(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Suffrage of Elvira, Naipaul’s second published novel, has been described as a comedy of manners. Certainly, as the first chapter demonstrates, it is comic in tone. On one hand, Naipaul is dramatizing the desperate anxiety of Mr. Surujpat Harbans, as he drives his old truck up Elvira Hill on the way to arrange support for his election to the legislative council. On the other hand, the omens that so terrify Harbans seem hardly to justify his fears. Two American women stop their bicycles so unexpectedly that Harbans cannot help sliding into them, and he later hits and slightly injures a black dog, which is wandering about in the middle of the road with about as much sense as the women.

The fact that both the women and the dog do indeed prove to be recurring obstacles in Harbans’s attempt to win the election not only unifies the plot but also points out the failure of democracy, that is, universal suffrage for adults, just four years after it was so nobly declared. Indeed, at the beginning of the second chapter, Naipaul defines what democracy has meant to the islanders: put simply, new possibilities for profit.

As a candidate, Harbans must try to win the election without spending so much money that the post will be unprofitable. As his backers, the Muslim leader, a tailor, and the Hindu leader, a goldsmith, try to spend as little of their own money as possible, while using the election to consolidate their power and, if possible, to get some immediate cash benefits. By...

(The entire section is 616 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Feder, Lillian. Naipaul’s Truth: The Making of a Writer. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Gorra, Michael Edward. After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Hayward, Helen. The Enigma of V. S. Naipaul: Sources and Contexts. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

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Theroux, Paul. Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Weiss, Timothy. On the Margins: The Art of Exile in V. S. Naipaul. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.