Saturday, June 4, 2011

Choosing His Words Carelessly

Sir V. S. Naipaul, winner of the Nobel prize for literature and the Booker Prize (among other prestigious writing awards), says that women's writing styles are quite different from men's, and that he can "read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two...know whether it is by a woman or not." That could be a useful skill, especially for writing instructors and editors who care whether a composition was actually written by the person who claims to be its author. Unfortunately Naipaul went on to say that he considers all women writers to be "unequal" to him because of their "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world." "[A] not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too," he said.

Well of course a woman is not a "master" of a house. A woman would be the owner of her house, or the head of her house, or perhaps the "mistress" of her house if she's the type who refers to the room nearest the front door as "the parlor." For a writer, Naipaul is terribly careless with his vocabulary. I suppose he's going to claim next that "a woman is not a complete gentleman"!

Naipual doesn't seem to dislike women so long as they conform to roles he's comfortable with. Of his female publisher, he said, "[She] 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."

This is an excellent example of why I generally prefer not to know too much about the private lives of artists whose work I admire. Sometimes background and personal details give you insight into the artist's thought processes and enhance your enjoyment of their work, but sometimes they make you think, "Why would I reward such a ninny by buying his books?" And when I refer to Naipaul as a ninny, I don't mean this in any unkind way.

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