Literary Feuds

A Century of Celebrated Quarrels--From Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe

Anthony Arthur

Thomas Dunne Books

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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.

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Reviews

Praise for Literary Feuds

"A Liar, a thief, a swindler, a snob, a sot, a sponge, a coward' - thus Mark Twain on Bret Harte, another 19th-century yarn-spinner and his onetime mentor and friend. As with most of the eight quaint and curious dust-ups described in "Literary Feuds," the spit hits the fan because a couple of high-profile writers remember every slight but forget that fame is fleeting. Sensitive, venomous and sometimes irrational, they'll attack even without provocation. When this incident occurred, Twain's star was soaring and Harte was writing copy for soap ads.

Sinclair Lewis took a slap for calling Theodore Dreiser a plagiarist (of a book on Russia by Lewis's wife, Dorothy Thompson), but the subtext was the Nobel Prize for which the two men had been vying just months before. Lewis had won. Mary McCarthy punctured the fragile renown of Lillian Hellman by questioning the elderly memoirist's honesty in a famous line: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.' " Gertrude Stein pricked Ernest Hemingway where it hurt most, calling him a "climber" and a coward. Papa's vicious response came 31 years later in "A Moveable Feast."

The other four bouts offer a feast of invective and ad hominem attack. Vladimir Nabokov ripped into Edmund Wilson for criticizing Nabokov's Pushkin translation. F.R. Leavis buried C.P. Snow over his "two cultures" of science and literature. Writerly rivals early on, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal ended up trading vitriolic squibs because of their Kennedy connections. The old question of popular success and literary merit has a feisty Tom Wolfe dueling with John Updike, as well as Norman Mailer and John Irving.

Anthony Arthur says he has "taught all of the authors discussed here to college students since the 1960s." The touch of a good teacher is evident in his mostly light-handed analysis of the writers' works and quirks and in the way he briskly sets their milieu. His suggestion that the feuds will provide counterpoint to the writings, though, betrays an academic's wishful thinking that readers will be eager to revisit old acquaintances. Not many of these 16 writers are widely read outside the college classroom, but for his engaging diptychs Mr. Arthur should be.

--Jeffrey Burke, Wall Street Journal

"Readable, engaging look at memorable fights among (mostly) 20th-century literary personalities.... an amusing compendium of the vitriol and ego for which our most enduring writers somehow set aside the time."--Kirkus Reviews

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About the Author

Anthony Arthur

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.

Anthony Arthur

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Available Formats and Book Details

Literary Feuds
A Century of Celebrated Quarrels--From Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe
Anthony Arthur

Hardcover

Hardcover
St. Martin's Press
Thomas Dunne Books
December 2002
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780312272098
ISBN10: 031227209X
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 224 pages
$23.95

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
St. Martin's Press
Thomas Dunne Books
December 2002
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9781429970426
ISBN10: 1429970421
224 pages
$7.99
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