Entertainment & Arts

Writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala dies at 85

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant
Image caption Ruth Prawer Jhabvala worked extensively with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant

Writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, whose scripts for Howards End and A Room With A View earned her two Oscars, has died.

The 85-year-old made more than 20 films with producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory over 40 years.

She also won the Booker Prize for her 1975 novel Heat and Dust, meaning she was the only person to have won an Oscar and the Booker.

Born in Germany, she fled the Nazis as a schoolgirl and spent much of her life in India. She died at home in New York.

She had been suffering from a pulmonary disorder and is survived by husband Cyrus and daughters Renana, Ava and Firoza-Bibi.

Born into a Jewish family, she fled Nazi Germany in 1939 with her parents and brother to begin a new life in Britain.

After meeting her future husband in London, Jhabvala moved with him to his native India in the 1950s, where she was visited by Merchant and Ivory to ask if they could make a film of her 1960 novel The Householder.

She agreed to write the screenplay and it was to mark the beginning of a fruitful partnership.

The trio's films included A Room With a View and Howards End, for which Jhabvala collected the Academy Award in 1987 and 1993 respectively. Both were adapted from novels by EM Forster.

She was nominated for a third Oscar in 1994 for the script for The Remains of the Day.

'Rare gift'

Jhabvala's former publisher Nick Perren paid tribute to the author, telling the BBC: "She gave the impression of being quite withdrawn but she was extraordinarily interested in people.

"She was an accurate commentator on the world around her.

"She had the rare gift of observation that comes from people born into a completely different culture who have had to learn a new language."

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in 1999, Jhabvala said: "Film, for me is in two stages.

"One is when I write the script more or less on my own, that's the nice bit. And then comes for me the unpleasant bit when they all go off, 100 people - actors and camera people and film and sound - and I stay away.

"When they go into the editing room, I come in again and that's the bit I like."

When asked whether it was akin to handing one's baby over, she added: "Film is not like a book, it's not a writer's baby at all.

"So many people have put in their talent by that time that you feel grateful for what they've done, you don't feel possessive about it in any way."

Actress Emma Thompson, who starred in The Remains of the Day and Howards End, said of Jhabvala in 1993: "She's a novelist, so she understands the art of adapting novels better than most anyone else.

"She understands the process, the 'buzz of implication' that surrounds words… Ruth understands it completely."