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Criticisms

  • ... it's an ugly, stupid instant movie [You Are What You Eat] made by people who substitute promotion for talent and technique. It's the aesthetic equivalent of mugging the audience.

  • The movie [Song of Norway] is of an unbelievable badness; it brings back clichés you didn't know you knew — they're practically from the unconscious of moviegoers. You can't get angry at something this stupefying; it seems to have been made by trolls.

  • ... the vacuity of the Ross Hunter-George Seaton ten-million-dollar Airport has the dull innocence of an accounting error.

  • To lambaste a Ross Hunter production is like flogging a sponge.

  • The Way We Were is a fluke — a torpedoed ship full of gaping holes which comes snugly into port.

  • [On John Drinkwater's Abraham Lincoln] This play holds the season's record, thus far, with a run of four evening performances and one matinee. By an odd coincidence, it ran just five performances too many.

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

  • ... this book of essays ... has all the depth and glitter of a worn dime ...

  • [On William Lyon Phelps's Happiness:] It is second only to a rubber duck as the ideal bathtub companion. It may be held in the hand without causing muscular fatigue ... and it may be read through before the water has cooled. And if it slips down the drain pipe, all right, it slips down the drain pipe.

    • Dorothy Parker,
    • "The Professor Goes in for Sweetness and Light," in The New Yorker ()
  • It may be that this autobiography [Aimee Semple McPherson's] is set down in sincerity, frankness, and simple effort. It may be, too, that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario.

    • Dorothy Parker,
    • "Our Lady of the Loudspeaker," in The New Yorker ()
  • [ReviewingThe House at Pooh Corner:] ... Tonstant Weader fwowed up.

  • A list of our authors who have made themselves most beloved and, therefore, most comfortable financially, shows that it is our national joy to mistake for the first-rate, the fecund rate.

    • Dorothy Parker,
    • "And Again, Mr. Sinclair Lewis," in The New Yorker ()
  • Surely, if Mr. Lewis in outlining his plot to some friend, had only said, 'Stop me if you've heard this,' more than two hundred pages of Dodsworth need never have been written.

    • Dorothy Parker,
    • "And Again, Mr. Sinclair Lewis," in The New Yorker ()
  • [On Lou Tellegen's Women Have Been Kind:] The book ... has all the elegance of a quirked little finger and all the glitter of a pair of new rubbers.

  • [On Kay Strozzi in The Silent Witness:] Miss Strozzi ... had the temerity to wear as truly horrible a gown as ever I have seen on the American stage. ... Had she not luckily been strangled by a member of the cast while disporting this garment, I should have fought my way to the stage and done her in, myself.

  • The House Beautiful is the play lousy.

  • [On Edna Ferber's Ice Palace] ... the book, which is going to be a movie, has the plot and characters of a book which is going to be a movie.

  • This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.

    • Dorothy Parker,
    • book review (1930), in Robert E. Drennan, The Algonquin Wits ()
  • [On Katharine Hepburn's stage performance:] She ran the whole gamut of emotions, from A to B.

  • Updike's style is an exquisite blend of Melville and Austen: reading him is like cutting through whale blubber with embroidery scissors.

  • A bad review is even less important than whether it is raining in Patagonia.

  • The 'g' is silent — the only thing about her that is.

  • I wouldn't be worth my salt if I weren't attracting some controversy and criticism. Everyone in the world who has done something in life has attracted criticism.

  • I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.

    • Margaret Thatcher,
    • interview with Enzo Biagi for Italian TV, in The London Daily Telegraph ()
  • ... Mrs. Henry Wood ... is a little too fond of calling in Providence to cut the knot of intrigue with the sword of coincidence ...

  • ... his book ... makes nice reading for people. But what's the use? Except, of course, to kill time for those who prefer it dead.

  • The biggest problem with Bill Schutz's food is his timidity with herbs and spices and some bizarre primeval fear of salt.

    • Marian Burros,
    • "Postmodern and Post-Belgian," in The New York Times ()
  • [Her version of management consultants' evaluation of a symphony orchestra:] 'For considerable periods, the four oboe players had nothing to do. The number should be reduced and the work spread more evenly over the whole orchestra, thus eliminating peaks of activity. No useful purpose is served by repeating on the horns a passage that has already been played on the strings. All twelve of the violins played identical notes. The staff of this section should be drastically cut. It is estimated that if all the redundant passages were eliminated the whole concert time could be reduced to twenty minutes and there would be no need for an interval.'

  • Beware of the man who denounces women writers; / his penis is tiny & cannot spell.

    • Erica Jong,
    • "Seventeen Warnings in Search of a Feminist Poem," Half-Lives ()
  • I praise loudly; I blame softly.

    • Catherine the Great,
    • in A. Lentin, ed., Voltaire and Catherine the Great: Selected Correspondence ()
  • Thine is an oyster knife that hacks and hews — / The rage but not the talent to abuse.

    • Lady Mary Wortley Montagu,
    • "Verses Address'd to the Imitator of Horace" (1733), The Works of the Right Honorable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, vol. 5 ()
  • My dear Smollett ... disgraces his talent by writing those stupid romances called history.

  • Poisinet's verses are like spoiled children — loved only by their father.

  • We read some Coventry Patmore, who is better than one thinks, but not as good as he thinks himself.

  • [On Margot Asquith's autobiography:] Never before or since has any book been so much relished by its author.

  • Mr. Theodore Dreiser's book about himself sounds like nothing but a loud, human purr.

  • Of all false assertions that ever went into the world under the banner of a great name and the mail armor of a well-turned phrase, Locke's comparison of the mind to a blank sheet of paper appears to me among the most untrue.

  • Nowadays people write English as if a rat were caught in the typewriter and they were trying to hit the keys which wouldn't disturb it.

  • Olive Schreiner is less a woman than a geographical fact. Just as one thinks of Egypt as a foreground for the Pyramids, so South Africa seems the setting of that warm, attractive, aggressive personality. Her work is far inferior to her.

  • Miss Heilgers belongs to that school of fiction ... who imagine that by cataloging stimuli one can produce a feeling of stimulation; as though one could convey the joys and miseries of drunkenness by enumerating the public-houses in the Harrow Road.

  • ... his literary manner is terrible. ... He does not so much split his infinitives as disembowel them.

  • [On The Fraud of Feminism by Belfort Bax:] It is written in 'the hope that honest, straightforward men who have been bitten by feminist wiles' — probably a misprint for wives — 'will take a pause and reconsider their position,' and it is one of the most distressing books I have yet endured. It is like answering a call on the telephone and hearing no words but distant shrieks and groans and thuds.

  • [On Van Wyck Brooks:] He fails from sheer excess of the housewifely qualities. He is saving: just as in happier circumstances he would have put every scrap into the stockpot, so now he refuses to throw away the very driest bone of thought, and insists on boiling it up into his mental soup. He is hospitable: the deadest idea does not get turned away from his doorstep. He is cleanly: his bleached, scentless style suggests that he hung out the English language on the line in the dry, pure breezes of Boston before he used it.

  • The Government should prohibit the import of literary pulp as well as wood pulp from Sweden. From that country comes the erotopriggery of Miss Ellen Key, which exhorts women to abandon all personality and creative effort and be but the damp towel to bind round the heated temples of intellectual man. And from that country comes August Strindberg, that unattractive person who was never at his ease except when he was suffering from persecution mania, and who regarded three wives and a few delusions as adequate material for hundreds of plays. And from that country Strindberg constantly comes, and continues to come.

  • Mr. Arnold Bennett feels he has ranked himself for ever as a dry wine by what he mixed with himself of Maupassant; nevertheless he has put on the market some grocer's Sauterne in the form of several novels that are highly sentimental so far as their fundamental balance of values is concerned.

  • ... one of Mr. [Thomas] Hardy's ancestors must have married a weeping willow. There are pages and pages in his collected poems which are simply plain narratives in ballad form of how an unenjoyable time was had by all.

    • Rebecca West,
    • "Two Kinds of Memory," The Strange Necessity ()
  • ... we arrive, shaken as if we had been traveling on a springless cart, at the final sentence, which is as reelingly off the perpendicular of accuracy as all the rest.

    • Rebecca West,
    • "The Long Chain of Criticism," The Strange Necessity ()
  • [On Jane Austen:] To believe her limited in range because she was harmonious in method is as sensible as to imagine that when the Atlantic Ocean is as smooth as a mill-pond it shrinks to the size of a mill-pond.

    • Rebecca West,
    • "The Long Chain of Criticism," The Strange Necessity ()
  • [On Frances Newman:] ... she employs Matthew Arnold's trick of using a phrase again and again and again, till it accumulates significance like a snowball.

    • Rebecca West,
    • "Battlefield and Sky," The Strange Necessity ()
  • In trying to understand the appeal of best-sellers, it is well to remember that whistles can be made sounding certain notes which are clearly audible to dogs and other of the lower animals, though man is incapable of hearing them.

    • Rebecca West,
    • "The Tosh Horse," The Strange Necessity ()
  • The French use cooking as a means of self-expression, and this meal perfectly represented the personality of a cook who had spent the morning resting her unwashed chin on the edge of a tureen, pondering whether she should end her life immediately by plunging her head into her abominable soup ...

    • Rebecca West,
    • "Increase and Multiply," Ending in Earnest ()
  • Lunch was not good. ... There was trout beside which I felt young and innocent; veal the condition of which was inexplicable unless it had spent its lifetime competing in six-day bicycle races; the spinach was a dark offense. Apart from the culinary malpractices, there was that in the restaurant which gave me a temporary dislike for life.

    • Rebecca West,
    • "Increase and Multiply," Ending in Earnest ()
  • ... Ibsen cried out for ideas for the same reason that men call out for water, because he had not got any.

  • His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.

    • Mae West,
    • in Belle of the Nineties ()
  • Mr. [Aldous] Huxley has been the alarming young man for a long time, a sort of perpetual clever nephew who can be relied on to flutter the lunch party. Whatever will he say next? How does he think of those things? He has been deplored once or twice, but feeling is in his favor: he is steadily read. He is at once the truly clever person and the stupid person's idea of the clever person; he is expected to be relentless, to administer intellectual shocks.

  • [On Lillian Hellman:] Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • televised interview with Dick Cavett (1980), in Carol Gelderman, Conversations With Mary McCarthy ()
  • I detest that woman more than anybody I know. She can put a whole sermon, text, comment, and application, into six words, and throw it at you like a brick.

  • I see — she's the original good time that was had by all.

    • Bette Davis,
    • in Leslie Halliwell, The Filmgoer's Book of Quotes ()
  • The critics could never mortify me out of heart — because I love poetry for its own sake, — and, tho' with no stoicism and some ambition, care more for my poems than for my poetic reputation.

  • Look at Senator Helms's comments. ... They prove that the senator speaks his mind, and that he is not working with much when he does so.

  • ... the more humdrum aspects of life do not make for gripping reading. To render them compelling, a writer must describe the universal in eloquent and evocative prose. Alas, Frey's writing suggests that this was not an option, and he came up with something else.

  • ... he chaws more than he bites off.

    • Clover Adams,
    • letter to her father (1881), on Henry James, in Natalie Dykstra, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life ()
  • Her style, also, is eminently terse and epigrammatic. Praise, which always has a tendency to weak diffuseness, would not suit it; therefore she is sparing of the holy, consecrating oil, and, even if she does anoint the head, by no means allows any to run down the beard, much less to reach the skirts of the clothing.

  • It was in Poland, where he was a diplomat and she was lecturing, that they originally met: one catches faint nuances of 'Darling, they're playing our country' whenever the place is mentioned.

  • [On Malcolm Muggeridge:] He thinks he was knocked off his horse by God, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus. His critics think he simply fell off it from old age.

  • Most people are so hard to please that if they met God, they'd probably say yes, she's great, but ...

  • ... she has not even a natural good voice to excuse her miserable performance; on the contrary, it is a croak, a squeak, and Nature has been as little her friend as Art has been her assistant.

    • Fanny Burney,
    • 1777, in Annie Raine Ellis, ed., The Early Diary of Frances Burney, vol. 2 ()
  • [On Helen Reddy:] She ought to be arrested for loitering in front of an orchestra.

  • The non-review is essentially a reflexive, not a reflective form. It can be readily identified by its tendency to emphasize the reviewer rather than the book under review. ... once the non-reviewer had discovered what sweet music could be made by blowing his own horn, the form continued its development as a wind instrument for self-enunciation, played every day of the week and con brio on Sundays.

  • [On the son of Rebecca West and H.G. Wells:] Anthony West ... looks very like his father, but is much more gracious — he could hardly be less.

  • If only her brain worked as well as her jaws.

  • ... when you were quite a little boy somebody ought to have said 'hush' just once!

    • Mrs. Patrick Campbell,
    • letter to George Bernard Shaw (1912), in Alan Dent, ed., Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell ()
  • Lillian Gish may be a charming person, but she is not Ophelia. She comes on stage as if she had been sent for to sew rings on the new curtains.

  • Tallulah [Bankhead] is always skating on thin ice. Everyone wants to be there when it breaks.

  • [On David Lloyd George:] He couldn't see a belt without hitting below it.

    • Margot Asquith,
    • in Mark Bonham Carter, ed., The Autobiography of Margot Asquith ()
  • ... his ordinary dinner-table conversation is nothing but one long series of playful digs or open wisecracks at almost anybody who happens to be of a different class, race, or nationality — or even sex — from his own. He has a very amusing turn of phrase, and he is the sort of man whose remarks get repeated and probably exaggerated. And after a bit I found myself wishing to goodness that he would find some other subject to be funny about, rather than the superficial differences between one lot of human beings and another.

    • Jan Struther,
    • "The Weather of the World," A Pocketful of Pebbles ()
  • [On Esther Williams:] Wet she's a star, dry she ain't.

    • Fanny Brice,
    • in Sheilah Graham, Hollywood Revisited ()
  • [On the music of Richard Strauss:] Too many notes!

  • [On Portnoy's Complaint:] Every time you turn the page, this guy is masturbating! I think Philip Roth is a good writer but I wouldn't want to shake hands with him.

  • When a man is attacked in print, it's usually for saying what he says; when a woman is attacked in print, it's often for being who she is.

  • Miss Sitwell is so skillful and so dazzling that she almost persuades us that spiritual intensity follows upon verbal intensity, which may or may not be true.

  • The ass of Balaam had at least the faculty of perceiving spirits, while some of those who bray in our academies and hospitals show no evidence of its possession. Sad degeneration of species!

  • [The play] 'Yang Zen Froggs' is so rambunctious and odd it's like trying to describe Man Ray to your dog.

  • Her singing was mutiny on the high C's.

    • Hedda Hopper,
    • in John Robert Colombo, Popcorn in Paradise ()
  • [On Vice-President Henry A. Wallace:] Much of what Mr. Wallace calls his global thinking is, no matter how you slice it, still globaloney.

  • ... all that time hanging around the sets, watching Norma Shearer make the most of her three expressions, was a help.

    • Joan Crawford,
    • in Roy Newquist, Conversations With Joan Crawford ()
  • [On Cleopatra:] At best a major disappointment, at worst an extravagant exercise in tedium.

  • 'A man's way of loving is so different from a woman's,' sighed Anna. 'There ain't nothing,' said Mrs. Grimmage, 'there ain't nothing that makes them so sulky and turns them against you so soon as saying anything like that.'

  • When you talk yourself, you think how witty, how original, how acute you are; but when another does so, you are very apt to think only — What a crib from Rochefoucauld!

  • [To her English publishers, enclosing a copy of the much-handsomer U.S. edition of her book:] As the cock said to the hens when he showed them an ostrich egg, 'I am not disparaging; I am not criticizing. I merely bring to your attention what is being done elsewhere.'

  • Dougan uses many words where few would do, as if pleonasm were a way of wringing every possibility out of the material he has, and stretching sentences a form of spreading the word.

  • When table utensils were invented in the 1100s, the Catholic Church condemned them as obscene and heretical, claiming, 'God gave us fingers with which to eat.' And we're supposed to get politically discouraged? Oh please. We're being opposed by people who denounced the fork.

  • Napoleon had the bad taste to put on the Tuileries the inscription 'La République Française.' Madame de Staël observed that in this he acted like a bad painter, who writes under his picture 'Ceci est un lion.'

  • It is a long, nervous, chaotic book, aiming at the sky but seldom hitting anything higher than a tree.

  • Stravinsky's Cantata for mezzo-soprano, tenor, women's choir and five instruments, based on Tudor verses, is a mercilessly dull, wholly unleavened essay in boredom ... a triumph of musical vacuity over the literary vigor of its text ... The most invigorating sound I heard was a restive neighbor winding his watch.

    • Mildred Norton,
    • in Nicolas Slonimsky, Lexicon of Musical Invective ()
  • She ... even aspired to the character of authoress, having actually perpetrated a sonnet to the moon, which sonnet, contrary to the well-known recipe of Boileau and the ordinary practice of all nations, contained eighteen lines, four quatrains and a couplet; a prodigality of words which the fair poetess endeavored to counterbalance by a corresponding sparingness of idea.

  • I do not think very highly of Madame D'Arblay's books. The style is so strutting. She does so stalk about on Dr. Johnson's old stilts.

    • Mary Russell Mitford,
    • 1819, in the Reverend A.G. L'Estrange, ed., The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, vol. 2 ()
  • I wonder by what accident Miss Seward came by her fame. Setting aside her pedantry and presumption, there is no poet male or female who ever clothed so few ideas in so many words.

    • Mary Russell Mitford,
    • 1818, in Henry Chorley, ed., Letters of Mary Russell Mitford, 2nd series, vol. 1 ()
  • [To Stoyan Pribicevic on his review of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon in the Nation:] The trouble about you, my lad, is that you are beautiful but dumb. Your review shows that you did not understand a page of my book.

    • Rebecca West,
    • 1945, in Bonnie Kime Scott, ed., Selected Letters of Rebecca West ()
  • [On John Cowper Powys' Wolf Solent:] ... there is a curious film of dirtiness over the whole book, which one can't explain. I am sure as a boy he never washed his hands, but drank ink and kept mice in his pockets.

    • Edith Sitwell,
    • 1935, in John Lehmann and Derek Parker, eds., Selected Letters ()
  • Virginia Woolf, I enjoyed talking to her, but thought nothing of her writing. I considered her 'a beautiful little knitter.'

    • Edith Sitwell,
    • 1955, in John Lehmann and Derek Parker, eds., Selected Letters ()
  • [On the film 'Anything Goes':] Obviously.

  • To say Agatha [Christie]'s characters are cardboard cut-outs in an insult to cardboard.

  • [On Vice President Dan Quayle:] He seems like an average type of man. He's not, like, smart. I'm not trying to bag on him or anything, but he has the same mentality I have — and I'm in the eighth grade.

  • [On the movie "American Hot Wax:] A plot so thin you could thread a needle with it.

  • [On husband James:] I've always told him he should give up writing and take up singing.

    • Nora Joyce,
    • in Brenda Maddox, Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom ()
  • [To her husband James:] Why don't you write sensible books that people can understand?

    • Nora Joyce,
    • in Brenda Maddox, Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom ()
  • [Referring to M.M. Jaye's The Far Pavilions:] One of those big, fat paperbacks, intended to while away a monsoon or two, which, if thrown with a good overarm action, will bring a water buffalo to its knees.

  • [On the premiere of a dull show:] I've seen more excitement at the opening of an umbrella.

  • ... they're the sort of people one invites to lunch or tea, but never to dinner.

  • [On Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl:] ... the entire crew were working like dogs to make the star look good in her first picture, and she treated them like ants trying to get into her lunch.

  • I have never known my husband to approve any act of mine which I myself valued.

  • [On Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo:] There is something to be said for the uncompromising idiocy of the film, but that something is unprintable.

  • [On James Thurber's editorship of The New Yorker:] It always seems to be the same old story about somebody's childhood in Pakistan.

  • [On Graham Greene's A Burnt-Out Case:] I sometimes wish that Mr. Greene had not joined the church quite so vehemently.

  • Hemingway has an unerring sense of selection. He discards details with a magnificent lavishness; he keeps his words to their short path. His is, as any reader knows, a dangerous influence. The simple thing he does looks so easy to do.

  • [On Fannie Hurst's Back Pay:] The stage hands had to keep sweeping up periodic sentences, so that they wouldn't clutter up the wings and the actors climbed laboriously over stacks of similes every time they made an entrance or an exit.

  • [To a woman who congratulated Ilka Chase on her biography, Past Imperfect, saying 'I enjoyed it! Who wrote it?']: Darling! I'm so glad you liked it. Who read it to you?

    • Ilka Chase,
    • in Walter Winchell, syndicated column ()