Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Analysis

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is the author of several novels, including Heat and Dust (1975), which won a Booker McConnell Prize and a National Book League award. In screenplay form, that work won an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Her screenplay adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View (1908) won a Writers Guild of America Award in 1986 and an Academy Award in 1987. Jhabvala’s screenplay Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990) received a New York Film Critics Circle Award. In 1993, her screenplay adaptation of Forster’s Howards End (1910) was nominated for an Academy Award.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In addition to the many awards she has won for her fiction, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1976 and a Neil Gunn International Fellowship in 1979. She was a MacArthur Foundation fellow from 1986 to 1989.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (jahb-VAH-lah) is known mainly as a novelist, she is also an accomplished writer of short stories, film scripts, and essays. Among her collections of short stories are Like Birds, Like Fishes, and Other Stories (1963), An Experience of India (1971), How I Became a Holy Mother, and Other Stories (1976), and East into Upper East: Plain Tales from New York and New Delhi (1998). Among her best-known film scripts are Shakespeare Wallah (1965; with James Ivory), Heat and Dust (1983), and two screenplays based on novels by E. M. Forster, A Room with a View (1986) and Howards End (1992). Jhabvala has also been a regular contributor to The New Yorker.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has achieved remarkable distinction, both as a novelist and as a short-story writer, among writers on modern India. She has been compared to E. M. Forster, though the historical phases and settings of the India they portray differ widely. The award of the Booker Prize for Heat and Dust in 1975 made her internationally famous. Placing Jhabvala in a literary-cultural tradition is difficult: Her European parentage, British education, marriage to an Indian, and—after many years in her adopted country—change of residence from India to the United States perhaps reveal a lack of belonging, a recurring “refugee” consciousness. Consequently, she is not an Indian writing in English or a European writing on India but a writer of the world of letters, deeply conscious of being caught up in a bizarre world. Jhabvala’s fiction is sensitive, intense, ironic—the work of a detached observer and recorder of the human world. Her almost clinical accuracy and her sense of the graphic, the comic, and the ironic make her one of the finest writers on the contemporary scene.

In 1984, Jhabvala won the British Award for Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Best Screenplay for the Ismail Merchant-James Ivory adaptation of Heat and Dust, and in 1986 she won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for A Room with a View. In 1990, she received the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best screenplay for Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, which she adapted from two novels by Evan S. Connell. Jhabvala received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1992 for her adaptation of Forster’s Howards End, and in 1993 she was nominated for an Oscar for her adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. In 1984, Jhabvala was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Award, and in 1994 she was honored with the Writers Guild of America’s Laurel Award. In 2003, she was awarded the NBC Screenwriters Tribute and received honors at the Nantucket Film Festival. In 2005, her short story “Refuge in London” won the O. Henry Award.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Is the fact that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala spent the first twelve years of her life in Germany during the rise of Nazi power reflected in her fiction?

Compare the Western women in Jhabvala’s A Backward Place with those in E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924).

Is Jhabvala’s “The Housewife” primarily about the nature of the housewife in the story or about housewifery in India? Can both alternatives be presented successfully?

To what extent is Jhabvala’s India representative of the East?

What is the symbolic significance of Jhabvala’s title Heat and Dust?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Agarwal, Ramlal G. Ruth Prawer Jhbavala: A Study of Her Fiction. New York: Envoy Press, 1990. Contains good criticism and interpretation of the novels. Incudes index and bibliography.

Booker, Keith M. Colonial Texts: India in the Modern British Novel. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. Although discussion of the author is not central in this book, what proves engaging is the context into which Booker places Jhabvala’s contribution to India’s prominence in British literature.

Chakravarti, Aruna. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: A Study in Empathy and Exile. Delhi: B. R. Publishing, 1998. Discusses other European authors who have written about India, and Jhabvala’s role as expatriate. Useful for scholars and students approaching Jhabvala for the first time. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Crane, Ralph J. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Twayne’s English Authors Series 494. New York: Twayne, 1992. In a chapter entitled “Sufferers, Seekers, and the Beast That Moves: The Short Stories,” Jhabvala’s first five volumes of short fiction are discussed. Crane maintains that the differences among Jhabvala’s stories reflect her own ambivalence toward India. Includes biographical chapter, chronology, notes, and bibliography.

Crane, Ralph J, ed. Passages to Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. New Delhi: Sterling, 1991. Only one of the essays in this volume deals specifically with short stories. However, much of what is said about theme in the analyses of the novels is applicable to the short fiction as well.

Godden, Rumer. “A Cool Eye in a Parched Landscape.” The New York Times Book Review, May 25, 1986, 1, 20. Points out stories in Out of India that exemplify the internal struggle that Jhabvala discusses in “Myself in India.”

Gooneratne, Yasmine. Silence, Exile, and Cunning: The Fiction of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1983. Argues that several related themes inform all of Jhabvala’s fiction. Includes extensive bibliography.

Gray, Paul. “Tributes of Empathy and Grace.” Time 127 (May 12, 1986): 90. In Out of India, women repeatedly sacrifice themselves for undeserving men. However, Jhabvala’s Western women choose to immerse themselves in India, while her Indian women have fewer options.

Jhabvala, Ruth Prawer. “The Artistry of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.” Interview by Bernard Weinraub. New York Times Magazine, September 11, 1983, 64. An important interview/profile, in which Jhabvala explains why she left India for New York City.

Jhabvala, Ruth Prawer. “Introduction: Myself in India.” In Out of India: Selected Stories. New York: William Morrow, 1986. Jhabvala defines the “cycle” of reactions to India which all Westerners seem to experience. Essential reading.

Long, Robert Emmett. The Films of Merchant Ivory. Updated ed. New York: Harry Abrams, 1997. Jhabvala’s contributions to Merchant Ivory films is covered.

Mason, Deborah. “Passage to America.” The New York Times Book Review, November 29, 1998, 20, 22-23. The stories in East into Upper East prove once again that Jhabvala is a “spellbinding urban fabulist,” whose rootless characters escape from reality in various ways. “The Temptress” is the only story of true redemption.

Sucher, Laurie. The Fiction of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: The Politics of Passion. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Utilizes four novels and nine short stories to prove that Jhabvala’s detachment masks her real romanticism, as seen in her interest in feminine sexual politics. Includes bibliography.

Urstad, Tone Sundt. “Protecting One’s Inner Self: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s ‘Rose Petals.’” Studies in Short Fiction 33 (Winter, 1996): 43-49. “Rose Petals” exemplifies what Jhabvala has stated about how different people react to India’s overwhelming social problems. An excellent starting point for the study of Jhabvala’s short fiction.