A Challenging Time for Me and V.S. Naipaul

No review today, but while I’m up and typing, I thought I’d just ramble on about a few things.  Belezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 5 started in June, and I’m already well under way, with reviews of Yasunari Kawbata’s The Master of Go and Shusaku Endo’s Silence already posted.  I have a copy of Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter waiting to be read, and somewhere in transit, at the bottom of a ship in the Pacific Ocean (possibly!), I have Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, and Kawabata’s The Sound of the Mountain and Beauty and Sadness straining to reach Australian shores.

This focus on J-Lit is also part of a slight change of emphasis for my blog.  Since the impressive collapse of book-by-book posts earlier this year, I have thinking about how best to balance my desire to review and my various aches and pains.  Recently, I have been trying to keep up with one post a week, particularly related to my favourite challenges, and I think devoting that post to a particular book, rather than madly trying to write one paragraph on everything I read, suits me better.

That doesn’t mean that it will all be J-Lit around here though.  I have a German-language copy of Friedrich Delius’ Bildnis der Mutter als junge Frau, which some of you may know better as Peirene Press’ Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman, and I’m hoping to read and review that very soon.  Also, I’d like to continue to promote good Australian contemporary literature, so look out for more writers like Steven Carroll and Tim Winton.

Time permitting, of course…

Finally today, I just wanted to give you my humble thoughts on the recent V.S. Naipaul incident (in which, as you probably already know, the always-cantankerous writer calmly dismissed all literature written by women as beneath him).  I’m not even going to bother discussing his misogynistic opinions (there is no discussion possible); rather, I want to pick up on something I saw in the reports.  The interviewer, from what I gather, asked his mightiness if he thought he was better than all female writers, even Jane Austen
…and that’s what interests me.  If you were going to choose a knight in shining garters, an Amazon warrior to slay the ugly dragon Naipaul, the one representative to defend female literary honour, would you honestly choose Saint Jane?  Really?  Austen wrote classic novels, stories which will endure long after old V.S. has been committed to the filing cabinet of history, but is she really the automatic choice?
Personally, I think there are other, worthier female writers to saddle the horse and joust with the nasty Nobel Laureate.  How about Virginia Woolf?  I’m sure she’d be handy with a sharp lance and an even sharper tongue.  Or perhaps Edith Wharton?  With her cool observational skills, she would be bound to find the chinks in Naipaul’s metaphorical armour.
My choice, however, would be George Eliot, a titan(ess) of the arena, guaranteed to make any male writer think twice about crossing swords (or pens) – and thick-skinned enough to cope much better with any pre-fight trash talk than the demure Austen…
So, dear readers, do any of you have any champions you’d like to suggest for this imaginary grudge match?  Who should don the armour and put the Trinidadian motormouth in his place?

Yes, you’re right – it is time I took my pills…


9 thoughts on “A Challenging Time for Me and V.S. Naipaul

  1. Oh, my vote to take on Naipaul would be Margaret Atwood – not only could she verbally slay him with her genius, but she would make us laugh doing it 🙂


  2. Whenever you talk about Japanese lit, it makes me want to throw aside all of my other reading and just dive in! Although I have read a Japanese author, an Anglo-Japanese author, AND a Japanese American author this month without meaning to; I think I might be an offical J-Lit fangirl now. All of them were contemporary, though; I need some classics to round things out. I can't remember if I've asked you before, but do you have certain go-to translators? I've had great luck with Meredith McKinney, but she's not prolific. On the plus side, my library has the same translation of Master of Go that you reviewed, so I think that'll be my next classic! I read a Chinese book about go, so it'll be neat to get a perspective from the other side of the ocean. 😉

    Anyway, aside my from ramblings on Japanese lit, I LOVED your meditations on Naipul (despite your Jane digs!). I think Toni Morrison could beat him with her own Nobel if it came that to. And Jamaica Kincaid has that smart-as-hell, no-holds-barred truth telling that would flatten Naipul in an instant. And she's a fellow Caribbean author!


  3. I'm in with Wendy! We would have a good laugh watching Atwood slay Naipaul!

    I agree with you that there are many more women writers I would consider as superior to Austen – what about Mary Shelley? However,I think that the thing with Austen is that she was writing at a time when the novel form had not yet become popular. If you think novel and if you think woman writer, you think Jane Austen as she was one of the first female novelists.


  4. I agree that George Eliot is the writer to vanquish all…but in terms of the moderns, I don't think Hilary Mantel would be a bad choice. If Naipaul could write anything half as complex and engaging as Wolf Hall, I'd be tempted to forgive him everything!


  5. Wendy – A very good choice from what I've heard 🙂

    Biblibio – That was my first thought when I read the article. When you look back, I think Eliot stand out amongst female writers. But then, I am slightly biased…

    Eva – Thanks 🙂 I find that a lot of J-Lit is a one-man per writer job – I haven't seen a lot of retranslations anyway. I love Jay Rubin and as well as his Murakami work, I've got his version of Natsume Soseki's 'Sanshiro'. My major concern with J-Lit translations is that they are usually done by North Americans, which can spoil my enjoyment a little…

    As for your choices, I must admit I've never heard of Jamaica Kincaid, but Toni Morrison is a good match 🙂

    Em – That's true, but I think that if, when you're trying to find the best, the first (and perhaps only) female writer that comes to mind is Austen, it doesn't show a lot of imagination. Also, seeing that Naipaul was denigrating women for being cooped up at home and not having an overview of the world, Austen is definitely not the writer to choose! I think it just played into Naipaul's hands a little…

    Colleen – I must read 'Wolf Hall' at some point… The sad part of this is that I've probably read more by Naipaul than by half the writers mentioned above 😦


  6. Possibly he mentioned Austen because he's had a longstanding dislike of her. I think this is mentioned in Patrick French's biography, or else in Naipaul's Reading and Writing — I don't remember which. In either case, he's been sour against her work for years.

    And while I like your point — and I would nominate either Eliot or Christina Stead — I'm not sure 'demure' is the right word for Austen, if by “demure” you also mean “sweet, meek, and harmless.” Genuinely demure and harmless people aren't as funny as she is, and they don't make their families laugh by writing about historical brutalities. “Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2nd to resign it to him, & retire for the rest of his life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered,” she wrote when she was sixteen, parodying one of the Austens' schoolbooks, Oliver Goldsmith's History of England.

    She was well able to take down frauds and bullies. On the evidence she's given us I believe she could demolish the Naipaul type as precisely as she demolished the Mr Collins type. He would be grist, and she would mill him.

    Or you could say that she has already answered him. See Persuasion and, “We never can expect to prove any thing upon such a point. It is a difference of opinion which does not admit of proof.” She dealt with him two hundred years ago. The intelligence is hers, the stupidity is his. She is wise and he is a fool.


  7. Good point, but I think that in using Austen in the way the article did, it was playing into Naipaul's hands a little as his point was that women were stuck at home and therefore had no overview of the outside world. As Eva said on Twitter (I believe), this was setting up Austen as a 'Straw Man' (or woman!) for Naipaul to demolish. Of course, when you're interviewing someone like him it may be difficult to put in much of your own opinion…

    Perhaps 'demure' is not the most apt word for Ms. Austen though 😉


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