Top 10 Feuds in Books
1. Paradise Lost by John Milton
The mother of all feuds: God v Satan and his rebel angels who would rather rule in hell then serve in heaven. This is arguably the greatest poem in the English language, though it fails in its stated purpose to “justify the ways of God to man”. The bad boy is the star here: eloquent, headstrong, and compelling. Milton’s God, by contrast, is legalistic, domineering and dry as dust.
You can’t discuss feuds without a nod to the Montagues and Capulets. The teen romance in Romeo and Juliet is, let’s face it, a little hokey. Shakespeare’s depiction of two families allowing old grudges to destroy their own children, on the other hand, is visceral. The spat in Milton’s Paradise Lost is a bit too highbrow to get worked up about, but this one is a kick to the gut.
3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Feuders have more than a whiff of religious fanaticism about them, and Melville’s Captain Ahab is one of the fiercest in literature. His pursuit of the whale to avenge the loss of his leg (an injury he’s convinced was wilfully inflicted by Moby Dick) becomes an all-consuming madness. And Ahab has the seductive gifts of a fundamentalist preacher, leading even the most level-headed and sane among his crew to adopt the madness as their own. Thar she blows!
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The real monster in Shelley’s novel is the scientist, Victor Frankenstein, who believes himself capable of creating and controlling life itself. When his creation turns on the creator, killing family and friends out of loneliness and rage, Frankenstein is forced to seek his own revenge. His trek across the frozen arctic in an attempt to destroy his experiment-gone-wrong reads a little like Ahab’s pursuit of Moby Dick. All feuds have their Dr Frankenstein, someone who plays God at the outset, taking a risky course of action without considering the ramifications. And the consequences are never simple or clean; inevitably, they end up with a monster on their hands.
Set on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, McCarthy’s novel follows the fortunes of the Glanton gang, a clan of misfits and psychopaths hired to clear the west of its indigenous inhabitants. It’s an unrelenting chronicle of violence and degradation that refuses to take sides or moralise. The thin line between victim and perpetrator disappears early in the story, and the Glanton gang descend into a hell of their own making. As in all blood feuds, violence begets violence until it becomes the end itself. McCarthy fashions a perversely lyrical ballet of the carnage.
The desire to “get even” is as ancient as it is childish. Scratch the surface of an ongoing feud, and like as not you’ll find a youngster with hurt feelings. Emily Brontë’s densely-layered narrative is famous for the love story at its centre. But it’s driven by acts of tit-for-tat retribution between Heathcliff and various members of the Earnshaw and Linton families that have their genesis in irremediable childhood grievances.
7. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead is the story of three generations of preachers in the American midwest from the civil war to the 1950s. The patriarch is a firebrand abolitionist who wore a pistol in the pulpit and lost an eye fighting for the Union cause, his son and grandson are devoted pacifists. The feud is a bloodless conflict of opposing convictions, though the wounds inflicted are real and some are permanent. A book about the infinite possibilities, and the human limitations, of forgiveness.
It’s only one episode in Mark Twain’s picaresque set in the American south, but the feud between the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons that briefly engulfs Huck Finn’s story is a classic. Sparked by the elopement of a Grangerford daughter with a Shepherdson son, it reaches a head with a gun battle in which family members on both sides are killed. Gives a totally different twist to the notion of a “shotgun wedding”.
A collage of poetry and short narrative, stream of consciousness, fake archival photos and imagined conversation, Billy the Kid is a hypnotic take on the legendary wild west gunfighter. It is by turns surreal, laconic and bizarrely hilarious. At the heart of the book is the feud between Billy and his nemesis, the hyper-intellectual and ruthless lawman Pat Garrett. Favourite line (from a dying gunfighter being pecked at by a hen in the street): “Get away from me, yer stupid chicken.”
10. The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The book that spawned the movie that spawned the mafia “whack” genre in American film. Killing is just business for the Corleone family until an attempt on the Godfather’s life by the rival Tattaglia clan makes it personal.
by Michael Crummey
via The Guardian