Thursday, June 9, 2011

Response to V.S. Naipaul's Comments at his Interview with the Royal Geographic Society

Song of the Day: Where is the Love by The Black Eyed Peas

   Hello all! As I stated on Monday, I have a response to V.S. Naipaul's comments about women in his interview with the Royal Geographic Society. I couldn't find the actual interview. All I could find were reports with quotes on what was said. I ended up just reading the Guardian's report on it.

   I've known about V.S. Naipaul for quite some time now. I had always heard his name during my undergraduate days in college, but never thought much of him. What I didn't realize was that he was Trinidadian. I discovered that fact only after a professor in my MFA program suggested that I read some of his work for research. The professor had asked me if I did any writing based on my culture and when I told him no, he said that I should read some Trinidadian writers to explore my heritage. Naturally, he suggested Naipaul. I had been so excited to learn that he was Trinidadian, but that excitement was short lived. Just days later when my Uncle picked me up from residency and I was telling him about Naipaul, he told me that he was a great writer, but he was ashamed of his Trinidadian heritage. He had heard rumors of Naipaul claiming to be British. As someone who is VERY proud of her Trinidadian heritage, I found this to be repulsive. I vowed to never read a single word of Naipaul's work.

   The Guardian reports that in an interview with the Royal Geographic Society, Naipaul was asked if he considered any woman his literary match. Naipaul responded with, "I don't think so." When he was asked about Jane Austen, he said he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world." Are we talking about the same Jane Austen here?

Here are some quotes from Naipaul taken from the Guardian report of the interview:

"I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me."

This was because of a woman'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."

"My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, low and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way."

   Excuse me, but who made him the Godfather of literature? He claims that women writers are unequal to him, but there a women who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature the same prize he also won. The prize has been given to literary greats such as Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing, and those are only two. Naipaul has a lot of nerve saying that not a single woman on this earth can match up to him.

   And what does he mean by calling women sentimental and have a "narrow view of the world?" I don't understand it. I know that Joyce Carol Oates is one of the greatest writers ever, and she is neither sentimental nor does she have a narrow view of the world. And what exactly is his definition of a narrow view of the world? Isn't his view of women writers narrow-minded, thus making his view of the modern world, narrow?

   I guess I take this so personally because I'm used to more of a support system in the writing community. We're not here to look down on anyone or bash each other. If he really felt that way, then maybe he should keep comments like that to himself. This is not the suffrage movement. We're in 2011. Women shouldn't have to continue to prove themselves this far in the game.

   One thing that's interesting to note is Naipaul's personal life. I decided to do a little background check of Mr. Naipaul, and well, I wasn't shocked by what I discovered. I came across an article in the Telegraph. The article's headline: "Sir Vidia Naipaul Admits His Cruelty May Have Killed Wife" by Nigel Reynolds. Apparently, Naipaul was very cruel to his wife of 41 years, Patricia Naipaul. Naipaul had a mistress for twenty four of those years and his wife knew about it. What she didn't know was that Naipaul had regularly visited prostitutes in London. She only discovered this after he boasted about it in a magazine interview in 1994. His wife had just had a mastectomy and was in remission from cancer when she learned the news. Naipaul had refused to buy his wife a wedding ring and even when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, "he showed little compassion." When Patricia died, and he had a chance to marry his mistress (the woman he spent most of his time with) he ended the affair.

   It's clear Naipaul never had any respect for women. After reading this article in the Telegraph, I can no longer be surprised by Naipaul's comments about women. I really hope he's done his research and read a variety of books by women authors to support his claim. Quite frankly, I feel sorry for the man. Most Trinidadians don't like Naipaul because of his contempt for his own country. I am no exception.

The Guardian also posted the "Naipaul Test: Can you tell an author's sex?" Take it and see if you can tell which authors are male and which are female from the passages.

What are views on this whole V.S. Naipaul debacle?


  1. 'Excuse me, but who made him the Godfather of literature?'

    I laughed so much at this line! But you're right, he is narrow minded. And I think you're right not to read him (I won't either, now). There are enough good writers out there who don't use their voice to marginalise groups, by gender or by culture.

  2. I read him in school and had a period where I read everything of his that I could get my hands on. Reading what you're written here showed me that his views came across in his writing. A House for Mr. Biswas was the first book of his that I read. It was an assigned literature book from my high school days. Mr. Biswas was a lazy scamp, who (you guessed it) was abusive to his submissive and subservient wife. Of course, that not the book in it's entirety.

    I can't deny that Naipaul is a brilliant writer, but I am disappointed each time I read an article about him and his utterances. The information you've included here is kind of like icing on a cake - and that cake was already nasty tasting.

    Humility - something I hope I never lose if one day I gain something of a reputation as a writer.

    Based on some of the things my country men do, Jamaica has earned a bad reputation, (which sometimes make me cringe) but I can never be anything else but proud of my nationality.

  3. Whoa, he sounds like a complete douche. I'm with you--I'll NEVER read any of his writing.

  4. Ugh--that man is just disgusting. I've never heard of such a discriminating writer. What a shame. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Now we know to NEVER support him.

  5. I tried to read his writing in college, but couldn't get into it.

    I read about his misogny elsewhere, years ago, so this is nothing new.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone! And Joy, that's my point exactly. I cannot understand why anyone would renounce their country. I'm so proud of it. There is no excuse for it Naipaul's hatred of Trinidad.