V. S. Naipaul
|V. S. Naipaul|
|Born||Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul[nb 1]
17 August 1932
Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago
|Occupation||Novelist, travel writer, essayist|
|Notable work(s)||A House for Mr. Biswas
In a Free State
A Bend in the River
The Enigma of Arrival
|Notable award(s)||Booker Prize
Nobel Prize in Literature
Patricia Ann Hale Naipaul (1955–96)Nadira Khannum Alvi Naipaul (1996–present)
Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul (// or //; born 17 August 1932), is a Trinidad-born Nobel Prize-winning British writer known for his comic early novels set in Trinidad, his bleaker later novels of the wider world, and his autobiographical chronicles of life and travels. Naipaul has published more than 30 books, both of fiction and nonfiction, over some 50 years.
Naipaul was married to Patricia Ann Hale from 1955 until her death in 1996. She served as first reader, editor, and critic of his writings. Naipaul dedicated his A House for Mr. Biswas to her. Naipaul married Nadira Naipaul, a former Pakistani journalist, in 1996.
- 1 Background and early life: Trinidad
- 2 Education: Port of Spain and Oxford, 1943–54
- 3 London, Caribbean Voices, marriage, 1954–56
- 4 Early Trinidad novels, 1956–58
- 5 A House for Mr Biswas, 1957–60
- 6 The Middle Passage, India, An Area of Darkness, 1961–63
- 7 A Flag on the Island, Africa, The Mimic Men, 1964–67
- 8 The Loss of El Dorado, In A Free State, 1968–72
- 9 Trinidad killings, Argentina, Guerrillas, 1972–76
- 10 Critical responses
- 11 Bibliography
- 12 Notes
- 13 Citations
- 14 Cited references
- 15 External links
Background and early life: Trinidad
V. S. Naipaul, familiarly Vidia Naipaul, was born on 17 August 1932 in Chaguanas on the island of Trinidad, the larger of the two islands in the British crown colony of Trinidad and Tobago. He was the second child and first son born to mother Droapatie (née Capildeo) and father Seepersad Naipaul. In the 1880s, his grandparents emigrated from India to work as indentured servants in Trinidad's sugar plantations. As a result of the Great Famine of 1876–78 and similar calamities in India, the Naipauls were part of a larger Indian emigration to Trinidad, Fiji, Guyana, Suriname, and other outposts of the British Empire.
In the largely peasant Indian immigrant community in Trinidad, Naipaul's father became an English-language journalist. In 1929, he began contributing articles to the Trinidad Guardian; in 1932, the year Naipaul was born, his father joined the staff as the Chaguanas correspondent. 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.
The Naipauls believed themselves to be the descendants Hindu Brahmins, though they did not observe many of the practices and restrictions common to Brahmins in India. The family gradually stopped speaking Indian languages and spoke English at home.
Education: Port of Spain and Oxford, 1943–54
In 1939, when he was seven years old, Naipaul's family moved to Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain, where Naipaul enrolled in the government-run Queen's Royal College, a well-regarded school that was modeled after a British public school. 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, where he intended to study English. In August 1950, he flew to New York, and next day embarked to London by ship. Notes and letters from that time would become the basis for the chapter "Journey" in his novel The Enigma of Arrival, written 37 years later.
At Oxford, Naipaul judged himself adequately prepared for his studies; in the judgment of his Latin tutor, Peter Bayley, Naipaul showed promise and poise. His attempts at writing, he felt, were contrived. Lonely and unsure of his ability and calling, he became depressed. In April of 1952, he took an impulsive trip to Spain, where he quickly spent all he had saved. He called his impulsive trip "a nervous breakdown." Thirty years later, he called it "something like a mental illness."
In 1952, prior to visiting Spain, Naipaul met Patricia Ann Hale, his future wife, at a college play. With Hale's support, Naipaul 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. J. R. R. Tolkien, professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, judged Naipaul's Anglo-Saxon paper the best in the university.
In 1953, Naipaul's father had had a coronary thrombosis and lost his job at the Guardian. In October of that year, his father died. Naipaul's prospects for employment in frugal post-war Britain were unpromising; his applications to jobs overseas were repeatedly rejected; and his attempts at writing were haphazard. He worked at odd jobs and borrowed money from Pat and his family in Trinidad. He reluctantly enrolled for a B. Litt. post-graduate degree at Oxford in English Literature, but he failed his first B. Litt. exam, and his viva voce (in February 1954, with F. P. Wilson, an Elizabethan scholar and Merton Professor of English Literature) did not go well. He was failed overall for the B. Litt. degree.[nb 2] His hope of being supported for academic studies at Oxford ended. Naipaul would later say that he "hated Oxford."
London, Caribbean Voices, marriage, 1954–56
Naipaul moved to London in 1954. In December of that year, Henry Swanzy, the producer of a BBC weekly program called Caribbean Voices, hired Naipaul as presenter. A generation of Caribbean writers had debuted on Caribbean Voices, including George Lamming, Samuel Selvon, the 19-year-old 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. One afternoon in the summer of 1955, in the sparsely furnished BBC freelancers' room in the old Langham Hotel, Naipaul wrote "Bogart," a 3,000-word story inspired by a neighbour he knew as a child in Port of Spain. This story was the first in Miguel Street, a collection of short stories about characters who live on the same street in Port of Spain. Naipaul wrote the book 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."
Early Trinidad novels, 1956–58
Diana Athill, the editor at the publishing company André Deutsch, who read Miguel Street, liked it. But the publisher, André Deutsch, thought a series of linked stories by an unknown Caribbean writer unlikely to sell profitably in Britain. He encouraged Naipaul to write a novel. Without enthusiasm, Naipaul quickly wrote The Mystic Masseur in Autumn 1955. On 8 December 1955, his novel was accepted by Deutsch, and Naipaul received a £125 payment.
In late August 1956, six years after arriving in England, three years after his father's death, and in the face of pressure from his family in Trinidad, especially his mother, to visit, Naipaul boarded TSS Cavina, an Elders&Fyffes passenger-carrying banana boat, in Bristol. From on board the ship, he sent harsh and humorous descriptions of the ship's West Indians passengers to Pat, recording also their conversations in dialect. His early letters from Trinidad spoke to the wealth created there during the intervening years, in contrast to the prevailing frugal economy in Britain. Trinidad was in its last phase before decolonization, and there was a new-found confidence among its citizens. Among Trinidad's different racial groups, there were also avowals of racial separateness—in contrast to the fluid, open racial attitudes of Naipaul's childhood—and there was violence. In the elections of 1956, the party supported by the majority blacks and Indian Muslims narrowly won, leading to an increased sense of gloom in Naipaul. Naipaul accompanied a politician uncle, a candidate of the Hindu party, to his campaign rallies. During these and other events he was gathering ideas for later literary use. By the time he left Trinidad, he had written to Pat about plans for a new novelette on a rural election in Trinidad. These would transmute upon his return to England into the comic novel The Suffrage of Elvira.
Back in England, Deutsch informed Naipaul that the The Mystic Masseur would not be published for another ten months. Naipaul's anger at the publisher together with his anxiety about surviving as a writer aroused more creative energy: The Suffrage of Elvira was written with great speed during the early months of 1957. In June 1957, The Mystic Masseur was finally published. The reviews were generally complimentary, though some were also patronizing. Still shy of his 25th birthday, Naipaul copied out many of the reviews by hand for his mother, including the Daily Telegraph's, "V. S. Naipaul is a young writer who contrives to blend Oxford wit with home-grown rambunctiousness and not do harm to either." Awaiting his book royalties, in summer 1957, Naipaul accepted his only full-time employment, the position of editorial assistant at the Cement and Concrete Association (C&CA). The association published the magazine Concrete Quarterly. Although he disliked the desk job and remained in it for a mere ten weeks, the salary of £1,000 a year provided financial stability, allowing him to send money to Trinidad. The C&CA was also to be the office setting for Naipaul's later novel, Mr. Stone's and the Knight's Companion. Around this same time, writer Francis Wyndham, who had taken Naipaul under his wing, introduced him to novelist Anthony Powell. Powell, in turn, convinced the publisher of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin, to give Naipaul a part-time job reviewing books. Naipaul would review books once a month from 1957 to 1961.
With many West Indian writers now active in England, Caribbean Voices was judged to have achieved its purpose and slated to terminate in August 1958. Naipaul's relations with his BBC employers began to fray. Despite three years of hosting the program and three completed novels, he had been unable to make the transition to mainstream BBC programming. He claimed later that he was told those jobs were reserved for Europeans. In July 1958, after arriving late for a program, Naipaul was reprimanded by the producers, and, in his words, "broke with the BBC."
With promotional help from Andre Deutsh, Naipaul's novels would soon receive critical acclaim. 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.
A House for Mr Biswas, 1957–60
Not long after Naipaul began writing A House for Mr Biswas, he and Pat moved across town from their attic flat in Muswell Hill to an upstairs flat in Streatham Hill. It was the first home in which they felt comfortable. In his forward to the 1983 Alfred A. Knopf edition of the book, Naipaul was to write:
"I had more than changed flats: for the first time in my life I enjoyed solitude and freedom in a house. And just as, in the novel, I was able to let myself go, so in the solitude of the quiet, friendly house in Streatham Hill I could let myself go. ... The two years spent on this novel in Streatham Hill remain the most consuming, the most fulfilled, the happiest years of my life. They were my Eden."
The book is an imagined version of his father's life as fashioned from childhood memories. The story as it evolved became so real for Naipaul, that he later claimed it had "destroyed memory" in some respects. The protagonist, Mohun Biswas, referred to throughout the book as Mr Biswas, is propelled by the forces of circumstance into a succession of vocations: apprentice to a Hindu priest; a signboard painter; a grocery store proprietor in the "heart of the sugarcane area;" a driver, or "sub-overseer," in a dark, damp and overgrown estate; and a reporter for The Trinidad Sentinel. What ambition or resourcefulness Mr Biswas possesses is inevitably undermined by his dependence on his powerful in-laws and the vagaries of opportunity in a colonial society. His in-laws, the Tulsis, with whom he lives much of the time, are a large extended family, and are caricatured with great humour, and some unkindness, in the novel. There is a melancholic streak in Mr Biswas which makes him at times both purposeless and clumsy, but it also stirs flashes of anger and of sniping wit. Humour underpins the many tense relationships in the book. Eventually, as times change, as two of his children go abroad for college, and as ill-health overcomes him, he buys a house, with money borrowed from a friend, and moves into it with his wife and remaining children, and in small measure strikes out on his own before he dies at age 46. According to author Patrick French, A House for Mr Biswas is "universal in the way that the work of Dickens or Tolstoy is universal; the book makes no apologies for itself, and does not contextualize or exoticize its characters. It reveals a complete world."
The writing of the book consumed Naipaul. In 1983, he would write:
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.
The reviews of the book both in the British press and the Caribbean were generous. In The Observer, Colin McInnes wrote that the book had the "unforced pace of a masterpiece: it is relaxed, yet on every page alert." Francis Wyndham, writing in the London Magazine, suggested that the book was "one of the clearest and subtlest illustrations ever shown of the effects of colonialism ...." In his Trinidad Guardian review, Derek Walcott, judged Naipaul to be "one of the most mature of West Indian writers."
The Middle Passage, India, An Area of Darkness, 1961–63
In September 1960, Naipaul was sounded out about visiting Trinidad as a guest of the government and giving a few lectures. The following month an invitation arrived offering an all-expenses-paid trip and a stipend. Naipaul and Pat, both exhausted after the completion of A House for Mr Biswas, spent the next five months in the Caribbean. In Port-of-Spain, Naipaul was invited by Dr. Eric Williams, Premier of Trinidad and Tobago within the short-lived West Indies Federation, to visit other countries of the region and write a book on the Caribbean. The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies – British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America, Naipaul's first work of travel writing, was the result. To gather material for the book, Naipaul and Pat traveled to British Guiana, Suriname, Martinique and Jamaica.
The book begins with perceptive, lively, but unflattering and gratuitously descriptive portraits of the fellow passengers bound for Trinidad. Although he was later criticized for the insensitivity of these descriptions, he stood by his book, claiming it was "a very funny book," and that he was employing a form of irreverent West Indian humour. Naipaul does not attempt to be detached in the book, continually reminding the reader of his own ties to the region. For him, the West Indies are islands colonized only for the purpose of employing slaves for the production of other peoples' goods; he states, "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." As the narrative progresses, Naipaul becomes more sympathetic and insightful, noting that no African names remain on the islands; that slavery had engendered "self-contempt," impelling the descendants of the slaves to idealize European civilization and to look down on all others; and that the debasement of identity has created racial animosity and rivalry among the brutalized peoples. As Naipaul does not see nationalism as having taken root in these societies, only cults of personality, he does not celebrate the coming of independence, though he does not suggest a return to colonial subjecthood.
In early 1962, Naipaul and Pat, arrived in India for a year-long visit. It was Naipaul's first visit to the land of his ancestors. The title of the resulting book, An Area of Darkness, was not so much a reference to India as to Naipaul's effort to understand India. Soon after arrival, Naipaul was overwhelmed by two sensations. First, for the first time in his life, he felt anonymous, even faceless. He was no longer identified, he felt, as part of a special ethnic group as he had in Trinidad or England and this made him anxious. Second, he was upset by what he saw was the resigned or evasive Indian reaction to poverty and suffering. After a month in Bombay and Delhi, Naipaul and Pat spent five months in Kashmir, staying in a lakeside hotel, "Hotel Liward," in Srinagar. Here, Naipaul was exceptionally productive. He wrote a novella Mr. Stone and the Knight's Companion, set in London, and based, in part, on his experiences working for the Cement and Concrete Association, and, in part, on his relationship with Pat. He wrote a number of short stories which were eventually published in the collection A Flag on the Island. His evolving relationship with the hotel manager, Mr. Butt, and especially his assistant, Mr. Aziz, became the subject of the middle section of An Area of Darkness, Naipaul bringing his novelistic skills and economy of style to bear with good effect. During the rest of his stay, his frustration with some aspects of India mounted even as he felt attraction to other aspects. Gorakhpur, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, he wrote later, had "reduced him to the early-Indian stage of (his) hysteria." During his visit to his ancestral village, soon afterwards, Naipaul impatiently turned down a request for assistance and made a quick escape. But in a letter, he also wrote: "As you can imagine I fell in love with these beautiful people, their so beautiful women who have all the boldness and independence ... of Brahmin women ... and their enchanting fairy-tale village."
Just before he left India, Naipaul was invited by the editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India, a prominent, established, English-language magazine, to write a monthly "Letter from London" for the magazine. Naipaul accepted for a fee of £30 a letter. He wrote a monthly letter for the next two years. It would be the only time he would write regularly on the contemporary culture in England, his country of domicile. The topics included cricket, the Beetles, the Profumo affair, advertising in the London Tube, and the Queen.
A Flag on the Island, Africa, The Mimic Men, 1964–67
Naipaul had spent an overwrought year in India. Back in London, after An Area of Darkness was completed, he felt creatively drained. He felt he had used up his Trinidad material. 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. His finances too were low, and Pat went back to teaching to supplement them. Naipaul's books had received much critical acclaim, but they were not yet money makers. Socially, he was now breaking away from the Caribbean Voices circle, but no doors had opened to mainstream British society.
That changed when Naipaul was introduced to Antonia Fraser, at the time the wife of conservative politician Hugh Fraser. Fraser introduced Naipaul to her social circle of upper-class British politicians, writers, and performing artists. 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. Naipaul and Pat bought a three-floor house on Stockwell Park Crescent.
In late 1964, Naipaul was asked to write an original script for an American movie. 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. The story is set in the present time—1964—in a Caribbean island, which is not named. The main character is an American named "Frankie" who affects the mannerisms of Frank Sinatra. Frankie has links to the island from having served there during World War II. He revisits reluctantly when his ship anchors there during a hurricane. Naipaul wilfully makes the pace of the book feverish, the narrative haphazard, the characters loud, the protagonist fickle or deceptive, and the dialogue confusing. Balancing the present time is Frankie's less disordered, though comfortless, memory of 20 years before. Then he had become a part of a community on the island. He had tried to help his poor friends by giving away the ample US Army supplies he had. Not everyone was happy about receiving help and not everyone benefited. Frankie was left chastened about finding tidy solutions to the island's social problems. 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. At the end of this period, he was offered a Writer-in-Residence fellowship at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. There, in early 1966, Naipaul, began to rewrite his material, and went on to complete the novel quickly. The finished novel broke new ground for him. Unlike his Caribbean work, it was not comic. It did not unfold chronologically. Its language was allusive and ironic, its overall structure whimsical. It had strands of both fiction and non-fiction, a precursor of other Naipaul novels. It was intermittently dense, even obscure, 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. The plot, to the extent there is one, is centred around a protagonist, Ralph Singh, an East Indian-West Indian politician from Isabella. Singh is in exile in London and attempting to write his political memoirs. 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. 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 ..."
The Loss of El Dorado, In A Free State, 1968–72
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. 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. In the end, the finished product was not to the liking of Little, Brown, which was expecting a guidebook. Alfred A. Knopf agreed to publish it instead in the United States as did Andre Deutsch later in Britain.
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. 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. Sir Walter Raleigh and Francisco Miranda would become the human faces of these stories. 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.
Before Naipaul began writing The Loss of El Dorado, he had been unhappy with the political climate in Britain. He had been especially unhappy with the increasing public animosity, in the mid-1960s, towards Asian immigrants from Britain's ex-colonies. 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. 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.
Earlier, during their time in Africa, Naipaul and Pat had travelled to Kenya, staying for month in Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast. They had travelled in rural Uganda to Kisoro District on the south-western border with Rwanda and the Congo. Naipaul showed interest in the clans of the Bagandan people. When Uganda's prime minister Milton Obote overthrew their ruler, the Kabaka of Buganda, Naipaul was critical of the British press for not condemning the action enough. Naipaul also travelled to Tanzania with a young American he had met in Kampala, Paul Theroux. It was upon this African experience that Naipaul would draw during the writing of his next book, In a Free State.
In the title novella, ‘In a Free State’, at the heart of the book, two young expatriate Europeans drive across an African country, which remains nameless, but which offers clues of Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda. The novella speaks to many themes. The colonial era ends and Africans govern themselves. Political chaos, frequently violent, takes hold in newly decolonized countries. 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. The older, conservative, white settlers, by contrast, are committed to staying, even in the face of danger. The young expatriates, though liberal, can be racially prejudiced. The old settlers, unsentimental, sometimes brutal, can show compassion. The young, engrossed in narrow preoccupations, are uncomprehending of the dangers that surround them. The old are knowledgeable, armed, and ready to defend themselves. The events unfolding along the car trip and the conversation during it become the means of exploring these themes.
Trinidad killings, Argentina, Guerrillas, 1972–76
The short life and career of Michael de Freitas, a Trinidadian immigrant in the London underworld of the late 1960s, who returned to Trinidad in the early 1970s as a Black Power activist, Michael X, exemplified the themes Naipaul had developed in The Mimic Men and In a Free State.
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. This was a time of strains in their marriage. Naipaul, although dependent on Pat, was frequenting prostitutes for sexual gratification. 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. Naipaul was increasingly ill-humoured and infantile, and Pat increasingly reduced to mothering him. Pat began to keep a diary, a practice she would continue for the next 25 years. 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."
Naipaul visited the commune in Arima and Pat attended the trial. Naipaul's old friend Wyndham Lewis who was now editor of the Sunday Times 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 1980 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas at the behest of Silvers, after which he wrote "Among the Republics," an anthropological study of a "white tribe in the United States."
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." 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." 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.
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 Moseley's fascism. 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". 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 ten 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 twenty-five years, Margaret Murray, who later publicly spoke out against his efforts to claim she "didn't mind" the abuse.
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...
- The Mystic Masseur (1957) – film version: The Mystic Masseur (2001)
- The Suffrage of Elvira (1958)
- Miguel Street (1959)
- A House for Mr Biswas (1961)
- Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion (1963)
- The Mimic Men (1967)
- A Flag on the Island (1967)
- In a Free State (1971) – Booker Prize
- Guerrillas (1975)
- A Bend in the River (1979)
- The Enigma of Arrival (1987)
- A Way in the World (1994)
- Half a Life (2001)
- The Nightwatchman's Occurrence Book: And Other Comic Inventions (Stories) – (2002)
- Magic Seeds (2004)
- The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Societies – British, French and Dutch in the West Indies and South America (1962)
- An Area of Darkness (1964)
- The Loss of El Dorado (1969)
- The Overcrowded Barracoon and Other Articles (1972)
- India: A Wounded Civilization (1977)
- A Congo Diary (1980)
- The Return of Eva Perón and the Killings in Trinidad (1980)
- Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey (1981)
- Finding the Centre: Two Narratives (1984)
- A Turn in the South (1989)
- India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990)
- Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples (1998)
- Between Father and Son: Family Letters (1999, edited by Gillon Aitken)
- The Masque of Africa (2010)
- : // //// (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.
- According to Naipaul's authorized biographer Patrick French, Wilson was "a retired professor ... who was renowned for being taciturn and socially awkward." and that Naipaul blamed Wilson for failing him—in Naipaul's words—"deliberately and out of racial feeling." However, according to Wilson's ODNB biographers, Wilson retired later, in 1957, and was, "a master of social graces and a witty conversationalist."
- "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2001". Nobelprize.org.
- Miller, Marjorie (12 October 2001). "The World; V.S. Naipaul Receives Nobel for Literature". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
- Naipaul 1987, p. 352.
- Hayward 2002, p. 5.
- French 2008, p. 12.
- Visaria & Visaria 1983, p. 515,a: Quote: "A majority of the emigrants were from rural areas and from 'overcrowded agricultural districts' where 'crop failure could plunge sections of the village community into near-starvation'. In fact, there was a strong correlation between emigration and harvest conditions. Acute scarcity during 1873–5 in Bihar, Oudh and the North West Provinces provoked large-scale emigration through the port of Calcutta. The famine in south India during 1874–8 also resulted in heavy emigration."
- Visaria & Visaria 1983, p. 515,b: Quote: "Most of the emigrants probably left even their villages of origin for the first time in their lives, and they were not fully aware of the hardships involved in long voyages and in living abroad. Diseases — cholera, typhoid, dysentery — were often rampant in depots or temporary abodes for labourers at ports of embarkation and also on ships. Consequently, mortality among the recruits and emigrants was very high. The data on long voyages to British Guiana and the West Indies clearly show that mortality at sea was alarmingly high. Before 1870, on an average about 17 to 20 per cent of the labourers departing from Calcutta port died on the ships before reaching their destination."
- French 2008, p. 18b:"There was talk of him (Seepersad) becoming a pundit, and he learned some Sanskrit. Soookdeo Misir, ... gave him a basic education. ... by the time he was in his late teens, he had escaped from the likely future as an agricultural labourer in the grim depths of the rural Indian community. He had taught himself how to read and write English, and had conceived the idea of becoming a journalist, a profession that was usually open to Whites and Negroes."
- French 2008, p. 19: "In 1929, the year of his marriage, Seepersad began work as a freelance reporter on the Trinidad Guardian, ..."
- Hayward 2002, p. 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 ..."
- 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, ..."
- French 2008, p. 55a: "Hinduism had regulations on all things: clothing, ritual pollution, caste distinction, bodily functions, diet."
- 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."
- 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. Above right: Ma (Naipaul's mother) in heels with an Oxford-returned Vidia, 1956."
- 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.'"
- French 2008, p. 30: "Nanie had bought a house, 17 Luis Street, in the Port of Spain suburb of Woodbrook ... This coincided with Seeperdad'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."
- 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 Petite valley. ... In 1943, Seepersad could stand it no longer at Petit Valley and the Naipaul family moved in desperation to 17 Luis Street.
- 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 n 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 ...."
- French 2008, p. 67.
- French 2008, p. 73a: "Vidia thought that the quality of the education he had received at QRC put him ahead of his (Oxford) contemporaries."
- French 2008, p. 73b: "Peter Bayley remembers Vidia reading a later essay on Milton's Paradise Lost ... 'I knew I had a winner.'"
- French 2008, p. 96: "Peter Bayley had been impressed with Vidia's confidence, ... Vidia, then, was able to adjust and compose himself in a social, formal setting."
- French 2008, p. 90.
- French 2008, pp. 92–93.
- 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.'"
- Jussawalla 1997, p. 126: "At Oxford he continued to suffer. 'I drifted into something like a mental illness,' he would write."
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- Rosen & Tejpal 1998: "Actually, I hated Oxford. I hate those degrees and I hate all those ideas of universities. I was far too well prepared for it. I was far more intelligent than most of the people in my college or in my course. I am not boasting, you know well—time has proved all these things. In a way, I had prepared too much for the outer world; there was a kind of solitude and despair, really, at Oxford. I wouldn’t wish anyone to go through it.."
- Naipaul 1983c.
- Poore, Charles (May 5, 1960) "Miguel Street." New York Times. (Retrieved 6-20-2014.)
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- Nobel Lecture: Two Worlds at NobelPrize.org
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- V. S. Naipaul at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about V. S. Naipaul in libraries (WorldCat catalog)