This week, we read a fascinating article in The Atlantic about the “tortured history” of book reviews, and agreed that some of the issues inherent in the form come from the murky provenance of reviewers themselves. But of course, some of the issues come from authors being testy about criticism, or reviewers lashing out where it’s inappropriate. The article got us to thinking about some of our favorite feuds, fights — or in some cases merely ferocious battles of snark — between authors and critics, usually arising from a critic’s comments about an author’s work. Click through to read about a few of our favorites, and let us know if we’ve missed yours in the comments.
Edmund Wilson vs Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov and Wilson (or Volodya and Bunny, as they called each other in letters during their years-long friendship) fell out over Wilson’s negative review of Nabokov’s translation of Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Their relationship, already bruised from Wilson’s chilly response to Lolita (“I like it less than anything else of yours I have read,” Wilson had written to Nabokov. “Nasty subjects may make fine books; but I don’t feel you have got away with this… The various goings-on and the climax at the end…become too absurd or horrible to be tragic, yet remain too unpleasant to be funny.”), hit a wall, as Nabokov struck back, writing that Wilson was a “commonsensical, artless, average reader with a natural vocabulary of, say six hundred basic words.” They didn’t speak again for years.