This post is reblogged entirely from its original as a Publishers Weekly article, available here.
A quarter century ago, Pushcart editor Bill Henderson put together Rotten Reviews Redux, a collection of the meanest and most scathing reviews of classic books and the writers who penned them. The vitriol returns in a 2012 edition of the book with a new introduction from Henderson. We sorted through the book to find 13 of our favorites.
“That this book is strong and that Miss Chopin has a keen knowledge of certain phrases of the feminine will not be denied. But it was not necessary for a writer of so great refinement and poetic grace to enter the overworked field of sex fiction.” –Chicago Times Herald, 1899, on The Awakening by Kate Chopin
“Here all the faults of Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë) are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read.” -James Lorimer, North British Review, 1847, on Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
“That a book like this could be written–published here–sold, presumably over the counters, leaves one questioning the ethical and moral standards…there is a place for the exploration of abnormalities that does not lie in the public domain. Any librarian surely will question this for anything but the closed shelves. Any bookseller should be very sure that he knows in advance that he is selling very literate pornography.” –Kirkus Reviews, 1958, on Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
“Its ethics are frankly pagan.” –The Independent, 1935, on Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
“Middlemarch is a treasure-house of details, but it is an indifferent whole.” -Henry James, Galaxy, 1872, on Middlemarch by George Eliot
“At a conservative estimate, one million dollars will be spent by American readers for this book. They will get for their money 34 pages of permanent value. These 34 pages tell of a massacre happening in a little Spanish town in the early days of the Civil War…Mr. Hemingway: please publish the massacre scene separately, and then forget For Whom the Bell Tolls; please leave stories of the Spanish Civil War to Malraux…” –Commonweal, 1940, on For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
“Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.” –Le Figaro, 1857, on Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
There’s hope for us all!