“Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking.”
Literature, like any form of art, is interpreted subjectively. That’s what makes it so fun to talk about, and that’s why blogs like this are a pleasure to write.
The problem comes, at least for this blogger, when you say you dislike a novel that everyone else likes. How dare you cross the literary gods and goddesses and express your unfavorable opinion of a classic novel? For shame.
When a novel first comes out, though, early reviewers don’t have that luxury—or that obstacle, depending on how you see it. If you’re the first reviewer of a book, you have zero bias and zero preconceived notions about it.
No one has told you whether it was amazing or whether it sucks. So, more than likely, you’re just honest. But if your honesty results in you writing the only critical review of a novel that is widely adored, well, then your review will stick out like a sore thumb.
Like these examples of early reviews of classic novels that Flavor Wire recently provided:
Lolita: “There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive.” — Orville Prescott, The New York Times, 1958
Lolita is a lot of things, but dull is not one of them.
Leaves of Grass: “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, 1867
Man, that’s harsh.
Wuthering Heights: “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
Is this person actually suggesting Emily Bronte commit suicide? Oh dear.
Catch-22: “Its author, Joseph Heller, is like a brilliant painter who decides to throw all the ideas in his sketchbooks onto one canvas, relying on their charm and shock to compensate for the lack of design… The book is an emotional hodgepodge; no mood is sustained long enough to register for more than a chapter.” — Richard G. Stern, The New York Times Book Review, 1961
This is just heresy.
The Great Gatsby: “Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking. Here is an unmistakable talent unashamed of making itself a motley to the view. The Great Gatsby is an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” — L.P Hartley, The Saturday Review, 1925
Heresy again, although the “Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking” line is pretty funny.
Ulysses: “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.” — The Sporting Times, 1922
Ulysses as bathroom reading is an interesting idea. I prefer sports magazines.
The Catcher in the Rye: “This Salinger, he’s a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me.” — James Stern, The New York Times, 1951
Well, now, how dare Salinger depress YOU of all people.
Madame Bovary: “Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.” — Le Figaro, 1857.
Could there be a worse accusation of an author?
Whether you love or hate these books, how awesome are those reviews?
Disagree with them…or dare you agree with one of these scathing reviews?