The life and loves of VS Naipul

the equally pompus current Mrs NaipulVidia Naipul regards himself as the greatest living writer of the English language. Those who know him best have a different and much less flattering view.

This word “master”, used often in the letters, is interesting. It is a slave word. In role playing – and most of these love letters refer to highly eroticised power games – the master is regarded as dominant; but, paradoxically, it is usually the submissive person, the masochist, who has the ultimate power – maddening for the sadist.

Here is one instance. Margaret shows up unexpectedly in Wiltshire. Naipaul is displeased with her. He beats her and afterwards explains, “I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt . . . She didn’t mind at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her. Her face was bad. She couldn’t appear really in public. My hand was swollen.”

And later:

The end is eventful. Dissatisfied with Margaret, annoyed with Pat for having cancer (“He felt angry that [Pat] was dying and angry that she was not dying fast enough”), he meets a Pakistani divorcee in Lahore and very soon afterwards asks her, “Will you consider one day being Lady Naipaul?”

He dumps Margaret without explanation. Pat (so as not to be a nuisance) forgoes more chemotherapy and dies miserably. Six days later, before the worms can pierce Pat’s winding sheet, the Pakistani woman has moved into the house. There the story ends, a powerful lesson in karma as the sour and much-shrunken figure marries this peculiar stranger.

The other constant thread running through Naipul’s life is race. Like many Indians confronting the poisonous race environment of the UK, Naipul fortifes his self esteem by mocking black people.

Is it West Indian waggishness when he speaks of “negroes at [Princess Diana’s] shrines, weeping openly”, or “little negro children running up and down the street [in London], causing me distress”. Or consider his reaction to the news that the cricketer Viv Richards and his Indian wife have had a baby: “How could she have a child by that nigger?” Or this comment on the Nobel prize (1988): “Of course I won’t get it – they’ll give it to some nigger or other.”

For Naipul’s fragile self image it seems its preferable to be second on the race ladder than last. The Telegraph has a short sketch of Naipul’s life. In the end, it is poetic justice that Naipul marries an equally pompous, Pakistani divorcee Nadira Alvi

The following night, Patricia Naipaul fell into a coma. Vidia removed her Cartier watch for fear it might be stolen by a passing health worker. The next morning, on Saturday, February 3, 1996, a little before seven o’clock, she passed away. After the cremation, Vidia returned to Dairy Cottage and took photographs of Pat’s meagre possessions: her bed, her spectacles, her shoes, her medicines, and the snow outside. Angela went to Sainsbury’s to buy food: cheese, Cox’s apples, black and green olives. Vidia noted on the receipt: ‘The olives were for Nadira, arriving on the 9th Feb.’ A local taxi drove Vidia up to Heathrow to collect Nadira, while Angela, shocked to the core, prepared the food for his bride. And so it was that on the day after he had cremated his wife, VS Naipaul invited a new woman into her house – or his house – and the funeral green olives did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Despite being a whore mongering narcissist, Vaipul remains a compelling writer, one whose opinions deserve the attention of Muslims whom he often savagely criticized.

25 comments ↓

#1 W. H. Auden via Cinna on 04.13.08 at 6:30 pm

Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent

And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique
Worships language and forgives
Anyone in whom it lives.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views
And will pardon Paul Claudel
Pardons him for writing well.

#2 JDsg on 04.13.08 at 6:38 pm

The Economist recently had an article about Naipaul’s biography: Naked Ambition.

One thing sticks, though: his crushing lordliness over both his wife and the mistress he abandoned after more than 20 years. Pat suffered most, and Mr French writes movingly about her: her patience, her devotion, her utter belief in her husband’s work, and his very real dependence on her judgment. The closing pages—about Pat dying from cancer, about Sir Vidia’s complicated remorse and his simultaneous pursuit of her successor—are enough to draw tears.

#3 Baybers on 04.13.08 at 7:12 pm

Cinna,

I think your sentiments may be correct in Naipul’s case

#4 Nic on 04.13.08 at 7:42 pm

Yeah, so what happened with Jeffrey Archer then? No pardon there for writing well.

#5 2cv on 04.13.08 at 8:13 pm

“Pat (so as not to be a nuisance) forgoes more chemotherapy and dies miserably”

those were the days, they don’t build women like THAT anymore

#6 Julaybib on 04.14.08 at 2:25 am

There are thousands of writers out there worth reading, to provoke and enlighten and even infuriate. Why throw away valuable time on V S Nutcase’s articulate twaddle?

#7 Sarah K on 04.14.08 at 6:19 am

I wonder how telling the world that an idioitic self-indulge fool “remains a compelling writer” is “serving the Muslim community of Autralia” ?

#8 Baybers on 04.14.08 at 7:38 am

Julaybib and Sarah K

Difficult as this maybe for you to accept, it is only those insecure in their faith who don’t on occasion read what their critics are saying about them.

Unfortunately the Muslim community only reads people with whom they already agree. For some Muslims that is appropriate because they are so ignorant of Islam that reading any attack on it will cause them to become a murtad.

But for religiously educated Muslims with some degree of intelligence, reading Naipul should be no big deal. He does write well if nothing else, and your written expression may improve.

“Idiotic self- indulge fool” may actually morph into a more stinging, or even a more grammatically correct insult.

The alternative is that one could just retreat back into the aussiemuslims or MV creche where the merits of squeezing ones blackheads are endlessly discussed, and old Noam Chomsky articles are clutched like talisman against anything that might upset the carefully constructed echo-chamber.

#9 Baybers on 04.14.08 at 8:13 am

To give two examples

1. If I did not read the Telegraph and the Times (both papers are very critical of Muslims and sometimes of Islam) I would never have come across the links which you are now reading.

2. We came across an absurd article on Tim Blair’s (aggressively anti-Muslim) website about suicide bombers trying to mate. We tracked down the source and attacked his qualification to write on the subject. The ultimate author of the piece (an Oxford professor) wrote to Austrolabe, withdrawing the basic premise of the article. ie he retreated in public from his previously publicly held position.

Professor Gambetta has written to Austrolabe to clarify that the Psychology Today article misrepresents his views. “I have never held such a view, never even discussed it in my book or elsewhere and I disagree with it entirely,” he writes.

All of these things are accomplished by reading ones critics. The fact that you cannot understand this suggests that perhaps Austrolabe is not the right place for you.

#10 John Greenfield on 04.14.08 at 10:57 am

Naipaul is a controversial writer, like that other postcolonial poet. ;)

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper–
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard–
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Have done with childish days–
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

#11 thabet on 04.14.08 at 1:08 pm

Naipaul is of Brahmin origin isn’t he? Why is his elitism such a surprise then?

I agree that VSN is a very good writer (if we judge him purely on his artistic merits) even if he appears to be a horrible person.

#12 John Greenfield on 04.14.08 at 1:37 pm

thabet, that is a very good point. Sadly too often today people judge artists according to political ideology, rather than artistic merit.

#13 Sarah K on 04.14.08 at 10:55 pm

Baybers, reading our non-Muslim critiques is one thing but to praise them with words like “compelling” suggests some degree of appreciation for a man who ridicules Islam. Maybe you haven’t yet found blog mentioning his ideas about “the calamitous effect of Islam on the world”. Perhaps you should read his books first.

As for grammar you are no Shakespare yourself. I saw your little spat with Adny where you tried to limit the use of the word “misread” in the freespeech dicussion. You didn’t seem to have gained much from your indulgence and fascination with the likes of Naipul and other Muslim haters!

And come to think of it, I do not need to read Hindu critiques of Muslims, reading you and your friends on this website is enough for that purpose!

#14 Baybers on 04.15.08 at 7:35 am

Sarah K,

you are adny(sic) and andy

#15 Ibrahim on 04.15.08 at 8:22 am

Guys, just ignore Sarah K/Adny/Andy. They sound like they have serious issues.

#16 aiman on 04.15.08 at 1:37 pm

“Like many Indians confronting the poisonous race environment of the UK, Naipul fortifes his self esteem by mocking black people.”

Let me just say that India, like Brazil, is one of the most racist places on the planet. The masses have bought into the post-conquest narrative. People literally advertise in newspapers that they want “fair brides”. A failure of humanity. This seems to be the trend in countries that surround it as well. A pitiable state indeed. However, there is no form of institutionalised racism. Hopefully, with time this problem will disappear.

#17 Baybers on 04.15.08 at 2:34 pm

aiman, I agree with your view, the subcontinent does have race issues, all societies do. Naipul’s reaction is a typical of someone from a race stratified society.

“If I cannot be first on the race ladder, then I will be second”

that is why I think he is so savagely racist against people with skin darker than his.

#18 sarah on 04.15.08 at 7:45 pm

Grr. I don’t care what how much of a ‘brilliant’ writer these (bastardo) artistic types are- the sheer callousness in which they treat the women in their personal lives speaks volumes about their total failure as human beings.

Give me a Robert Browning over a Shelley or Ted Hughes anyday.

Naipul is amusing though in his own vitriolic way for the sheer audacity of his racism. (I think once asked on what the tikka on a Hindu woman’s forehead represented he said ‘My head is empty’!)

Ditto Baybers about being muslims offended. Although ‘Among the believers’ was a bad PR moment you just gotta keep your chin up and resist the temptation to burn things. haha (j/k). The worst is when these foes are actually talented you can’t attack them for bad writing :)

other options-
1. Call said writer ‘callous bastard’
2. Read some Edward Said.
3. Cry in a corner for a little bit
4. Find a talented writer with opposing views or better yet one who elegantly tears apart said writer for you.
5. Enjoy feeling angry/provoked/outraged- it’s probably intended and maybe even come to accept different perspectives. Life is not all about ideologies and political persuasions after all. (This is a last option and not recommended:)

#19 Cinna on 04.16.08 at 5:31 am

“Like many Indians confronting the poisonous race environment of the UK, Naipul fortifes his self esteem by mocking black people.”

Actually, Naipaul’s hostility to black people- and there’s not much evidence that he is more hostile to black people than to the rest of the human care, actually- probably derives from the West Indian environment of his childhood.

#20 aiman on 04.16.08 at 2:26 pm

“Actually, Naipaul’s hostility to black people- and there’s not much evidence that he is more hostile to black people than to the rest of the human care, actually- probably derives from the West Indian environment of his childhood.”

If that hostility derives from his experience in the West Indies, it still doesn’t explain anything. Rather it reinforces his image as a pompous and sexist maniac who is incapable of making moral judgements no matter how well how his jaunty mind produces prose in between incontrollable spasms. He has written books but he has never thought out anything good.

#21 SSK on 04.16.08 at 9:42 pm

I think any treatment of Naipul by a Muslim should include a reference to his book “Among the Believers” because it is in that work his anti-Muslim bias is laid bare.

As for literary skill, the problem with reading Naipul is that all you get “is Naipul” even when he is reporting what others have to say, he interrupts the discussion, tries to controls the meaning of words and invariably superimposes his own bias opinions upon the utterances of others. This makes his literature, in terms intellectual stimulation, excruciatingly bland and a boring .

#22 Parry on 04.16.08 at 9:51 pm

If someone doesn’t like Muslims does that mean that they are a bad writer?

I think good writing can stand on its own and be appreciated regardless of the political views of the author. I can read Gore Vidal without also approving of or enjoying his admissions of sodomy. Or must I mention every time I say I like Vidal’s biographical work, that I disapprove of his gayness?

#23 antish on 04.24.08 at 11:09 am

Who CARES what an author is “really” like? I don’t read (or not) books because I think the author is (or isn’t) a “nice” person. That’s the amorality of art that people who aren’t into art often don’t get.

#24 Club Troppo » Missing Link Daily on 07.22.08 at 4:01 am

[...] Baybers considers the latest installment of the Hatfield-McCoy literary feud between V.S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux. [...]

#25 seth on 10.04.08 at 2:12 pm

Hey you all, Pat Naipaul couold have divorced him anytime in that 40 years of marriage. She was after all an Oxford graduate and not a bride VSN procured from India.

Life is complicated and only the hypocrites will claim their own relationships and marriages are betterthan others. I am not VSN apologist but I ask you to intrspect your own lives too before casting stones at VSN.

1. Ignoring a woman you married? How many other men have and are doing this?

2. Beating a woman? Oh I see, this does not happen elsewhere, only VSN does it, and that is why we have domestic violence laws, programmes to educate women of their rights and protectives processes etc?

3. Visiting prostitutes? Hmmm….VSN must be the only guy to have done this and he must have slept with all the prostitutes in this world as no other man ever ever has visited a prostitute…

what I am saying is that this Nobel Proze winner obviously has had a life similiar to many others, only difference is it is publsihed and ours will never see the printers…he is no saint by any strech of the imagination and he does come across as being cruel and totally self interested – veryu clinical in meeting his own selfishness.

His writing showever blows the mind…I read one article that postulated he decided to have a full wash o fhis dirty laundry so that the public curiosity will be satiated and return to the value of his writings.

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