And now we see V.S Naipaul simply dismiss an entire gender’s worth of literature. From Jane Austen to Monica Ali women have come up through the ranks of authors in leaps and bounds. He complains about the usual route of most female writers (AKA to write feminist tosh) but forgetting that for every Yann Martell or Rushdie there exists a dozen or so male writers who write appalling books. The airport shelves are filled with countless books of war porn where men are men and enemies are massacred in short order while women are seduced by with manliness and the plot is like a bikini on a hippo. (unnecessary and small)
We don’t have writers like Germaine Greer going off on a tangent about how most male writers are purveyors of bad war porn or even worse science fiction and fantasy.
Okay, we cannot hold Rowling up as a literary genius in this day and age like we do Shakespeare. But lets not forget. Shakespeare was pure Lowest Common Denominator. His work today would be considered quite risqué and not suitable for children.
‘Yea,’ quoth he, ‘dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;
Wilt thou not, Jule?’ and, by my holidame,
The pretty wretch left crying and said ‘Ay.
When talking to Juliet as a child, her nurse jokes that when she is older and more wise she will fall backwards more often than front (It’s about the sex…). Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was mainly advertised to the poor. His popularity due to the sheer common factor and the raunchiness was part of the lure.
Rowling instead was a children’s writer who created a renewed interest in reading amongst children and continues to do so. The book is an elegant children’s book (Let’s be honest. Its good) and encourages the kind of good behaviour without being overtly preachy (No excessive friendship speeches till the last book.) and is just an old fashioned fantasy tale that got kids reading again. In the same way Dan Brown writes really good airport fiction based of conspiracy theory and religious concepts and ideas, but is responsible for encouraging people to read. Rowling created a tame world of the Famous Five but coupled with danger and adventure as understood by us despite writing about an entire world that is alien to most british people (The world of boarding schools.)
There maybe no person equal to Shakespeare of the female persuasion, but men have dominated the field of writing for millenia. Women have only been writing in equal numbers for the past 100 years. Let’s give it some time before we start damning them as literary incompetents whose mindless chicken scratch is only fit for harlequin novels. And I prefer reading books rather than discussing the intentions of authors. I found the Life of Pi interesting, I however found Beatrice and Virgil uncomfortable and bad.
Naipaul comes across a problem. A lot of indian literature is stuck in a colonial period of thought. Be it male or female. The issue being that the colonial nature of India is deeply entrenched in Indian culture either as a paradise for the anglo-indian demographic or as a hell hole against indian values and people. But it is the same in a lot of black american writers who write influenced by their history of slavery and the apartheid of america. It’s hard to ignore your own history and write a book untouched by your own cultural events.
Sure it may be banal now, but people will change. India can never live down it’s colonial past in much the same way the USA cannot. Year after year books will be released set in 1857 or 1947 just as how in America, books are released set in 1776 or 1960s because culturally those periods hold great importance as a whole. Every nation’s literature is set during periods of great public interest.
And my only criticism of Jane Austen is that most of her work is tediously boring. It’s hours and hours of listening to people go on about tea parties and biscuits and frightful formality. But that’s the thing. Literature is an art form and subjective. How many countless young women read the Twilight series of books and adore them? To me there is no saving grace in that book (Oh yes! I have read the first book.) How many young men think Tom Clancy books are “literature” rather than stuff you read when you are on the loo?
How about we do a little experiment? Let’s catalogue our answers (post in the comments) lets see if we can tell male writing from female writing.
Literature is subjective. V. S. Naipaul is in his rights to say this, but we are in our rights to call him a sexist and ignore him. I still think the biggest revolution in indian literature is at the hands of Salman Rushdie and Shoba Dee.