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Patrick French: the biographer of VS Naipaul was a generous collaborator with twinkling wit

The writer and historian, who has died aged 56, was not only widely respected for his writing on India but a kind and optimistic man, says fellow academic Maya Jasanoff ‘How should we understand a life – and where do literary, personal and intellectual biography meet?” asked Patrick French in a colloquium held last year. There was nobody better positioned to answer. A biographer of unparalleled sensitivity, Patrick learned early on “to realise the complexity of each person” and “the need for scrupulous research and selection, as well as intuition, empathy and compassion”. He will long be remembered for his literary achievements, especially his biography of VS Naipaul, which offers a masterclass in life-writing. I was fortunate to get to know Patrick as a person and intellectual as well. We met in 2018, not long after he generously reviewed my book The Dawn Watch for this paper. He had recently become the founding Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University, in Gujarat, where he was tasked with building a liberal arts institution from scratch, and where he invited me to become a visiting professor. Not many people can move seamlessly between literary and academic realms, with the different forms of thought, creativity, and communication they entail; nor do many writers or professors possess the vision, patience, and pragmatism required to lead an institution. Patrick had all these capacities, plus an abundant curiosity and tolerance that helped him navigate across cultural and disciplinary lines. Continue reading...

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