Why do women stay with brutes?

image I was astonished to read about the cruelty levelled by Sir Vidia Naipaul against the women who loved him – his Oxford educated wife Pat and mistress of 20 years Margaret Murray, for whom the attraction was merely sexual.

I found John Carey’s review in yesterday’s Sunday Times on the authorized biography of VS Naipaul, "The World Is What It Is", by Patrick French, both riveting and depressing.

It is certainly not going to make Naipaul liked, and he is reputed to be one of the most arrogant men in London literary circles. In Carey’s words, it "exposes him as an egotist, a domestic tyrant and a sadist to a degree that would be farcical if it were not for the consequent distress suffered over many years by his first wife, Pat."

Why do women stay with men who behave with incredible selfishness and cruelty? Just read what Carey says about Naipaul’s life:

"She (Pat) defied her family in marrying him, but things soon started to go wrong. It was partly, it seems, that he was too fastidious to commit himself wholly to another person. He would not give her a wedding ring, though she pleaded for one and eventually bought one herself. But it was also that she did not attract him sexually. He felt sexual desire to be shameful, and could not associate it with love. They were both too embarrassed to discuss his problem, and he began to consort with prostitutes, while Pat saw her hopes of motherhood fade.

Then, in 1972, he met an Anglo-Argentinian woman, Margaret Murray, and felt an instant attraction. They soon found that what French calls the kinks in their personalities matched. She enjoyed being his slave and victim, while he was aroused by mistreating and dominating her. It gave him, he said, carnal pleasure for the first time in his life. Being ignorant and not very bright (he estimated that her vocabulary was limited to 50 words), she was of no interest to him except as a sex object. When they were apart he did not bother to read, or even open, her letters. But, for the next 20 years, they would meet in locations around the world to do things that, Murray said, it would have made her sick to do with anyone else, though she longed to do them again with him. She cherished the wounds he inflicted as signs of his passion. On one occasion he beat her, on and off, for two days, until his hand became painfully swollen and her face was too disfigured for her to appear in public.

She left her husband and three children, in hopes that he would marry her. But he still needed Pat to guide, support and mother him, so he shuttled between the two women, repeatedly threatening each that he would put an end to their relationship. It destroyed Pat. The effect of his “hating and abusing” her, her diaries record, was to convince her of her own “revoltingness and folly”. He would reduce her to tears in front of guests, yet demand to be cosseted like a child. When he told her of his affair, he expected her to comfort him for being apart from Murray, and she did. Her love and admiration seem to have been limitless. In her diaries she refers to him as “the Genius”.

Murray became pregnant three times during their relationship. On the first occasion, Naipaul sent a cheque to cover the termination. “I was quite happy for it to be aborted,” he explains. “I would have had to give up so much.” The other two times he paid no heed, and left her to arrange what she called her “little murders” herself. This was typical of his undeviating self-concern, which French traces to the humiliations of his early life. Descended from destitute Indian labourers sent to Trinidad to cut sugar cane, he was made to feel inferior even within his own extended family by the failures and mental breakdowns of his beloved father, whom he was to commemorate in A House for Mr Biswas."

It is incredible that Naipaul authorised such an uncensored account of his shameful behaviour, and French was determined that there should be no interference in his writing. According to the biography, Naipaul accepts the fact that his affair with Margaret ‘undid Pat’s life’ and that his admission in a 1994 magazine interview that he had once been a ‘great prostitute man’ devastated Pat, who had just had a mastectomy, and contributed to her death in 1996.

Two months after Pat’s funeral, he married Nadira Khannum Alvi (pictured), a journalist for the Pakistani newspaper, The Nation.

I’ve had my fair share of unsuitable partners. But there has to be a limit to how much cruelty a woman can take, however much she loves a man. I felt so distressed for Pat and Margaret and their suffering. But why didn’t they walk away from him, from the unhappiness he deliberately inflicted on them? I very much doubt Naipaul behaves the same way towards his present wife, that she would tolerate such tyrannical treatment.

*Interestingly, French declined the offer of an OBE in 2003 so it did not compromise his independence as a writer. I wonder what his next project will be. Naipaul will be a hard act to follow, for many reasons.


  1. In my case, I discovered that my husband had a mental illness that cause his highs and lows. I truly loved him and believed in the marriage vows. But I must admit that he was able to twist things around so I felt some things were my fault. Also, in those days, like you say about “Pat” women couldn’t get a credit card in their own name and there was also the shame of divorce. Finally, when I realised that he was taking us all down with him, I had to take a stand for my children’s sake. I think most readers know the result. In his case, it was a terrible sickness that drove him to behave the way he did – there were cycles of around 2 years of ups and downs. He was so intelligent, funny, and loving when he was well but that sickness was hell. I also know that his mother could have had a great deal to do with the way he turned out – not that she gave him the illness, but with his propensity towards it, she certainly drove him to become worse.

  2. Women find themselves caught between emotional and economic dependency here in the USA. Sad.

  3. I have never understood it myself. But then some women do not have a lot of self esteem for various reasons and somehow think they do not deserve better. He certainly is a piece of work and not at all deserving of a good woman.

  4. Women sometimes think it is their fault, and don’t accept it’s his.

  5. Philipa

    Makes sense to me Cherry Pie (love the name)

    What social reaction do you think Pat would have had if she’d kept a child and left her husband? I think that could have been a fear/factor too.

    In 1972, when, spurning his wife, Naipaul found his masochistic mistress, Pat couldn’t have gained credit or a lease agreement on her own, she would have needed a man to go guarantor for her. She had already gone against her family in marrying this bully and probably had no real support outside the marriage. Well thank God that is no longer the case and women can leave. And well done Ellee in highlighting this issue (and soz for the long comment) and much respect to Trubes and anne for commenting about their experiences.

  6. I agree with Diane – merseyside…I have been there, and it took me a while to leave…but did thank goodness.

    But why would someone want to marry someone like that…I think they were both sick…I mean to be humilated and beaten, for years and years and still want to marry him…don’t understand it.

  7. Those sort of men end up making women feel it is there fault, So that is why they stay. They just need to be able to step away from it and realise that it is the man who is a fault, which can be difficult to do because they are so close to the problem.

    I hope that makes sense…

  8. Hi Trubes, I’m so glad you had the strength to walk away and start a new life. I agree with you about Leslie’s blog, and heartened by the fact that it provided you with a platform for you open up your heart. Well done you.

  9. P.S.Ellee.
    I am actually Trubes. I see my name has come up and not my pseudonym, doesn`t matter, just thought I`d let you know, will try to alter it.

  10. Ellee:
    I totally agree with all the comments here. The man was truly a brute.
    I endured an abusive relationship with a bullying husband, but thankfully bailed out, after a few years.
    Like many women I had the misguided view, that, we should stay together because of the children.
    I got out and have never looked back.
    The Pedalogue (Leslie) has an interesting slant on this subject and it makes interesting reading. I love her stuff, she`s an inspiring writer.
    It compelled me to open up my heart on her Blog about my former relationship. I can tell you it was a cleansing and theraputic experience!

    So well done you ‘girls’ for raising this subject.
    Excellent work.


  11. Philipa

    Ellee – I’ve seen that wierd attitude in a man before, needing a mistress for sex and not wanting to ‘defile’ his wife. I also once asked a (different) man what men wanted and he said every man wants their mother they can f—. I found that response quite revolting.

    I don’t find all men revolting though and know there are some wonderful men out there that any woman would be proud of; good husbands, lovers, fathers, people. This is not an abstract view.

  12. Horrendous. What a self-centred brute.

  13. Pip, I asked a philandering male friend once what men wanted from a woman. He mentioned three requisites: virgin, mother and whore. I guess some men look elsewhere for satisfying sex if they don’t get it at home, though Naipaul’s story is much more complicated and cruel than simply seeking sexual pleasures. Interesting that he regarded Pat as essential for providing his maternal comforts. What a bully he was.

  14. Philipa

    Why? Two reasons that combine I think: “convince her of her own revoltingness” and the attitdue of the time was that that was what women did – put up with their husbands cruelty and try through every effort to make their marriage work. Marriage was for life. Which reminds me of Peter Hitchens and his celebration of the permanance of marriage. He seems to think that marriage is a necesarry condition because of it’s permanence, and however miserable or cruel even the childrens experience of that condition he claims that the everlasting nature of that misery is some kind of feature.

    I would have left the bastard but in Hitchens’ view, and many men on his blog, that would have made me the architect of the downfall of society.

  15. Welshcakes, so how do women break out of addictive and abusive relationships? It is not only degrading for them, but a waste of a life, nothing but wasted love…

    Jeremy, what security?

  16. What a sad tale and a shock to know he could be so cruel. I don’t know why women stay with such men either – fear of being on their own, perhaps and sometimes an abusive relationship is addictive. It’s not as if the women had to stay for economic reasons any more. I shall never read Naipaul again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *