Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Heat and Dust is the story of two Englishwomen who travel to India, about fifty years apart in time, and record their experiences there in letters and journals. The stylistic arrangement of two parallel stories is creatively handled by means of excerpts from the narrator’s journal interspersed with the details she provides from her predecessor Olivia’s letters that she has in her possession. The reader needs to be alert to the constant shifts between the two tales as they trace similar developments in the lives of the two women. The major historical difference that they encounter is that while Olivia came to India during a time when it was still a part of the British empire, the narrator finds herself in a free country. The passage of time also means that there has been some progress in the way women are able to conduct their lives. Through these differences, Jhabvala is able to convey the changes that have come about in women’s lives in half a century.

In the earlier story, Olivia Rivers is bored and unhappy as the wife of a British colonial administrator in India, and though she loves her handsome husband Douglas, she welcomes the company of the Nawab, a minor Indian prince of a neighboring state, and his English houseguest Harry. Though the British community disapproves of her friendship with the untrustworthy Nawab, she is unable to curb her growing fascination about him until their closeness is sexually consummated. When she finds...

(The entire section is 482 words.)