Thursday, 2 June 2011

VS Naipaul's Silly Rant

VS Naipaul has now claimed women are 'unequal' to him in the writing game. He says they write 'feminine tosh' and they are 'not a complete master of a house'. I guess he's neither met my mother nor visited her house (which she rules entirely and unquestionably).

Not only are his comments very old-fashioned and clearly sexist, I'd also say they're grossly uninformed. Naipaul claims he can tell if a writer is male or female from the first few paragraphs. He seems to be referring to the idea of 'feminine language'. But while it might be said some women write in 'feminine language', others clearly do not. Moreover, some men write very florid, feminine prose (and poetry) too. I also don't think the 'boy's language' of certain male writers can be said to be any less inhibiting.

I'm not sure which female writers Naipaul has been reading, but they're not the same writers I read. Angela Carter is frequently full of gore. Deb Hoag writes scenes that'd make a monkey blush. Candy Caradoc is clearly a madwoman. Poppy Z. Brite writes about cannibal, serial-killer homos delighting in human flesh. Nancy A. Collins writes about arse-kicking punk vampires that could show Uma Thurman's Bride a thing or two about coldblooded murder.

It troubles me, too, that his target is Jane Austen. Yes, her writing is about (as Kryten from Red Dwarf puts it) 'penetrating 19th century observations of middle-class manners', but it's hardly what you'd call modern. If his whole basis for female writing is a handful of books written when bussels were bigger than The Bible, he's showing his ignorance.

I also fail to understand how writing about 'sentimental' or 'feminine' subject matter makes for a more 'narrow view of the world' than writing only about unsentimental or 'masculine' issues.

Does Toni Morisson's Beloved express a 'narrow view of the world'? Or does it highlight the attrocities of slavery, the effect on an entire race of people, and the aftershocks that still ripple through American society today? It doesn't sound too narrow to me.

Literary journalist Alex Clark said: 'It’s absurd. I suspect VS 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?'

Helen Brown, at The Daily Telegraph, said: 'It certainly 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. He should heed the words of George Eliot – a female writer – whose works have had a far more profound impact on world culture than his.

'She wrote: "Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact."'

Most of my favourite writers are women. I love male writers too, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't be writing today if it wasn't for Douglas Adams, Jeff VanderMeer and Rhys Hughes. But neither would I be writing if it wasn't for the women I've mentioned above.

Quite frankly, he's the one talking a lot of tosh.

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