On 28 Sep. 1952, V.S. Naipaul wrote the following to his father:

The very fact that I can write about future plans ought to hearten you. You see, I have really been suffering from an abnormal mental condition. I was depressive. I have seen the psychologist twice and there is now no further need to see him. The first talk was inconclusive. At the end of the second, he discovered what was wrong with me. Put simply, it was this. Disappointed in Oxford, and myself, I had looked upon myself as a failure; yet was never willing to admit this fear. Accordingly this fear of failure became fear of something so absurd and horrifying that I shall not tell what it was for a number of years.

Last night, while reading the 2019 essay Editing Vidia by Naipaul's editor, Diana Athill, I was stopped cold by the following passage:

[Naipaul and I] began to meet fairly often, and I enjoyed his company because he talked well about writing and people, and was often funny. At quite an early meeting he said gravely that when he was up at Oxford—which he had not liked—he once did a thing so terrible that he would never be able to tell anyone what it was. I said it was unforgivable to reveal that much without revealing more, especially to someone like me who didn’t consider even murder literally unspeakable, but I couldn’t shift him and never learned what the horror was—though someone told me later that when he was at Oxford Vidia did have some kind of nervous breakdown. It distressed me that he had been unhappy at a place which I loved. Having such a feeling for scholarship, high standards and tradition he ought to have liked it . . . but no, he would not budge.

So what was the unspeakable act that V.S. Naipaul committed while at Oxford University?

1 Answer 1


Well, I think I've finally found the answer to my original question. Today while randomly reading V.S. Naipual's Wikipedia page, I came across the following:

At University College, Oxford, Naipaul's early attempts at writing, he felt, were contrived. Lonely and unsure of his ability and calling, he became depressed. In April 1952, he took an impulsive trip to Spain, where he quickly spent all he had saved. He called his impulsive trip 'a nervous breakdown.' Thirty years later, he called it 'something like a mental illness.'

Seemingly, what he had done that was terrible was to go to Spain on a foolish impulse and blow all his hard-earned money. This makes sense, since for Naipaul—a man who was very concerned with financial independence—such irresponsibility with money was a mortal sin.

  • Thank you for coming back to answer your own question! This is a wonderful find and I'm so glad the question finally has an answer.
    – verbose
    Feb 16, 2021 at 5:30

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