Bad Blurbs, Gather'd Together

Leaves of Grass -- "Walt Whitman is as unacquainted with art as a hog is with mathematics. His poems, we must call them so for convenience, resemble nothing so much as the war-cry of the red Indians . . . or rather, perhaps, this Walt Whitman reminds us of Caliban flinging down his logs, and setting himself to write a poem."

       London Critic, 1855

Poems of Emily Dickinson -- ". . . for the most part the ideas [in Miss Dickinson's book] totter and toddle, not having learned to walk. In spite of this, several of the quatrains are curiously touching, they have such a pathetic air of yearning to be poems."

       Atlantic Monthly, 1892

Huckleberry Finn -- "If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses, he had best stop writing for them."

       Louisa May Alcott, member,
       Concord Library Committee that banned Twain's novel (1885)

"Daisy Miller" -- "There are many ladies in and around New York today who feel very indignant with Mr. James for his portrait of Daisy Miller, and declare it is shameful to give foreigners so untrue a portrait of an American girl."

       The New York Times, 1879

"The Awakening is too strong drink for moral babes, and should be labeled 'poison.'"

       St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1899

". . . 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

"The Yellow Wallpaper" -- "Dear Madam, [I'm rejecting your story because] I could not forgive myself if I made others as miserable as I have made myself [by reading it]."

       H.E. Scudder, Editor, Atlantic Monthly

Red Badge of Courage -- ". . . [Crane's novel] is a piece of intended realism based entirely on unreality. The book is a vicious satire upon American soldiers and American armies. . . . Respect for our own people should have prevented its issue in this country."

       Gen. Alexander McClurg,
       letter to the Dial, 1896

Sister Carrie -- "A volume containing a terrible warning to men and one that women had better not read is Sister Carrie."

       Chicago Advance, 1907

The Waste Land -- "Mr. Eliot has shown that he can at moments write real blank verse; but that is all. For the rest he has quoted a great deal, he has parodied and imitated. But the parodies are cheap and the imitations inferior."

       New Statesman, 1922

Harmonium -- ". . . lacking the spell of any emotion, Harmonium loses both itself and its audience. It has much for the eye, something for the ear, but nothing for that central hunger which is at the heart of all the senses."

       Louis Untermeyer, Yale Review, 1922

The Sun Also Rises -- "[Hemingway's novel] leaves one with the feeling that the people it describes really do not matter; one is left at the end with nothing to digest."

       New York Times, 1926

The Sound and the Fury -- ". . . the chief indictment against the modernists is their utmost complete lack of communication. Under this indictment young Mr. Faulkner must fall. His novel tells us nothing. . . . It is so much sound and fury -- signifying nothing."

       Providence Sunday Journal, 1929

The Grapes of Wrath -- KANSAS CITY, Aug. 19 (AP)–The Board of Education removed John Steinbeck's novel "Grapes of Wrath" from the Public Library after Ira S. Gardner, a member, declared it "indecent." . . .

       The New York Times, 19 August 1929

BAKERSFIELD, Calif., Aug. 22 (AP)–Mapping a State-wide ban on John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" in schools and libraries, the Associated Farmers of Kern County urged all organizations in the San Joaquin Valley today to approve an interdiction ordered by the Kern Board of Supervisors. . . . Other groups indicated that they will join in the fight on the book now being led by the farmers . . .

       The New York Times, 23 August 1929

Their Eyes Were Watching God -- "Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in her work the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theatre, that is, the minstrel technique that makes the 'white folks' laugh. . . . her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought."

       Richard Wright, New Masses, 1937

Howl -- "[Ginsberg's poem] is a weak imitation of a form that was used eighty or ninety years ago by Walt Whitman." -- Prof. David Kirk

"You feel like you are going through the gutter when you have to read that stuff. . . . I didn't linger on it too long, I assure you." -- Miss Gail Potter

       Expert Prosecution Witnesses in the
       obscenity trial of Howl, 1954

Life Studies -- "Lazy and anecdotal, [Lowell's poetry] is more suited as an appendix to some snobbish society magazine, to Town and Country or Harper's Bazaar, rather than as purposeful work."

       Hudson Review, 1959


THANKS: Stephen Cushman, Charles Wright


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