Celebrated author V. S. Naipaul is convinced that not only can he, within a paragraph or two, tell whether a novel has been written by a female or not, but that no female writer who has ever lived is his equal as a writer.
In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the "greatest living writer of English prose", was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: "I don't think so." Of Austen he said he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world". He felt that women writers were "quite different". He said: "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."Yes, well, perhaps that's all true (although we wouldn't bet on it), but we can't help thinking back to what, for the longest time, we, too, were absolutely convinced of; viz., that no female, no matter how technically adept she might be, could ever play the fiddle with the command and fire and depth of emotion of a male, and that we could tell within twenty measures or so whether the fiddle was being played by a female or not. Then one day, some thirty or so years ago, we switched on the radio about ten measures into the Beethoven Violin Concerto and of course stopped what we were doing to listen (one never passes up a chance to hear the Beethoven). The performance was riveting. We couldn't place the fiddler as this fiddler, whoever he was (there was no question the fiddler was a male), sounded like no fiddler we'd ever heard before. We mentally flipped through every fiddler known to us and could come up with no match. Then came the announcer. The orchestra was the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan, and the fiddler was someone named Anne-Sophie Mutter. She was 16 years old. And that was that.