The Glorious Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is dead. RIP
April 3, 2013 9:42 AM   Subscribe

RT @bijli Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, the German-born screenwriter and novelist who, as the writing member of the Merchant Ivory filmmaking team, won two Academy Awards for adaptations of genteel, class-conscious E. M. Forster novels, died on Wednesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 85. Her 1975 novel, “Heat and Dust,” about an Englishwoman exploring a family scandal in India, received the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s highest literary honor. She wrote the screenplay for the Merchant Ivory version in 1983 as well. New York Times obit
posted by infini (26 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I actually had no idea that Heat & Dust had won the Booker. I've been meaning to read it for some time.
posted by OmieWise at 9:49 AM on April 3, 2013


We quote "Room With A View" all the time in the _8 household. I know she used a lot of direct Forster quotes but you have to make them work in a movie context, which she did beautifully.

"You must forgive me if I say stupid things. My brain has gone to pieces."

posted by Infinity_8 at 9:54 AM on April 3, 2013

Think of me as a philistine but I actually appreciate the films of her two Forster adaptations more than the original works.

Other than some of her screenplays, however, I am unfamiliar with her work, and it seems like I should remedy that.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:02 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by kariebookish at 10:12 AM on April 3, 2013

posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:16 AM on April 3, 2013

"A Room With a View" is one of the best films ever made, in my book. A complete gem.

posted by dnash at 10:18 AM on April 3, 2013

Think of me as a philistine but I actually appreciate the films of her two Forster adaptations more than the original works.

I will join you in your...philistinity.

Adaptations are hard. Good adaptations are really, really hard. I'm grateful she was around to give us the benefit of her skill and vision. I hope current and future writers/directors continue to learn from her work.

posted by rtha at 10:29 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by mykescipark at 10:43 AM on April 3, 2013

Adaptations are hard. Good adaptations are really, really hard.

Absolutely. I'm a little stunned that Jhabvala was nominated but did not win the Oscar for her adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. [spoilers, I suppose.] Having found the book moving, infuriating, and fascinating, I couldn't imagine how any film could translate the narrator's immobility and willful self-delusion into something watchable, much less something so devastating. But she did it.

posted by Elsa at 10:48 AM on April 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

posted by Navelgazer at 11:04 AM on April 3, 2013

posted by brujita at 11:44 AM on April 3, 2013

posted by trip and a half at 12:16 PM on April 3, 2013

posted by From Bklyn at 1:11 PM on April 3, 2013

posted by jfuller at 1:14 PM on April 3, 2013

posted by BibiRose at 2:50 PM on April 3, 2013

I thought her screenplay for "Howard's End" was brilliant.
posted by acrasis at 3:25 PM on April 3, 2013

Vale. A great novelist and short story writer, as well as screenwriter. He anthology Out Of India was given to me as a student, and became one of my favourite books about Indian life.
posted by smoke at 5:01 PM on April 3, 2013


We studied her work in school; it was my first exposure to cultural clashes and all that, that came about from non-Indians marrying into Indian families. Will try and read her work again, possibly Heat and Dust

Had no idea that:-
1) She collaborated with the Merchant -Ivory duo and wrote screenplays as well. ("art" films, especially English ones, were hard to come by in pre-cable television India) Wonder if any of her movies is up on Netflix?
2) William Dalrymple has a Twitter feed.
3) That he has a new book out.

All of which are exciting, as sad as Jhabvala's death is.
posted by the cydonian at 5:49 PM on April 3, 2013

I actually had no idea that Heat & Dust had won the Booker.

I had no idea that Heat & Dust was a book. I saw the movie long ago and it... really has stayed with me.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:42 PM on April 3, 2013

Oh, this makes me sad. She helped me look at my own history in new and interesting ways.

posted by bardophile at 8:14 PM on April 3, 2013

> I know she used a lot of direct Forster quotes but you have to make them work in a movie context, which she did beautifully.

A credit to both her and Forster; she "got" him so beautifully, beyond words. She was really brilliant. Adaptation is like doing 4-D.
posted by desuetude at 11:13 PM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by humph at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2013

posted by dawkins_7 at 7:59 PM on April 4, 2013

The New Yorker has unlocked six of Jhabvala's stories:

The Judge's Will
The Teacher
On Bail
The Interview
posted by gladly at 5:46 AM on April 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I've had this tab open for weeks, while I've tried to come up with something to say and avoid having it turn into an incoherent 50-page essay. When someone influential to me has died, more often than not, it takes me a long time to figure out how to express what I'm thinking. But now it's been a month already (!) and this thread will close soon, and I would really like to add something this time before the opportunity goes away...

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala did a great interview for the BBC's Desert Island Discs back in 1999. I highly recommend checking it out (the online player didn't work for me but there's also a downloadable mp3). She shares the background behind her music picks (unfortunately truncated in the archive version -- the interview runs about 36 minutes long instead of 45), and she talks about her childhood and family, moving from Germany to England and growing up there during WW2, living in India and the U.S., writing and adapting books, and her (at the time) nearly 40-year partnership with Ismail Merchant and James Ivory.

The following summary from the end of the interview appears on an alternate page, but not in the above link:
Favourite track: Sanctus from B Minor Mass by Johann Sebastian Bach
Book: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Luxury: A chaise longue by a window
She sounded pretty decisive about the music and the book she would take with her to the desert island. I thought the summary above left out some nice context for her luxury item, so here's more of what she said:
"I always liked to lie on one of those chaises longues -- look out of a window at a tree against the sky."

It's difficult because no matter what angle I take with this next part, my thoughts seemingly always turn toward one direction, and then another, and another...because so many are related to each other. If I explain how I first encountered Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (or rather, her work), then I'd need to talk about E. M. Forster. Then to explain the influence she had, I'd have to talk about movies, and James Ivory and Ismail Merchant and Richard Robbins and the casts and crews of their films, and novels and poetry, and Howards End in particular, and music (including Beethoven and Schubert and Puccini and tangos and instrumental solos), and Kazuo Ishiguro, and more literature from/about Britain and India, and cats and rabbits and goblins and elephants (really!), and high school and college papers, and book collections and libraries, and kept and unkept promises, and wise and unwise decisions, and the Internet and Unix shell accounts and the web (seriously!), and, well, it keeps going and I had hoped to stay coherent...

You know how when you're so invested/interested in a subject, and sometimes you feel like you could talk for hours about it -- especially if it's something ingrained in your life in some way? Normally this is what it's like for me with Howards End, the novel or the screenplay or the movie. But these days -- and this also happened for a long time after Ismail Merchant died -- I'm unsure how to talk coherently about one of my favorite subjects of all time without struggling to find the words.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is: We all have people who've made big differences in our lives, and for me, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was one of them, even though I never met her or spoke with her directly. It's a challenge for me to give a brief example of how she influenced my life, because I'd be afraid that I would underrepresent the significance of just how much her work shaped, over many years, who I was in the past and who I am today. I really wish I could express this better, but Jhabvala, Merchant, Ivory, and Forster -- in my mind they're all so connected to each other (I'm so thankful that she suggested to Merchant/Ivory that they should do a Forster movie, and that she introduced Richard Robbins to them), and without their art and words, I really believe I'd be a totally different person. And I'm tremendously grateful, because I think I'm a better person because of them. I'm so glad that she will live on through her work, because it is a wonderful legacy.

Here's a version of the Sanctus from Bach's Mass in B Minor, by the Dunedin Consort & Players. I like this rendition a lot, and I hope Ruth Prawer Jhabvala would have liked it, too.

posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 2:48 AM on May 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

« Older "Where is the moon?" "Right straight ahead of you...   |   Join the merchant navy and transport people for a... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments