Sir Vidia has gone and done it again. He made up with Paul Theroux at this year's Hay Festival only to stir the hornet's nest at the same event with a diatribe about female writers. "[They are] unequal to me," Naipaul said, going ahead to single out Jane Austen for particular criticism for her supposed "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 further, ""I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not." Causing The Guardian to run the Naipaul Test with a quiz: Can you tell an author's sex by their writing? I must say George Elliot had me fooled for years on the strength of the writing, until I stumbled across some enlightening biographical information. But back to Naipaul.
His former editor, the 95-year-old Diana Athill is similarly dismissed for writing "feminine tosh. I don't mean this in an unkind way." I shudder to think what Naipaul would say if he meant to be unkind.
All this was coming within days of Tea Obreht's youngest-ever win of the Orange Prize for Fiction, which is only awarded to women, and which regularly generates debate about whether there is any merit in a prize exclusively for females (Nadine Gordimer once rejected being shortlisted for it). The overriding argument is always this: the affirmative action of a prize specifically for women is needed because it is not a level playing field, and there exists a deep prejudice still against their writing. Naipaul's outburst seems to buttress the point.
Well, trust the women to not let the Mongoose go scot-free. Diana Athill just laughed it off, suggesting that her writing only became "feminine tosh" to Naipaul because she didn't admire his work so much anymore. Whenever she wants to cheer herself up, she says, "At least I'm not married to Vidia." Thank God for that.
Other writers have not been as gentle. Booker Prize winning author of 'The Bone People', Keri Hulme called Naipaul a "misogynist prick" and a "slug". That should tell him.
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