Having a Critic Over for Dinner – Pauline Kael Anecdote

But I have a favorite memory of her, from an occasion years earlier. Maria, Lizzie, and I were spending the weekend at the house in Sheffield, Massachusetts, that Janet Malcolm and her husband, Gardner Botsford, had built, and Pauline, who lived nearby, came to dinner, arriving by taxi (she didn’t drive) in her little white sneakers. By the time she left, she had managed to insult every one of us except ten-year-old Lizzie. Gardner had been her long-suffering editor for years, so the bile she directed at him made some kind of sense for someone who resented authority as much as Pauline did (she liked to refer to him as the Ripper). But she’d never met Maria or me. For instance, she said to Maria, “I was in your family’s apartment once. Your father was carrying on, and I remember that your mother was a particularly ugly woman.” This was not only gratuitous, it was nuts, since Laura Tucci was a famous beauty. Pauline’s aggression was so gratuitous that all of us, including Janet’s daughter, Anne, then about sixteen, and even Lizzie, went around for the rest of the weekend remembering more and more disagreeable things she had said. I don’t even think it was deliberate—it was just who and what she was.

Avid Reader
Robert Gottlieb