Friday, October 20, 2006

More classic insults - Artists and writers being bitchy to each other

What is it about clever put-downs that we enjoy so much? My favourite reviews are those where a book or film gets horribly, but cleverly, panned. ‘The Worst Sex Writing Award’ is essential reading, as is the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Award. Does it have something to do with our inferiority complexes and pandering to our ‘delusions of adequacy’? (*)

Or is it just me?

Anyway, here’s a new list of insults that is bound to raise and smile and have you thinking, ‘I wish I'd said that.’ The list has been cobbled together from great names in the arts and literary world. You could say that this is part 2 of an earlier post on classic insults.

(*)"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr

She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.
Dorothy Parker, speaking of Katharine Hepburn

I must say Bernard Shaw is greatly improved by music.
T. S. Eliot referring to 'My Fair Lady'

The best time I ever had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down the stairs in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"
Bette Davis

Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it's because I'm not a bitch. Maybe that's why Miss Crawford always plays ladies.
Bette Davis

I really enjoy his stage directions... He uses the English language like a truncheon.
Max Beerbohm on George Bernard Shaw

To me Edith looks like something that would eat its young.
Dorothy Parker on Dame Edith Evans

Two things should be cut - the second act and the child's throat.
Noel Coward on a dull play with an annoying child star

As for M. Cezanne, his name will be forever linked with the most memorable artistic joke of the last fifteen years.
Camille Mauclair on Paul Cezanne

His pictures seem to resemble not pictures but a sample book of patterns of linoleum.
Cyril Asquith on Paul Klee

My dear Whistler, you leave your pictures in such a sketchy, unfinished state. Why don't you ever finish them?
Frederic Leighton on James McNeil Whistler

I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public's face.
John Ruskin on James McNeil Whistler

Of course we all know that Morris was a wonderful all-round man, but the act of walking round him has always tired me.
Max Beerbohm on William Morris

Daubaway Weirdsley.
Punch (February 1895) on Aubrey Beardsley

A monstrous orchid.
Oscar Wilde on Aubrey Beardsley

Anton Bruckner wrote the same symphony nine times (ten actually), trying to get it right. He failed.
Edward Abbey on Anton Bruckner

By God no, if it had been, I should have run away myself.
The Duke of Wellington replying to a question from the Russian ambassador on whether Beethoven's Battle Symphony was like the actual battle of Waterloo

Go here to see if you agree with the Duke of Wellington.

I liked your opera. I think I will set it to music.
Ludwig van Beethoven to a fellow composer

It's bad when they don't perform your operas - but when they do, it's far worse.
Camille Saint-Saens on Dame Ethel Smyth

Listening to the Fifth Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams is like staring at a cow for forty-five minutes.
Aaron Copland on Ralph Vaughan Williams

After Rossini dies, who will there be to promote his music?
Richard Wagner on Gioacchino Rossini

Wagner has beautiful moments but awful quarter hours.
Gioacchino Rossini on Richard Wagner

I like Wagner's music better than any other music. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without people hearing what one says. That is a great advantage.
Oscar Wilde on Richard Wagner

Is Wagner actually a man? Is he not rather a disease? Everything he touches falls ill: he has made music sick.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche on Richard Wagner

I can't listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.
Woody Allen on Richard Wagner

We invite people like that to tea, but we don't marry them.
Lady Chetwode on her future son-in-law, John Betjeman

Here lies my wife. Here let her lie! Now she's at rest, And so am I.
John Dryden (proposed) 'Epitaph for his Wife'

There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope.
Oscar Wilde on Alexander Pope

Mr Eliot is at times an excellent poet and has arrived at the supreme Eminence among English critics largely through disguising himself as a corpse.
Ezra Pound on T. S. Eliot

I don't think Robert Browning was very good in bed. His wife probably didn't care for him very much. He snored and had fantasies about twelve-year-old girls.
W. H. Auden on Robert Browning

He walked as if he had fouled his small clothes and looks as if he smelt it.
Christopher Smart on Thomas Gray

He has plenty of music in him, but he cannot get it out.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson on Robert Browning

the slave ship
It resembles a tortoiseshell cat having a fit in a plate of tomatoes.
Mark Twain on J. M. W. Turner's The Slave Ship'

Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good.
Samuel Johnson (attributed)

Gibbon's style is detestable; but it is not the worst thing about him.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Edward Gibbon

w h audenAn unmanly sort of man whose love-life seems to have been largely confined to crying in laps and playing mouse.
W. H. Auden on Edgar Allan Poe

"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."
Book review by Dorothy Parker

Mr. Huxley is perhaps one of those people who have to perpetrate thirty bad novels before producing a good one.
TS Elliot On Aldous Huxley

That's not writing; That's typing.
Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac

The affair between Margot Asquith and Margot Asquith will live as one of the prettiest love stories in all literature.
Dorothy Parker

... a flabby lemon and pink giant, who hung his mouth open as though he were an animal at the zoo inviting buns - especially when the ladies were present.
Wyndham Lewis on Ford Madox Ford

[A book by Henry James] is like a church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an eggshell, a bit of string.
H. G. Wells on Henry James

A louse in the locks of literature.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson on critic Churton Collins

Lytton StracheyOscar WildeGeorge Bernard ShawAubrey Beardsley

He has the most remarkable and seductive genius - and I should say about the smallest in the world.
Lytton Strachey on Max Beerbohm

Tell me, when you're alone with Max, does he take off his face and reveal his mask?
Oscar Wilde on Max Beerbohm

He is a shallow, affected, self-conscious fribble.
Vita Sackville-West on Max Beerbohm

She looked like Lady Chatterley above the waist and the gamekeeper below.
Cyril Connolly on Vita Sackville-West

Never have I read such tosh. As for the first two chapters, we will let them pass, but the third, the
fourth the fifth the sixth - merely the scratchings of pimples on the body of the boot-boy at Claridges.
Virginia Woolf on James Joyce's Ulysses

... stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind.
D. H. Lawrence on James Joyce

edith sitwellMr Lawrence looked like a plaster gnome on a stone toadstool in some suburban garden ... he looked as if he had just returned from spending an uncomfortable night in a very dark cave.
Dame Edith Sitwell on D. H. Lawrence

I loathe you. You revolt me stewing in your consumption... the Italians were quite right to have nothing to do with you. You are a loathsome reptile - I hope you die.
D. H. Lawrence to Katherine Mansfield

E. M. Forster never gets any further than warming the teapot. He's a rare fine hand at that. Feel this teapot. Is it not beautifully warm? Yes, but there ain't going to be no tea.
Katherine Mansfield on E. M. Forster

He is a mediocre man - and knows it, or suspects it, which is worse; he will come to no good, and in the meantime he's treated rudely by waiters and is not really admired even by the middle-class dowagers.
Lytton Strachey on E. M. Forster

He is limp and milder than the breath of a cow.
Virginia Woolf on E. M. Forster

Virginia Woolf s writing is no more than glamorous knitting. I believe she must have a pattern somewhere.
Dame Edith Sitwell on Virginia Woolf

He would not hlow his nose without moralising on the conditions in the handkerchief industry.
Cyril Connolly on George Orwell

Henry James had turned his back on one of the great events in the world's history, the rise of the United States, in order to report tittle-tattle at tea parties in English country houses.
W. Somerset Maugham on Henry James

Henry James has a mind - a sensibility -so fine that no mere idea could ever penetrate it.
T. S. Eliot on Henry James

I'm sure the poor woman meant well, but I wish she'd stick to recreating the glory that was Greece and not muck about with dear old modern homos.
Noel Coward on Mary Renault, known for her historical fiction about Ancient Greece

Monsieur Zola is determined to show that if he has not genius he can at least be dull.
Oscar Wilde on Emile Zola

Oscar Wilde's talent seems to me to be essentially rootless, something growing in glass on a little water.
George Moore

What a tiresome, affected sod.
Noel Coward on Oscar Wilde

The stupid person's idea of the clever person.
Elizabeth Bowen in the Spectator (1936) on Aldous Huxley

Waldo is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death.
Saki (H. H. Munro) on Ralph Waldo Emerson

And, although the best insults seem to come from the past, just to show you that a classic one can come from the present, here's one that is hot off the press:

I try to maintain a relationship with language and style; Woodward doesn't care. His writing is almost unreadable. His book is much harder to read than it must have been to write.
Christopher Hitchens about Bob Woodward's new book, 'State of Denial'

Forget the first two sentences, the last one is a true classic!

13 Comments:

Blogger Ben said...

"That's not writing; That's typing" - ouch!

Lots of Lawrence / Woolf related quotes too - good to see, the Modernists were good for a jibe at each other...

3:10 am  
Blogger Caroline said...

Some of those insults sound like compliments to me... especially:

"My dear Whistler, you leave your pictures in such a sketchy, unfinished state. Why don't you ever finish them?"

But then an overfinished picture is much worse to me... and many a modern artist would be likely to use


"a tortoiseshell cat having a fit in a plate of tomatoes."

as a title...

and my favourite is:

"The stupid person's idea of the clever person."

Great posting!

Or would you prefer an invented insult?

What a load of slobbering drivel; like the rheum of a disintegrating mind oozing out of all orifices.

;-)

8:34 am  
Anonymous nyasha said...

at least they put some thought into the insults back in the days... posh and even witty. There is no texture to today's verbal catfights...
btw, i love the William Turner painting you posted. One of my favourite painters.

9:52 am  
Blogger Guyana-Gyal said...

Those were the days When Insult Was In Flower [there's a book with that name].

2:10 pm  
Anonymous Peter said...

I assume you're familiar with the Lexicon of Musical Invective?

One of my favorites: "The Russian heart may be a dark place, but its capacity for mercy is infinite." - NY Times reviewer James Huneker, describing Prokofiev's refusal to play an encore of his First Piano Concerto

9:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dorothy Parker was asked to say something witty about "horticulture" on the spot, and she said, "You can lead a whore to culture, but you cannot make her think."

5:33 pm  
Anonymous loudcloud said...

it's a riot and quite delicious to read snarky/snide remarks. hahaha.

my all-time favorite came from an anonymous and frustrated book borrower.

in the book's dedication page the author writes: "to mom, who patiently and lovingly taught me how to read."

the wicked borrower scribbled under it: "but, alas, not how to write!"

touche!

9:05 pm  
Anonymous Mike said...

I always liked Wilde and Whistler's exchange. Whistler had just made some witty comment at a dinner party and Wilde said something like, "God, I wish I'd said that." To which Whistler retorted, "You will Oscar, you will."

7:27 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A theatre critic once said of an actor in a historical play 'X played The King as if someone was about to play the ace'.

10:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frederic Leighton (to James McNeill Whistler): My dear Whistler, you leave your pictures in such a sketchy, unfinished state. Why don't you ever finish them?

James McNeill Whistler, (in reply): My dear Leighton, why do you ever begin yours?

8:14 pm  
Anonymous pharmacy said...

Great post!

11:30 pm  
Anonymous Jedidiah said...

So, I don't actually believe this will have effect.
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3:12 pm  
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12:55 am  

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