VS Naipaul says women writers aren't as good as men. Can you tell the difference?

Are male writers inherently better than female ones? V.S. Naipaul, the winner of the 2001 Nobel prize for literature, says he's sure that they are.

During an interview at the Royal Geographic Society earlier this week, Naipaul (author of "A House for Mr. Biswas") was asked if he considered any woman writer to be his literary equal. He replied: "I don't think so." Women, he said, have a certain "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world" that makes their writing inferior to that of men. "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing, too," he added.

Oh, yes he did.

We understand not being able to relate to some writers. And we understand how some people could even find entire genres unappealing. Of Jane Austen, whose work has certainly stood the test of time so far, he said that he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world." So he's not a fan of "Pride and Prejudice" (nor, probably, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"). But that doesn't automatically make all female writers inferior.

Writer VS Naipaul at an Italian literary festival in April. (Photo: Barbara Zanon/Getty Images)

Naipaul also said: "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not." Well, that piqued our interest. The Guardian offered up a 10-question quiz, asking readers whether they could tell whether certain paragraphs were written by men or women, so we thought we'd offer one of our own. Take a look and give it your best guess-and no cheating via Google. (Oh, fine, the answers are at the bottom.)

1. "Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that happened a long while ago, and I said to you, 'That afternoon when I met so-and-so... was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.' I expect you might put down your teacup and say, 'Well, now, which was it? Was it the best or the worst? Because it can't possibly have been both!' "

2. "'I told you the truth,' I say yet again, 'Memory's truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent versions of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else's version more than his own.' "

3. "Some people could look at a mud-puddle and see an ocean with ships. But Nanny belonged to that other kind that loved to deal in scraps. Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon - for not matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you - and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter's neck tight enough to choke her. She hated the old woman who had twisted her so in the name of love."

4. "I must tell you about my wedding present. When the chaplain and the sisters had left me alone with my husband-oh, Lucy, it is the first time I have written the words "my husband"-left me alone with my husband, I took the book from under his pillow, and wrapped it up in white paper, and tied it with a little bit of pale blue ribbon which was around my neck, and sealed it over the knot with sealing wax, and for the seal I used my wedding ring."

5. "Mr. Brooke's conclusions were as difficult to predict as the weather: it was only safe to say that he would act with benevolent intentions, and that he would spend as little money as possible in carrying them out. For the most glutinously indefinite minds enclose some hard grains of habit; and a man has been seen lax about all his own interests except the retention of his snuff-box, concerning which he was watchful, suspicious, and greedy of clutch."

6. "Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the wind blow so. It was one of these regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves' and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest-fst! it was as bright as glory and you'd have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about, away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now rumbling, grumbling, tumbling down the sky towards the under side of the world..."

7. "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn't have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt."

8. "We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone. A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and I thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat, shot-through with the sweet taint of chewing gum and perfume from the watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from the pictures, later in miniskirts, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair."

9. "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."

10. "At once, though it was night and the way was lonely, she left the hut and walked to the next village, where there was a hedge of cactus. She brought back leaves of cactus, cut them into strips and hung a strip over every door, every window, every aperture through which an evil spirit might enter the hut. But the midwife said, 'whatever you do, this boy will eat up his own mother and father."


1. From "Memoirs of a Geisha," by Arthur Golden (male).

2. From "Midnight's Children," by Salman Rushdie (male).

3. From "Their Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston (female).

4. From "Dracula," by Bram Stoker (male)

5. From "Middlemarch," by George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans (so, female).

6. From "Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain (male).

7. From "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee (female)

8. From "The Handmaid's Tale," by Margaret Atwood (female)

9. From "The Outsiders," by S.E. Hinton (female)

10. From "A House for Mr Biswas," by V.S. Naipaul (male).

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