No woman writer will ever be as good as me - VS Naipaul
He is known for his outspoken views, but VS Naipaul may have alienated a rather wide audience in his latest tirade.
The author has spoken out about what he believes to be a lack of ability demonstrated by women writers, singling out Jane Austen for particular criticism.
During an interview about his career, he began one of his famous rants, dismissing women writers as “unequal” to him and criticising their “sentimentality”. Naipaul, 78, who was born in Trinidad, said: “Women writers are different, they are quite different. 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.”
He said this was due to their “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, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”
Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society on Tuesday, Naipaul, best known for his novels about the legacy of British colonialism, was asked if he considered any woman writer his equal. He replied: “I don’t think so.”
He held particular ire for the work of Jane Austen, saying he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.
It is not the first time that Naipaul, a Booker Prize winner who has been described as “the greatest living writer of English prose” has criticised female authors. He once tore a strip off two of India’s leading women writers for their “banality” in writing about issues such as colonialism and oppression of women.
His latest comments were criticised as showing he was out of touch with the modern world. Alex Clark, a literary journalist, said: “It’s absurd. I suspect VS Naipaul thinks that there isn’t anyone who is his equal. Is he really saying that writers such as Hilary Mantel, A?S Byatt, Iris Murdoch are sentimental or write feminine tosh?”
Helen Brown, literary critic for The Daily Telegraph, said: “It certainly would be difficult to find a woman writer whose ego was equal to that of Naipaul. I’m sure his arrogant, attention-seeking views make many male writers cringe too. He should heed the words of George Eliot – a female writer – whose works have had a far more profound impact on world culture than his.
“She wrote: ‘Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.’?”
The Writers Guild of Great Britain said it did not want to “waste its breath” on Naipaul’s comments. The writer, knighted in 1989, has never strayed far from controversy, having previously been described by his authorised biographer, Patrick French, as bigoted, arrogant, vicious, racist, a woman-beating misogynist and a sado-masochist.
Naipaul’s writing angered many post-colonial countries when he described them as “half-made societies”. He was also involved in a long-running feud with the American author Paul Theroux. The pair’s friendship spanned three decades but came to an abrupt end after Theroux, a travel writer, discovered that a book he gave to Naipaul had been put on sale for $1,500 (€1,040).
They appeared to have made up and brought an end to their 15-year feud at the weekend, when they met and shook hands at the Telegraph Hay Festival. Speaking about it later, he could not resist a dig, saying: “He gave his name, it was a great courtesy. If he hadn’t I would have wondered ‘who is this person who is shaking my hand?’
“Then he said his name and instinctively I said ‘I am glad we can put an end to all this nonsense’. I shook his hand back. I was very glad to do that.”