All writers should have something of an ego. How else could one put their words out there to be judged, critiqued, mocked or outright despised? But then you have V.S. Naipaul’s remarks to the Guardian:
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.”
Well, as long as it wasn’t meant in an unkind way.
I’ve never read Naipaul myself, so I can’t actually speak to his work. His statement, however, is definitively misogynistic in a classic, old-fashioned, Mad Men way. It’s pretty much the same way Jack Nicholson’s character, Melvin Udall, reacts to the receptionist in As Good As it Gets:
Receptionist: How do you write women so well?
Melvin Udall: I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.
Oddly enough, while I haven’t read Naipaul, I’ve read enough about him where such a statement isn’t all that shocking. If I were to think of what bothers me most, I would have to say it would be apologists on his behalf, the kind that would either dismiss his remarks as being overly sensationalized, or his contributions to literature somehow outweigh his misogyny, or men who express criticism of the remarks are only doing it in an unsuccessful attempt to ‘get laid’ (seriously, that’s a recurring theme whenever some guys attempt to call out other guys hating on women).
Additionally, his words, while worthy of contempt and derision, are nowhere near the level of revulsion one should feel about allegations of Naipaul’s actual treatment of women as was related by Paul Theroux in the Times:
I wanted to write about his cruelty to his wife, his crazed domination of his mistress that lasted almost 25 years, his screaming fits, his depressions, his absurd contention that he was the greatest writer in the English language (he first made this claim in Mombasa at the age of 34). “I am a new man,” he assured me once, “as Montaigne was a new man.” But did Montaigne frequent prostitutes, insult waiters and beat his mistress?
Hey, Charlie Sheen can actually assault women, but what do we end up focusing on? “Duh, winning” and his pornstar “goddesses”. Maybe calling out these wealthy and famous men for more than their eccentricities could mean calling attention to the unpublicized violence and abuse towards women that go on frequently throughout the world.