V.S. Naipaul

There is much to say about V.S. Naipaul.

Some grand. Some not so grand.

His reaction towards women writers strongly provoked me. It made me think long and hard on whether I wanted to give space to a man with such misogynist attitudes towards women writers.

In reading his essays Literary Occasions,  and the various interviews he gave I came to understand how great a literary giant he is and that,  if I was to write this post, I needed to separate V.S. Naipaul, the man from V.S. Naipaul, the writer.

Naipaul the man

Women writers “unequal to me” says V S Naipaul

Such is the headline in The Bookseller  where Naipaul goes on to say, “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.”

Lylia M. Alphone, the senior editor at Yahoo responded by asking readers whether they could tell whether certain paragraphs were written by men or women.

See if you too can tell whether a book is written by a man or a woman by taking this fun test.

Naipaul has not only been criticized for his misogynist comments but his biographer, Patrick French, portrayed him as  racist as well.

Naipaul the Writer

For the first four days it rained. I could hardly see where I was. Then it stopped raining and beyond the lawn and outbuildings in front of my cottage I saw fields with stripped trees on the boundaries of each field; and far away, depending on the light, glints of a little river, glints which sometimes appeared, oddly, to be above the level of the land.

The opening of his masterpiece The Enigma of Arrival.

V.S. Naipaul has been awarded a number of literary prizes, among them the Booker Prize in 1971 for his novel In a Free State  and The Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.

In 1980 Newsweek put him on the cover with the headline “The Master of The Novel.”

V.S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad  (1932)  of Indian parents. In his career as a writer he traveled extensively to such places as: India, Pakistan, The Congo, Uganda, The Middle East, Indonesia, South America, The Caribbean and set his novels and non-fiction in these places.

VS Naipaul

Photographer: Eamonn McCabe

In his blog, India Uncut,  Amit Varma writes about VS Naipaul’s Rules for Beginner Writers

1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.

2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

Would you read a novel, even if it was considered a masterpiece, if you knew it was written by a misogynist and racist person?

25 thoughts on “V.S. Naipaul

  1. Interesting question, Carol. I try very hard to differentiate a writer’s work from her/his personal views and life. But I have made exceptions. There are some authors whose views I just can’t deal with easily. I can’t read their work…


  2. After learning that about the man, I probably couldn’t read a book by him. Shallow perhaps, but his words would poke at my brain too much. As for his own writing, it appears he broke his own first rule in that sample of his you gave us. That third sentence is plenty long!


    • I thought so too. He was a pretty pretentious man. Now, he’s almost 80, he seems to have mellowed a bit.

      I also thought that his rules for beginners was not all that revolutionary. 🙂


      • No, but Hemingway was a “man’s man,” and given the era, it wouldn’t surprise me if he held that opinion to some degree.

        I personally see nothing wrong with a female or male reader tending to prefer writers of the their own gender (or the other gender, come to think of it). I tend to be drawn a bit more towards the masculine voice, but have truly enjoyed books by Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields (“Larry’s Party” is simply brilliant) for example.

        Tending to prefer writers of one specific gender, while a non-issue in and of itself, does not constitute a rational basis from which to claim that writers of that preferred gender are inherently superior to writers of the other gender.


  3. There is an Irish author called Brendan Behan. He is a fantastic writer but he was also a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA went around fighting with the British army bombing and shooting and generally causing mayhem. People would say Behan was racist and I suppose he was but that doesn’t stop me rereading borstal boy his greatest novel, from time to time.

    Ultimately if the writing is good I would read any author. I remember reading Lolita a few years ago and being pretty uncomfortable with some of the material. Nabokov brought you into the swirl of his madness with some of the greatest writing I have ever seen.I believe to be open minded is to read all points of view.


  4. I wouldn’t no. I am completely put off by an attitude like that. Even if he has those thoughts isn’t it career suicide to put them in the open like that? If he’s supposed to be so clever surely he would recognise that. Or are women too stupid to read as well?


    • You make a good point about women being too stupid to read. It’s ironic that now, in his 80’s, Naipaul is practically totally dependent on his wife. She often speaks for him in interviews. He’s lost without her.


  5. Yes, I would read such a novel, if I find it’s worth my time. I believe a person can be a great artist and have a terrible character at the same time. As far as I’m concerned, I am able to appreciate one’s work, even if I don’t particularly like their personality.


  6. I like the way you analyzed the man from the writer. I agree, his writing rules are almost a good standard for writing by many. I’m not much into prejudice so It wouldn’t inspire me to read the works of someone with those ethics. 🙂


  7. It’s nice to know, there is a female to set him straight. Even if she is the caregiver. Women are especially good for some things. Sad, isn’t it? Prejudices even when there are only two sexes to convict and assassin. Pity! Too many good writers out there for me to even pick up someone that already belittles my integrity. I’ve had enough abuse in my life. I require some gentle prodding and no more manipulation for this writer.


    • I really see your point of view, Drew. I tend to agree with you about so many other excellent writers out there (many being women) to choose from. I think the awards might have gone too much to his head. I also believe that we should stand up for what we believe in. Your comment is a statement that upholds equality and respect between the sexes. Thanks for reading and posting. 🙂


    • You’re welcome. It is a rather tough question to answer, especially when the writer has been awarded so many prestigious prizes.
      I like to study these great writers’ techniques and style. But there are so many other writers to choose from that I’m not certain such a writer would be on my top ten list.


  8. Oh, tricky question, Carol. I love T S Eliot’s poetry and I think he scores poorly on attitudes to women and minorities. I have just discovered that Mahler was a mean piece of work and I am crazy about his music. However, I struggle to listen to Wagner without remembering his opinions. So, yes, I would read/listen/look at great work by someone whose opinions I dislike, but I have my limits. The other side of this question is time. Naipaul was born and brought up in another era, I would give him a little leeway because of that, someone writing today, with those kind of opinions would be much more obnoxious.


    • You raise a very good point. It is time but also culture. He was born of Indian parents in Trinidad. In doing the research for this post I came across an interview with Naipaul in his 80’s. He seemed to have mellowed and was very dependent on his younger wife…even to the point that she was answering for him some of the interviewers questions.


  9. I understand making a distinction between an artist and his/her work. But I would not want to validate a racist/sexist/violent individual by partaking in their creative endeavors.


  10. have to seperate the person from the art, be it writers, music and other forms of the arts. think about george washington for a second, i use dollar bills though he was the richest president ever from owning the most Slaves in America. think about that one for a second and yeah we do seperate more than we realize and beyond the arts. everyday life period. great question


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