A literary giant has died and the Caribbean mourns. V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel laureate, recipient of a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II and son of the Caribbean soil, was immensely admired for his great prose but who was the man behind the books? Was he revered among those closest to him and did he treat them with the kindness that the public expects from one bestowed with that which only few among the multitude would ever attain?
One needs to be exceptional; to have that ‘extra special something’ to gain thousands of admirers and have global influence over people. To win the Nobel Prize for Literature and receive a knighthood is for many the pinnacle of international recognition for exceptionalism. The output-the famous writings, of V.S. Naipaul was regarded by the masses as great although there were of course the critics who considered it ‘‘less than’. Afterall, how literature is viewed is subjective and depends on the reader.
With regard to Naipaul’s treatment of women especially those closest to him there was nothing ‘great’ and worthy of emulating. Many cruelties were laid bare in his authorized biography by Patrick French titled, ‘The World Is What It Is’. Naipaul’s brutal frankness and disregard for the feelings of his women were boldly illustrated. Nothing was deemed as too embarrassing, he just didn’t care because it was all about painting an authentic image and not a fakery of half-truths and honeyed characterization to make him a saint in the eyes of the public.
Naipaul told his biographer that the more he abused his mistress, Margaret Gooding with whom he spent 24 years, the more she wanted. He even lamented that on one occasion his hand was hurting badly after beating Ms Gooding and her face was too damaged to be shown in public. Apathetically he further said that she didn’t ‘mind’ the abuse. This elicited the only reaction from her, to his biography although she was prominently mentioned. She simply responded that she did mind. Naipaul even crudely spoke about their sex life after dumping her for a new woman. The many episodes with his women are too numerous to list here but can be read about in his biography and the articles from leading outlets online.
Lady Patricia whom he met while he was at Oxford University was his first wife and companion for over 40 years. She was the one who probably suffered the most from his cruelty. She was aware of the other woman because her husband insultingly discussed his escapades and feelings for his mistress with her. From what is revealed she was a broken and beaten figure from years of abuse by Naipaul and apparently had no say in what he did. In one of her diary entries she wrote, “Vidia told me he had not enjoyed making love to me since 1967.” She was merely cook, cleaner and editor of the great man’s books. Summing up the impact of his affair on his wife he said, ‘’I was liberated. She was destroyed. It was inevitable.” Then he claimed that Lady Patricia accepted the situation and his own sister, Savi was forced to harshly rebuke him.
Even before the biography, while she was in remission from cancer and had just undergone a mastectomy Lady Patricia learnt that her husband had been sleeping with prostitutes for years through a magazine article! Naipaul described himself as a ‘great prostitute man’ and proudly related his exploits to the magazine knowing that it would make headlines around the world and not caring that his wife was sick and about how it would affect her. Talk about the greatness of the man.
Naipaul was such a cold, narcissistic and emotionally dead person that he was unable to empathize and care about those he tortured with his acts and words. The life that Lady Patricia had with the great V.S. Naipaul reads like a chilling tale of the horrors of a victim with her abuser, certainly not an enviable position. Even while she lay dying from cancer in 1996 he was courting the future Lady Naipaul. He did not spare his dying wife the details of his new conquest. The event of her death failed to provoke feelings of remorse, guilt or compassion in Naipaul in fact, Lady Nadira moved into the house a day after the cremation.
Naipaul spent his entire life irking people with the full force of his brutal ‘truths’, he revelled in the discomfort and provoked with all his might. Can he be described as ‘peaceful’? Would he have wanted fawning tributes and pitiful dog-like devotion that praised only the sugar-coated characteristics and achievements? His scornful beliefs and cruel treatment of women which he enjoyed revealing could fill several books.
While Naipaul’s undisputed greatness in the literary world was firmly cemented decades ago, he was a complex person with sides that were not so ‘great’ but nevertheless should be acknowledged by his admirers as being part of the man. Almost every famous and influential person in the world has attributes that are inconsistent with what made them stand out and be worshipped by thousands if not millions. Reflect on the good and the bad; the complete person, the greatness and the faults. It reflects that entire being like it should, we are all the same.