V S Naipaul (More)

More articles have come to light in which V S Naipaul’s attitude toward the writings of Evelyn Waugh is discussed:

In the online newspaper The Daily Beast there is a story by Alice McNearney about the accidental destruction of Naipaul’s papers from his early period (prior to 1970). He needed money and asked Paul Theroux in 1972 to find an academic institution in the USA to buy his manuscripts. He was willing to sell the collection for £40,000, but at that early stage of his career, no buyer was forthcoming. So he packed them up for storage at Ely’s warehouse in south London. In 1992 when his wife went to retrieve the files, she discovered they had been inadvertently destroyed. The warehouse had been directed to destroy some files of the Nitrate Corporation of Chile. These were labelled “NITRATE”. When those files were collected for destruction, the warehouse also included files labelled “NAIPAUL”. The story in the Beast describes some of what was lost:

Included in the collection were his personal reflections—diaries from his time at Oxford, his days as a budding journalist, his travels around Africa and India, and his reflections as he went about creating some of his early work. There were letters that he had received during his early years in England. He had copies of the scripts he had written while he was working for the BBC’s Caribbean Voices and copies of the pieces he had contributed to his “Letters from London” column in the Illustrated Weekly of India. And then there were the early manuscripts: two books that were never published, one written while he was living in Trinidad and the other called The Shadow’d Livery penned during his time at Oxford.

While Naipaul was enthusiastic about The Shadow’d Livery early on—a letter he wrote from Oxford called it his “magnum opus” and reported “the man at the Ashmolean Museum here, who has read the first 50,000 words, thinks it highly readable”—the book failed to sell and his opinion of it evolved. In an interview with the New York Times in 2000, he acknowledged “it was heavily dependent on Evelyn Waugh, but the idea was my own.”

The New York Times review (linked above) of the collection of letters where Naipaul mentioned The Shadow’d Livery contains this additional information:

At 18 he wrote his first novel, “The Shadow’d Livery.” “It was,” he said, […] “a kind of farce on an important subject,” a black man in Trinidad who tries to turn himself into a king. After the book was rejected by a publisher, it was jettisoned. He sank into a depression that lasted about a year.. Then he wrote a second novel, a “more personal, foolish book” — also unpublished.

From this it sounds as if the novel may have been written while he was still living in Trinidad, but that he tried, without success, to find a publisher after he had arrived at Oxford. That would be consistent with earlier reports that he was influenced as a teenager by Waugh’s writings.

One of our readers has also sent a reference from an interview of Naipaul that appeared in a 2006 issue of The Literary Review. In this, he was asked his assessment of English writers:

Q. Why do you exempt Dickens from your judgement on English writers? [Naipaul had earlier stated that 19th century English writers such as Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen “wrote for the English” but excepted Dickens.]

A. I read some of the very early essays a short time ago: Sketches by Boz– they were good. There’s so much rubbish in Dickens. Wordiness, too many words, repetitiveness. He was trying to do something, but by God the African never had a worse enemy.[….]

Q. Do you judge the British writers of the twentieth century in the same way?

A. That’s very interesting. It’s true of Waugh. The idea of an international readership doesn’t enter until quite late. H G Wells, writing his early short stories, is not writing for people outside. He is taking a lot of the clichés of imperialism and making the stories – good writer though he is. If you read the stories from the 1890s they have African voodoo and Indian priests, etc. He hasn’t been out of the country, he is just dealing in received ideas.

Thanks to Dave Lull for a link to this interview.

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