In a nutshell Naipaul considers that there are no women writers who are his equals. He says that this is because women writers are "different". He claims that when he reads something written by a woman he can immediately tell that is the case. He believes this is because of women's sentimentality and narrow view of the world, which makes their writing inferior to that of men. The fact that they are not complete masters of a house comes across in their writing too.
He mentioned that when his publisher, who was a great editor, became a writer, all that she produced was "feminine tosh". And of author Jane Austen in particular, he said that he could not possibly share her sentimental ambitions and sense of the world.
Upon learning of his comments the first thing that came to my mind was to ask what would Mr. Naipaul think of the Erica Jong quote:
"Beware of the man who denounces women writers; his penis is tiny and he cannot spell."
Would he consider this particular world view to be sentimental and narrow?
It would be easy to end this article here with this naughty quote, but Naipaul's comments stirred in me again something that has always bothered me regarding writing. However, before I deal with that let me point out two things regarding his comments.
The first thing I would point out is: Even if it were true that women have a more sentimental and narrow view of the world, what is wrong with that? Emotions are a fundamental component of the human experience, and always seeing the forest, but not the individual trees, blinds you to important aspects of reality. To quote Erica Jong again:
"There is still the feeling that women's writing is a lesser class of writing, that what goes on in the nursery or the bedroom is not as important as what goes on in the battlefield, that what women know about is a lesser category of knowledge."
If women are indeed more sentimental and have a narrower view of the world, then their point of view is necessary to complement that of men's. But I think that Naipaul's implication that, if we allow part of what we are to "contaminate" our writing it will make it "inferior", only makes sense if these traits that he associates with women are something he lacks. I will not engage in armchair psychology here but you can google the details of his personal life: it's not pretty. In my opinion this guy is a character who could benefit from some sentimentality and a narrower view of the world himself.
The second thing I would like to point out is that women have come a long way from the time of the latter Erica Jong quote. Women are heads of state, captains of industry, Nobel laureates, professors, pastors, and even warriors in battlefields. What they say and do goes beyond the bedroom and the nursery: it affects the life of billions. By not admitting women to be the intellectual equals of men Naipaul is going against the facts.
So why do I waste ink on this clown? It's because of what bothers me about the nature of writing.
I believe good writers have a gift. They have a unique way to view the world, grasp its realities and then communicate them to others. Nobel laureates, despite all the criticisms levied at the Nobel committee, stand out among all writers as the very best examples of what can be done with this gift. So, call me naive, but I am shocked every time a Nobel Prize winning writer comes across as no more enlightened than the local drunken bum down the road.
I may not be a good writer, but writing has made me discover new universes in me that I didn't know existed before. Writing has enriched my human experience, and has made me a better person. Therefore I tend to believe that writing does this to every writer. Although I know this is not true, I would expect that this would be the case at least at the very top: that all writers of Nobel class stature would find that writing turns them into better persons.
That obviously is not always the case, and I don't know why. Perhaps for many, writing is not the magical process that I idealize. Writing may be no different than playing golf, collecting stamps, selling cars, laying bricks, or cleaning toilets. You may excel at these hobbies or occupations but they are just that: a hobby or a job, which can be totally divorced from what you are or become. And that is sad.
What do you think?