V. S. Naipaul

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Sir
V. S. Naipaul (विद्याधर सूरजप्रसाद नैपाल)
TC
File:VS Naipal 2016 Dhaka.jpg
VS Naipaul in Dhaka in 2016
Born Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul[nb 1]
(1932-08-17) 17 August 1932 (age 87)
Chaguanas, Caroni County, Trinidad and Tobago
Occupation Novelist, travel writer, essayist
Citizenship British, born in Trinidad.[1]
Period 1957–2010
Genre Novel, essay
Notable works A House for Mr Biswas
In a Free State
A Bend in the River
The Enigma of Arrival
Notable awards Booker Prize
1971
Nobel Prize in Literature
2001
Spouse

Patricia Ann Hale Naipaul (1955–96, her death)

Nadira Khannum Alvi Naipaul (1996–present)

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, विद्याधर सूरजप्रसाद नैपाल, TC (/ˈnpɔːl/ or /nˈpɔːl/; born 17 August 1932), is a Nobel Prize-winning British writer who was born in Trinidad.[1] He is known for his comic early novels set in Trinidad and Tobago, his bleaker later novels of the wider world, and his autobiographical chronicles of life and travels. He has published more than thirty books, both of fiction and nonfiction, over some fifty years.

Early life[edit]

"Where there had been swamp at the foot of the Northern Range, with mud huts with earthen walls that showed the damp halfway up ... there was now the landscape of Holland.... Sugarcane as a crop had ceased to be important. None of the Indian villages were like villages I had known. No narrow roads; no dark, overhanging trees; no huts; no earth yards with hibiscus hedges; no ceremonial lighting of lamps, no play of shadows on the wall; no cooking of food in half-walled verandas, no leaping firelight; no flowers along gutters or ditches where frogs croaked the night away. [2]"
 — From Enigma of Arrival (1987)

V. S. Naipaul, familiarly Vidia Naipaul, was born on 17 August 1932 in Chaguanas in Trinidad.[3] He was the second child of his mother Droapatie (née Capildeo) and father Seepersad Naipaul.[3] In the 1880s, his grandparents emigrated from India to work as farm labourers.[4] In the Indian immigrant community in Trinidad, Naipaul's father became an English-language journalist, and in 1929 began contributing articles to the Trinidad Guardian.[5] In 1932, the year Naipaul was born, his father joined the staff as the Chaguanas correspondent.[6] In "A prologue to an autobiography" (1983), Naipaul describes how his father's reverence for writers and for the writing life spawned his own dreams and aspirations to become a writer.[7]

The Naipauls believed themselves to be the descendants of Hindu Brahmins,[8] though they did not observe many of the practices and restrictions common to Brahmins in India.[9][10][11] The family gradually stopped speaking Indian languages and spoke English at home.[12]

In 1939, when he was seven years old, Naipaul's family moved to Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain,[13][14] where Naipaul enrolled in the government-run Queen's Royal College, a well-regarded school that was modelled after a British public school.[15] Upon graduation, Naipaul won a Trinidad Government scholarship that allowed him to study at any institution of higher learning in the British Commonwealth; he chose Oxford.

Education in England[edit]

At Oxford, Naipaul's early attempts at writing, he felt, were contrived. Lonely and unsure of his ability and calling, he became depressed.[16] In April 1952, he took an impulsive trip to Spain, where he quickly spent all he had saved.[17] He called his impulsive trip "a nervous breakdown."[18] Thirty years later, he called it "something like a mental illness."[19]

In 1952, before visiting Spain, Naipaul met Patricia Ann Hale, his future wife, at a college play. With Hale's support, he began to recover and gradually to write. She became a partner in planning his career. Her family was hostile to the relationship; his was unenthusiastic. In June 1953, Naipaul and Hale graduated from Oxford.

In 1953, Naipaul's father died.[20] He worked at odd jobs and borrowed money from Pat and his family in Trinidad.

Life in London[edit]

"The freelancers' room was like a club: chat, movement, the separate anxieties of young or youngish men below the passing fellowship of the room. That was the atmosphere I was writing in. That was the atmosphere I gave to Bogart’s Port of Spain street. Partly for the sake of speed, and partly because my memory or imagination couldn’t rise to it, I had given his servant room hardly any furniture: the Langham room itself was barely furnished. And I benefited from the fellowship of the room that afternoon. Without that fellowship, without the response of the three men who read the story, I might not have wanted to go on with what I had begun."
 — From, "A Prologue to an Autobiography" (1983).[21]

Naipaul moved to London in 1954. In December of that year, Henry Swanzy, the producer of a BBC weekly programme called Caribbean Voices, hired Naipaul as presenter. A generation of Caribbean writers had debuted on Caribbean Voices, including George Lamming, Samuel Selvon, Derek Walcott, and Naipaul himself. Naipaul stayed in the part-time job for four years. In those years, Pat was the breadwinner in the family.

In January 1955, he and Pat were married. Neither informed their family or friends. Pat continued to live in Birmingham and visited Naipaul on weekends.

At the BBC, Naipaul appeared on Caribbean Voices once a week, wrote short reviews, and conducted interviews. Sitting in the BBC freelancers' room in the old Langham Hotel one summer afternoon in 1955, he wrote "Bogart", the first story of Miguel Street. The story was inspired by a neighbour he knew as a child in Port of Spain. Naipaul wrote Miguel Street in five weeks. The New York Times said about Miguel Street: "The sketches are written lightly, so that tragedy is understated and comedy is overstated, yet the ring of truth always prevails."[22]

Early Trinidad novels[edit]

Diana Athill, an editor at the publishing company André Deutsch, read Miguel Street and liked it, but publisher, André Deutsch thought a book of short stories by an unknown Caribbean writer unlikely to sell profitably in Britain.[23] He encouraged Naipaul to write a novel.[23] Naipaul quickly wrote The Mystic Masseur [23] and it was published in 1955.

In 1956, Naipaul returned to Trinidad for a two-month stay with his family. Travelling by ship there, he sent humorous sketches of the ship's West Indian passengers to Pat.[24] These sketches became the inspiration for The Suffrage of Elvira, a comic novella about a rural election in Trinidad.[25] In 1957, Naipaul became an editorial assistant at the Cement and Concrete Association (C&CA), his only full-time job.[26] The C&CA was to be the setting for Naipaul's later novel, Mr Stone and the Knight's Companion.[26] At this time the New Statesman's Kingsley Martin gave Naipaul a part-time job reviewing books, a job he did from 1957 to 1961.[27]

The Mystic Masseur was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1958, and Miguel Street the Somerset Maugham Award in 1961, W. Somerset Maugham himself approving the first-ever selection of a non-European.[28]

File:Seepersad Naipaul with Ford Prefect.jpg
Seepersad Naipaul, father of V. S. Naipaul, and the inspiration for the protagonist of the novel, Mr Biswas, with his Ford Prefect.

For his next novel, A House for Mr Biswas (1961), Naipaul took for inspiration childhood memories of his father (later he wrote that the novel "destroyed memory" in some respects).[29] In the novel, title character Mohun Biswas takes a succession of vocations (apprentice to a Hindu priest, signboard painter; a grocery store proprietor, and reporter for The Trinidad Sentinel).[30] What ambition and resourcefulness Mr Biswas has are inevitably undermined by his dependence on his powerful in-laws and the vagaries of the colonial society in which he lives.[30]

The book consumed Naipaul. In 1983, he wrote:

The book took three years to write. It felt like a career; and there was a short period, towards the end of the writing, when I do believe I knew all or much of the book by heart. The labour ended; the book began to recede. And I found that I was unwilling to re-enter the world I had created, unwilling to expose myself again to the emotions that lay below the comedy. I became nervous of the book. I haven't read it since I passed the proofs in May 1961.[31]

Novels and Travel Writing[edit]

"The emergency was over. And so was my year. The short winter was fading fast; it was no longer pleasant to sit out in the sun; the dust would not now be laid until the monsoon. ... India had not worked its magic on me. It remained the land of my childhood, an area of darkness; like the Himalayan passes, it was closing up again, as fast as I withdrew from it, into a land of myth; it seemed to exist in just the timelessness which I had imagined as a child, into which, for all that I walked on Indian earth, I knew I could not penetrate. In a year I had not learned acceptance. I had learned my separateness from India, and was content to be a colonial, without a past, without ancestors."
 — From, An Area of Darkness (1964).[32]

After completing A House for Mr Biswas, Naipaul and Pat spent the next five months in British Guiana, Suriname, Martinique and Jamaica,[33] [34] where Naipaul took notes for The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies – British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America, his first travel book.[33][35] He wrote, "The history of the islands can never be told satisfactorily. Brutality is not the only difficulty. History is built around achievement and creation; and nothing was created in the West Indies."[36]

In 1962, Naipaul and Pat went to India, the land of Naipaul's ancestors, where Naipaul wrote An Area of Darkness.[37][38] For the first time in his life, he felt anonymous, even faceless. He was no longer identified, he felt, with a special ethnic group as he had been in Trinidad and England; it made him anxious.[39][40] He was upset by what he saw as the resigned or evasive Indian reaction to poverty and suffering.[41][42]

Naipual wrote Mr Stone and the Knight's Companion, a novel while in India. He accepted an invitation to write a monthly "Letter from London" for the Illustrated Weekly of India.[43]

"Coconut trees and beach and the white of breakers seemed to meet at a point in the distance. It was not possible to see where coconut turned to mangrove and swampland. Here and there, interrupting the straight line of the beach, were the trunks of trees washed up by the sea. I set myself to walk to one tree, then to the other. I was soon far away from the village and from people, and was alone on the beach, smooth and shining silver in the dying light. No coconut now, but mangrove, tall on the black cages of their roots. From the mangrove swamps channels ran to the ocean between sand banks that were daily made and broken off, as neatly as if cut by machines, shallow channels of clear water touched with the amber of dead leaves, cool to the feet, different from the warm sea."
 — From The Mimic Men (1967).[44]

Naipaul had spent an overwrought year in India.[45] Back in London, after An Area of Darkness was completed, he felt creatively drained.[45] He felt he had used up his Trinidad material.[46] Neither India nor the writing of Mr Stone and the Knight's Companion, his only attempt at a novel set in Britain with white British characters, had spurred new ideas for imaginative writing.[46] His finances too were low, and Pat went back to teaching to supplement them.[45] Naipaul's books had received much critical acclaim, but they were not yet money makers.[45] Socially, he was now breaking away from the Caribbean Voices circle, but no doors had opened to mainstream British society.[47]

That changed when Naipaul was introduced to Antonia Fraser, at the time the wife of conservative politician Hugh Fraser.[48] Fraser introduced Naipaul to her social circle of upper-class British politicians, writers, and performing artists.[48] In this circle was the wealthy second Baron Glenconner, father of novelist Emma Tennant and owner of estates in Trinidad, who arranged for an unsecured loan of £7,200 for Naipaul.[49] Naipaul and Pat bought a three-floor house on Stockwell Park Crescent.[50]

In late 1964, Naipaul was asked to write an original script for an American movie.[51] He spent the next few months in Trinidad writing the story, a novella named "A Flag on the Island", later published in the collection A Flag on the Island. The finished version was not to the director's liking and the movie was never made.[51] The story is set in the present time—1964—in a Caribbean island that is not named.[52] The main character is an American named Frankie who affects the mannerisms of Frank Sinatra.[51] Frankie has links to the island from having served there during World War II.[53] He revisits reluctantly when his ship anchors during a hurricane.[53] Naipaul wilfully makes the pace of the book feverish, the narrative haphazard, the characters loud, the protagonist fickle or deceptive, and the dialogue confusing.[53][51] Balancing the present time is Frankie's less disordered, though comfortless, memory of 20 years before.[54] Then he had become a part of a community on the island.[54] He had tried to help his poor friends by giving away the ample US Army supplies he had.[54] Not everyone was happy about receiving help and not everyone benefited.[54] Frankie was left chastened about finding tidy solutions to the island's social problems.[54] This theme, indirectly developed in the story, is one to which Naipaul would return again.

Not long after finishing A Flag on the Island, Naipaul began work on the novel The Mimic Men, though for almost a year he did not make significant progress.[55] At the end of this period, he was offered a Writer-in-Residence fellowship at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.[56] There, in early 1966, he began to rewrite his material, and went on to complete the novel quickly.[57] The finished novel broke new ground for him.[57] Unlike his Caribbean work, it was not comic.[58] It did not unfold chronologically.[59] Its language was allusive and ironic, its overall structure whimsical.[60] It had strands of both fiction and non-fiction, a precursor of other Naipaul novels.[61] It was intermittently dense, even obscure,[59] but it also had beautiful passages, especially descriptive ones of the fictional tropical island of Isabella. The subject of sex appeared explicitly for the first time in Naipaul's work.[62] The plot, to the extent there is one, centres on a protagonist, Ralph Singh, an East Indian-West Indian politician from Isabella.[60] Singh is in exile in London and attempting to write his political memoirs.[60] Earlier, in the immediate aftermath of decolonization in a number of British colonies in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Singh had shared political power with a more powerful African-Caribbean politician. Soon, the memoirs take on a more personal aspect. There are flashbacks to the formative and defining periods of Singh's life. In many of these, during crucial moments, whether during his childhood, married life, or political career, he appears to abandon engagement and enterprise.[60] These, he rationalizes later, belong only to fully made European societies. When The Mimic Men was published, it received generally positive critical notice. In particular, Caribbean politicians, such as Michael Manley and Eric Williams weighed in, the latter writing: "V. S. Naipaul's description of West Indians as 'mimic men' is harsh but true ..."[63]

Back in London in October 1966, Naipaul received an invitation from the American publisher Little, Brown and Company to write a book on Port-of-Spain.[64] The book took two years to write, its scope widening with time. The Loss of El Dorado eventually became a narrative history of Trinidad based on primary sources. Pat spent many months in the archives of the British Library reading those sources.[64] In the end, the finished product was not to the liking of Little, Brown, who were expecting a guidebook.[64] Alfred A. Knopf agreed to publish it instead in the United States, as did André Deutsch later in Britain.[64]

The Loss of El Dorado is an attempt to ferret out an older, deeper history of Trinidad, one preceding its commonly taught history as a British-run plantation economy of slaves and indentured workers.[65] Central to Naipaul's history are two stories: the search for El Dorado, a Spanish obsession, in turn pursued by the British, and the British attempt to spark from their new colony of Trinidad, even as it was itself becoming mired in slavery, a revolution of lofty ideals in South America.[65] Sir Walter Raleigh and Francisco Miranda would become the human faces of these stories.[65] Although slavery is eventually abolished, the sought for social order slips away in the face of uncertainties created by changeable populations, languages, and governments and by the cruelties inflicted by the island's inhabitants on each other.[65]

Before Naipaul began writing The Loss of El Dorado, he had been unhappy with the political climate in Britain.[66] He had been especially unhappy with the increasing public animosity, in the mid-1960s, towards Asian immigrants from Britain's ex-colonies.[66] During the writing of the book, he and Pat sold their house in London, and led a transient life, successively renting or borrowing use of the homes of friends. After the book was completed, they travelled to Trinidad and Canada with a view to finding a location in which to settle.[67] Naipaul had hoped to write a blockbuster, one relieving him of future money anxieties. As it turned out, The Loss of El Dorado sold only 3,000 copies in the US, where major sales were expected; Naipaul also missed England more than he had calculated. It was thus in a depleted state, both financial and emotional, that he returned to Britain.[67]

Earlier, during their time in Africa, Naipaul and Pat had travelled to Kenya, staying for month in Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast.[68] They had travelled in rural Uganda to Kisoro District on the south-western border with Rwanda and the Congo.[68] Naipaul showed interest in the great culture, history and traditions of the Baganda people.[68] When Uganda's prime minister Milton Obote deposed, militarily, the President of Uganda, who was also the Kabaka of Buganda, Naipaul was critical of the British press for not condemning the action enough.[69] Naipaul also travelled to Tanzania with a young American he had met in Kampala, Paul Theroux.[69] It was upon this African experience that Naipaul would draw during the writing of his next book, In a Free State.[70]

In the title novella, "In a Free State", two young expatriate Europeans drive across an African country, which remains nameless but which offers clues of Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda.[71] The novella speaks to many themes. The colonial era ends and Africans govern themselves.[71] Political chaos, frequently violent, takes hold in newly decolonized countries.[71] Young, idealistic, expatriate whites are attracted to these countries, seeking expanded moral and sexual freedoms. They are rootless, their bonds with the land tenuous; at the slightest danger they leave.[72] The older, conservative, white settlers, by contrast, are committed to staying, even in the face of danger.[72] The young expatriates, though liberal, can be racially prejudiced.[72] The old settlers, unsentimental, sometimes brutal, can show compassion.[73] The young, engrossed in narrow preoccupations, are uncomprehending of the dangers that surround them.[72] The old are knowledgeable, armed, and ready to defend themselves.[73] The events unfolding along the car trip and the conversation during it become the means of exploring these themes.[72]

Writing of Guerrillas[edit]

In late December 1971 as news of the killings at Michael X's commune in Arima filtered out, Naipaul, accompanied by Pat, arrived in Trinidad to cover the story.[74] This was a time of strains in their marriage.[75] Naipaul, although dependent on Pat, was frequenting prostitutes for sexual gratification.[75] Pat was alone. Intensifying their disaffection was Pat's childlessness, for which neither Pat nor Naipaul sought professional treatment, preferring instead to say that fatherhood would not allow time for Naipaul's sustained literary labours.[76] Naipaul was increasingly ill-humoured and infantile, and Pat increasingly reduced to mothering him.[76] She began to keep a diary, a practice she would continue for the next 25 years.[75] According to biographer Patrick French,

"Pat's diary is an essential, unparalleled record of V. S. Naipaul's later life and work, and reveals more about the creation of his subsequent books, and her role in their creation, than any other source. It puts Patricia Naipaul on a par with other great, tragic, literary spouses such as Sonia Tolstoy, Jane Carlyle and Leonard Woolf.[75]"

Naipaul visited the commune in Arima and Pat attended the trial. Naipaul's old friend Francis Wyndham was now editor of The Sunday Times and offered to run the story in his newspaper. Around the same time Naipaul received an invitation from Robert B. Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, to do some stories on Argentina and Eva Perón. The Review, still in its first decade after founding, was short of funds and Silvers had to borrow money from a friend to fund Naipaul's trip. Naipaul also covered the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, at the behest of Silvers, after which Naipaul wrote "Among the Republicans," an anthropological study of a "white tribe in the United States."[77]


Critical responses[edit]

File:V.S. Naipaul.jpg
A line drawing of V. S. Naipaul

In awarding Naipaul the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy praised his work "for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories."[78] The Committee added, "Naipaul is a modern philosophe carrying on the tradition that started originally with Lettres persanes and Candide. In a vigilant style, which has been deservedly admired, he transforms rage into precision and allows events to speak with their own inherent irony."[78] The Committee also noted Naipaul's affinity with the novelist Joseph Conrad:

Naipaul is Conrad's heir as the annalist of the destinies of empires in the moral sense: what they do to human beings. His authority as a narrator is grounded in the memory of what others have forgotten, the history of the vanquished.[78]

His fiction and especially his travel writing have been criticised for their allegedly unsympathetic portrayal of the Third World. The novelist Robert Harris has called his portrayal of Africa racist and "repulsive," reminiscent of Oswald Mosley's fascism.[79] Edward Said argues that Naipaul "allowed himself quite consciously to be turned into a witness for the Western prosecution", promoting what Said classifies as "colonial mythologies about wogs and darkies".[80] Said believes that Naipaul's worldview may be most salient in the author's book-length essay The Middle Passage, which Naipaul composed after returning to the Caribbean after 10 years of exile in England, and the work An Area of Darkness.

Naipaul has been accused of misogyny, and of committing acts of "chronic physical abuse" against his mistress of 25 years, Margaret Murray, who wrote in a letter to the New York Review of Books: "Vidia says I didn’t mind the abuse. I certainly did mind."[81]

Writing in The New York Review of Books about Naipaul, Joan Didion offers the following portrayal of the writer:[82]

The actual world has for Naipaul a radiance that diminishes all ideas of it. The pink haze of the bauxite dust on the first page of Guerrillas tells us what we need to know about the history and social organization of the unnamed island on which the action takes place, tells us in one image who runs the island and for whose profit the island is run and at what cost to the life of the island this profit has historically been obtained, but all of this implicit information pales in the presence of the physical fact, the dust itself.... The world Naipaul sees is of course no void at all: it is a world dense with physical and social phenomena, brutally alive with the complications and contradictions of actual human endeavour.... This world of Naipaul's is in fact charged with what can only be described as a romantic view of reality, an almost unbearable tension between the idea and the physical fact...

Bibliography[edit]

Fiction
Non-fiction

See also[edit]

Quotes[edit]

  • "I think when you see so many Hindu temples of the tenth century or earlier time disfigured, defaced, you know that they were not just defaced for fun: that something terrible happened. I feel that the civilization of that closed world was mortally wounded by those invasions. And I would like people, as it were, to be more reverential towards the past, to try to understand it; to preserve it; instead of living in its ruins. The Old World is destroyed. That has to be understood. The ancient Hindu India was destroyed."
"In art and history books, people write of the Muslims "arriving" in India as though they came on a tourist bus and went away again. The Muslim view of their conquest is a truer one. They speak of the triumph of faith, the destruction of idols and temples, the loot, the casting away of locals as slaves."
" While the Ottomans moved into South-East Europe, the Moghul invasion of India destroyed much of Hindu and Buddhist civilization there. The recent destruction by Moslems in Afghanistan of colossal Buddhist statues is a reminder of what happened to temples and shrines, on an enormous scale, when Islam took over.
    • Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization
  • “India has been a wounded civilization because of Islamic violence: Pakistanis know this; indeed they revel in it. It is only Indian Nehruvians like Romila Thapar who pretend that Islamic rule was benevolent. We should face facts: Islamic rule in India was at least as catastrophic as the later Christian rule. The Christians created massive poverty in what was a most prosperous country; the Muslims created a terrorized civilization out of what was the most creative culture that ever existed.”
    • V S Naipaul in Economic Times, 13 January 2003
  • "It is like reading of a land periodically devastated by hordes of lemmings or locusts; it is like turning from the history of a coral reef, in which every act and every death is a foundation, to the depressing chronicle of a succession of castles built on the waste sand of the sea-shore." This is Woodruff on the difference between European history and Indian history. He has chosen his images well. But the sandcastle is not quite exact. The sandcastle is flattened by the tide and leaves not trace, and India is above all the land of ruins.
    • An Area of Darkness by V S Naipaul
  • "How do you ignore history? But the nationalist movement, independence movement ignored it. You read the Glimpses of World History by Jawaharlal Nehru, it talks about the mythical past and then it jumps the difficult period of the invasions and conquests. So you have Chinese pilgrims coming to Bihar, Nalanda and places like that. Then somehow they don't tell you what happens, why these places are in ruin.

They never tell you why Elephanta Island is in ruins or why Bhubaneswar was desecrated."

    • V S Naipaul in Economic Times, 13 January 2003
  • In India, unlike Iran, there never was a complete Islamic conquest. Although the Muslims ruled much of North India from 1200A.D. to 1700A.D. in the 18th century, the Marathas and the Sikhs destroyed Muslim power, and created their own empires, before the advent of the British....The British introduced the New Learning of Europe, to which the Hindus were more receptive than the Muslims. This caused the beginning of the intellectual distance between the two communities. This distance has grown with independence....Muslim insecurity led to the call for the creation of Pakistan. It went at the same time with an idea of old glory, of the invaders sweeping down from the northwest and looting the temples of Hindustan and imposing faith on the infidel. The fantasy still lives: and for the Muslim converts of the subcontinent it is the start of their neurosis, because in this fantasy the convert forgets who or what he is and becomes the violator."
    • Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
  • Indian intellectuals have a responsibility to the state and should start a debate on the Muslim psyche, To speak of Hindu fundamentalism, is a contradiction in terms, it does not exist. Hinduism is not this kind of religion. You know, there are no laws in Hinduism.
    • Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization
  • One always writes comedy at the moment of deepest hysteria.
    • Quoted in "V.S. Naipaul in Search of Himself: A Conversation" with Mel Gussow, The New York Times, (24 April 1994)
  • To this day, if you ask me how I became a writer, I cannot give you an answer. To this day, if you ask me how a book is written, I cannot answer. For long periods, if I didn't know that somehow in the past I had written a book, I would have given up.
    • Quoted in "V.S. Naipaul in Search of Himself: A Conversation" with Mel Gussow, The New York Times, (24 April 1994)
  • I have told people who ask for lectures that I have no lecture to give. And that is true. It might seem strange that a man who has dealt in words and emotions and ideas for nearly fifty years shouldn't have a few to spare, so to speak. But everything of value about me is in my books. Whatever extra there is in me at any given moment isn't fully formed. I am hardly aware of it; it awaits the next book. It will — with luck — come to me during the actual writing, and it will take me by surprise. That element of surprise is what I look for when I am writing.
  • "I think when you see so many Hindu temples of the tenth century or earlier time disfigured, defaced, you know that they were not just defaced for fun: that something terrible happened. I feel that the civilization of that closed world was mortally wounded by those invasions. And I would like people, as it were, to be more reverential towards the past, to try to understand it; to preserve it; instead of living in its ruins. The Old World is destroyed. That has to be understood. The ancient Hindu India was destroyed."
"In art and history books, people write of the Muslims "arriving" in India as though they came on a tourist bus and went away again. The Muslim view of their conquest is a truer one. They speak of the triumph of faith, the destruction of idols and temples, the loot, the casting away of locals as slaves."
" While the Ottomans moved into South-East Europe, the Moghul invasion of India destroyed much of Hindu and Buddhist civilization there. The recent destruction by Moslems in Afghanistan of colossal Buddhist statues is a reminder of what happened to temples and shrines, on an enormous scale, when Islam took over.
    • Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization
  • “India has been a wounded civilization because of Islamic violence: Pakistanis know this; indeed they revel in it. It is only Indian Nehruvians like Romila Thapar who pretend that Islamic rule was benevolent. We should face facts: Islamic rule in India was at least as catastrophic as the later Christian rule. The Christians created massive poverty in what was a most prosperous country; the Muslims created a terrorized civilization out of what was the most creative culture that ever existed.”
    • V S Naipaul in Economic Times, 13 January 2003
  • "It is like reading of a land periodically devastated by hordes of lemmings or locusts; it is like turning from the history of a coral reef, in which every act and every death is a foundation, to the depressing chronicle of a succession of castles built on the waste sand of the sea-shore." This is Woodruff on the difference between European history and Indian history. He has chosen his images well. But the sandcastle is not quite exact. The sandcastle is flattened by the tide and leaves not trace, and India is above all the land of ruins.
    • An Area of Darkness by V S Naipaul
  • "How do you ignore history? But the nationalist movement, independence movement ignored it. You read the Glimpses of World History by Jawaharlal Nehru, it talks about the mythical past and then it jumps the difficult period of the invasions and conquests. So you have Chinese pilgrims coming to Bihar, Nalanda and places like that. Then somehow they don't tell you what happens, why these places are in ruin. They never tell you why Elephanta Island is in ruins or why Bhubaneswar was desecrated."
    • V S Naipaul in Economic Times, 13 January 2003
  • In India, unlike Iran, there never was a complete Islamic conquest. Although the Muslims ruled much of North India from 1200A.D. to 1700A.D. in the 18th century, the Marathas and the Sikhs destroyed Muslim power, and created their own empires, before the advent of the British....The British introduced the New Learning of Europe, to which the Hindus were more receptive than the Muslims. This caused the beginning of the intellectual distance between the two communities. This distance has grown with independence....Muslim insecurity led to the call for the creation of Pakistan. It went at the same time with an idea of old glory, of the invaders sweeping down from the northwest and looting the temples of Hindustan and imposing faith on the infidel. The fantasy still lives: and for the Muslim converts of the subcontinent it is the start of their neurosis, because in this fantasy the convert forgets who or what he is and becomes the violator."
    • Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
  • Indian intellectuals have a responsibility to the state and should start a debate on the Muslim psyche, To speak of Hindu fundamentalism, is a contradiction in terms, it does not exist. Hinduism is not this kind of religion. You know, there are no laws in Hinduism.
    • Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilization


The Enigma of Arrival (1987)[edit]

Vintage, 1988, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 0-394-75760-2
  • I also bought a copy of The New York Times, the previous day's issue of which I had seen the previous day in Puerto Rico. I was interested in newspapers and knew this paper to be one of the foremost in the world. But to read a newspaper for the first time is like coming into a film that has been on for an hour. Newspapers are like serials. To understand them you have to take knowledge to them; the knowledge that serves best is the knowledge provided by the newspaper itself. It made me feel a stranger, that paper.
    • "The Journey" (p. 115)
  • Men need history; it helps them to have an idea of who they are. But history, like sanctity, can reside in the heart; it is enough that there is something there.
    • "The Ceremony of Farewell"

A Turn in the South (1989)[edit]

Vintage, 1990, <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css" />ISBN 0-679-72488-5
  • The family feuds or the village feuds often had to do with an idea of honor. Perhaps it was a peasant idea; perhaps this idea of honor is especially important to a society without recourse to law or without confidence in law.
    • Ch. 5 (p. 162)
  • Religion now had to have its compartment, almost its social place.
    The frontier had ceased to exist. And the religions it had bred were beginning slowly to die. In the old days, when men, often of little education, had needed only to declare themselves ministers, people would have seen themselves reflected in the expounders of the Word. This quality of homespun would have made the religions appear creations of a community, personal and close and inviolable. Now a certain distance was needed.
    • Ch. 6 (p. 244)

Half a Life (2001)[edit]

  • Life doesn't have a neat beginning and a tidy end, life is always going on. You should begin in the middle and end in the middle, and it should be all there.
  • I could scarcely bear to look at her eyes. They promised such intimacies.
  • I thought how terrible it would have been if, as could so easily have happened, I had died without knowing this depth of satisfaction, this other person that I had just discovered within myself. It was worth any price, any consequence.
  • And whenever I saw Luis, Graça's husband, I dealt with him with a friendship that was quite genuine, since it was offered out of gratitude for Graça's love.
  • Before comfort had been squeezed out of the hard land, like blood out of stone.
  • Calcutta is by far the richest city in India, even though its various problems have started to turn its richness into a collapsing wealth. It is possibly the richest city anywhere between Rome and Tokyo in terms of the money that is accumulated and represented here.
    • Geoffrey Moorhouse in Calcutta: the City Revisited, 1971, Penguin Books, p 133.
File:Chowringhee Square.jpg
V. S. Naipaul:Calcutta, more than New Delhi, is the British-built city of India...In the building of Calcutta, known first as the city of palaces, and later as the second city of the British Empire, the British worked with immense confidence, not adopting the styles of Indian rulers,...
  • Calcutta, more than New Delhi, is the British-built city of India...In the building of Calcutta, known first as the city of palaces, and later as the second city of the British Empire, the British worked with immense confidence, not adopting the styles of Indian rulers, but setting down in India adaptations of the European classical styles as emblems of a conquering civilisation. But the imperial city, over 200 years of its development also became an Indian city…To me at the end of 1962, after some months of Indian small-town and district life, Calcutta gave me the immediate feel of the metropolis, with all the visual excitement of a metropolis… Twenty-six years later the grandeur of the British-built city… could still be seen in a ghostly way, because so little had been added since independence, so little had been added since 1962… The British had built Calcutta and given it their mark. And though the circumstances were fortuitous – when the British ceased to rule, the city began to die.
    • V. S. Naipaul, in India: A Million Mutinies Now, 1990, Minerva, p 281-82.
  • For years and years, even during the time of my first visit in 1962, it has been said that Calcutta was dying, that its port was silting up, its antiquated industry declining, but Calcutta hadn't died. It hadn't done much, but it had gone on; and it had begun to appear that the prophecy has been excessive. Now it occurred to me that perhaps this was what happened when cities died. They don't die with a bang; they didn't die only when they were abandoned. Perhaps, they died like this: when everybody was suffering, when transport was so hard that working people gave up jobs they needed because the fear the suffering of the travel; When no one had clean water or air; No one could go walking. Perhaps city died when they lost amenities that cities provided, the visual excitement, the heightened sense of human possibility, and became simply places where there were too many people, and people suffered.”

Quotes about V. S. Naipaul[edit]

  • Let us add one more complication success brings: the illusion of predestination. In this regard I cannot help recalling a long conversation with V. S. Naipaul in which he insisted that he could not have failed as an author, and that recognition, even immediate recognition, of his genius was inevitable, simply because he was so good. I could not persuade him to accept that he only believed this because he had in fact been successful and that it must have been possible, given the world’s perversity, for recognition to have eluded him. The conviction of predestination came after the event.
    • Tim Parks, “Stifled by Success,” The New York Review of Books, March 12, 2015
  • Naipaul is essentially a writer of discovery. He tries on occasion to look into the past through the evidence of the present. That’s what he did in writing about the ruins of Vijayanagar in India: A Wounded Civilisation. He is not a professional historian, but his insights and perspectives on Indian history are unique and as startling in their accuracy as the observations of his travel.

Notes[edit]

  1. : /ˈvɪd.jɑːˌdər/ /ˈsˌrə//ˌprəˈsɑːd/ (two words are concatenated in the second name) Meaning: vidiādhar (Hindi "possessed of learning," (p. 921) from vidyā (Sanskrit "knowledge, learning," p. 921) + dhar (Sanskrit "holding, supporting," p. 524)); sūrajprasād (from sūraj (Hindi "sun," p. 1036) + prasād (Sanskrit "gift, boon, blessing," p. 666)) from McGregor, R. S. (1993), The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Citations[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Permanent Secretary (11 October 2001). "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2001: press release". Svenska Akademien. The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2001 is awarded to the British writer, born in Trinidad, V. S. Naipaul Missing or empty |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Naipaul 1987, p. 352.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hayward 2002, p. 5.
  4. French 2008, p. 12.
  5. French 2008, p. 19: "In 1929, the year of his marriage, Seepersad began work as a freelance reporter on the Trinidad Guardian, ..."
  6. Hayward 2002, p. 7.
  7. French 2008, pp. 36–37: "Vido spent much of his time at Petit Valley with Pa, who would read to him and sometimes to other children: extracts from Julius Caesar, Nicholas Nickleby, Three Men in a Boat, ... Pa and Vido positioned themselves in an ordered fantasy world derived from European literature. ... Aspiration and ambition became the alternative to daily life..."
  8. French 2008, pp. 23–25:"The three surviving photographs of Capildeo Maharah (Naipaul's maternal grandfather) show him looking distinctly Brahminical. ... He wears white clothing befitting his caste, his shoes are unlaced to indicate that he has not touched leather with his hand, ... This physical evidence, combined with the certainty that he knew Sanskrit, make his claimed family lineage highly plausible. ... Seepersad's antecedents are vague; he never liked to discuss his childhood. ... Nyepaul (Naipaul's paternal grandfather) may have been a pure Brahmin, a Brahmin-by-boat, or he may have come from another caste background altogether. ... V. S. Naipaul never addressed this inconsistency, preferring to embrace the implied "caste sense" of his mother's family, ..."
  9. French 2008, p. 55a: "Hinduism had regulations on all things: clothing, ritual pollution, caste distinction, bodily functions, diet."
  10. French 2008, p. 55b: The Naipaul family were not vegetarian, as most Brahmins are supposed to be; they sometimes ate meat, and treated chicken as a vegetable. At Christmas they would celebrate with baked fowl, dalpuri, nuts and fruit."
  11. French 2008, pp. 208–209: (caption) Above left: "Vidia with his glamorous sisters, ... Long gone were the days of covered heads and traditional dress for Indian women in Trinidad and Tobago. Above right: Ma (Naipaul's mother) in heels with an Oxford-returned Vidia, 1956."
  12. French 2008, p. 26: "What Nanie (Naipaul's maternal grandmother) said, went. .... (quoted) 'Nanie believed in the Hindu way of life but the irony of it is, she would help with the churches and celebrate all the Catholic festivals. ... She told us that she wanted us to speak in English, not Hindi, because we had to be educated.'"
  13. French 2008, p. 30: "Nanie had bought a house, 17 Luis Street, in the Port of Spain suburb of Woodbrook. ... This coincided with Seepersad's recovery from his nervous breakdown, and his success in 1938 in regaining his job as a Guardian journalist. It was decided that the Naipaul family ... would move to Luis Street."
  14. French 2008, pp. 32–33: "The idyll could not last. In 1940, Seepersad and Droapatie were told by Nanie that they would be moving to a new family commune at a place called Petit Valley. ... In 1943, Seepersad could stand it no longer at Petit Valley and the Naipaul family moved in desperation to 17 Luis Street.
  15. French 2008, pp. 40–41: "QRC was modelled on an English boys' public school, and offered a high standard of education. ... He enjoyed his classes in Latin, French, Spanish and Science. It was a highly competitive school, with metropolitan values. Caribbean dialect was ironed out in favour of standard English, although the students remained bilingual...."
  16. French 2008, p. 90.
  17. French 2008, pp. 92–93.
  18. French 2008, p. 93: "When Vidia got back to England, he was in a bad state. Trinidad was off. 'The fact is,' he admitted, 'I spent too much money in Spain. And, during the nervous breakdown (yes, it was that) I had, I grew rash and reckless ... My only opportunity of recuperating from my present chaos is to remain in England this summer and live very cheaply.'"
  19. Jussawalla 1997, p. 126: "At Oxford he continued to suffer. 'I drifted into something like a mental illness,' he would write."
  20. French 2008, p. 123.
  21. Naipaul 1983c.
  22. Poore, Charles (5 May 1960), "Miguel Street", New York Times. Retrieved 20 June 2014.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 French 2008, pp. 155–156.
  24. French 2008, p. 161.
  25. French 2008, pp. 171–172.
  26. 26.0 26.1 French 2008, pp. 180–181.
  27. French 2008, pp. 186–187.
  28. French 2008, p. 185.
  29. French 2008, p. 192.
  30. 30.0 30.1 French 2008, p. 193.
  31. Naipaul 1999a, p. 128.
  32. Naipaul 1964.
  33. 33.0 33.1 French 2008, p. 201.
  34. French 2008, pp. 201–202.
  35. Dooley 2006, p. 37.
  36. French 2008, p. 203.
  37. French 2008, p. 230.
  38. Dooley 2006, p. 44.
  39. French 2008, p. 215.
  40. Dooley 2006, pp. 41–42.
  41. French 2008, p. 217.
  42. Dooley, pp. 42–43.
  43. French 2008, pp. 232–233.
  44. Naipaul 1967, p. 133.
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 French 2008, p. 239.
  46. 46.0 46.1 French 2008, pp. 219–220.
  47. French 2008, p. 240.
  48. 48.0 48.1 French 2008, pp. 241–242.
  49. French 2008, pp. 243–244.
  50. French 2008, p. 244.
  51. 51.0 51.1 51.2 51.3 French 2008, p. 247.
  52. King 2003, p. 69.
  53. 53.0 53.1 53.2 Dooley 2006, p. 57.
  54. 54.0 54.1 54.2 54.3 54.4 Dooley 2006, p. 58.
  55. French 2008, p. 248.
  56. French 2008, p. 249.
  57. 57.0 57.1 French 2008, p. 250.
  58. Dooley 2008, p. 55.
  59. 59.0 59.1 King 2003, pp. 77–78.
  60. 60.0 60.1 60.2 60.3 King 2003, p. 71.
  61. Dooley 2008, p. 54.
  62. Dooley 2008, p. 53.
  63. French 2008, p. 257.
  64. 64.0 64.1 64.2 64.3 French 2008, p. 258.
  65. 65.0 65.1 65.2 65.3 King 2003, pp. 83–84.
  66. 66.0 66.1 French 2008, p. 270.
  67. 67.0 67.1 King 2003, pp. 84–85.
  68. 68.0 68.1 68.2 French 2008, p. 253.
  69. 69.0 69.1 French 2008, p. 254.
  70. French 2008, p. 255.
  71. 71.0 71.1 71.2 King 2003, pp. 91–92.
  72. 72.0 72.1 72.2 72.3 72.4 King 2003, pp. 87–88.
  73. 73.0 73.1 King 2003, p. 88.
  74. French 2008, p. 295.
  75. 75.0 75.1 75.2 75.3 French 2008, pp. 300–301.
  76. 76.0 76.1 French 2008, p. 272.
  77. 032c.com. "ROBERT SILVERS: We Do What We Want". Retrieved 21 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  78. 78.0 78.1 78.2 "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2001: V. S. Naipaul (Press Release)". Svenska Akademien. 11 October 2001.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  79. Greig, Geordie. "VS Naipaul: You might not like it, but this is Africa – exactly as I saw it". The London Evening Standard. Retrieved 14 June 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  80. Said, Edward W (1 March 2002). "Edward Said on Naipaul". Archived from the original on 10 October 2007. Retrieved 10 October 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  81. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2009/01/15/on-vs-naipaul-an-exchange/
  82. Didion, Joan (12 June 1980). "Without Regret or Hope". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Cited references[edit]

Books[edit]

Articles[edit]

  • Bayley, John (9 April 1987). "Country Life". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Boxill, Anthony (1976), "The Little Bastard Worlds of VS Naipaul's The Mimic Men and A Flag on the Island", International Fiction Review, 3 (1)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Buruma, Ian (20 November 2008). "Lessons of the Master". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Chotiner, Isaac (7 December 2012). "V.S. Naipaul on the Arab Spring, Authors He Loathes, and the Books He Will Never Write". The New Republic.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Fraser, Peter D. (2010), "Review of V.S. Naipaul: Man and Writer by Gillian Dooley", Caribbean Studies, Institute of Caribbean Studies, UPR, Rio Piedras Campus, 38 (1): 212–215, doi:10.1353/crb.2010.0027, JSTOR 27944592<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Greenberg, Robert M. (Summer 2000), "Anger and the Alchemy of Literary Method in V. S. Naipaul's Political Fiction: The Case of The Mimic Men", Twentieth Century Literature, 46 (2): 214–237, doi:10.2307/441958, JSTOR 441958<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Marnham, Patrick (April 1994). "An Interview with VS Naipaul". Literary Review.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Naipaul, V. S. (17 October 1974). "Conrad's Darkness". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Miller, Karl (November 1967). "V. S. Naipaul and the New Order, The Mimic Men". The Kenyon Review. 29 (5): 685–698. JSTOR 4334777.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Naipaul, V. S. (12 February 1987). "The Ceremony of Farewell". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Naipaul, V. S. (23 April 1987). "On Being a Writer". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Naipaul, V. S. (31 January 1991). "Our Universal Civilization". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Naipaul, V. S. (12 May 1994). "A Way in the World". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Naipaul, V. S. (18 February 1999). "Reading and Writing". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Naipaul, V. S. (4 March 1999). "The Writer in India". The New York Review of Books.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Pritchard, William H. (2008), "Naipaul Unveiled: Review of The World Is What It Is, The authorized biography of V. S. Naipaul by Patrick French", The Hudson Review, 61 (3): 431–440, JSTOR 20464886<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Robertson, Jean; Connell, P. J. (rev) (2004), "Wilson, Frank Percy (1889–1963)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, retrieved 27 September 2013<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rosen, Jonathan (editor); Tejpal, Tarun (editor) (1998), "V. S. Naipaul, The Art of Fiction No. 154", The Paris Review.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Visaria, Pravin; Visaria, Leela (1983), "Population (1757–1947)", in Dharma Kumar, Meghnad Desai (ed.), The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume 2, c.1757–c.1970, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-22802-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links[edit]