The Atlantic has a very entertaining and enlightening slideshow up right now, which is probably the only time I will ever describe an internet slideshow with those words. It takes a look back at some of the harshest reviews given to some of the greatest literature of all time. I suspect the takeaway here for a lot of people is going to be something like “even the greats received their fair share of criticism so go pursue your dreams no matter what anyone says.” (Don’t do that.)
I think it’s more interesting to note that long before the advent of the internet people were already straight trolling:
“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” — Graham’s Lady’s Magazine, 1848 on Wuthering Heights
Yikes. And we thought online bullying was bad now.
In a few cases here, these scathing reviews were actually spot on. Go check out the whole thing here. A few of my favorites below.
This one is on some proto-Twitter burn efficiency.
“It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards.” – Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The Atlantic, “Literature as an Art,” 1867 (Whoops.)
Still, a lot better than the type of thing we might hear today. More like Leaves of Ass, right? LOL.
Hard to argue with this.
“[Ulysses] appears to have been written by a perverted lunatic who has made a speciality of the literature of the latrine… I have no stomach for Ulysses… James Joyce is a writer of talent, but in Ulysses he has ruled out all the elementary decencies of life and dwells appreciatively on things that sniggering louts of schoolboys guffaw about. In addition to this stupid glorification of mere filth, the book suffers from being written in the manner of a demented George Meredith. There are whole chapters of it without any punctuation or other guide to what the writer is really getting at. Two-thirds of it is incoherent, and the passages that are plainly written are devoid of wit, displaying only a coarse salacrity [sic] intended for humour.” — The Sporting Times, 1922
“[American Psycho] is throughout numbingly boring, and for much of the time deeply and extremely disgusting. Not interesting-disgusting, but disgusting-disgusting: sickening, cheaply sensationalist, pointless except as a way of earning its author some money and notoriety.” — Andrew Motion, The Observer, 1991
On Madame Bovary: “Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.” — Le Figaro, 1857.