London: Often described as the 'greatest living writer of English prose', Nobel laureate V S Naipaul has sparked off another row by claiming that there has been no woman writer whom he considers his equal. (Agencies)
Naipaul made the comments at the Royal Geographic Society on Wednesday, prompting angry responses from literary critics, writers and readers.
Not even the celebrated novelist Jane Austen came close to being equal to him, according to Naipaul, who ended the famous 15-year feud with American writer Paul Theroux at the Hay Festival this week.
The Writers Guild of Great Britain said it did not want to "waste its breath" on Naipaul's comments.
Asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match, he replied: "I don't think so."
On Austen, he said that he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world".
He felt that women writers were "quite different", and added, "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."
Naipaul said this was because of women's "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," he said.
He did not name his literary editor and now writer Diana Athill, who edited some of Naipaul's books published by Andre Deutsch, but said, "My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way."
Helen Brown, literary critic for The Daily Telegraph, said, "It certainly would be difficult to find a woman writer whose ego was equal to that of Naipaul. I'm sure his arrogant, attention-seeking views make many male writers cringe too."
She added, "He should heed the words of George Eliot –a female writer – whose works have had a far more profound impact on world culture than his.
She wrote, "Blessed is the man, who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact."
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?"
Responding to Naipaul's remarks, some readers wrote in online remarks that they agreed with his authorized biographer, Patrick French, who had described the Nobel laureate as bigoted, arrogant, vicious, racist, a woman-beating misogynist and a sado-masochist.
In the past, Naipaul reportedly criticised India's top female authors for their "banality" on the topic of the legacy of British colonialism.
London: Often described as the 'greatest living writer of English prose', Nobel laureate V S Naipaul has sparked off another row by claiming that there has been no woman writer whom he considers his equal.