When we remember renowned authors like Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, or Henry James, we think of the remarkable works of literature they left behind – the author’s personal life and quarrels are usually left out of the picture.
But there’s a lot to be said about the relationships these great authors had, especially with one another. There were many heated exchanges between these literary geniuses, along with displays of childish behavior that are actually quite amusing.
Watch the video below to learn about the top five greatest author feuds, and why the conflicts unfolded in the first place – you’ll be happy you did.
In life, conflict is inevitable. This is especially true when it comes to authors, whose work often serves as an extension of themselves. Here’s our list of the top five greatest author feuds in recent history.
Number five, Henry James versus HG Wells. These two great artists started in good standing. Henry James, older and more established, initially praised HG wells as “the most interesting literary man of his generation.” As time went on, however, James became annoyed with Wells’ journalistic writing style, saying, “so much talent with so little art.”
In 1915, Wells published a satire Boon, in which he parodied James’ writing and depicted a paragraph of his as “a hippopotamus trying to pick up a pea in the corner.” Wells proclaimed that his writings served a purpose, and wasn’t just fluff. James clapped back that writing should be nothing more than an artistic process. Did you get all that? Me, neither. But you can read the full correspondence published in Henry James, A Life in Letters.
Number four, William Faulkner versus Ernest Hemingway in the battle over flowery language. At a lecturer at the University of Mississippi, William Faulkner accused Hemingway of being a coward, saying, “He has no courage. He has never crawled out on a limb. He has never been known to use a word that might cause the reader to check with a dictionary to see if it is properly used.”
Then, Hemingway retorted with, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the $10 words? I know them, all right. But there are older, and simpler, and better words, and those are the ones I use.” The two never met face to face, and neither backed down from their opinions.
Number three, Ernest Hemingway versus Gertrude Stein. Gertrude Stein and Hemingway started out friends in Paris, reliant upon each other for critique and support. But when Hemingway was offended by Stein’s coined term, the lost generation, they quickly became frenemies. A rift developed, and Hemingway left Paris.
Stein published The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, in which he painted quite the nasty portrait of Hemingway. In response, Hemingway wrote in his A Moveable Feast that Stein’s work contained “repetitions that a more conscientious and less lazy writer would have put in the wastebasket.” Sick burn, Ernie. The two never mended their friendship before death.
We can’t believe it either, Owen.
Number two, Norman Mailer versus Gore Vidal. A renowned instigator, Norman Mailer was known for physical altercations with many of his contemporaries, including Gore Vidal. After Vidal gave a bad review of Mailer’s The Prisoner of Sex, they were set to appear together on The Dick Cavett Show. Seconds before going on stage, Mailer assaulted Vidal with a head butt.
Shortly thereafter at a party, Mailer punched Vidal, knocking him to the ground. At this moment, Vidal is famously quoted as saying, “Once again, words fail Norman Mailer.” The two reconciled well before Mailer’s death in 2007. Yay, there is good in this world.
Number one, Mary McCarthy versus Lillian Hellman. Earning the top spot, this feud is one that brought a major lawsuit, illness, bankruptcy, and a Broadway play. In 1979, Dick Cavett asked his guest Mary McCarthy about the authors she felt were overrated. McCarthy called out Lillian Hellman, saying she was a bad writer and a dishonest writer. McCarthy went on. “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”
The next morning, Lillian Hellman filed a lawsuit against McCarthy, Mr. Cavett, and PBS. The lawsuit alone destroyed Mary McCarthy’s finances, and diminished her health. But it never settled, as Hellmann died in 1984. McCarthy announced that she hadn’t wanted her to die, but rather to live so that she could see her lose.
In 2002, the late writer Nora Ephron wrote a musical entitled Imaginary Friends, in which it’s alluded that McCarthy planned the whole stunt on Cavett’s show, but this has never been proven.
Wow. That was enlightening, and maybe a little sad. But when you put yourself out there in any capacity, you’re bound to have haters. So let’s go make a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, celebrate what these authors contributed to society, and remember the words they wrote as examples of passionate lives lived.