V. S. Naipaul
|V. S. Naipaul|
|Born||Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul
17 August 1932
Chaguanas, Trinidad and Tobago
|Occupation||Novelist, travel writer, essayist|
|Notable work(s)||A House for Mr. Biswas
A Bend in the River
The Enigma of Arrival
In a Free State
|Notable award(s)||Booker Prize
Nobel Prize in Literature
|Spouse(s)||Patricia Ann Hale Naipaul (1955 - 1996)
Nadira Khannum Alvi Naipaul (1996 - present)
V. S. Naipaul (// or //; b. 17 August 1932), in full, Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, is a British writer born and raised in Trinidad, to which his grandfathers had emigrated from India as indentured servants. Naipaul is known for the wistfully comic early novels of Trinidad, the bleaker novels of a wider world remade by the passage of peoples, and the vigilant chronicles of his life and travels, all written in characteristic, widely admired, prose.
Patricia Ann Hale, whom Naipaul married in 1955, served until her death 41 years later as first reader, editor, and critic of his writings. To her, in 2011, Naipaul dedicated his breakthrough novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, of a half-century before.
Background and early life: Trinidad
Trinidad is the larger of the two main islands comprising Trinidad and Tobago (see map above). It is also the southernmost island in the Caribbean, its western peninsulas an eyeshot away from the northeastern coastline of Venezuela. Here, V. S. Naipaul, familiarly Vidia Naipaul, was born on 17 August 1932 in the small town of Chaguanas on Trinidad's Gulf of Paria seaboard, a scant ten miles south of the Northern Range. He was the second child and first son born to mother Droapatie (née Capildeo) and father Seepersad Naipaul. A half-century earlier, his paternal grandfather had emigrated from India—from a village in the lower Gangetic Plain of the North-Western Provinces (see map)—to work as an indentured servant in the sugar plantations near Chaguanas. Some dozen years later, his maternal grandfather would do the same. During that same time, other Indians, their prospects blighted by the Great Famine of 1876–78, or similar calamities, had emigrated to other outposts of the British Empire, such as Fiji, Guyana, and Suriname, risking deathly sea voyages. In these places, as in Trinidad, although slavery had been abolished in 1833, slave labour was still in demand, and indenture was the subterfuge being employed to meet that demand.
His father, Seepersad Naipaul, however, had been able to carve out an unlikely career for himself. By dint of effort and the good fortune of receiving some education, he had become an English-language journalist in what was then a largely illiterate land. In 1929, he had begun contributing stories to the Trinidad Guardian, and in 1932, the year of his first son's birth, he became the provincial Chaguanas correspondent. In "A prologue to an autobiography," (1983), Naipaul describes how Seepersad's great reverence for writers and for the writing life spawned the dreams and aspirations of his eldest son.
In the new world memory of their genealogy, the Naipauls were Hindu Brahmins. Their ancestors back in India had been guided by prohibitions, including, most likely, that against eating flesh. The new world, however, was to change some of that. By the time of Naipaul's earliest childhood memories, chicken and fish had become honorary vegetables at the family's dining table, and Christmas was celebrated with a big dinner. The sari, the draped female garment of timeless India, was in Trinidad not only being accessorized with belts and shoes, but its hemline had risen slightly in belated imitation of that of the skirt. For females of Naipaul's generation, the sari was to disappear altogether. Disappearing too were the languages of the old country. Naipaul and his siblings could speak only English. At school, other languages were taught, but these were usually Spanish and Latin.
It was such a changed and changing family that moved to Trinidad's capital Port of Spain when Naipaul was seven. His father was now working at the Guardian 's headquarters. Here, after overcoming some of his provincial shyness, Naipaul began to excel at school.
Education: Port of Spain and Oxford
At Queen's Royal College, Port of Spain, where Naipaul attended high-school, he continued to excel at his studies. Still not quite 17, he won a Trinidad Government scholarship to study abroad. In the introduction to the 20th-anniversary edition of A House for Mr. Biswas, he reflected that the scholarship would have allowed him to study any subject at any institution of higher learning in the British Commonwealth, but that he chose to go to Oxford to do a simple degree in English. He went, he wrote, "in order at last to write...." In August 1950, Naipaul boarded a Pan Am flight to New York, continuing the next day by boat to London. He left Trinidad, like the narrator of Miguel Street, "not looking back." He however carried with him a baked whole chicken and roti bread made by his mother. For recording the impressions he was about to soak up, he purchased a pad of paper and a copying pencil, which a Pan Am stewardess sharpened for him. The copious notes and letters from that time were to become the basis for the chapter "Journey" in The Enigma of Arrival.
Arriving at Oxford for the Michaelmas term, 1950, Naipaul displayed enthusiasm, preparedness, and promise. He did so at least in the judgment of his Latin tutor, Peter Bayley. But, a year on, by his own reckoning, his attempts at writing felt contrived. Unsure of his ability and his calling, and lonely besides, Naipaul fell into a slump. His family in Trinidad began to worry, and by late March 1952, plans were afoot for a return home in the summer. His father put down a quarter of the passage. But the return that summer never came to pass. In early April, in the vacs before the Trinity term, Naipaul took an impulsive trip to Spain, and quickly and grandly spent all he had saved. Attempting an explanation to his family, he called it "a nervous breakdown." Thirty years later, he was to call it "something like a mental illness."
Meanwhile, earlier that year, at a college play, Naipaul had met Patricia Ann Hale, a young woman his age, who was studying history. Hale and Naipaul soon became intimate. With her support, Naipaul began to recover and slowly again to write. In turn, she became a partner in dreaming up his career. When they told their families, however, the response was unenthusiastic; from hers it was even hostile. The couple did not stop seeing one another, but increasingly kept their intimacies under wraps. In June 1953, both Naipaul and Hale graduated, both receiving, in his words, "a damn, bloody, ... second." J. R. R. Tolkein, professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, however, thought Naipaul's paper to have been the best in Anglo-Saxon.
Back in Trinidad, Naipaul's father had had a coronary thrombosis in early 1953 and lost his job at the Guardian in the summer. Then, in October 1953, Seepersad Naipaul died. By Hindu tenets, it fell on Naipaul to light the funeral pyre—it was the mandatory ritual of the eldest son, the highest duty. But since there was not the time nor the money for Naipaul to return, his eight-year-old brother, Shiva Naipaul, performed the final rites of cremation. "The event marked him," Naipaul wrote about his brother. "That death and cremation were his private wound."
1954–56: London, Caribbean Voices, marriage, novel
Through the summer and autumn of 1953 Naipaul was financially strapped, his prospects for employment in frugal post-war Britain unpromising, his applications to jobs overseas repeatedly rejected, and his attempts at writing still haphazard and running into dead ends. He was feeling the pressure of his family in Port of Spain, which was now expecting the newly minted graduate to help out. Working off and on at odd jobs, borrowing money from Pat or his family in Trinidad, Naipaul reluctantly enrolled for a B. Litt. post-graduate degree at Oxford in English Literature, with focus on Spanish literature. In December 1953, he failed his first B. Litt. exam. Although he passed the second written examination, his viva voce, in February 1954, with F. P. Wilson, an Elizabethan scholar and Merton Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, did not go well. He was failed overall for the B. Litt. degree. 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."
Now indigent, Naipaul moved to London, where he gratingly accepted shelter in the flat of a cousin. Pat, who in the mean time had won a scholarship for further studies at the University of Birmingham, moved out of her parents' flat to independent lodgings, where Naipaul could visit her. For the remainder of 1954, Naipaul showed snatches of behavior—some characteristic of later years, some not—that tried the patience of his ragtag support group. He railed against Trinidad and Trinidadians; he railed at the British who he felt had plucked him out of Trinidad and left him hanging, without opportunity; he took refuge in illness, but when help was offered, he often rebuffed it. He was increasingly dependent on Pat, who kept calm and carried on, offering him in equal measure money, practical advice, encouragement, and rebuke, but all the while firmly expressing her love. But in spite of efforts made by friends, no gainful employment appeared. Then, in December 1954, Naipaul got his lucky break. Henry Swanzy, producer of the BBC weekly program, Caribbean Voices, offered Naipaul a three-month renewable contract as presenter of the program. Swanzy, on whose program a generation of Caribbean writers had debuted, including George Lamming, Samuel Selvon, the 19-year-old Derek Walcott and, earlier, Naipaul himself, was being transferred to Accra to manage the Gold Coast Broadcasting System. Naipaul would stay in the part-time job for four years, and Pat would remain the critical breadwinner for the couple.
In January 1955, Naipaul moved to new lodgings, a small flat in Kilburn, and he and Pat got married, neither telling their families or friends—their wedding guests limited to the two witnesses required by law. Pat, continued to live in Birmingham, but visited on the weekends. At the BBC, Naipaul presented the program once a week, wrote short reviews and conducted interviews. The sparsely furnished freelancers' room in the old Langham Hotel flowed with the banter of Caribbean writers and would-be writers, providing camaraderie and fellowship. Still, for Naipaul, the writer's life, that "fair reward for the long ambition", seemed out of grasp. Then, one afternoon in the summer of 1955, in such surroundings, inspiration struck, and Naipaul typed out in one sitting a 3,000-word story based on a Port of Spain memory of a man, preternaturally placid, called Bogart in the story. Three fellow writers, John Stockbridge, Andrew Salkey, and Gordon Woolford, who read the story later, were struck by it and encouraged him to go on. In five weeks, Naipaul had written his first publishable book, Miguel Street, a collection of linked stories of that Port of Spain street. Although the book would not be published right away, Naipaul's talent caught the attention of publishers and his spirits began to lift.
1956–58: Trinidad visit, Cement and Concrete, New Statesman
- 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)
- Pronunciation: // // // (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.
- "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2001". Nobelprize.org.
- Naipaul 1987, p. 352.
- 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."
- Hayward 2001, p. 7.
- Naipaul 1983c.
- Naipaul 1987, p. 346.
- French 2008, pp. 117–128.
- Robertson & Connell 2004.
- Dooley, Gillian (2006), V.S. Naipaul, Man and Writer, University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 978-1-57003-587-6, retrieved 30 September 2013
- French, Patrick (2008), The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul, New York: Alfred Knopf, ISBN 978-0-307-27035-1, retrieved 19 September 2013
- Gorra, Michael (2008), After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0-226-30476-2, retrieved 19 September 2013
- Hayward, Helen (2002), The Enigma of V. S. Naipaul, (Warwick University Caribbean Studies), Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-4039-0254-2
- Mustafa, Fawzia (1995), V. S. Naipaul: Cambridge Studies in African and Caribbean Literature, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-48359-9, retrieved 19 September 2013
- Naipaul, Shiva (1986), "Brothers", An Unfinished Journey, London: Hamish Hamilton, ISBN 978-0-241-11943-3, retrieved 19 September 2013
- Naipaul, V. S. (1983a), "Foreword", A House for Mr. Biswas with a new foreword by the author, New York: Alfred Knopf Inc, ISBN 978-0-679-44458-9
- Also:Naipaul, V. S. (1983b). "Writing 'A House for Mr. Biswas'". The New York Review of Books, 24 November 1983.
- Naipaul, V. S. (1986), "A prologue to an autobiography", Finding the Center: Two Narratives, Vintage Books, ISBN 978-0-394-74090-4, retrieved 19 September 2013
- Also: Naipaul, V. S. (1983c), "A prologue to an autobiography", Vanity Fair, April 1983
- Naipaul, V.S. (1987), The Enigma of Arrival, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-307-74403-6, retrieved 28 September 2013
- Naipaul, V.S. (2007) , Gillon Aitken, ed., Between Father and Son: Family Letters, New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc, ISBN 978-0-307-42497-6, retrieved 19 September 2013
- Nixon, Rob (1992), London Calling: V. S. Naipaul, Postcolonial Mandarin, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-536196-4, retrieved 19 September 2013
- Robertson, Jean; Connell, P. J. (rev) (2004), "Wilson, Frank Percy (1889–1963)’", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press), retrieved 27 September 2013
- Said, Edward W. (2000), "Bitter Dispatches from the Third World", Reflections on Exile and Other Essays, Harvard University Press, p. 98, ISBN 978-0-674-00302-6, retrieved 19 September 2013
- Bayley, John (9 April 1987). "Country Life". The New York Review of Books.
- Buruma, Ian (20 November 2008). "Lessons of the Master". The New York Review of Books.
- Chotiner, Isaac (7 December 2012), V.S. Naipaul on the Arab Spring, Authors He Loathes, and the Books He Will Never Write, New Republic
- Fraser, Peter D. (2010), "Review of V.S. Naipaul: Man and Writer by Gillian Dooley", Caribbean Studies (Institute of Caribbean Studies, UPR, Rio Piedras Campus) 38 (1): 212–215
- Marnham, Patrick (April 1994), An Interview with VS Naipaul, Literary Review
- Naipaul, V. S. (17 October 1974). "Conrad's Darkness". The New York Review of Books.
- Naipaul, V. S. (12 February 1987). "The Ceremony of Farewell". The New York Review of Books.
- Naipaul, V. S. (23 April 1987). "On Being a Writer". The New York Review of Books.
- Naipaul, V. S. (31 January 1991). "Our Universal Civilization". The New York Review of Books.
- Naipaul, V. S. (12 May 1994). "A Way in the World". The New York Review of Books.
- Naipaul, V. S. (18 February 1999). "Reading and Writing". The New York Review of Books.
- Naipaul, V. S. (4 March 1999). "The Writer in India". The New York Review of Books.
- Pritchard, William H. (2008), "Naipaul Unveiled: Review of The World Is What It Is, The authorized biography of V. S. Naipaul by Patrick French", The Hudson Review 61 (3): 431–440
- Robertson, Jean; Connell, P.J. (rev) (2004), "Wilson, Frank Percy (1889–1963)’", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press), retrieved 27 September 2013
- Visaria, Pravin; Visaria, Leela (1983), "Population (1757–1947)", in Dharma Kumar, Meghnad Desai, The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume 2, ca. 1757–ca. 1970, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-22802-2
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: V. S. Naipaul|
- Nobel Lecture: Two Worlds at NobelPrize.org
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- V. S. Naipaul at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about V. S. Naipaul in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Jonathan Rosen, Tarun Tejpal (Fall 1998). "V. S. Naipaul, The Art of Fiction No. 154". The Paris Review.