Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Long Fiction Analysis
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s distinctive qualities as a novelist grow from her sense of social comedy. She excels in portraying incongruities of human behavior, comic situations that are rich with familial, social, and cultural implications. Marital harmony or discord, the pursuit of wealth, family togetherness and feuds, crises of identity and homelessness—these are among the situations that she repeatedly explores in her fiction. She writes with sympathy, economy, and wit, as well as with sharp irony and cool detachment.
Jhabvala’s fiction has emerged out of her own experience of India. “The central fact of all my work,” she once told an interviewer, “is that I am a European living permanently in India. I have lived here for most of my adult life.This makes me not quite an outsider either.” Much later, however, in her introduction to Out of India: Selected Stories (1986), she revealed a change in her attitude: “However, I must admit I am no longer interested in India. What I am interested in now is myself in Indiamy survival in India.” This shift in attitude has clearly affected Jhabvala’s fiction. There is a distinct Indianness in the texture and spirit of her first five novels, which are sunny, bright social comedies offering an affirmative view of India. The later novels, darkened by dissonance and despair, reveal a change in the novelist’s perspective.
In almost all of her novels, Jhabvala assumes the role of an omniscient narrator. She stands slightly aloof from her creations, an approach that has advantages as well as disadvantages. On one hand, she does not convey the passionate inner lives of her characters, many of whom are essentially stereotypes. Even her more fully developed characters are seen largely from the outside. On the other hand, she is a consummate observer. She has a fine eye for naturalistic detail and a gift for believable dialogue, but she is also an observer at a deeper level, registering the malaise that is characteristic of the modern world: the collapse of traditional values, the incongruous blending of diverse cultures—sometimes energizing, sometimes destructive, often bizarre. Jhabvala’s fiction, thus, while steeped in the particular reality of India, speaks to readers throughout the world.
Amrita inaugurates Jhabvala’s first phase, in which reconciliation between two individuals (symbolic as well of a larger, social integration) is at the center of the action. Amrita, a young, romantic girl, has a love affair with Hari, her colleague in radio. Their affair is portrayed with a gentle comic touch: Amrita tells Hari of her determination to marry him at all costs; he calls her a goddess and moans that he is unworthy of her. Jhabvala skillfully catches the color and rhythm of the Indian phraseology of love.
While this affair proceeds along expected lines, Pandit Ram Bahadur, Hari’s grandfather, is planning to get his grandson married to Sushila, a pretty singer, in an arranged match. When Hari confesses to his brother-in-law that he loves Amrita, he is advised that first love is only a “game,” and no one should take it seriously. Hari then is led to the bridal fire and married to Sushila. He forgets his earlier vows of love for Amrita, even the fact that he applied for a passport to go with her to England.
The forsaken maiden, Amrita, finds her hopes for a happy union revived when another man, Krishna Sengupta, writes her a letter full of love and tenderness. Enthralled after reading his six-page letter, she decks her hair with a beautiful flower, a sign of her happy reconciliation with life. Amrita shares in the sunshine of love that comes her way.
The original title of the novel, To Whom She Will (changed to Amrita for the American edition), alludes to a story in a classic collection of Indian fables, the Panchatantra (created sometime between 100 b.c.e. and 500 c.e. and first published in English as The Morall Philosophie of Doni in 1570). In the story, which centers on a maiden in...
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