Virginia Woolf, as near as I can tell, never finished what is widely considered one of the greatest novels ever written. Tom Eliot had been praising it to the skies, and maybe, she says, that is why she admittedly approached Ulysses with a chip on her shoulder. Then she had trouble getting into it, and was put off by the bodily functions, and ultimately decided that a writer shouldn’t have to resort to ‘tricks’ the way Joyce does. Virginia Woolf doesn’t use tricks?
At Gertrude Stein’s artistic gatherings, if you mentioned James Joyce you would be ignored for the rest of the evening. If somehow you were invited back and made the same faux pas again, you would cease to exist for good.
We writers do have such fragile egos, and the competition for readers is fierce. If I were trying to reinvent literature at the same time that Joyce was, I would have been nervous, too.
One person who managed to be friends with both Joyce and Stein was, of all people, Earnest Hemingway, possibly because his writing was so different from theirs that nobody felt threatened. Then in A Movable Feast he went and cut Joyce down to size, and aired, rather primly for such a he-writer, Stein’s dirty linen. He also said some snide things about John Dos Passos, and did a full-out character assassination on Scott Fitzgerald.
What writer did ‘Papa” Hemingay actually admit was worth reading? Turgenyev.
What group of writers, much more so than her fellow Bloomsberries, does Woolf single out for lavish praise? The Russians.
One might conclude that it’s easier to see another writer’s genius from a distance, and easiest of all if the other writer is safely dead.