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A Room with a Feud

Literary criticism used to be terribly clever and terribly savage.

Photo by Jaredd Craig / Unsplash

Literary criticism used to be terribly clever and terribly savage.

The author notes that it ended recently. She doesn't wonder why. If I had to speculate, it's because literary world leans left (with, however, a meaningful number of exceptions . . . it ain't Hollywood). They hate Trump and Brexit so much, they all consider one another friends. Just my hunch.

Anyway, a few samples from this fun essay.

As the poet and critic Dorothy Parker vaunted, “The first thing I do every morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue,” and she knew the value of acting up to expectations with a delicious barb, quipping that actress Katharine Hepburn “ran the gamut of human emotions all the way from A to B”.

Mary McCarthy said sweepingly of Lillian Hellman, “Every word she writes is a lie, including “and” and “the’.”

Gore Vidal, recalling the precise moment of meeting Truman Capote in Anaïs Nin’s apartment: “My first impression — as I wasn’t wearing my glasses — was that it was a colourful ottoman. When I sat down on it, it squealed. It was Truman.”

Mailer punched Vidal to which Vidal immortally retorted from the carpet, “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer,” while Hemingway gave Wallace Stevens a severe beating for his insults. Richard Ford took such offence to a review by Colson Whitehead that he expectorated into his foe’s face at a party: the literary spat became the literary spit. However, Whitehead had the last word, jocularly warning other reviewers that “they might want to get a rain poncho, in case of inclement Ford.” Ridicule and wit have always been the deadliest weapons in the literary armoury.