Flaubert Can’t Write: Critics Rip Classic Books

By Chuck Davis

Nobody’s perfect. There’s a story here at  Reader’s Digest about one former editor-in-chief who read the manuscript of Kathryn Hulme’s book The Nun’s Story and declared categorically that there wasn’t a person on the face of the earth who would be interested. It went on to inspire a hugely successful film starring Audrey Hepburn, and it was our most popular title for a span of roughly 40 years.

Of course, critics have been wrong before (and they’ll surely be wrong again). Here’s one of my favorites from an 1867 Atlantic: “It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards.” Ouch!

For more missed calls, check out “‘Fitzgerald Deserves a Good Shaking’: Scathing Reviews of Classic Novels,” a collection of misguided reviews that proves that hindsight really is 20/20.

Plus, more from RD.com: Great Movies that Got Rotten Reviews »