Famous Literary Truces: Epic Feuds That Fizzled


This week, the literary world was abuzz with the news of the reconciliation of Salman Rushdie and John le Carré after fifteen years of enmity, though we have to admit, we’re a little disappointed. You just don’t get that many good literary feuds these days, what with all the excessive apologizing and proper behavior (or maybe it’s just that there’s not enough drinking), and Rushdie is one of the last living writers ready for a dust-up, even if it’s just with Facebook. Still, we know our mothers would tell us that it’s better to be friends than enemies, so after the jump, we present a short list of famous literary feuds that went sweet and ended in truces. Click through to get the warm and fuzzies, and let us know who we missed in the comments.

Salman Rushdie vs. John le Carré

This feud, which The Guardian has called ”one of the most gloriously vituperative literary feuds of recent times,” goes back a whopping fifteen years, when Rushdie wrote a letter to the British newspaper suggesting that le Carré had no right to complain about being accused of anti-semitism, since he had “rather pompously, joined forces” with Rushdie’s “assailants” in the early struggle over The Satantic Verses. Barbs were exchanged as the writers seethed at each other, but now, it seems they’ve come to a peace agreement.

Last month, Rushdie sang le Carré’s praises at the Cheltenham literature festival, and expressed his regret over the argument. “I wish we hadn’t done it,” he said. “I think of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as one of the great novels of postwar Britain.” Le Carré responded in The Times, saying “I too regret the dispute,” and “if I met Salman tomorrow? I would warmly shake the hand of a brilliant fellow writer.” He also pretty much pats himself on the back for taking his original position, though. Oh well, water under the bridge.

V.S. Naipaul vs. Paul Theroux

Here’s another fifteen-year feud recently put to rest (perhaps they have an expiration date we don’t know about?). The longtime friendship between the two writers hit a bump when Theroux found out that Naipaul had put a lovingly inscribed copy of one of Theroux’s books up for sale online, and his friend told him to “take it on the chin.” (Naipaul, you might remember, is not the nicest man around) Theroux responded in grand form, writing an entire memoir, Sir Vidia’s Shadow, bitterly taking down his former friend. Last year, however, the feud came to a rather polite end, as the pair shook hands nicely at a book festival the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye. The Hay Festival Handshake was a truce heard ’round the world. Naipaul even looks a little touched.

Photo credit: Daniel Mordzinski, via The Telegraph

William Thackeray vs. Charles Dickens

Though often forgotten now, William Thackeray was second in public literary esteem only to Dickens in his day, and though the two were good friends, we’re sure this rankled him a bit. Perhaps that was why he started some nasty rumors about Dickens and sided with his wife after their separation. This coupled with the strain of their literary rivalry led to some critical letters being written back and forth — not between Dickens and Thackeray, but between Dickens’s protégé Edmund Yates and Thackeray. Eventually, the pair had it out at the Garrick Club, where they were both members, and made up shortly before Thackeray’s death.

Vladimir Nabokov vs. Edmund Wilson

Nabokov and Wilson were the best of friends (they even had pet names for each other: Volodya and Bunny), but they fell out over Wilson’s negative review of Nabokov’s translation of Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Their relationship, already bruised from Wilson’s chilly response to Lolita (“I like it less than anything else of yours I have read,” Wilson had written to Nabokov), went under as Nabokov struck back, writing that Wilson was a “commonsensical, artless, average reader with a natural vocabulary of, say six hundred basic words.”

Though the pair did not speak for many years, in 1967, Nabokov recorded an “odd dream” in his diary in which he and his Bunny had a “jocular reconciliation.” In 1971, after hearing that Wilson was ill, Nabokov reached out to his old friend, telling him that he no longer held a “grudge for your incomprehensible incomprehension of Pushkin’s and Nabokov’s Onegin.” Wilson responded in kind, but died the next year.

Gabriel García Márquez vs. Mario Vargas Llosa

See that bruise on Gabriel García Márquez’s face? That was Mario Vargas Llosa’s doing. Their feud lasted longer than many of the others on this list — a whole 30 years. Perhaps that’s what happens when the argument is over someone’s wife and not critical disagreements over soon-to-be-bestsellers. Even so, it was a book that brought them back together — when García Márquez allowed a glowing essay Vargas Llosa had written about One Hundred Years of Solitude to be published in the 40th anniversary edition, the literary world whispered that it meant their (maybe silent, maybe begrudging) reconciliation.

Dale Peck vs. Rick Moody

This one took more than an essay — it took a pie. To the face. In 2002, Dale Peck began his review of Rick Moody’s novel The Black Veil by getting right to the point: “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.” Some bitter back and forth ensued, with other critics weighing in on either side — mostly Moody’s, of course. Peck had a reputation for being a little, shall we say, abrasive. Their feud famously ended six years later with Moody nailing Peck in the face with a pie at a fundraiser, which, we posit here, is the best way a feud has ever been ended.