The guy above with the adorable expression is Nobel Prize-winning novelist V.S. Naipul. A couple of weeks ago he made a claim that I’m sure you readers of the female persuasion will find absolutely charming.
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.
Naipul says that women’s writing is easily identifiable because they are full of “sentimentality” and a “narrow view of the world”. This narrow view, he says, is because women are never “a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.”
I mean, I’m no Nobel Prize winner, so I may just be blowing smoke out of my ass, but most of the authors that I’ve really felt a personal connection with have been women authors — even if I am in possession of a decidedly male appendage.
The first “serious” and “adult” author I really got into — after dabbling in a little Sidney Sheldon, Rosemary Rogers, and Terry Brooks — was Anne Rice. I liked her so much that if I didn’t have enough money to get one of her books, I’d shoplift from the neighborhood bookstore.
More than any author I was reading at the time, Anne Rice and her books actually made me feel like I wasn’t the only outsider in the world. I not only found her bisexual vampires hot, but I also saw in them a reassurance that being an outsider doesn’t necessarily translate to being powerless. Lestat and his kind may have been disconnected from the rest of humanity, but they were far from being oppressed pushovers.
From there, I’ve almost always ended up liking works by female authors over those of male authors. I spent several years of my life — and several trips around Asia — completing my collection of the works of Virginia Woolf and Colette. And I hardly think anyone in their right mind can accuse these two of “sentimentality”.
Colette, in particular, was especially vicious when it came to that most sentimental of all themes — love. Anyone who’s read “Green Wheat” (1923) will marvel at how coldly Colette — through her female characters — efficiently eviscerates the ego of the novel’s main male character.
And this coldness didn’t even come at a later stage in her writing career — Colette was already doing it as early as 1909 with “The Innocent Libertine“. Hell, even her “Claudine” novels — the very first novels she ever wrote — won’t exactly rank very high on the sentimentality meter.
And I don’t think this coldness isn’t the sole province of women writers who wrote 50 years ago either. Naipaul’s fellow Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek’ comes to mind. “The Piano Teacher” and its squick-inducing rape scene at its climax is certainly more devoid of sentimentality than anything Naipaul ever wrote.
The movie version isn’t any better.
At least the women writers have choice words for Naipaul as well. Karen Hulme, 1985 Booker Prize winner for “The Bone People”, called Naipaul a “slug” and a “misogynist prick whose works are dying“.
The Guardian has also put up the Naipaul Test, where you try and guess the author’s gender based on one paragraph from his work. I got an 8 out of 10! If any of you take the test as well, leave your scores in the comments section!
Also, if you guys know of any other female author that can kick Naipaul’s ass, feel free to recommend them and their books to me in the comments section. There’s always room for a kickass female author on my shelf!
* mansplain — n. to delight in condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation (From Urban Dictionary)