A submarine's deadliest antagonist is another sub. Some of our most illustrious writers have tried their best to sink their enemies, using all the weapons at their command-wit, humor, sarcasm, invective, and the occasional right cross to the jaw. In these eight profiles of quarrels between famous authors, Anthony Arthur draws on a lifetime of reading and teaching their works to describe the feuds as lively duels of strong personalities. Going beyond mere gossip, he provides insights into the issues that provoked...
A submarine's deadliest antagonist is another sub. Some of our most illustrious writers have tried their best to sink their enemies, using all the weapons at their command-wit, humor, sarcasm, invective, and the occasional right cross to the jaw. In these eight profiles of quarrels between famous authors, Anthony Arthur draws on a lifetime of reading and teaching their works to describe the feuds as lively duels of strong personalities. Going beyond mere gossip, he provides insights into the issues that provoked the quarrels-Soviet communism, World War II, and the natural tension between the critical and the creative temperaments among them. The result reads like a collection of short stories, with the featured authors as their own best characters and having the best lines. For example:
--Ernest Hemingway on his one-time friend and tutor: "Gertrude Stein was never crazy/Gertrude Stein was very lazy."
--Sinclair Lewis to Theodore Dreiser "I still say you are a liar and a thief."
--Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman " . . . every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the. ' "
These great writers are a quarrelsome bunch indeed, and these true tales of bookish bickering are guaranteed to enlighten and entertain even the most discriminating literature lovers.
Fulbright scholar Arthur (The Tailor-King; Deliverance at Los Banos) wrote this entertaining compilation of essays to help readers "appreciate and understand [the authors'] work." However, these 20- to 30-page accounts of sparring and enmity between famous, predominantly American authors (e.g., Mark Twain vs. Bret Harte; Ernest Hemingway vs. Gertrude Stein; Tom Wolfe vs. John Updike), although very well written, sometimes seem more like gossip than literary analysis. It would have been more edifying if Arthur had written a detailed, lengthier piece on just one or two of these feuds. He could then have made more detailed reference to the authors' works and expanded on some of the more interesting aspects of his or her work, such as the social climate and cultural milieu in which the authors were living, working, and, of course, arguing. As it stands, Arthur's work will mostly prove useful as a reference for students concurrently studying the works of one or more of the authors discussed. It also provides some useful material for cultural historians interested in the construction and maintenance of celebrity throughout the 20th century. Rebecca Bollen, Jersey City, NJ Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Readable, engaging look at memorable fights among (mostly) 20th-century literary personalities. Fulbright scholar Arthur (The Tailor King, 1999, etc.) maintains a lively enthusiasm in examining conflict among prickly literary lions, believing that these episodes address the "paradoxical relationship between these writers' lives and their works." His eight chapter-length essays also provide a rich background in different literary epochs. Ironically, some feuds grew out of writers' early friendships in their years before fame, as in with Mark Twain and Bret Harte; although Twain was initially indebted to Harte, he turned on his mentor after Harte succumbed to impoverished mediocrity. Similarly, Ernest Hemingway's early expatriate experiences, when he worshipfully attended the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein, were savagely mocked by him once his own fame was established, particularly in response to Stein's cooling on his work. Interestingly, the most genteel clashes recounted here occur over aesthetic and philosophical conflicts (between Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson, and, less strikingly, C.P. Snow and F.R. Leavis), while the most vicious feud replays important political schisms between the Old and New Left, via Lillian Hellman's ill-advised libel suit against Mary McCarthy. Finally, there is the post-1950s free-for-all among privileged white male celebrity writers as Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, John Updike, John Irving, and Tom Wolfe have at it, managing to appear both witty and puerile in their elaborate jousts at one another's expense. Although this is studded with fine-tuned bons mots (as when Vidal opines that to attack Capote is "attacking an elf"), the reader mayfinally agree with Wilson's observation that literary feuds find notable authors at their most "querulous and unattractive." Too, Arthur might have produced a more provocative work had he included more obscure writers and contemporary mud-slingers like Curtis White, Dale Peck, and Francine Prose. Still, for literary enthusiasts, an amusing compendium of the vitriol and ego for which our most enduring writers somehow set aside the time.
Anthony Arthur is a Fulbright Scholar and the author of Deliverance at Los Banos and Bushmaster, both narrative histories of World War II. He is also the author of The Tailor-King: The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster. Anthony Arthur lives in Woodland Hills, California, where for many years he has taught writing and literature at California State University, Northridge.
Partners No More: Mark Twain and Bret Harte
The Boy with the Interested Eyes: Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein
The Slap Heard 'Round the World: Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, and the Nobel Prize
Not Always a "Pleasant Tussle": The Difficult Friendship of Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov
The Battle of the "Two Cultures": C. P. Snow and F. R. Leavis
"Now There's a Play": Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy Les Enfants Terribles: Truman Capote and Gore Vidal
Not-So-Dry Bones: Tom Wolfe, John Updike, and the Perils of Literary Ambition