B. Wordsworth

by

V. S. Naipaul

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B. Wordsworth Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on V. S. Naipaul's B. Wordsworth. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of V. S. Naipaul

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932, which at the time was a British colony. Naipaul’s grandparents had immigrated to Trinidad from India at the end of the 19th century and both worked as indentured servants. In his many works of fiction and nonfiction, Naipaul grappled with the history and internal dynamics of colonization and decolonization in various British colonies, frequently through adopting a wry, comic voice. Although educated at Oxford University on scholarship in hopes of learning the craft of writing, Naipaul struggled to find his footing as a writer after graduating and later had harsh words about his Oxford experience. His early novels, The Mystic Masseur (1957) and Miguel Street (1959), are set in Trinidad and established Naipaul as a fresh voice offering a unique perspective of a place that was given little representation in literature at the time. Although Naipaul lived in London off and on for the better part of his career, he was a geographic and intellectual adventurer and spent time in various places including India, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. He wrote about his experiences in works of fiction and nonfiction that reflects a complex and not always sympathetic perspective of the native peoples of these lands. He also employed increasingly complex narrative and linguistic styles in such mid-career novels as A Flag on the Island (1967) and The Mimic Men (1967). Naipaul’s best-known work, A Bend in the River, was published in 1979 and, as in much of Naipaul’s fiction, explores the dynamics of postcolonialism, this time in Africa. Naipul was knighted in 1990 and awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001.
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Historical Context of B. Wordsworth

“B. Wordsworth” is set during the 1940s in Port of Spain, a small town on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. The story forms part of a collection of interlinked stories, all told by a boy narrator who is based on Naipaul’s own experiences growing up on Miguel Street in Port of Spain. Miguel Street is set during World War II, but the war doesn’t play a significant role in the stories. The stories do implicitly comment on Trinidad’s long history as a European colony (Spain colonized the island in the 16th century and eventually ceded it to Great Britain in the 19th century). Trinidad didn’t gain independence until 1962, so the characters in “B. Wordsworth” are still living under British rule. In the Miguel Street stories, it’s clear that 20th-century Port of Spain is economically depressed. The reader can infer that these conditions are largely the result of European nations exploiting Trinidad for its natural resources and enslaving the island’s native population for centuries. The character of B. Wordsworth in the eponymous story would seem to stand apart from the people living on run-down Miguel Street, but he finally fails to rise above the difficult economic circumstances of his life and presumably dies poor and alone. Also of note is that B. Wordsworth himself is based on a real historical figure: the famous British Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who died in 1850.

Other Books Related to B. Wordsworth

The short story “B. Wordsworth” forms part of Miguel Street, a novel of interlinked short stories set in the town of Port of Spain, Trinidad. The structure of the novel is similar to such works as Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, OH, James Joyce’s Dubliners, and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Miguel Street was the first novel Naipaul wrote (although not the first published) and is the only novel of his that features this narrative structure, although a later novel, A Way in the World, experiments with form and content in unique and challenging ways. Among Naipaul’s best-known works are A House for Mr. Biswas (1961) and A Bend in the River (1979). The former novel adopts a postcolonial lens in telling a serio-comic story of a man of East Indian descent living in Trinidad prior to it becoming an independent republic. The latter novel is set in Africa and has been compared to Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness in its depiction of the odyssey its protagonist undertakes into the depths of Africa. The stories in Miguel Street, including “B. Wordsworth,” are widely regarded as giving representation to the decolonized peoples of Trinidad and Tobago and exploring in sympathetic if not always flattering ways the dynamics of postcolonialism.
Key Facts about B. Wordsworth
  • Full Title: B. Wordsworth
  • When Written: 1955
  • Where Written: London
  • When Published: 1959
  • Literary Period: Postcolonial Literature
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: Port of Spain, a town in the republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  • Climax: The narrator pays a final visit to the dying B. Wordsworth.
  • Antagonist: Lack of economic and cultural opportunity
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for B. Wordsworth

Writing History. Miguel Street, the novel that includes the story “B. Wordsworth,” has its origins in a short story that Naipaul submitted for publication. The publisher challenged Naipaul to turn the story into a novel, which Naipaul did in a white heat over the course of five months.

Caribbean Voices. One of Naipaul’s earliest jobs was to host a BBC radio program, Caribbean Voices, that featured the work of up-and-coming Caribbean writers, several of whom, including George Lamming and Derek Walcott, went on to great acclaim.