V.S. Naipaul, in an interview at the Royal Geographic Society reported in the Guardian, has said he doesn’t believe that any woman writer is his match and claims to be able to identify the gender of a writer within a couple of paragraphs. He makes it fairly clear that he considers women’s writing to be inferior to men’s. (I particularly enjoyed this remark: ‘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.’) Of course, as we can’t hear his tone, we can’t be sure he’s not joking; we may be pretty certain that he is attention seeking.
(V.S. Naipaul, photo from the BBC)
The Guardian has got into a bate about it and even compiled a quiz to see if you, yes you reader, can distinguish between men’s writing and women’s. It’s hard to tell what the point of that is since Naipaul has not done it to demonstrate his brilliance at spotting frightful womany writing and presumably the rest of us do know that women can write well and on other subjects than kissing and shopping.
Confronted with this, I just feel weary. Do we have to whip ourselves into a frenzy of sanctimony and judgieness over everything? Who cares if authors have eccentric opinions? They represent nobody but themselves. V.S. Naipaul is not a commissioning editor in a publishing house, an MP or a teacher, he is an elderly author who has made some silly comments – we could just ignore them and get on with our lives. After all, the writer of the article has managed to ignore anything else Naipaul said in the interview.