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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Born Ruth Prawer
May 7, 1927 (1927-05-07) (age 82)
Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Period 1963 - present
Notable award(s) Man Booker Prize
1975 Heat and Dust
Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay
1986 A Room with a View
1992 Howards End
BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
1982 Heat and Dust
NYFCC Award for Best Screenplay
1990 Mr. and Mrs. Bridge
Spouse(s) Cyrus Jhabvala

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, CBE (born May 7, 1927) is a Booker prize-winning novelist, short story writer, and two-time Academy Award-winning screenwriter. She is perhaps best known for her long collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions, made up of director James Ivory and the late producer Ismail Merchant. Their films won six Academy Awards.


Personal background

She was born Ruth Prawer in Cologne, Germany to Jewish parents Marcus and Eleanora Prawer. Marcus was a lawyer from Poland and Eleanora's father was cantor of Cologne's biggest synagogue.[1] The family fled the Nazis in 1939, emigrating to Britain. Her elder brother, Siegbert, is emeritus professor of German at the University of Oxford, an expert on Heine and horror films.

During World War II she lived in Hendon in London, experienced the Blitz and began to speak English rather than German. She became a British citizen in 1948. She received her MA in English literature from Queen Mary College, University of London in 1951. She also married Cyrus H. Jhabvala, an Indian Parsi architect, in 1951.

The couple moved to Delhi, India, in 1951 and they had three daughters: Ava, Firoza and Renana. Her three daughters are living all around the world: in India, in Los Angeles and in England. In 1975 Jhabvala moved to New York and divided her time between India and the United States. In 1986, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Literary career

While living in India during the 1950s, Jhabvala began to write novels about her new life there: To Whom She Will (1955), Nature of Passion (1956), Esmond in India (1957), The Householder (1960) and Get Ready for the Battle (1962). Her literary output would be steady and of a consistently high quality (see below).

Her early comedies drew comparisons with Jane Austen, in their anatomy of power within westernised, extended families, or the slow growth of love in arranged marriages. She found affinities with Jewish culture in an emphasis on family and humour.

She wrote to 20 publishers in London, who "all wrote back", and soon joined John Murray, her UK publisher for four decades. After she found a US agent in the 1950s, many of her short stories appeared first in the New Yorker.

Her view of India is different than that of Naipaul or E. M. Forster. Jhabvala, unlike Naipaul, wasn't drawn to India by ancestry or, as in Forster's case, by a desire to move beyond a complacent Western liberalism. She was in Delhi, as she wrote, only because her husband was there, and she was interested not in India but in herself in India. In any case, what matters is that she managed to transmute her personal experience, however narrow, into art.[2] Often her stories are seen from the point of view of an outsider. Some Indian critics have labelled her authorial detachment as a sign of old-fashioned Western attitudes toward India.[3]

In 1975, she won the Booker Prize, the most prestigious literary award for the English language in the Commonwealth, for her novel Heat and Dust.

Merchant Ivory Productions

In 1963, Jhabvala was approached by filmmakers James Ivory and Ismail Merchant to write a screenplay of her 1960 novel The Householder. The film, The Householder, was released by Merchant Ivory Productions in 1963 — this began a partnership that would produce over 20 films. She had no previous film making experience.

The next Merchant-Ivory project Shakespeare Wallah (1965), was a critical success, and it was followed by a number of other collaborations between the three, including an adaptation of Jhabvala's novel Heat and Dust, (1983); the docudrama The Courtesans of Bombay (1983); A Room with a View (1985), for which she won her first Oscar; Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990); Howards End (1992), her second Oscar win; and The Remains of the Day (1993), for which she was nominated for a third Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, though she did not win. Her screenplays are often less comedies of manners than profound struggles over the souls of young women.

Of this collaboration, Ismail Merchant once commented: "It is a strange marriage we have at Merchant Ivory...I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American. Someone once described us as a three-headed god. Maybe they should have called us a three-headed monster!" [1].

Ismail Merchant died in 2005, of complications resulting from a stomach ulcer.

Jhabvala's next screenplay is The City of Your Final Destination (2008), based on the novel of the same name by Peter Cameron.





Anthologies and Encyclopedias:

  • Bausch, Richard and R. V. Cassill (ed.). "Ruth Prawer Jhabvala." Norton Anthology of Short Fiction: 6th Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2000: 801-813.
  • Mishra, Pankaj (ed.). "Ruth Prawer Jhabvala." India in Mind: An Anthology. New York: Vintage Books, 2005: 108-130.
  • Ross, Robert (ed.). "Ruth Prawer Jhabvala." Colonial and Postcolonial Fiction in English: An Anthology. New York: Garland, 1999: 189-209.
  • Serafin, Steven (ed.). "Ruth Prawer Jhabvala." Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, 3rd edition. Farmington Hills, Michigan: St. James Press, 1999.


  • Bailur, Jayanti. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: Fiction and Film. New Delhi: Arnold Publishers, 1992.
  • Katz, Susan Bullington (ed.). "Ruth Prawer Jhabvala." Conversations with Screenwriters. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000: 1-8.


  • Crane, Ralph J. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. New York: Twayne, 1992.
  • --. Passages to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1991.
  • Rai, Sudha. Homeless by Choice: Naipaul, Jhabvala, Rushdie and India. Jaipur: Printwell, 1992.
  • Shepherd, Ronald. Ruth Prawer Jhabwala in India: The Jewish Connection. Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1994.
  • Sucher, Lawrie. The Fiction of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: The Politics of Passion. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989.

Selected works


Novels and Short Stories

  • To Whom She Will (1955; published in the United States as Amrita)
  • The Nature of Passion (1956).
  • Esmond in India (1958)
  • The Householder (1960),
  • Get Ready for Battle (1962)
  • Like Birds, Like Fishes (1963)
  • A Backward Place (1965)
  • A Stronger Climate (1968)
  • A New Dominion (1972; published in the United States as Travelers)
  • Heat and Dust (1975)
  • An Experience of India (1971)
  • How I Became a Holy Mother and other stories (1976),
  • In Search of Love and Beauty (1983)
  • Out of India (1986)
  • Three Continents (1987)
  • Poet and Dancer (1993)
  • Shards of Memory (1995)
  • East Into Upper East: Plain Tales from New York and New Delhi (1998)
  • My Nine Lives (2004)

Select screenplays

Year Title Other notes
2008 The City of Your Final Destination screenplay, adapted from the novel by Peter Cameron
2003 Le Divorce co-written by James Ivory, adapted from the novel by Diane Johnson
2000 The Golden Bowl screenplay, adapted from the novel by Henry James
1998 A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries screenplay, adapted from the novel by Kaylie Jones
1996 Surviving Picasso screenplay
1995 Jefferson in Paris written by
1993 The Remains of the Day screenplay, adapted from the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
1992 Howards End screenplay, adapted from the novel by E. M. Forster
1990 Mr. and Mrs. Bridge screenplay, adapted from the novels by Evan S. Connell ("Mr. Bridge" & "Mrs. Bridge")
1988 Madame Sousatzka screenplay, adapted from the novel by Bernice Rubens. Directed by John Schlesinger
1985 A Room with a View screenplay, adapted from the novel by E. M. Forster
1984 The Bostonians screenplay, adapted from the novel by Henry James
1983 Heat and Dust screenplay, adapted from the novel by Jhabvala
1981 Quartet screenplay, adapted from the novel by Jean Rhys
1980 Jane Austen in Manhattan written by, inserted libretto "Sir Charles Grandison" by Jane Austen
1979 The Europeans screenplay, adapted from the novel by Henry James
1978 Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures written by
1977 Roseland story and screenplay
1975 Autobiography of a Princess written by
1972 Bombay Talkie screenplay
1969 The Guru screenplay
1965 Shakespeare Wallah screenplay
1963 The Householder screenplay, adapted from the novel by Jhabvala

External links




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