Friday, June 3, 2011

Stupidity! Misogyny!

I wrote about various forms of sexism in literature and the literary world a few months back, thinking that would cover most of the potential and existing issues in literature. And then... then I read this.
[T]he winner of the Nobel prize for literature [V. S. Naipaul] 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. [...] 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."
Oh! He doesn't mean in any unkind way. That's okay then.

Look. People are subject to their opinion. That's fine. But suggesting that every female writer is inherently different than every male writer is possibly the dumbest thing I've ever heard of. Even if Naipaul's comments stem from pure egotism (perhaps he also believes no male writer is his literary equal?), these comments are completely, completely effing stupid.

Take, for instance, the opinion that all women writers have some obvious sentimentality. Naipaul's assumption is that sentimentality is the default mode for women writers. It's an always apparent component to their writing, if I understood him correctly. Then he proceeds to imply that sentimentality is somehow inherently flawed - it provides a "narrow view of the world". How, exactly, does a sentimental approach provide any kind of view of the world at all? Is Naipaul suggesting that sentiments don't exist? That they shouldn't be included in literature? Or how about the "fact" that he can recognize a female author within a few sentences of her writing. On this count, I find myself struggling to understand what the [****] Naipaul is trying to say. Seriously. No. Flipping. Clue. (also: check out this Guardian response quiz)

Really, I have no idea what he's trying to say here. In fact, I'm loath to label this as an article about sexism because it's even more pathetic and ridiculous than that. Naipaul's comments are just stupid and if anyone can figure them out, good on them. Maybe you can explain it to me. All I've understood is that Naipaul has a giant ego and doesn't understand the concept of generalizations. Or the concept of avoiding making noise just for the sake of making noise.


  1. I have read Naipaul and wasn't really all that impressed. A House for Mr. Biswas was dark, overburdened and depressing, and the story had no concrete ending. I am wondering if Naipaul has ever read any Lionel Shriver or Barbara Kingsolver, both female authors that I consider brilliant. This little rant by Naipaul makes me seriously not want to read any of his books ever again.

  2. I think you have understood Naipaul perfectly. He has a giant ego and he loves to say controversial things because he gets attention and think he loves making people riled up.

  3. I agree with Zibilee. I tried to read one of Naipaul's books and couldn't get into it. It just wasn't interesing enough. Now I'm glad I haven't tried again.

  4. Wow. I wonder if he's read Middlemarch? Or maybe he doesn't know that George Eliot is female. I love when people say things like "I don't mean this in an unkind way" -- you just know whatever follows is going to be really, really bad.

  5. What I like about Naipul's comment is that it proves a writer can be a great novelist even when hobbled by an extraordinary prejudice. What's true of him is true of "women" writers, too - proving that "narrow" this or "narrow" that is perfectly consistent with being an outstanding novelist. As always, thanks for your post! Kevin

  6. Sounds like his Mommy didn't give him enough hugs when he was a No really...just beyond words


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