Feminist academic Germaine Greer has branded the writer of a comic play reportedly based on aspects of her life an "insane reactionary" who "holds feminism in contempt".
Her wrath was provoked by Joanna Murray-Smith's The Female of the Species, which pokes fun at militant feminism and questions whether ideological extremes stand up to the rigours of real life.
Ms Greer, who became a household name in the 1970s with the publication of her groundbreaking book The Female Eunuch, described The Female of the Species as "threadbare" and was said to have declined an invitation to its first night. The play, which opens on Thursday at the Vaudeville Theatre in London, stars Dame Eileen Atkins as the Greer character.
Although the characters are fictional, the play kicks off with an incident similar to one experienced by Ms Greer in 2000, when Karen Burke, a 19-year-old Bath University student obsessed with Ms Greer's work, broke into her house in Saffron Walden, Essex, tied her up and held her captive for an hour. Ms Greer was released after friends arriving at the house for dinner called the police after hearing shouting. Ms Burke later received two years' probation after admitting a charge of harassment.
In the play, a student called Molly holds hostage a feminist writer called Margot Mason. "Men aren't our problem – old feminists are," says Molly. Ms Murray-Smith said her play was not a "character portrait" of Ms Greer, but the academic countered: "Why do the production team and the writer keep on referring to me, Germaine Greer, if they say it is not Greer they're writing about?" She told The Sunday Times: "Murray-Smith is an insane reactionary who boasts that she has not read a single feminist text. She holds feminism in contempt."
Ms Murray-Smith said: "I'm sorry she has formed that opinion of me without having met me or read my work. It would take a braver woman than me to write about Greer directly. However, my Margot does have many of Greer's characteristics. Both are charismatic, outrageous and irritating."
The Molly character was created to explore "what happens to the fans who find that the intellectuals they admire then renege on their one-time beliefs", she said, adding: "Despite what Greer says, I am a feminist."
Ms Greer was reported to have been sent a copy of the play by its director, Roger Michell, but returned it unread. He also invited her to talk to the cast before the play opened, but was turned down.