Legendary Literary Grudge Matches

Spats and grudge matches among writers are nothing new. Indeed, writers and storytellers have been quarreling with each other and with their audience for as long as humans have been telling stories.

In the online SFF community a fight breaks out every two minutes or so and quite often those fights are replays of similar fights that took place in fanzines of the New Wave era forty years ago and in the letter pages of pulp magazines back in the Golden Age sixty or seventy years ago.

But is it me or have the latest online fights in the SFF community been remarkably content free? A couple of years ago, online flamewars at least erupted over actually relevant topics, whether it was the underrepresentation of women, people of colour, gays and lesbians, etc… in the SFF genre or the eternal SF versus fantasy or genre versus literary debates. The latest go-arounds (nope, I’m not linking to them. I don’t need that sort of ugliness on my doorstep), however, have been mostly very argumentative people calling each other names over things that happened years ago.

And as for argumentative people insulting each other, here are some vintage examples that are much better than the latest livejournal/Dreamwidth dust-up:

Grudge Match 1: Georgette Heyer versus Barbara Cartland

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books points to this post at The Bookseller which offers some excerpts from a new biography of Georgette Heyer in which Heyer offers some zinging takedowns of Barbara Cartland who borrowed a bit too liberally from Heyer’s books to the point of plagiarism. Here’s a choice quote:

[Cartland] displays an abysmal ignorance of her period. Cheek by jowl with some piece of what I should call special knowledge (all of which I can point out in my books), one finds an anachronism so blatant as to show clearly that Miss Cartland knows rather less about the period than the average schoolgirl.

Ouch. There’s a reason why I still love Georgette Heyer (with reservations regarding the stunning anti-semitism in some of her novels), but haven’t been able to stomach Cartland since my late teens.

Grudge Match 2: Ian Fleming versus Ernö Goldfinger

Ernö Goldfinger was a fairly well known British architect of Hungarian origin. He was a proponent of the Brutalist strain of Modernism and built several tower blocks in London in the 1960s and 1970s. Here are some examples of his work. Several of Goldfinger’s tower blocks have been granted protected landmark status by now. They also regularly feature in British films and TV shows. Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower, for example, has appeared in Hustle, 28 Days Later and the video to Oasis’ “Morning Glory”. In fact, I used to call it the Morning Glory building long before I knew its real name.

If you’re familiar with Brutalist architecture in general and British council estates in particular, you know that those places make excellent instant dystopias. I go a bit more into that in this post. So Balfron Tower is an absolute perfect location for a film about the zombie apocalypse and its aftermath like 28 Days Later (I still don’t like that film, however). Just look at that stairwell. It’s obviously infested by zombies.

I initially came across Goldfinger’s name while researching something else and got a bit of amusement over the fact that an architect of London council estates shared a name with a Bond villain. After the whole Fort Knox plot failed, Goldfinger reinvented himself as an architect and started building London council estates. It turned out to be his greatest coup of villainy and this time, not even James Bond could stop him.

What I didn’t know back then, however, was that the name similarity wasn’t a coincidence. Indeed, Ian Fleming explicitly named the Bond villain Auric Goldfinger after Ernö Goldfinger, the architect. Because it turns out that Ian Fleming dislikes Brutalist architecture almost as much as I do. He was particularly annoyed by Ernö Goldfinger planting one of his early works in the middle of Fleming’s neighbourhood in Hampstead.

Now Ian Fleming had the tendency to name characters after people he knew in real life, which is probably a good thing, considering that he came up with Honey Rider, Mary Goodnight and Pussy Galore when he tried to make up names. James Bond himself was named after an ornithologist Fleming met in Jamaica, while Drax, Blofeld and Scaramanga were all named after schoolmates he didn’t like. And Auric Goldfinger was named after Ernö Goldfinger, the architect, whom Fleming couldn’t stand.

True to form, Mr Goldfinger wasn’t at all pleased with lending his name to a Bond villain and threatened to sue, whereupon Fleming graciously offered to change the name of the character to “Goldprick”.

I’m probably a very bad person, but I find that story hysterically funny. And by the way, take a look at this photo of Ernö Goldfinger in front of Balfron Tower. He totally looks like a Bond villain. And this Goldfinger designed travel agency totally looks like a Bond villain’s headquarter.

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