Literary Rivals: Feuds and Antagonisms in the World of Books

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Why did differing opinions lead to the cessation of letters between former confidants Amis and Larkin? How did Hemingway use and abuse Stein's artistic circle in Paris? What American literary ambition spawned brutal competition between Capote and Vidal? From Tolstoy's deferred duelling and Dostoevsky's defamatory fiction, to J. Squire's qualms with modernism and Salman Rushdie's run-in with Islam, Literary Rivals is an enjoyable romp through the world of the fiercest writers' rivalries and the most bizarre literary stand-offs.

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Bill Bryson. George Orwell. William Shakespeare. The Odyssey. The Three Theban Plays. On Writing.

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Stephen King. Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin. Alan Bennett. On Writers and Writing. Margaret Atwood. Othello: The Oxford Shakespeare. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. When they met in , they were mutually enamoured as poets and radicals. Their historic collaboration on the Lyrical Ballads kicked off the Romantic movement. But the very qualities that attracted them to each other soon began to drive them apart.

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One delightfully bitchy story he recounts is the battle between Bevis Hillier and AN Wilson in the s. Feuds are more entertaining than friendships. Among the repeating patterns in his book, though, are the fraternal literary twins who eventually turn on each other; the writers who complement and complete each other until one must break away; and the novelists who compete ferociously in the marketplace of fiction and ideas, but then join up to form a profitable team of rivals.

Bradford does, however, see a difference between British and American literary rivalries: the Americans compete to write the Great American Novel and aggressively take on the talent in the room, while the British hide their ambitions under satire and conceal their jealousy beneath humour. While Bradford mentions the quarrel between Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul, he omits a number of the most heavily publicised recent feuds between living writers. For Lodge, the contretemps ironically mirrored the subject matter of his novel Author, Author—the competition between James and his close friend George Du Maurier.

On the other hand, confessing professional antagonism can be a form of self-promotion. His only example of feuding women writers is the well-known legal case of Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellman. If Bradford knew more about women writers, he could cite many more precedents. Elizabeth Robins was among the 19th-century British novelists who took shots at the to them infuriating eminence of George Eliot.

Jo retaliates by letting Amy skate on thin ice and nearly drown. The most effective recent literary feud in the US was the attack launched by best-selling commercial novelists Jennifer Weiner and Jody Picoult against the gendered double standards of reviewing. Nevertheless, writers today are less likely to engage in open antagonism because the political risks are too great. Between trolls on Twitter, libel law and the pressures of political correctness, writers no longer dare to insult their rivals in the hyperbolically abusive terms that Mailer and Vidal favoured.

Richard Bradford might see this as a loss to letters. And Bradford has stepped up to fill it. Forgotten password? We'll even send you our e-book— Writing with punch —with some of the finest writing from the Prospect archive, at no extra cost! Subscribe Now Subscribe Now.


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