Why ask?

by Ahalya on June 3, 2011

The story so far: Nobel Laureate author Sir V. S. Naipaul, was interviewed at the Royal Geographical Society recently. Someone asked him if he considered any woman writer to be his equal. Mr. Naipaul said, “I don’t think so.”

He also said, during the same interview, after dismissing women writers because of their “sentimentality” and their “narrow view of the world” that “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 is any unkind way.”

Well of course he doesn’t! It’s just us sentimental foolish women who have a narrow view of the world who are sniffling into our lace hankies and fainting on our bed while our pretty French poodles strike a sympathetic pose near our feet. Alack! Alas! Waily Waily! What a narrow view of the world we have! I should perhaps take heart in the fact that he does love us silly creatures. Did he not say in A Bend in the River, that ‘if women weren’t stupid, the world wouldn’t go round.” Aw shucks! Go away you smooth-talker! I’ve never heard such high praise before in me life!

Look, no author is the best, or the greatest. The greatest in his/her country, continent, hemisphere, planet, galaxy, universe, dimension… It is just not possible. You might be good, you might have coined a few thousand words, your books might still be on the bestseller list centuries after you have died. But, you cannot be the greatest ever. Who decides this anyway?

Shouldn’t it be a unanimous decision then?

Is it based on number of copies sold?

What if the greatest writer was someone who has not been discovered by a publisher, or readers?

Would the greatest writer be someone who wrote only in one language? 

But, why, oh why why why, compare men and women and their approach to writing? Why get down there? It isn’t news that women write, it isn’t news that men write. Why compare? Who decides who writes better? A man or a woman?

In fact, it isn’t really news that Naipaul is a misogynist. What bothers me is that knowing he is a misogynist, who, just who, in their right mind, who did not think that this would lead to a controversy, who asked him this question. Of course Naipaul would say that women are inferior, unequal, or whatever he thinks. Of course, he would. Whoever asked, expected this. Ask any arrogant, opinionated person such a cleverly phrased question, and you are sure you get a controversy and enough fuel for a 100-year war.

Who asked? Seriously, who really cares what Naipaul thinks? Will it change the world?  The Guardian wrote ‘V S Naipaul finds no woman his literary match – Not even Jane Austen’. And what does it mean when they say ‘not even Jane Austen’. Not even? Is she the only woman writer we could dare to hold up to the ‘greatest writer’? Why did he single her out? Tip to writers from an avid reader, if you are ever called the greatest writer, do try to be humble. It isn’t an official title anyway. It bears no significance outside the little group that has bestowed on you this honour.

Sigh. Apparently he also said, “And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.”

Really, Mr. Naipaul? Did you have to do that? Gosh! You lost me at hello.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Atula Siriwardane July 6, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I completely agree with Naipaul,
especially about the narrow view of the world.
I have seen fairly good women writers,
but I have never come across a woman who could inspire me as a writer.
I think it is just natural like man can’t deliver a baby.
Nothing to feel bad about.


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