7 Famous Author Feuds
Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Andersen via Getty Images
No matter which popular author you disdain, you're bound to find yourself in good company: There's no love lost between these writers.
1. Gore Vidal vs. Norman Mailer
The infamous feud started when Vidal compared Mailer to Charles Manson. When Mailer later punched Vidal at a party, Vidal still had the wherewithal to zing his enemy, saying, “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer.” Here they are flinging barbs back and forth on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. Mailer had headbutted Vidal backstage.
2. Bret Easton Ellis vs. David Foster Wallace
Using all three of your names apparently isn’t enough to provide an writerly bond, because Easton Ellis posted a whole slew of angry insults about the deceased Foster Wallace on his Twitter feed in 2012. A few of the gems:
Saint David Foster Wallace: a generation trying to read him feels smart about themselves which is part of the whole bullshit package. Fools.
David Foster Wallace carried around a literary pretentiousness that made me embarrassed to have any kind of ties to the publishing scene…
DFW is the best example of a contemporary male writer lusting for a kind of awful greatness that he simply wasn’t able to achieve. A fraud.
But Foster Wallace didn’t care much for Easton Ellis, either. In his 1988 essay “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young,” Foster Wallace sort of rolled his eyes at the younger author:
The attitude betrayed is similar to that of lightweight neo-classicals who felt that to be non-vulgar was not just a requirement but an assurance of value, or of insecure scholars who confuse obscurity with profundity. And it’s just about as annoying.
3. Salman Rushdie vs. John Updike
Things got a little heated between Rushdie and Updike in 2006 when Updike reviewed Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown, saying, “Why, oh why, did Salman Rushdie ... call one of his major characters Maximilian Ophuls?”
''A name is just a name,'' Rushdie later said. “‘Why oh why’ ...?' Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's probably a male prostitute called 'John Updike.'”
He went on to say that Updike’s then-latest novel, Terrorist, was “beyond awful. He should stay in his parochial neighborhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do.''
4. Henry James vs. H.G. Wells
Once good friends, Wells understandably got a little upset when his pal listed him among authors he considered to be producing “affluents turbid and unrestrained.” Wells responded by referring to James as a “painful hippopotamus,” and after that, the duo sent nasty (but beautifully written) letters back and forth.
5. Joseph Conrad vs. D.H. Lawrence
"D.H. Lawrence had started well, but had gone wrong. Filth. Nothing but obscenities," Conrad once said of Lawrence. And this was before Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover! Conrad didn't seem to like many of his contemporaries, actually—he said George Meredith's characters felt "ten feet high" and Herman Melville "knew nothing of the sea."
Lawrence disagreed. "[Melville's] vision is . . . far sounder than Joseph Conrad's, because Melville doesn't sentimentalize the ocean and the sea's unfortunates. Snivel in a wet handy like Lord Jim." He added that pessimism "pervades all Conrad and such folks—the Writers among the Ruins. I can't forgive Conrad for being so sad and giving in."
6. John Keats vs. Lord Byron
"You speak of Lord Byron and me," Keats wrote to his brother in 1819. "There is this great difference between us. He describes what he sees—I describe what I imagine—Mine is the hardest task."
Scholars agree that Keats felt the rivalry more than Byron—Byron mostly seemed to be annoyed that the two of them were even mentioned in the same breath. He even managed to convey a rolling of his eyes when he wrote to John Murray in 1821 to confirm Keats' death:
Is it true - what Shelley writes me that poor John Keats died at Rome of the Quarterly Review? I am very sorry for it - though I think he took the wrong line as a poet - and was spoilt by Cockneyfying and Suburbing - and versifying Tooke's Pantheon and Lempriere's Dictionary. - I know by experience that a savage review is Hemlock to a sucking author - and the one on me - (which produced the English Bards &c.) knocked me down - but I got up again. - Instead of bursting a blood-vessel - I drank three bottles of claret - and began an answer - finding that there was nothing in the Article for which I could lawfully knock Jeffrey on the head in an honourable way.
7. Charles Dickens vs. Hans Christian Andersen
This celebrated literary pair met just once, but it was more than enough for Dickens. In 1857, Andersen, a longtime Dickens fan, managed to finagle an invitation to his hero’s estate in Gad’s Hill. While Andersen was positively enamored—“Dickens is one of the most amiable men that I know, and possesses as much heart as intellect,” he wrote—the feeling was anything but mutual. Before the Danish author had even set foot in the country, Dickens was already ridiculing his visitor. “He speaks no language but his own Danish, and is suspected of not even knowing that,” he told a friend.
The actual visit didn’t go much better. You know that old saying about houseguests and fish? Apparently Andersen didn’t. Instead of staying a week, as originally intended, Andersen stayed for five. When he finally left, Dickens pinned a note up in the guest room. It read, “Hans Christian Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seems to the family AGES!” They never met again, and Dickens eventually refused to correspond at all.