Writers Discussing Other Writers

From the eccentric to the individualistic, the cool and clever to the wildly anachronistic

Ray Harvey
Lit Up


“Rat-eyed” Virginia Woolf described Somerset Maugham as.

Rat-eyed Somerset

“No man ever put more of his heart and soul into the written word,” Eudora Welty said of William Faulkner.

“Curiously dull, furiously commonplace, and often meaningless,” Alfred Kazin said of William Faulkner.

“Hemingway never climbed out on a limb and never used a word where the reader might check his usage by a dictionary,” William Faulkner said of Ernest Hemingway.

In response to which Ernest Hemingway:

“Does Faulkner really think big emotions come from big words?”

“Dostoievsky’s profound, criminal, saintly face,” observed Thomas Mann, nicely.


“He wore a gray suit, black shoes, white shirt, tie and vest. His appearance never changed. He came down in the morning in his suit, and he would still be wearing it the last thing at night,” said John Huston of John Paul Sartre.

“An illiterate, underbred book,” Virginia Woolf called James Joyce’s Ulysses — which, however, she and her husband Leonard published.

“My literature is pat-ball compared with James Joyce’s champion game,” said Vladimir Nabokov, who in a 1967 interview also said this:

“Ulysses towers over the rest of James Joyce’s writings, and in comparison to its noble originality and unique lucidity of thought and style the unfortunate Finnegans Wake is nothing but a formless and dull mass of phony folklore, a cold pudding of a book, a persistent snore in the next room, most aggravating to the insomniac that I am. Moreover, I always detested regional literature full of quaint old-timers and imitated pronunciation. Finnegans Wake’s façade disguises a very conventional and drab tenement house.”

“One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing,” said Oscar Wilde.

“Reedy and kind,” Truman Capote once described Albert Camus as.

Kind and reedy Camus

“That’s not writing — it’s typing,” Truman Capote said of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road.

“You have written a good book,” Victor Hugo told Gustav Flaubert in a letter, regarding Madame Bovary.

“House of the Dead is Dostoievsky’s best book,” said Tolstoy.

“Written with the imagination of a drunken savage,” Voltaire described Shakespeare’s Hamlet as.

“An amiable barbarian,” Voltaire described William Shakespeare as.

“A damned good poet and a fair critic, but he can kiss my ass as a man,” Ernest Hemingway said of T.S. Eliot.

“I’ve written a wicked book,” Herman Melville said in his euphoric letter to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne on the very night that Melville — after 18 months of relentless, obsessive work, which required a monomania rivaling Captain Ahab’s— completed at last his opus he called Moby Dick. In response to which, Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“What a great book Herman has written!”

“I find it impossible to take him seriously as a major writer and have never ceased to be amazed at the number of people who can,” said Edmund Wilson of Franz Kafka.

“A cursed, conceited, wily heathen,” said Martin Luther of Aristotle.

“He was a bum poet, of course, being a bum person,” Robert Graves said of D.H. Lawrence.

“Philosophy begins with Thales,” said Bertrand Russell.

Thales, on figuring out how to measure the height of the Great Pyramids: “Simply by measuring their shadows precisely when my own shadow matched my height,” Pythagoras said Anaximander said Thales said.

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul. I do not belong to that sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal,” wrote Zora Neale Hurston in reference to herself.

“A tavern chair is the throne of human happiness,” said Samuel Johnson to his friend and biographer James Boswell.

“Disgusting eating habits, there or elsewhere,” James Boswell said of his hero Samuel Johnson.

“I don’t understand them. To me, that’s not literature,” Cormac McCarthy said of Henry James and Marcel Proust.

“Still remembered from antiquity: that Menander was extraordinarily handsome,” wrote David Markson, “and also so famous that even St. Paul quotes Menander in Corinthians 1, 15:33: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’”

Menander: extraordinarily handsome and so famous that he’s quoted by Paul (without attribution) in Corinthians 1

“Anoied. Realy. Excelentely. Expences. Affraid. Cann’t. These being a few of Wittgenstein’s English spelling peculiarities,” wrote Wittgenstein’s friend and literary executor Georg Henrik von Wright.

“A saint and a martyr,” Ezra Pound described Adolph Hitler as.

“A debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic loneliness, and the sort of antic behavior children fall into when they know they are losing our attention,” the New Yorker Magazine described the Joseph Heller novel Catch-22 in 1961, the year that novel was published.

“It is better to copulate than never,” Philip K. Dick said fellow science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein said.

“The greatest lesbian poet since Sappho,” Auden described Rilke as.

Lesbian poet Rainer Rilke

“Like many of us he was rather disgusting
with his deliberate dirtiness, his myopia, his smell,
his undying enmity for unfavorable reviewers,
his stinginess, his coy greed for titles, money, and gowns,
his contempt for Cockneys and Americans,
Sallow, greasy, handsome …” said the poet Karl Shapiro of the poet Lord Alfred Tennyson.

“Johnny Keats’s piss-a-bed poetry,” Lord Byron described it as.

“Unworthy of the poets’ corner of a country newspaper,” William Butler Yeats called the excellent poet Wilfred Owen.

“Too bold, too cold,” Theodore Roethke described Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium.”

“Now Dawn arose from her couch beside the lordly Tithonos, to bear light to the immortals and to the mortal men,” says the opening of Book XI of the Iliad.

“Now Dawn arose from her couch beside the lordly Tithonos, to bear light to the immortals and to the mortal men,” says the opening of book V of the Odyssey.

“It is an aspect of probability that many improbable things will happen,” Aristotle said Agathon said.

“No great talent has ever existed without a tinge of madness,” Seneca said Aristotle said.



Ray Harvey
Lit Up
Editor for

Creative director of all things delightful.