No, I’m not going to quote mine. Or the second one. What hurts is that both were from Publishers Weekly but I rationalize that they should never have allowed a man (I’m guessing) to review romance novels. Today, thanks to Mags Storey alerting me to Flavorwire’s article “Fifteen Early Scathing Reviews of Classic Novels,” I can retaliate by quoting a review by PW of the classic novel, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak in 1963: “...illustrations ...are accompanied by a pointless and confusing story.”
The New York Times had more than its share of the fifteen scathing reviews of books now considered classics. Such as:
LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov. 1958. “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.”
ABSALOM, ABSALOM by William Faulkner. “...a penny dreadful tricked up in fancy language....The characters have no magnitude and no meaning because they have no more reality than a mince-pie nightmare.” Clifton Fadiman, 1936.
CATCH 22 by Joseph Heller, 1961. “The book is an emotional hodgepodge.”
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger. 1951. “It’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should have cut out all those jerks... They depress me.”
In 1885 the New York Times published the review of Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN from the Springfield Register, which had stated that its “perusal cannot be anything less than harmful.”
Other reputable reviewers had some not-so-nice comments about books considered “classic,” too.
“It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote LEAVES OF GRASS, only that he did not burn it afterward.“ The Atlantic, 1867.
WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte. “It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” Graham’s Lady’s Magazine. 1848.
“THE GREAT GATSBY is an absurd story...Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking.” Saturday Review, 1925.
MOBY DICK. “If there are any of our readers who wish to find examples of bad rhetoric, involved syntax, stilted sentiment and incoherent English, I...recommend this volume of Mr. Melville’s.” Democratic Review. 1852
MADAME BOVARY. “Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.” Le Figaro 1857.
Now doesn’t that make you feel better? Repeat after me, “Yes, but they could be wrong.”