Monday, August 15, 2011

ROTTEN REVIEWS: A Literary Companion

assume that every writer has read every word of every review, and will never forgive you

This is my selection of "favourites" from Rotten Reviews: A Literary Companion, ed: Bill Henderson (1987), Robert Hale Ltd, London.

On Euripides

A cliche anthologist... and maker of ragamuffin manikins. (Aristophanes, 411 BCE)

On Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant. (Charlotte Bronte, 1848)

I am at a loss to understand why people hold Miss Austen's novels at so high a rate, which seem to me vulgar in tone, sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in the wretched workings of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. The one problem in the mind of the writer... is marriageableness... Suicide is more respectable. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1861)

On Ralph Waldo Emerson

A hoary-headed and toothless baboon. (Thomas Carlyle, 1871)

Belongs to that class of gentleman with whom we have no patience whatever - the mystics for mysticism's sake. (Edgar Allen Poe, 1842)

On Edgar Allen Poe

After reading some of Poe's stories one feels a kind of shock to one's modesty. We require some kind of spiritual ablution to cleanse our minds of his disgusting images. (Leslie Stephen, 1874)

On Ulysses, James Joyce

...a misfire... the book is diffuse. It is brackish, It is pretentious. It is underbred, not only in the obvious but in the literary sense. A first rate writer, I mean, respects writing too much to be tricky. (Virginia Woolf in her diary)

On To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Her work is poetry; it must be judged as poetry, and all the weaknesses of poetry are inherent in it. (New York Evening Post)

On Lives of the English Poets, Samuel Johnson

Johnson wrote the lives of the poets and left out the poets. (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

On Chaucer:

Chaucer, notwithstanding the praises bestowed on him, I think obscene and contemptible; he owes his celebrity merely to his antiquity...  (Lord Byron)

On Edward Gibbon

Gibbon's style is detestable; but (it) is not the worst thing about him. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

On Samuel Taylor Coleridge

We cannot name one considerable poem of his that is likely to remain upon the thresh-floor of fame... We fear we shall seem to our children to have been pigmies, indeed, in intellect, since a man as Coleridge would appear great to us! (London Weekly Review, 1828)

On Moby Dick, Herman Melville

This sea novel is a singular medley of naval observation, magazine article writing, satiric reflection upon the conventionalisms of civilised life, and rhapsody run mad...  (The Spectator)

On Les Fleurs du Mal, Charles Baudelaire

In a hundred years the histories of French literature will only mention (this work) as a curio. (Emile Zola)

On Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert.

Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer. (Le Figaro)

On Paradise Lost, John Milton

I could never read ten lines together without stumbling at some Pedantry that tipped me at once out of Paradise, or even Hell, into the schoolroom, worse than either. (Edward Fitzgerald, 1876)

On Henry James

These people cleared for artistic treatment never make lusty love, never go to angry war, never shout at an election or perspire at poker. (H.G. Wells, 1915)

An idiot, and a Boston idiot to boot, than which there is nothing lower in the world. (H.L. Mencken, The American Scene, 1915)

On Youth and Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

It would be useless to pretend that they can be very widely read. (The Guardian, 1902)

On The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

...leaves one with the feeling that the people it describes really do not matter; one is left at the end with nothing to digest. (New York Times)

On Hemingway

It is of course a commonplace that Hemingway lacks the serene confidence that he is a full-sized man. (Max Eastman, New Republic, 1933)

On Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

An oxymoronic combination of the tough and tender, Of Mice and Men will appeal to sentimental cynics, cynical sentimentalists... Readers less easily thrown off their trolley will still prefer Hans (Christian) Anderson. (Time)

On The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot

Mr Eliot has shown that he can at moments write real blank verse; but that is all. For the rest he has quoted a great deal, he has parodied and imitated. But the parodies are cheap and the imitations inferior.  (New Statesman, 1922)

On Ezra Pound

A village explainer, excellent if you were in a village, but if you were not, not. (Gertrude Stein)

On Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust

My dear fellow, I may perhaps be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep. (Marc Humblot, French editor, rejection letter to Proust, 1912)

On Moses and Monotheism, Sigmund Freud

...poorly written, full of repititions, replete with borrowings from unbelievers, and spoiled by the author's atheistic bias and his flimsy psycho-analytic fancies. (Catholic World)

On A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen

It was as though someone had dramatised the cooking of a Sunday dinner. (Clement Scott, Sporting and Dramatic News, 1889)

On The Birthday Party, Harold Pinter

What all this means only Mr Pinter knows, for as his characters speak in non sequiturs, half-gibberish and lunatic ravings, they are unable to explain their actions, thoughts or feelings. (The Guardian)

On Hamlet, William Shakespeare

It is a vulgar and barbarous drama, which would not be tolerated by the vilest populace of France, or Italy... one would imagine this piece to be the work of a drunken savage. (Voltaire, 1768)

On A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare

The most insipid, ridiculous play I ever saw in my life. (Samuel Pepys, Diary)

On Othello, William Shakespeare

Pure melodrama. There is not a touch of characterisation that goes below the skin. (George Bernard Shaw, 1897)

On Man and Superman, George Bernard Shaw

I think Shaw, on the whole, is more bounder than genius... I couldn't get on with Man and Superman: it disgusted me. (Bertrand Russell)

1 comment:

  1. Tony Morphett asked me to post this on his behalf:

    “The critics? No, I have nothing but compassion for them. How can I hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?” From The Dresser by Ronald Harwood.