Mr. Biswas And His “Nagging” Wife
I’ve mentioned before, specifically in this post, about V.S. Naipaul’s misogynistic reputation.
Now, granted, A House for Mr. Biswas is my first experience reading Naipaul’s work, so I’m hardly an expert on him. But some of his quotes in the past about women have been telling, especially for a Nobel Prize winner. Read them here.
I’d be lying if I said his views on those subjects hadn’t been in the back of my mind while reading this novel. So, when I came to the following passage, I probably raised an eyebrow (or two). This passage is describing how Mr. Biswas is adjusting to having moved to a new village with his fairly new wife.
In the days that followed he learned something new: how a woman nagged. The very word, nag, was known to him only from foreign books and magazines. It had puzzled him. Living in a wife-beating society, he couldn’t understand why women were even allowed to nag or how nagging could have any effect. He saw that there were exceptional women, Mrs. Tulsi and Tara, for example, who could never be beaten. But most of the women he knew were like Sushila, the widowed Tulsi daughter. She talked with pride of the beatings she had received from her short-lived husband. She regarded them as a necessary part of her training and often attributed the decay of Hindu society in Trinidad to the rise of the timorous, weak, non-beating class of husband.
To this class Mr Biswas belonged. So Shama nagged; and nagged so well that from the first he knew she was nagging. It amazed him that someone so young should show herself so competent in such an alien skill. But there were things which should have warned him. She had never run a house, but at The Chase she had always behaved like an experienced housewife. Then there was her pregnancy. She took that as easily as if she had borne many children; she never spoke about it, ate no special foods, made no special preparations, and generally behaved so normally that at times he forgot she was pregnant.
So Shama nagged. With her gloom and a refusal to speak, first of all; then with a precise, economical and noisy efficiency. She didn’t ignore Mr Biswas. She made it clear that she noted his presence, and that it filled her with despair.
Now, I think it’s unfair (and rather stupid) to believe an author’s views will always be consistent with those of his characters. But when you know an author has said X, and then you read a character or narrator in one of his novels saying something along the lines of X, then doesn’t it make you turn your head a bit?
Do you think Naipaul’s personal views have trickled into this passage?