Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
"I stand before you as a writer without any ground of being out of which to write: really blown about from country to country, culture to culture till I feel – till I am – nothing. As it happens, I like it that way."
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala is a German-born novelist and screenwriter, who published her first novel ‘To Whom She Will’ in 1955, while living in India. She went on to published 12 novels and novellas in total, 11 short stories and collections and 23 screenplays. She was nominated for two Golden Globe Awards in 1992 and 1993 and won two Academy Awards for her screenplays ‘A Room with a View’ and ‘Howards End’. She is the only person ever to win both a Booker Prize, for the novel ‘Heat and Dust’ and an Oscar. Despite her success in filmography, Ruth’s primary passion was her literature. By her own description, becoming a novelist is not a choice, as ‘one is just born that way’. Her stories were passionate, with characters fighting to repress explosive emotions and desires.
Life as a Refugee and Beyond
Ruth Jhabvala never wrote a book about her early life. Her Jewish family fled Nazi Germany in 1939, but not before a young Ruth witnessed the arrest, and eventual release, of her parents, and the violence of the Kristallnacht. Her family originally migrated to Poland but eventually fled to Britain, with Ruth becoming a British citizen in 1948. Her family was greatly impacted by the Nazi regime, losing 40 relatives due to the Holocaust; a fact which led to Ruth’s father tragically committing suicide. Ruth continued to live in Britain and later received an MA in English Literature from Queen Mary College. In 1951, Ruth married Cyrus Jhabvala and relocated to Delhi, India, where she lived for 24 years and wrote the majority of her novels. Eventually in 1975, Ruth relocated to New York City, where she continued to write and publish, eventually splitting her time between India and Manhattan as her three daughters lived in both India, the United States and England. In her 10th novel ‘Three Continents’ she commented on her life-time travel stating ‘Perhaps I’m just fickle by nature and get tired of countries the way other women do of husbands or lovers’, despite also describing her fondness for New York.
Elenaor is a first year Law student at Oxford University. She researched and wrote this article as part of the Oxford University Micro Internship programme.