Early Naipaul manuscripts uncovered

There’s been significant discussion of V.S. Naipaul since the publication of his most recent collection of essays. Yesterday, The Elegant Variation linked to an article about biographer Patrick French’s discovery of the author’s early writings, which were thought to have been destroyed.

Emma forwards excerpts from a weekend Sunday Times article written by French:

In the 1970s, aware that his reputation as a novelist was rising and that he had been nominated for the Nobel prize, V.S. Naipaul deposited his manuscripts in a London warehouse. When he came to retrieve them a few years later, they were gone, incinerated accidentally because of an administrative error. Anything not in print had disappeared forever.

Although the destruction may not match the burning of the library at Alexandria in its importance, it was a substantial literary loss.

Naipaul, who eventually won the Nobel in 2001, is widely regarded as Britain’s best living writer. His books, such as A Bend in the River, Guerillas and The Enigma of Arrival, have shaped our understanding of the modern world….

….From Naipaul’s correspondence with his family while he was at Oxford (published in 1999 as Letters Between a Father and Son), I knew that as an undergraduate he had been writing fiction for Caribbean Voices, a radio programme on the BBC Colonial Service. His father Seepersad, a journalist and aspiring writer, was also a contributor. Given that the BBC, like the Stasi, was good at record-keeping, I wondered whether it might be possible to reconstruct some of Naipaul’s early efforts. Using the reference numbers on the booking forms in the BBC archives in Caversham, I managed to locate his ‘lost’ oeuvre. Preserved on grainy microfilm are four short stories, a radio play and the only poem he is ever known to have written, broadcast from London to the West Indies just after his 18th birthday….

….It is baffling that nobody has found this material before. Naipaul’s early work for the BBC is well known, and he has had a global reputation as a novelist for decades. Countless academic books and impenetrable
doctoral theses have been written about him. Universities teach courses which deconstruct his position in the pantheon of postcolonial literature.

Yet no academic has thought to spare a day to search for his early fiction in the bowels of the BBC. Although these stories lack the technical skill of Naipaul’s early novels, they offer a crucial bridge in our understanding of his development as a writer….


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