Naipaul’s Opinions on Thomas Mann and Jane Austen

The New Republic has an amusing interview with V.S. Naipaul (h/t SK). His opinions on Mann, Wodehouse and Jane Austen:

IC: I was wondering what you like to read now.

VSN: I read many things. I read to fill in my knowledge of the world. I am reading this writer, [Thomas] De Quincey, here [points to the book]. The other thing I am reading, quite unusual for me, is Thomas Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks. I was staggered by it.

IC: Why did it stagger you?

VSN: It was so wise. Wonderful narrative gift. His language is
wonderful. When he is talking, it varies from mode to mode. And it’s
always marvelous. He has to deal with typhoid, which will kill his
character, and he does it pulling away. He goes inside the sufferer and
says, this is what happens to a cancer patient, a typhoid patient. At a
certain stage, life calls out to him. Very beautiful way of writing. I
am feeble trying to paraphrase. Very, very moving. I was dazzled by it.

IC: Are there English or British authors you go back to time and again?

VSN: No, no. Who do you go back to?

IC: [George] Orwell. P.G. Wodehouse.

VSN: I can’t read Wodehouse. The thought of, shall we say,
facing three or four months of nothing but Wodehouse novels fills me
with horror.

IC: What about George Eliot?

VSN: Childhood, you know, childhood. A little of [The Mill on the Floss]
was read to me. It mattered at the time. But as you get older, your
tastes and needs change. I don’t like her or the big English writers. I
don’t like [Charles] Dickens.

IC: No British writers.

NN: The poets he likes, not the prose. He likes the columnists more than the writers.

VSN: I don’t want to upset them.

NN: He upsets people for no reason.

IC: I was going to ask about his Jane Austen comments.

NN: Oh God, everybody hates Jane Austen. They don’t have the
balls to say it. Believe me. Who did we meet the other day, that famous
academic who said Jane Austen was rubbish? And I said, “Why don’t you
stand up and say it.” And he said, “Am I mad?” They have all reassessed
her, but they just don’t want to say it.

IC: Do you want to expand on why you don’t like her? You think she’s trivial?

VSN: Yes, it is too trivial. A romantic story. It doesn’t do
anything for me. It doesn’t tell me anything. It’s not like Mann talking
about death. He has a way of dealing with it.

That's an intelligent reason for admiring Buddenbrooks, which I find otherwise a bit tedious.

One thought on “Naipaul’s Opinions on Thomas Mann and Jane Austen

  1. I do agree about the existence of an Austen cult. But too afraid to confess to hating Austen? And Austen is much more than trivial chick lit. What a fine sensibility and understanding of human psychology. Not to mention witty dialogue.

    Not liking Dickens? Eliot for children? Is Naipaul serious?

    I pitied the man–somewhat–when Paul Theroux lampooned him in his various V. S. Naipaul fictional-non-fictional deconstructions. Perhaps Theroux was on to something.


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