Ernest Hemingway clocking Wallace Stevens. Verlaine shooting Rimbaud. Norman Mailer head-butting Gore Vidal. There’s nothing like reading about writers for whom words just aren’t enough. Even Thought Catalog, the ever-narcissistic barometer of our still-young decade, has begged for more blood, goading today's writers to "replace tweets with kidney punches."
Sending authors on book tours? Yawn. Throwing authors into a steel cage for a straight-up Raw is War-style rumble royale? To quote the late Randy Macho Man Savage, "OOOOH YEAH!" So who should get in the ring?
1. Joyce v. Woolf
First up, the man with a pirate’s eye-patch, and the woman who reduced him to “a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.” Let's remember their handicaps: Joyce depended on his wife to help transcribe Finnegans Wake, while Woolf alternately adored and detested her husband. Neither of them was known for being particularly strong, but they both won their fair share of quarrels. In spite of Woolf’s brilliance and formidability, I think Joyce’s familial reliance on liquid courage would be a deciding factor; there’s no way stream-of-consciousness could ward off a drunken uppercut.
2. Austen v. Brontë
The viral video Jane Austen's Fight Club has already hinted at what this fracas would look like. But who wins? There’s no question Charlotte Brontë knew how to inject testosterone into her books: she published under the masculine pseudonym Currer Bell. But she only wrote four novels compared to Stone Cold Jane Austen’s six. All the same, Charlotte wrote about a woman who struggled to gain authority and power despite the men in her life, while Austen’s women are more content to offer scathing commentary about their neighbors. It's close, but my money’s on Charlotte for putting the "brawn" in "Brawn-të."
3. Sontag v. Didion
Instead of a hermeneutics, we need an erotics of writerly takedowns. This is a purely theoretical fistfight, though, since Ms. Sontag has passed away, and Ms. Didion (generously described by Tom Brokaw as “physically frail”) has insisted that working at a typewriter is “the only aggressive act I have, it’s the only way I can be aggressive.” I’m seeing this as a David-and-Goliath thing; I’m sure a typewriter isn’t the only thing Joan Didion could wrap her hands around. I’d bet my collection of signed first editions that Didion would give Sontag a year of magical PAIN!
4. Franzen v. Foer
I don’t usually think of hipster types as being well-suited to the steel cage, but I could picture these two Jonathans facing off. The giant glasses take onthe slim glasses. One writes panoramic bestsellers chronicling America; the other pokes and prods at his words for literary and visual effect. They’ve both been criticized for being overly sentimental, even in stories about typefaces. I think Franzen would be in better shape to fight, but they’d probably just sit, look at each other, and breathe world-weary sighs at an audience that would rather pay to see them manhandle each other than create vivid, complex characters mirroring our lives. I predict a mutual forfeit and at least one thrown cup of pinot grigio.
5. Tolstoy v. Dostoyevsky
Ladbrokes would go insane with this one. The Millions has already asked eight experts to weigh in. The two authors boast doorstops—The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace—that blew away any other competition. The strange thing is, despite living at the same time, they were only in the same building once, and Dostoyevsky regretted that they never met. So who would win? From the pictures, neither of them seems to have been a hale and hearty fellow, although Tolstoy's military career might give him a slight leg up. Both have impressive beards. I could see them deciding to form a tag team, or perhaps signing up with the underrated Bolsheviks.