UPDATE III: Naipaul Right About Women Writers



It is getting harder to tell men from women writers, as males have been so thoroughly feminized over the last couple of decades. Still, Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul is correct when he states the following: “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.” In general, you can indeed tell right away if what you’re reading was penned by a man or a woman. On the whole, the best writers have always been men, still are. I excerpt here from “The Silly Sex?,” in which I was way to kind:

Since 1950, women have won only five Nobels in literature. And some of those are questionable. How can one put Toni Morrison into the literary company of Patrick White, Albert Camus, and Isaac Bashevis Singer? In past years, the literature prize went to authors of the caliber of J. M. Coetzee, Günter Grass, and V.S. Naipaul. But last year, Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek was awarded the literature prize. I’m not suggesting the grumpy Jelinek is a fraud like Guatemalan leftist and Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu. Some of Jelinek’s dusty works, translated crudely into English, showcase some skill (if one can stomach the contrived subject matter). However, unlike her male predecessors, she is better known for politically correct posturing than for penning memorable works of literature.

Naipaul fingers women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world … that comes over in her writing too.” True. Sentimentality, moreover, accounts for why women (including those with the Y chromosome) are wont to misplace compassion. If you can’t think clearly, your feelings tend to be muddled and flimsy; your sense of justice is skewed too.

Mundane, mainstream media are furious with Naipaul. This Via NPR:

Alex Clark, a literary journalist, said: “It’s absurd. I suspect VS Naipaul thinks that there isn’t anyone who is his equal. Is he really saying that writers such as Hilary Mantel, A S Byatt, Iris Murdoch are sentimental or write feminine tosh?”

YES! When Vladimir Nabokov, Patrick White and Isaac Bashevis Singer died, I stopped reading novels.

As for non-fiction, Ann Coulter (and this writer) excepted, where is the woman who writes a strong, witty, wickedly funny column? Nowhere. Sure, I like Diana West a lot, but even she suffers from that singularly female proclivity to fixate obsessively on one issue only: Islam this; Islam that. On and on. All terribly important, but it can get repetitive. And that’s another thing: Non-fiction female writers cleave to a couple of easy, oft-charged subjects. Most steer clear of economics. (How many Amity Shlaes are there?) They simply don’t seem to have a wide array of interests. (I’ve covered Ann Coulter’s awful acolytes in many a blog post, “The Republican Tart Trust” is one.)

I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered, though: men generally prefer women who’re sentimental and unhinged, so long as they don’t have a better head than they do.

UPDATE I (June 3): Cross-posted on Facebook:

Has any of my Hebrew-speaking readers read Shmuel Yosef Agnon? Pure genius. Better than Naipaul. He was, of course, widely translated, as is all Hebrew literature. A translation would not do justice to Agnon’s use of the Hebrew language. But this was required reading when I was growing up. The current crop of Hebrew writers is as bad as their English, stream-of-consciousness counterparts.

Agnon was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966, well before honoring females, however forgettable, became the rule.

UPDATE II: Myron, Ayn rand was one of the greatest essayists, showcasing a brilliant, unparalleled capacity to development a logical argument. But one would be less than honest as a writer—and fall into sycophancy—if one failed to mention that her style was a little dour, lacking in any humor. The classical liberal philosopher DAVID CONWAY alludes to this fact here.

UPDATE III: Rob, I do think Brookner is a genius. I devour her books. I discussed her with Derb, who, in my opinion, has mistaken her subject matter—the utter aloneness of a certain kind of character—for some sort of feminine preoccupation. However, Brookner has written equally of males in this predicament. I ventured that because our Derb is such a suave, confident gentleman, he does not empathize with the kind of person who is as alone as Brookner’s protagonists are. Needles to say, I do.

10 thoughts on “UPDATE III: Naipaul Right About Women Writers

  1. RJ

    I read so few modern novels except crime novels – in which, historically, female writers have been at least equal to male writers and in some cultures (e.g. England between the wars) superior – that, purely by accident, I’ve managed to spare myself the worst forms of literary estrogen. Female non-crime novelists whom I do read tend to have some brains, e.g. A. S. Byatt. The works of these authors (Anita Brookner is another one I could’ve mentioned; so is the late Nancy Mitford) might not be the most heart-pounding page-turners ever written but one can be reasonably certain that even their dopiest characters will not be quite in the Britney Spears league of infantile self-indulgence. I long since ceased to have any such hopes of, say, Toni Morrison’s interchangeable onanists.

    Of course I also spare myself the worst forms of male proletkult. It’s great to be able to boast, aged 49, that one has never finished reading a single screed by (a) Roddy Doyle, (b) Irvine Welsh, or (c) the late unlamented Frank McCourt, surely the greatest Anglophone liar since Alger Hiss.

  2. james huggins

    Sentimental and unhinged women are usually dumb like a bunch of foxes. But, in their defense I must say there is no turn off greater than to watch and listen to some females trying to show everybody how man like they are. In this vain effort to thwart nature they invariably try to do the things that men do badly. Bad language, casual sex attitudes, ass scratching and spitting on the sidewalk. But, these practices don’t define manhood. Females can’t carry it off without looking like the phonies they are. Of course contemporary men make it easy for these misguided females. No wonder all the schoolgirls want to be paratroopers and the boys all want to be dancers. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

  3. Myron Pauli

    It would be interesting to see if Naipaul’s comments extend to scientific/technical writing (I’d be somewhat doubtful since it is generally entirely dehumanized).

    Hey – what about Saint Ayn? Actually, I read her essays (cogent), but no novels other than Anthem (weird). Frankly, Fountainhead’s “love story” was rather bizarre…

    As for scientist/engineer women – there are many whom I admire technically but the Nerdettes tend to have the seductivness/sexuality of a doorknob …. but the other end of the scale – I’d want to either shoot myself or my mate if I found myself in a relationship with a complete ditzy dingbat.

    A lot of nerds seem to have been happy with social workers (I was), nurses, and “professionals” in areas that involve a combination of compassion and competence.

    And I think Sean did quite well with a very good writer and logical thinker!

    [Myron, you know “nutting.” If I tell Sean about a book- or column topic, he gives me a list of logical pitfalls I should avoid. LIKE I NEED HIS INSTRUCTION! I adore my husband—and admire his brilliance—but he still instructs me how to do my job.]

  4. CompassionateFascist

    These days, I read only warbooks…And there’s some first rate writing by women in this area. Eve Curie’s 1941 tavelogue, Journey Among Warriors, is one of the half-dozen best correspondent’s books to come out of WW II; Mary Lee Settle’s All the Brave Promises, an account of her service on an 8th Air Force groundcrew in England, is a flat out masterpiece; Elena Skrjabina’s Siege and Survival might be the best of all the Leningrad diaries; likewise Freya Stark’s 1941-45 Middle East account, Dust in the Lion’s Paw. And plenty of others. These babes can write.

  5. RJ

    Talking of writing (both male and female), what in the world has happened to TAKIMAG of late? Okay, a few adult authors (Buchanan, Gottfried, Sailer, Derbyshire) get their submissions accepted there still, for which relief much thanks; but for the most part we have to put up with this sort of thing:

    “Every summer there’s a new trend that makes our dicks shrivel so far into our bodies, it looks like we have two belly buttons.”

    I forbear to quote the author’s long, admittedly virtuosic, passage about toilet paper. (Actually I’m rather sympathetic to the fellow who wrote in this screed’s combox: “This article was a waste of time. The writer belongs in Maxim or some other magazine dedicated to horny young men.” This comment’s accuracy so impressed me that I immediately clicked on the “Like” button.)

    Oh yes, and just in case you thought that the female contributors were any better, the website’s agony aunt – one Delphina Boncompagni Ludovisi – has titled her latest effort: “Nympho Home-Wrecker, Jilted Leg-Breaker, and Lesbian Vagina-Inspector.” Charming, n’est-ce pas?

    Not only is this (to quote a phrase that you, Ilana, have coined) The Age Of The Idiot, it’s also The Age Of The Eternal Pubescent.

  6. lonegranger

    I don’t read novels. Real life and science is far more fabulous.

    Regarding columnists, If the first paragraph makes sense, I’ll read the last. If that makes sense, I might read the middle stuff. Dipshittery is not determined by the mass of No. 23.

    An interesting aside regarding “planned parenthood” here. In humans, the ratio of males to females is 1.05, in quadrupeds the ratio is reversed. The ratio of mass between X and Y in No. 23 is 1.03. The gravidy of this observation may be accelerating! ….. I have just been cuffed in the back of my head with a rolled up copy of American Rifleman!

    In conclusion, dipshittery aside, yes, a reader regardless of sex can usually sense whether the writer is male or female depending on the apparent priorities of the author.

    Have a swell day!

  7. George Pal

    Rebecca West is worth reading. She could turn a phrase, paint panoramas and portraits, and recognized virtues and defects for what they were, not least those found in men and women: “women are idiots”, “men are lunatics”, she insisted.

  8. Myron Pauli

    Ilana – agree with you and David Conway – Saint Ayn could have used a little of Marx (Groucho – that is, not Karl) – uber-serious and unfunny not to mention a childless world (no child “parasites” as in Leave It To Beaver) and the quasi kinky uber-Neitzschian romances… – but also cogent, logical, and brilliant at the same time.

    The only “novel” I read in the last 38 years was Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park (far superior to the movie). I have read a lot of “science fiction” working in the Defense Department!

    [I loved GP the movie! Classic. Check my mention of it in “Vanilla Pie-in-the-Sky with Diamonds.”]

  9. Jim

    My time is more limited these days, but I want to take the opportunity to thank you Ilana, for being the precious resource you are. Guard your fire well, for it warms all of us.

    BTW, one night’s viewing of TV provides incredible evidence of what you say regarding our culture, as we are offered one effeminate hero after another, undistinguishable from most women even in their dress, many of them lawyers, who ‘guard’ our honor without wit and attract women no self-respecting man would ever consider.

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