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Heat and Dust

Heat and Dust

a novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, published in 1975, and winner of the Booker Prize. It tells the interlocked stories of two Englishwomen, divided by time and era, but related by family ties and by their experience of India. An unnamed narrator—whose diary part of the novel purports to be—travels to India in search of the elusive Olivia, her grandfather's first wife (whose life is revealed in fragments and flashbacks to 1923); captivated by the vitality concealed within the post-colonial decay of India, she, like Olivia before her, decides to remain there. Olivia, however, as the wife of a colonial officer, had known a more exotic and opulent India; she was seduced by an Indian prince whose mistress she then became, causing a scandal in the bigoted Anglo-Indian society of the time. The narrator, however, in an age when history has overtaken the Raj and the imperial past is regarded as something of an irrelevance, becomes pregnant by the petty clerk in whose house she boards and is left to deal with her life as best she can on her own resources. Jhabvala deftly contrasts the imperial with the colonial, the East with the West; the similarity that recurs across gaps of time and culture is, however, in the harsh treatment of women, whether by exclusion and ostracism, marginalization, or mere indifference. As in much of her fiction, Jhabvala indicates an implicit parallel between cultural diversity and gender difference. Heat and Dust was successfully filmed by the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala team in 1983.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: William Hart-Smith Biography to Sir John [Frederick William] Herschel Biography