In an earlier post [A tidbit about V.S. Naipaul and Harold Pinter] I had written about a brief anecdote about a lunch V. S. Naipaul and his wife Pat had with Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser during the scandal that ensued when the Fraser-Pinter romance became public. London’s The Daily Mail newspaper has published a more detailed account of the relationship between the two Nobel Prize winners (Naipaul and Pinter). Here is it, with a link to the full article below:
In the Seventies, the only man in Britain who could be said to be angrier than Harold Pinter and Basil Fawlty was V.S. Naipaul. Naipaul’s anger was more generalised, and more ferocious.
Over the course of a long life, he has called Tibetans ‘the dirtiest people in the world’, Argentines ‘vain and aggressive’, the Spanish ‘the most immoral people I have yet known’ and the British working classes ‘an absolute menace, animals eating far more than they deserve’.
But he is also more than capable of particularising his rage: he recently declared that the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, has ‘a criminal face’.
From Lady Antonia’s account, one might imagine that these two angry men, Vidia Naipaul and Harold Pinter, were to become the greatest of friends.
‘Vidia and Pat (Naipaul) to lunch. A great success,’ she records on March 19, 1976. ‘I see how much Vidia and Harold have in common: they discuss anger like one might discuss a taste for port.’
But was their friendship really quite so rosy? The World Is What It Is, the authorised biography of V.S. Naipaul, offers a much fuller account of one of their lunches together.
Apparently, Pat Naipaul wrote in her journal that her husband thought Pinter’s talent essentially adolescent, ‘about childish fears and sexual longings’.
Before the Pinters arrived for lunch, Naipaul had flown into one of his hysterical rages. ‘It was very alarming,’ wrote Pat.
The Pinters duly arrived, and they all sat down for lunch. Pat served a nut loaf, which Harold Pinter failed to eat. ‘Vidia was silently offended (Pat had made it with her own hand) and the invitation to Wiltshire was never repeated,’ records Naipaul’s biographer.
Just as Sybil Fawlty would have done, Lady Antonia pretended that nothing had happened, and sought to placate Naipaul with a gushy thankyou letter.
‘Thank you very much indeed for entertaining us with such panache – nut-cake is a new discovery for me and if white wine not exactly new, that was particularly delicious!
‘I had often described Wilsford to Harold and was thus so pleased to be able to show it to him, looking as it ever did like a house in a fairy story . . .’
Earlier in her romance with Pinter, on June 26, 1975, Lady Antonia Fraser had lunch alone with Pat Naipaul, who seems to have tried to warn her off.
‘She said: “Oh, poor Antonia! You will be married to a writer over 40 and past his best, of failing creativity.” ‘
Three years later, Pinter wrote his last full-length play. It was another 30 years before he died.
It is now possible to see that Pat Naipaul – who died in 1996 – was speaking from the heart.
Naipaul’s biographer sums up their relationship in a pithy sentence: ‘She irritated him; he was cruel to her; she became more feeble and pathetic; his irritation increased.’
For 30 years, poor Pat recorded her husband’s cruelty in her journal. ‘You don’t behave like a writer’s wife,’ he once rebuked her. ‘You behave like the wife of a clerk who has risen above her station.’
By all accounts, the Fraser/ Pinter marriage was infinitely happier than either the Naipaul or the Fawlty marriages. But I wonder how much Lady Antonia has chosen to omit?
She makes no mention in her diary, for instance, of the disastrous meal at the Naipauls. Might it be a case of ‘Don’t mention the nut-loaf!’?
Photo: V. S. Naipaul and his wife Patricia.