Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Novelist worked with Merchant and Ivory for five decades

Screenwriter and novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who collaborated for five decades with James Ivory and Ismail Merchant and won Oscars for “A Room With a View” and “Howards End,” died of a pulmonary disorder Wednesday in New York. She was 85.

Born in Germany, she moved to Britain with her family during the Nazi regime. After marrying an Indian architect in 1951 and moving to New Delhi, she began to write about her life there. She drew on her experiences for the novel “Heat and Dust” about a young woman living in India in the 1920s, which won the Booker Prize and was adapted for the 1983 Ivory film.

Prawer Jhabvala collaborated with Merchant and Ivory on films that were often literary adaptations,  including “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” “The Remains of the Day,” “Quartet,” “The Golden Bowl” and “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries.”

Merchant first called her in 1961 to ask the novelist, who had never written a screenplay, about adapting her novel “The Householder,” which would be Indian producer Merchant’s first film and docu helmer Ivory’s first narrative pic.  The film came out in 1963, and the trio went on to work together for nearly 50 years, often on adaptations of novels by Henry James and E.M Forster.

“When Ruth writes something, she does it with a very fine comb, so there is no question of the pitfalls or traps that people often fall into,” Merchant told Variety in 2001.

 She was also Oscar-nommed for “The Remains of the Day,” from the Kazuo Ishiguro novel about a butler in an English manor house.
Her writing was marked by detailed evocation of the lives of foreigners in India, and she often took on novels about people caught in socially-constricted worlds. Her only original screenplay was 1995’s “Jefferson in Paris.” Merchant died in 2005, and Jhabvala’s last screenplay was Ivory’s 2009 film “The City of Your Final Destination.”
Prawer Jhabvala is survived by her husband of 62 years, Cyrus Jhabvala;  their daughters, Renana Jhabvala, Firoza Jhabvala and Ava Jhabvala Wood; and six grandchildren.

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