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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?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. moosha23 #

    Wow, I didn’t know that V.S. Naipaul was like that at all. Considering that, in the first few lines of the passage it is apparent in Mr Biswas’ puzzlement at why women were even allowed to nag in a “wife-beating society”. It’s also apparent in how Mr Biswas comes across as a timid sort of guy, but in comparison to Naipaul’s own chauvinistic views Mr Biswas is at least, to a slight extent, better – as in at least he doesn’t beat his own wife…You have to think about how maybe Naipaul is depicting Indian society like it is – a wife-beating society. In 40% of households in India there is domestic violence, and it is quite apparent here when Sushila boasts of her beating (although that itself is questionable; I’m pretty sure that not all victims of domestic abuse in India would be proud of having a husband who beats them).

    Liked by 1 person

    January 6, 2015
  2. Denise #

    It’s difficult to say whether Naipaul’s personal misogyny has influenced his characters. Perhaps Mr. Biswas is coincidentally also a misogynist. They are unfortunately not that uncommon. Will it stop me from reading his work? Maybe. It definitely lowers my opinion of him and lessens my interest in anything he might have to say through fiction.


    January 6, 2015
  3. Robert, what do you mean by “especially for a Nobel Prize winner?” Do you mean that winners of this prestigious prize should be fair and wise? I’m not sure that this isn’t an old discussion about whether writers are allowed to have abject world views? Because many of them have, or perhaps they know better and their characters exhibit all kinds of degenerate, illiberal and hopelessly reactionary ideas. I am of the opinion that we should first understand what culture and society an author comes from. Second, if the background of the writer (in Naipaul’s case) doesn’t excuse his awful views on a subject (in this case women), he can still be a wonderful and interesting writer. If you only read writers whose moral views you agree with, your world gets very small. Just a small example, it is well known that the classic writers talked about slavery as if this were normal.

    Liked by 1 person

    January 6, 2015
    • I guess I don’t think an abject racist would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in today’s world. Maybe I’m wrong. That being the case, not sure how an abject misogynist pulled it off. I understand that an author’s culture will have a heavy influence on him or her. However, this book was written decades ago, and he still says the same kind of stuff today. At some point, you would expect an author to grow up and move past an archaic world view.


      January 7, 2015
  4. Aeolianlyre #

    Only a chauvinistic pig fails to see women’s torment in repeating the same thing over and over again, with the risk of being beaten, just to be listened and understood 🙂

    This blindness ultimately explains all the sexist remarks made by Naipaul.


    January 6, 2015

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