There’s no denying that V.S. Naipaul, who turns 80 today, is an excellent writer. The recipient of a Nobel Prize in Literature (among various other prizes) and universally praised for his skill with the English language — even the hard-to-please author and critic Evelyn Waugh once remarked that Naipaul’s prose “put to shame his British contemporaries” — Naipaul is definitely one of the literary greats of our generation. Unfortunately, he can also be kind of a jerk. Not that he minds. “If a writer doesn’t generate hostility, he is dead,” the Indo-Trinidadian-British writer once declared. In that case, Naipaul (the “VS” is an apt abbreviation) is very much kicking.
Now don’t get us wrong: insults are one thing — and Naipaul, who called Henry James “the worst writer in the world” and alleged that Hemingway was “so busy being an American” that he “didn’t know where he was” was certainly full of them — but then there are the comments that go beyond insulting and wind up being seriously offensive to wide groups of people. After the jump, we’ve collected a few of the most shocking, controversial, and flat-out worst things the author has ever said — click through if you dare.
At a literary gathering in Trinidad in 1980, referring to the Trinidadian reading public: “I can’t see a Monkey — you can use a capital M, that’s an affectionate word for the generality — reading my work… These people live purely physical lives, which I find contemptible… It makes them only interesting to chaps in universities who want to do compassionate studies about brutes.”
In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society in 2011, when asked if he considered any female writer his equal: ”I don’t think so.” Singling out Jane Austen, he explained that he ”couldn’t possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world.” Then: ”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.” This is all because of a woman’s inherent ”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.”
Naipaul’s reaction to Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka winning the Nobel in 1986 (according to Paul Theroux): ”Has he written anything?” Then adding that the Nobel Committee was, as usual, “pissing on literature from a great height.”
Both criticizing E.M. Forster’s writing and accusing him of being a sexual predator in an interview with the Literary Review: “Forster of course has his own purposes in India. He is a homosexual and he has his time in India… He just knew the court and a few middle-class Indians and a few garden boys whom he wished to seduce.”
In Uganda: “Africans need to be kicked, that’s the only thing they understand.”
Of Trinidad: “unimportant, uncreative, cynical, a dot on the map.”
Of Islam: “It has had a calamitous effect on converted peoples. To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say ‘my ancestral culture does not exist, it doesn’t matter’.”
As he explained to Paul Theroux: “The melancholy thing about the world is that it is full of stupid people; and the world is run for the benefit of the stupid and common.”
At the opening of Cheltenham literature festival in 2001: “The trouble with people like me writing about societies where there is no intellectual life is that if you write about it, people are angry… If they read the book, which in most cases they don’t, they want approval. Now India has improved, the books have been accepted… Forty years ago in India people were living in ritual. This is one of the things I have helped India with.”
Naipaul’s response to the question “What is the future in Africa?”: ”Africa has no future.”