Literary Feuds: A Long & Rancorous History

Illustration of the duel that killed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin via WikiCommons

Illustration of the duel that killed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin via WikiCommons

Another of English literature’s enduring feuds has ended. Indian-Caribbean novelist VS Naipaul and cantankerous travel writer Paul Theroux finally put aside their synonyms for ‘hostility’ after 15 years when they bumped into each other in the green room at a Hay Festival event. A sharp-eyed bystander caught the longish handshake on video. The Guardian reports Theroux was with Ian McEwan when he spotted Naipaul. McEwan said, “Life is short. You should say hello.” Later, Naipaul commented, “He gave his name, it was a great courtesy. If he hadn’t I would have wondered ‘who is this person who is shaking my hand?’”

The report then goes on to list some other famous writerly feuds: Rushdie v le Carré, Amis v Tibor Fischer, Naipaul again v Derek Walcott. A little more googling reveals that feuding is a belle-lettrist tradition that spreads far beyond the UK. Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson came to loathe one another despite previously being fast friends after Wilson reviewed a Nabokov novel less than fulsomely. In true Latin American style, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa haven’t spoken in three decades over a woman. Truman Capote dismissed Jack Kerouac’s work as mere typing, while Ernest Hemingway wrote thinly veiled fiction portraying F. Scott Fitzgerald as an effete, whining dipsomaniac. But wait, there’s more. Much more.

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