V.S. Naipaul and Feminine Tosh
V.S. Naipaul’s books have had a genuine influence on how I see the world and live in it. I read his work in graduate school, where I had a class devoted to Naipaul and Salman Rushdie, and left a changed man, more curious and understanding than I was before it. For Naipaul, the world is a difficult place, filled with uncertain futures and danger, but a possibility for navigating through this and living and seeing beauty in the world exists. There is a beautiful sense in his work, fiction and non-fiction, that this place requires one to be tough but also to understand others–especially if that understanding means exposing things that are generally left unseen. I am thinking here of Beyond Belief, a wonderful, difficult work following Naipaul as he travels through the Muslim world. He frustrates (to put it kindly) everyone with his books, nobody more so than the subjects of his books. Pick up a Naipaul novel, A Bend in the River is quick and amazing, and you wont’ be disappointed.
But that is Naipaul’s work. Naipaul the man is an asshole and it can be hard to recommend his work. V.S. Naipaul is arrogant and condescending and treats people terribly, especially if those people are his wife, or not-wife, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Not-English, choose any specification you want. In his work, he is a terse and short, unwilling to accept half-way–and that is an asset in his books. But his acidic attitude matters in public, and the things he says matter: He is a Nobel Prize winning author who has written a body of work that spans decades, hemispheres, religion and politics and family. But then he speaks. What did he say now? The Guardian has the article:
This time, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature has lashed out at female authors, saying there is no woman writer whom he considers his equal – and singling out Jane Austen for particular criticism. Asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: “I don’t think so.” Of Austen he said he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.
He felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”
The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”. “And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too,” he said.
He added: “My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”
At least he’s not trying to be unkind. Jane Austen is your equal, Naipaul. She is among the greats of the greats. Jerk.