April 2013 | Nate Pedersen

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Dies at 85

The novelist and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala passed away in New York City on April 3.  Best known for her collaborations with film producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory, Jhabvala was dismissive of her Academy Award winning screenplays, which she called a "recreation" in her entry the in Who's Who guide.  Jhabvala considered herself first and foremost a novelist and her novels were consistently met with critical acclaim   She won the Booker Prize for Heat and Dust in 1975.  All together, she published twelve novels and eight collections of short stories.  Her final publication, a short story entitled The Judge's Will, appeared in the March 25th issue of the New Yorker.

Jhabvala had a truly international perspective in her writing, honed from a life spent acros several continents.  Jhabvala was born into a German Jewish family in 1927 on the eve of Nazism.  Her family fled Germany for Britain in 1939, where she completed her education at Queen Mary College. Soon after, Jhabvala married a Parsee architect in 1951 and moved to India where she would spend the next twenty-five years, writing fervently about her adopted home.  Her first novel, To Whom She Will, was published in 1955 to favorable reviews.

In 1963, Jhabvala was approached by the Merchant and Ivory filmmaking duo to write a screenplay for her novel The Housekeeper.  It was the beginning of a partnership that would span 20 films and four decades.  Jhabvala won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for A Room with a View (1985) and Howard's End (1992).  She was also nominated for The Remains of the Day (1993).  All three films are beloved to this day by fans of classic literature and period drama.

Jhabvala permanently left India for New York City toward the end of the 1970s, where she would live the rest of her life.

Here is a classic clip from The Remains of the Day, which showcases Jhabvala's power and subtlety as a screenwriter.  The subject of the scene, appropriately for this blog, is about a book: