This guest blog post comes to you courtesy of Silpa Kovvali, a blogger for The Huffington Post currently residing in New York City and a Really Smart Lady. Follow her on Twitter!
Author VS Naipaul, affectionately referred to as “the grand bastard” by critic James Wood, out-bastarded himself at an interview earlier this week by casting aspersions on female writers. All of them. Via Gawker:
“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…My publisher, who 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.”
Naipaul prefaced his remarks with “I’m not sexist, but…”
This isn’t the least bit surprising given Naipaul’s history of violent and abusive behavior toward women. From Wood’s 2008 New Yorker profile:
“[He] used and used up his first wife, Patricia Hale, sometimes depending on her, at other times ignoring her, often berating and humiliating her…In 1972, Naipaul began a long, tortured, sadomasochistic affair with an Anglo-Argentine woman, Margaret Gooding. It was an intensely sexual relationship, which enacted, on Naipaul’s side, fantasies of cruelty and domination. On one occasion, jealous because Margaret was with another man, he said that he was “very violent with her for two days with my hand. . . . Her face was bad. She couldn’t really appear in public.”
But, I don’t know that this sentiment, also from this week’s interview, is entirely wrong:
“And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.”
It’s pretty accurate to say that oppressive social norms, particularly gender ones, necessarily impact our thought process, worldview, and voice. But social norms aren’t just oppressive for the marginalized. Ernest Hemingway and Richard Yates were both notoriously misogynistic, but “Hills Like White Elephants” and Revolutionary Road both turn on its head the notion of restraint as a feminine ideal. These works poignantly convey how harmful it can be to both partners in heterosexual relationships.
I often find myself frustrated with the limits of non-fiction as a medium for challenging damaging social constructs. It’s just impossible to convey the visceral, tangible emotional impact they have on all of our lives by parsing them in the abstract. And it’s at those times that I’m most inclined to sit down and write that semi-autobiographical novel I talk about at parties whenever I want to sound toolish and cliché.
I’m not intimately familiar with Naipaul’s oeuvre, but I’m surprised someone who’s known for writing about the cruel nature of British colonialism would characterize disenfranchisement as an obstacle to producing a great literary work. More often than not, art is made all the more powerful by the subjugation of the artist.