Nobel-winning novelist V. S. Naipaul recently started a firestorm with his remarks about female writers in general and Jane Austen in particular. According to the Guardian:
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."
The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world". "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too," he said.
Naipaul's words caused controversy for obvious reasons: They were self-serving, condescending, and, as any of Austen's millions of devoted readers could attest, wholly untrue. Not only was Austen's talent equal to that of virtually any other great writer, but she was about as "sentimental" as a surgeon's scalpel …
As my friend Lori Smith writes in her book A Walk with Jane Austen, "Biographers sometimes wrestle with Austen's complex character—the good Christian girl with the biting wit, with the ability to see and desire to expose the laughable and ludicrous …. She had a capacity for devotion as well as an ability to wryly, if at times harshly, engage the world around her."
But Naipaul's words will blow over before long, as publicity stunts tend to do. What should ...1
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