Ruth Prawer Jhabvala 1927–
British novelist, short story writer, and scriptwriter.
Born in Germany of Polish parents, educated in England, and living in India since 1951, Jhabvala writes from her experiences as both an "insider" and an "outsider" to present highly acclaimed fiction about life in India. Her characters, whether Indian or European residents, are minutely drawn, as she focuses on their relationships, families, and culture. Critics often discuss her work in terms of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India for her insights into Indian and European contrasts and Jane Austen's novels of manners for her gently understated satire. Jhabvala received the Booker McConnell Prize for Heat and Dust (1973), a novel about European residents of India who come to question their Western assumptions. She has also written several screenplays, including Shakespeare Wallah (1965) and Autobiography of a Princess (1975), and it has been suggested that her experience with cinematic devices has influenced the narrative structure of her later novels, especially A New Dominion (1972).
Jhabvala's fiction is often based on her characters' conflicting desires for both Western comfort and the spiritual satisfaction offered by Hinduism and Indian tradition. In Esmond in India (1958) an upwardly mobile Indian unwittingly initiates the demise of his traditionally religious family structure, while an Indian in The Householder (1960) tries to use Hinduism as an escape from his marital obligations. Hans, in The Householder, and the young women in A New Dominion are Westerners in search of oriental spiritual wisdom who misinterpret Hindu philosophy. Some critics find these and other characters of Jhabvala's clichéd and oversimplified. Nonetheless, critics generally agree that her most prominent theme, the conflict between East and West which Jhabvala portrays through her characters, is well developed.
In her recent novel, In Search of Love and Beauty (1983), Jhabvala again explores the theme of expatriation. This work depicts a group of German refugees living in America who pursue unobtainable goals. Several critics find her characters less successfully drawn than those in her Indian novels. Jhabvala's most highly acclaimed works remain those in which she combines her unassuming style and satiric tone with her unique cultural perspective to depict the complexities of India and its confrontations with Western values. She is ranked by some critics with R. K. Narayan as the most important English-language writers of fiction in India.
(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 8; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 2.)