s lack of taste, his monotonous dealings with persons suffering with pre-Freudian complexes, the way he has of wallowing in the tragic misadventures of human dignity — all this is difficult to admire.”


Virginia Woolf on James Joyce

“I finished Ulysses and think it is a mis-fire. Genius it has, I think; but of the inferior water. The book is diffuse. It is brackish. It is pretentious. It is underbred.”


Norman Mailer on Tom Wolfe

“There is something silly about a man who wears a white suit all the time, especially in New York.”


John Updike on Tom Wolfe

“It’s entertainment, not literature.”


Tom Wolfe on Norman Mailer and John Updike

“[They're] two old piles of bones.”


Virginia Woolf on Aldous Huxley

“All raw, uncooked, protesting.”


H.G. Wells on George Bernard Shaw

“An idiot child screaming in a hospital.” 


Lord Byron on John Keats

“No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don’t I must skin him myself: there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.”


Norman Mailer on Jack Kerouac

“Kerouac lacks discipline, intelligence, honesty and a sense of the novel. His rhythms are erratic, his sense of character is nil, and he is as pretentious as a rich whore, sentimental as a lollypop.”


Charlotte Brontë on Anne Brontë

“‘Wildfell Hall’ is hardly desirable to preserve.”

The Brontë sisters, left to right - Charlotte, Emily and Anne.


D.H. Lawrence on Herman Melville

“Nobody can be more clownish, more clumsy and sententiously in bad taste than Herman Melville.”



Henry James on Edgar Allan Poe

“An enthusiasm for Poe is a mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.”


Virginia Woolf on Henry James

“I am reading Henry James… and feel myself as one entombed in a block of smooth amber.”


Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman

“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’.”



Joseph Conrad on D.H. Lawrence

“Filth. Nothing but obscenities.”


Bret Easton Ellis on David Foster Wallace

“Saint David Foster Wallace: a generation trying to read him feels smart about themselves which is part of the whole bullshit package.”


Mark Twain on James Fenimore Cooper

“There are a lot of daring people in the world who claimed that Cooper could write English, but they’re all dead now.”


William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”



Toby Young on JK Rowling

“[The Harry Potter] books are a bland amalgam of more interesting work by more imaginative authors. The plots are feeble and episodic. And what little interest the characters and stories contain has long ago been eradicated by endless repetition.”


Stephen King on JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer

“The difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephanie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”


Stephen King on James Patterson

“A terrible writer but he’s very successful.”


Ruth Rendell on Agatha Christie

“To say that Agatha Christie’s characters are cardboard cut-outs is an insult to cardboard cut-outs.”



Gertrude Stein on Ezra Pound

“A village explainer. Excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not.”


Norman Mailer On J.D. Salinger

“I seem to be alone in finding him no more than the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school.”


Martin Amis on Anthony Burgess

“He went home, did the kitchen, spring-cleaned the flat, wrote two book reviews, a flute concerto and a film treatment, knocked off his gardening column for Pravda, phoned in his surfing page to the Sydney Morning Herald, and then test-drove a kidney dialysis machine for El Pais before settling down to some serious work.”


Dylan Thomas on Rudyard Kipling

“Mr. Kipling stands for everything in this cankered world which I would wish were otherwise.”


Gustave Flaubert on Honoré de Balzac

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


Gore Vidal on Truman Capote (again)

“He’s a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.”



Evelyn Waugh on Marcel Proust

“I am reading Proust for the first time. Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective.”



William Faulkner on Mark Twain

“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe.”


D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce

“My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalist dirty-mindedness.”