Monday, June 13, 2011

Shut Up, Naipaul!

Susan  Cheever

by Susan Cheever in The Daily Beast

V.S. Naipaul’s comments about women writers were cranky and ridiculous, but we shouldn’t pay him any attention, says Susan Cheever, because he can write brilliant books—and a writer’s work is all that counts.

Cranky old V.S. Naipaul is such an unpleasant bore that Paul Theroux even wrote a book about his lousy, misogynistic ways. Though the old friends-turned-enemies recently reconciled with a handshake. Now, the prickly Trinidadian has compounded his problems with women by telling a writer for the London Evening Standard what can be no surprise to anyone—that he thinks women’s literary work is not as good as men’s in general and his in particular. Women are “unequal” to him, and tend to write “tosh.” He particularly singled out Jane Austen because of her sentimentality.

Of course Naipaul is wrong; many women write as well as he does including Jane Austen. Luckily for him, fiction is not a competitive sport. The very characteristic he abhors in Jane Austen—her sentimental sense of the world—is one of the things that make Austen novels so delightful to read.

There is already outrage about Naipaul’s opinion, adjective-wielding critics defending the honor of Jane Austen and the rest of us. Why do we care so much? Aren’t we confusing the man and his work?
Knighthood or no knighthood, literary genius or no literary genius, V.S. Naipaul has no authority when it comes to women’s writing. I don’t care what he thinks about UFOs either, or animal husbandry or plumbing. The guy is a writer; I care about his writing. The man can seethe and fulminate about other things, but he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I won’t listen seriously any more than I would ask him to redo the bathroom.

Read Susan Cheever's full piece here.

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