Since we’re a little slow with updating the blog these days, no doubt most of our Gentle Readers are already aware of the current brouhaha created by novelist V.S. Naipaul with his comments about women writers in general and Jane Austen in particular. The media is all over it.
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.”
We do not think he deserves the compliment of rational opposition. Others disagree with us, however. Jennifer Egan, recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (and who kicked up a bit of a dust last week for dissing chick lit), said:
He is such a kook. It makes me laugh because he sounds like such a cranky old man. It’s the classic case of how prejudice works – you feel like you see it confirmed all over the world but the prejudice is tainting your perception everywhere you look.
I would put money on the fact that he has not read Jane Austen in 10 years. She’s the most cool, mathematical writer to come along, male or female. It’s a word no one who’s familiar with her work would call her. . . . To condemn these comments gives them more weight, endows them with more authority. They just sound like one’s man cranky, outmoded point of view.
NPR’s blog The Two-Way has some other interesting comments from authors and critics (thanks to Alert Janeite Maria for the link).
At Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote of the kerfluffle:
The wisest observers of human nature are the ones who can illuminate without bias. They’re the ones who can opine that “Your feelings may be the strongest but … ours are the most tender” without assuming that strength automatically has a greater value than tenderness. And to write them off would be to miss out on the genius of a Jane Austen, an author who knew that when it comes to men and women, “I will not allow books to prove anything.”
We were amused by this quiz in the Guardian, which asks you to choose whether the quoted passages are written by a man or a woman. (We actually recognized one of them, and got that right.)