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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Biography

(1927– ), To Whom She Will, The Nature of Passion, Esmond in India, The Householder, Shakespeare Wallah

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British novelist, born in Cologne of Polish parents. She emigrated to England as a refugee in 1939, and was educated at Queen Mary College, London. Between 1951 and 1975 she lived in India and has since lived in New York. Her first two novels, To Whom She Will (1955) and The Nature of Passion (1956), express the author's fascination with the country of her adoption, exploring Western traditions and conflicts within the framework of domestic comedy. In Esmond in India (1958) she introduced the theme with which she was to be identified, the encounter between East and West. The Householder (1960), on the other hand, is an entirely Indian novel in subject matter and treatment; this portrait of a marriage was made into a successful film by Merchant Ivory Productions with whom Jhabvala has since frequently worked, writing innovative original screenplays such as Shakespeare Wallah (1973), The Guru (1968), and Hullaballoo over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures (1978). She has also adapted several contemporary classics for the same company, notably Rhys's Quartet (1981), James's The Bostonians (1984), and Forster's A Room With a View (1986). Jhabvala's novels of the 1970s signalled a deeper, richer phase of her writing. A New Dominion (1972) examines the mystic Hindu cults that began to proliferate in the 1960s, and their systematic and unscrupulous exploitation of Western naïveté. Heat and Dust (1975; Booker Prize) is perhaps her finest novel. In the novels published since her departure from India, such as In Search of Love and Beauty (1983), Three Continents (1987), Poet and Dancer (1993), and Shades of Memory (1995), Jhabvala has attempted to reconcile her ambivalent fascination with Indian themes and her experience of contemporary America, linking her subjects with a distinctive expatriate sensibility. Jhabvala is also the author of several volumes of short stories including Out of India (1987).

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