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Updated: June 3, 2011 20:40 IST

Women writers round on Naipaul over 'misogynist' comments

Hasan Suroor
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V.S.Naipaul. File Photo: Rajeev Bhatt
The Hindu V.S.Naipaul. File Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Critics pointed out that this was not the first time that Sir Vidia had attacked women writers. He once described the work of leading Indian female writers on colonialism and oppression of women as "banal".

V.S. Naipaul on Thursday provoked accusations of “misogyny”, “arrogance” and “attention-seeking” after he claimed that he did not regard any woman writer, living or dead, as equal to him.

Women writers, he said, had a “narrow view of the world” and were too “sentimental”. This was because a woman was “not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too”.

Asked whether he regarded any woman writer his equal Sir Vidia replied: “I don’t think so…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 78-year-old famously acerbic Nobel Laureate couldn’t resist a dig even at his one-time personal friend and editor, Diana Athill, who is credited with shaping his early work when he was a struggling writer.

While praising her as a “taster and editor”, Sir Vidia dismissed her literary work as “feminine tosh”.

“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,” he said.

Sir Vidia, who was speaking at the Royal Geographical Society, singled out Jane Austen for withering criticism saying that he “couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world”.

Critics pointed out that this was not the first time that Sir Vidia had attacked women writers. He once described the work of leading Indian female writers on colonialism and oppression of women as “banal”.

One prominent woman literary critic said sarcastically that “certainly it would be difficult to find a woman writer whose ego was equal to that of Naipaul”.

“I’m sure his arrogant, attention-seeking views make many male writers cringe too,” said Helen Brown.

Alex Clark, a literary journalist, described his remarks as “absurd”.

“I suspect V.S. Naipaul thinks that there isn’t anyone who is his equal. Is he really saying that writers such as Hilary Mantel, A.S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch are sentimental or write feminine tosh?” she told The Daily Telegraph.

The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain said it would not “waste its breath” on reacting to Sir Vidia’s remarks.

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