15 Times Famous Authors Got Extremely Shady About Classic Books

by Charlotte Ahlin

When we talk about "classic literature" we tend to act as if "the classics" are a clearly defined group of books. We go about as though everyone sees the literary merit of these classic books, with the exception of the occasional, sulky high school student. But the so-called classic novels have actually inspired some controversy over the years. A lot of controversy, in fact. Mostly from other writers (who better equipped, after all, to eloquently hate on a piece of writing?). Here are a few of the many times that famous authors have dissed the great works of literature, because there's no accounting for taste.

Now, of course, some of these literary giants were simply jealous of each other. Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, for example, loved to trade petty insults at every opportunity. But some of these authors took it upon themselves to slam classic works by long-dead authors, deride the popular fiction of their day, and just generally be snotty about the rest of the literary world. If nothing else, know that if you find yourself rolling your eyes at a work of classic literature, you're not alone. And if you see your favorite book getting dragged by one of your favorite authors... well, just going on reading what you like to read, anyway:


Truman Capote on ‘On the Road’

Famously, author Truman Capote was not such a fan of Jack Kerouac's Beat Generation epic. The book was too disjointed for his taste. Or, as he put it, "None of these people [in the Beat Generation] have anything interesting to say, and none of them can write, not even Mr. Kerouac. It's not writing, it's typing."

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Dorothy Parker on ‘Winnie the Pooh’

Poor Pooh Bear. Not only was he constantly getting stuck in various small spaces, he was also getting dragged by Dorothy Parker in her New Yorker column:

“‘Tiddely what?’ said Piglet.' (He took, as you might say, the very words out of your correspondent’s mouth.)
‘Pom,’ said Pooh. ‘I put that in to make it more 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."

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Mark Twain on ‘Pride and Prejudice’

Mark Twain was not Team Darcy. He was pretty open about hating Pride and Prejudice with a passion: "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 beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

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Charlotte Brontë on ‘Emma’

Jane Austen just can't catch a break. Charlotte Brontë was also an outspoken critic of Austen, finding her books to be somewhat lacking in emotion: "I have likewise read one of Miss Austen’s works — Emma — read it with interest and with just the right degree of admiration which the Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable. Anything like warmth or enthusiasm—anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works... Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible (not senseless) woman. If this is heresy, I cannot help it."

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Virginia Woolf on ‘Ulysses’

Virginia Woolf didn't much care for James Joyce's magnum opus. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that, "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely. . ."

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David Foster Wallace on ‘American Psycho’

Author David Foster Wallace actually found American Psycho far too dark for his own taste, saying that the book "panders shamelessly to the audience's sadism for a while, but by the end it's clear that the sadism's real object is the reader herself... Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it'd find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend Psycho as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it's no more than that."

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George Bernard Shaw on ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’

Even William Shakespeare has his fair share of haters. Playwright George Bernard Shaw was a noted critic of the Bard: "The intensity of my impatience with him occasionally reaches such a pitch, that it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him, knowing as I do how incapable he and his worshippers are of understanding any less obvious form of indignity."

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H.L. Mencken on ‘The Great Gatsby’

If you hated reading The Great Gatsby in school, critic H.L. Mencken is on your side with this sexist and fat-shaming review: "Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that. The scene is the Long Island that hangs precariously on the edges of the New York City trash dumps—the Long Island of the gandy villas and bawdy house parties. The theme is the old one of a romantic and preposterous love—the ancient fidelis ad urnum motif reduced to a macabre humor. The principal personage is a bounder typical of those parts—a fellow who seems to know every one and yet remains unknown to all—a young man with a great deal of mysterious money, the tastes of a movie actor and, under it all, the simple sentimentality of a somewhat sclerotic fat woman."

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Cyril Connolly on ‘1984’

Writer and critic Cyril Connolly was none too impressed with Orwell's politically charged literature, saying of the author: "He could not blow his nose without moralising on the state of the handkerchief industry."

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Tom Stoppard on ‘The Collected Works of Bertolt Brecht’

Tom Stoppard managed to hate on both the playwright Bertolt Brecht and poor Pooh bear when he said, "Personally I would rather have written Winnie-the-Pooh than the collected works of Brecht."

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Elizabeth Bishop on ‘Seymour - An Introduction'

Elizabeth Bishop's feelings about J.D. Salinger are probably relatable for a lot of Enlgish students: "I HATED the Salinger story. It took me days to go through it, gingerly, a page at a time, and blushing with embarrassment for him every ridiculous sentence of the way. How can they let him do it? That horrible self-consciousness, every sentence comments on itself and comments on itself commenting on itself, and I think it was actually supposed to be funny."

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Vladimir Nabokov on ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’

Vladimir Nabokov didn't even bother remembering the name of Hemingway's famous novel when he gave his opinion on it: "I read him for the first time in the early Forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it."

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Katherine Mansfield on ‘Howards End’

Katherine Mansfield thought that Howards End was, categorically, "not good enough." She also said that, "E.M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea."

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Martin Amis on ‘Don Quixote’

Martin Amis found the classic adventure of Don Quixote quite tedious, to say the least: "Reading Don Quixote can be compared to an indefinite visit from your most impossible senior relative, with all his pranks, dirty habits, unstoppable reminiscences, and terrible cronies. When the experience is over, and the old boy checks out at last (on page 846 – the prose wedged tight, with no breaks for dialogue), you will shed tears all right: not tears of relief but tears of pride. You made it, despite all that Don Quixote could do."

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Harold Bloom on ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'

Of all the Harry Potter haters out there, few have been as famous or as angry as Harold Bloom: "How to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone? Why, very quickly, to begin with, perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do."

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