I'm a bit late to this party, but I finally read this piece in Salon about V.S. Naipaul's opinion that women writers stink. That Jane Austen was no match for him. That women are capable of nothing but "feminine tosh." His analysis of Austen reminds me of the way I used to think about Austen before I had actually read Austen. When all I knew of her were her movies and the girls in sweater sets who always claimed her as their favorite author.
In an interview with the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday Naipaul replied, "I don't think so" when asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He further said, of Jane Austen, that he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world," elaborating that women writers are "quite different … 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."
You know, this deserves no response. It deserves to be ignored as the ramblings of one more cranky old dude showing the world that he's on his way out. He has outlived his usefulness. But, but! I must respond through the words of the magnificent Fran Lebowitz, who speaks so eloquently about Jane Austen. She's exquisitely smart on Austen here, though, as a side note, I particularly love her analysis of the philistine tendency to make every book a "learning opportunity" or a "lesson." I hate the idea of reading for self-improvement. As if one should ever learn lessons from artists! (See above lesson from Mr. Naipaul if you think authors should be teaching us lessons.) Yet too often I read reviews or hear people speak of the books they read as if the entire project were designed to make us feel better about ourselves. As if Dostoyevsky wrote just to warn us not to gamble or live in dark basements. Tolstoy merely wanted us to think twice before looking outside the bonds of marriage for happiness. As if Edith Wharton's House of Mirth were merely a PSA about the perils of laudanum for the impecunious social climber. Fran Lebowitz delivers a killing blow to this idea, and it is most welcome.