Even some of literature’s most iconic authors were responsible for behavior more befitting a barroom brawl than intellectual provocation. In Writers Gone Wild, Bill Peschel has culled together the most notorious embarrassments, love affairs, and addictions of beloved literary heroes. In honor of the infamous feud that overshadowed recent Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa’s relationship with fellow laureate Gabriel García Márquez for 30 years, here are five other instances where the sword pulverized the less-than-mighty pen.
Marcel Proust versus Jean Lorrain
After journalist Jean Lorrain subtly outed Marcel Proust’s sexuality in a review of Pleasures and Days, the French author challenged his meddling critic to a duel. Although Proust was disappointed that the fight would interfere with his usual sleeping in, the perpetually sickly writer remained otherwise unmoved by the implications of the face-off — especially after it was rescheduled to be held in the afternoon. The shoot out was settled after Proust’s bullet hit the ground and Lorrain missed completely, but Proust later referred to it as one of his best memories.
And the winner is: Proust! Though Lorrain was comfortable with his own public flamboyance, he had no right to spotlight Proust’s secret (especially at a time when being gay could lead to arrest). Proust later parodied his opponent in Remembrance of Things Past as Baron de Charlus.