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Professional envy or justified criticism...

of British chauvinism...?

Naipaul attacks literary giants

Naipaul said his work had never been appreciated in England

Novelist Sir VS Naipaul has lambasted literary greats from Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to "the worst writer in the world" Henry James.
Naipaul said Thomas Hardy was "an unbearable writer" who "doesn't know how to compose a paragraph". And Ernest Hemingway "was so busy being an American" he "didn't know where he was", he told the Literary Review.

The Trinidad-born UK writer, who was knighted in 1990, said his own writings had been neglected in his home country.

"England has not appreciated or acknowledged the work I have done," he said.
Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001 and is best known for A House for Mr Biswas and the Booker Prize-winning In A Free State. "English writing is very much of England, for the people of England, and is not meant to travel too far," said the 73-year-old author.

The author slates Dickens for his "repetitiveness" and cites the experience of reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey as a revelatory one. "I thought halfway through the book, 'Here am I, a grown man reading about this terrible vapid woman and her so-called love life.' "I said to myself, 'What am I doing with this material? This is for somebody else, really."

But the author is more complimentary towards HG Wells, Mark Twain and his friend Harold Pinter. It is not the first time the Literary Review has provided a platform for the author's strong opinions.

In 2001, he accused EM Forster of being a sexual predator and described Irish author James Joyce as incomprehensible. Born in Trinidad in 1932, Naipaul came to England on a scholarship in 1950 and spent four years at University College, Oxford. Despite the controversy surrounding his work, he is one of the most successful of the generation of writers who left the Caribbean in the 1950s.

Source: BBC News, 29 March 2006

What do you think? Do the British overrate their 'own' authors, would this great author have had a different opinion of Jane Austen if he'd read Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion? Or is he just frustrated that he's more appreciated abroad than in his own country (if that's indeed the case), despite his knighthood?


Re: Professional envy or justified criticism...

Of course the British prefer their own authors, its a cultural thing, an understanding of the rhythm of language, i have enjoyed Niapul books, but sometimes he uses too much intricate language, like a lot of Indian authors.....and Indian Newspapers, it seems they think " why say something in 6 words when you can say it 116!?" ok that may be a little exaggeration. Years ago when my husband and i were back packing in China, the only english novels available to read were, the classic authors such as, Bronte Sisters, Hardy, Dickens, no Jane Austin! after 4 months of reading these classics only, i really began to understand the text, and began to really feel the stories, much more than in my youth! Jude the Obscure has haunted me forever, my hubby enjoyed Villette (urgh).. my point is, that was the language we were reading and we became part of it, the more we read.....maybe if we all read Niapul and nowt else.. may help! i think not. "English writing is very much of England, for the people of England, and is not meant to travel too far," well what is wrong for English writers to write for the people of England...... Do they not say its better to write what you know....
Interestingly my 11 yr daughter has just read P&P, too wordy she says... too much description she says.... read it again I advise and do not read a modern novel in between.....and heh presto, she cannot put it down..

Re: Professional envy or justified criticism...

We Dutch aren't exactly chauvinists. Sometimes, I even think we could do with a little bit more pride for our own culture. Of course we are most comfortable reading books in our own language, but foreign authors are as popular, either read translated or in the original language.

I must confess that I have Naipaul on my shelves, but so far I haven't read any of his books! I will sometime, but so far I have other priorities. (Sorry, Mr. Naipaul, but your turn will come).

Fantastic, Trixiara, that your daughter already loves P&P! It's so lovely to share a love like that with your daughter, don't you think? My daughter (who's 20) has read the book while in high school (just like her mother) and read it again recently. She likes it very much too. We've watched the new movie as well as the BBC series together.


Re: Professional envy or justified criticism...

He does have a point. I love JA to death, but I wouldn't love her for NA if it were the only novel she'd written. You know how I dislike Dickens. Hardy isn't perfect either. What Naipul did was voice criticism and that is perfectly legitimate. We all have a tendency to glorify our writers and heap praise upon them where they don't deserve it. We should always question writers and not treat them like gods.

Speaking of critique, I have some for Naipaul, too! The only book of his I read is "The Enigma of Arrival". While reading it I very often thought "What am I doing here reading about the life crisis of this middle-aged writer???" So there you go, dear Mr. Naipaul. - He's no more above petty little details and boring self-reflection than anyone else (!). But to be fair, of course he criticises English literary canon. As a sensible man with a colonial background he'd be weird if he didn't. So of course he criticises someone like Dickens who wanted to get rid of all those "savages" or someone like JA who just filtered out all the unpleasantness of the world. But what is even more important is that he, a 21st century writer, tries to make a speech for himself and his literature. He won't change my mind though. I'm definitely stuck in the literary past. I don't dislike him for his comments though.

Re: Professional envy or justified criticism...

I'm definitely stuck in the literary past. I don't dislike him for his comments though.

Lord no, of course not, and it's very interesting what you said about his colonial past.

Besides, it never hurts when someone "knocks down sacred little houses", a Dutch expression of which I don't know the English equivalent but means that one should never take for granted what others have elevated to "holiness" (figurally speaking).

As said, I still have to read Naipaul, but he'll have to wait. I'm moving on less literary levels at the moment, but I'll be back...