Saturday, June 4, 2011

So he tells himself he' s a better writer than Jane Austen. Or Virginia Woolf. Or... really, any woman

Just before boarding a flight taking me home to Seattle this afternoon, I read this.* For a moment, I felt the disorientation of someone who'd been flung back in time to 1970. But then the obnoxious voices of Airport CNN televisions blaring in stereo from each side of me (way to go, MSP!) battered their way into my consciousness, voices babbling of two alternate futures for the US (or was it the world) that US politicians would soon be choosing from (for us lesser folk, presumably, since we apparently don't get a say in such matters). And of course I knew, then, that it was really 2011, and it hadn't been I who'd ventured out of her time, but a certain delusional Nobel Laureate.

Now that I'm both home and safely back in the 21st century, I think I'm going to take a bath. The steller's jay in my cherry tree sounds as if it's laughing its head off.
*Here's the choicest bit:

In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the "greatest living writer of English prose", was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: "I don't think so." Of Austen he said he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world".

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."


Lesley Hall said...

I think the female editor he was dissing there was the quite amazing Diana Athill, who responds to his attack here:
"I was a 'sensitive editor' because I liked his work, I was admiring it. When I stopped admiring him so much I started being 'feminine tosh'."
I guess that's what happens when women stop being magic magnifying mirrors!

Rebecca said...

There's a wonderful quote from Athill's autobiographical work on her publishing career, Stet, where she talks about Naipaul leaving her publisher and says:

"For at least two weeks I seethed.. and then, in the third week, it suddenly occurred to me that never again would I have to listen to Vidia telling me how damaged he was, and it was as though the sun came out. I didn't have to like Vidia any more! I could still like his work, I could still be sorry for his pain; but I no longer faced the task of fashioning affection out of these elements in order to deal as a good editor should with the exhausting, and finally tedious, task of listening to his woe."

Josh said...

This is Naipaul we're talking about, the guy who said Joyce was not interested in the world and that Forster's major accomplishment was seducing garden boys in India. The guy who thinks Tony Blair is a dangerous Leftist and Hindutva might be our best defense against the Muslim hordes. The guy who thinks Africans . . . oy. In other words, what was ubiquitous in 1970 is now just part of a reactionary's career of provocations.

Plus it prompted Ta-Nehisi to decline an invitations to your company's Kwanzaa party.

Anonymous said...

Roseanne Cash's Twitter response, per NYT: "If Mr. Naipaul takes no pleasure in the happy delineation of the varieties of human nature, then he must be intolerably stupid." Hee. -Carrie D

Josh said...

Aaron Bady: "The problem with Naipaul isn’t that there is no profit in reading him, if you read nimbly and carefully and thoughtfully. The problem is that another world is possible and inevitable, one that he has never known and which you will not know better from reading him." His whole post on the topic ends beautifully.