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Novelist,screenwriter with satiric voice

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala,the German-born screenwriter and novelist who,as the writing member of the Merchant Ivory filmmaking team

Written by New York Times | New York | Published: April 4, 2013 1:29 am

ANITA GATES

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.

James Ivory,the director with whom she collaborated,said the cause was complications of a pulmonary condition.

Jhabvala was already well established as an author when she began her screenwriting career with the producer Ismail Merchant and the director James Ivory. Her 1975 novel,“Heat and Dust,” about an Englishwoman exploring a family scandal in India,received the Man Booker Prize. She wrote the screenplay for the Merchant Ivory version in 1983 as well.

Over four decades,beginning in 1965 with “Shakespeare-Wallah,” Jhabvala made 22 films with them,all examining culture in one way or another,typically one that has vanished. Their first film to attract wide attention was “The Europeans” (1979),based on a Henry James novel set in mid-19th-century New England.

One of the team’s most successful efforts was “A Room With a View” (1986),based on Forster’s novel about a sheltered young Englishwoman who has a life-changing experience on holiday in Italy. It brought Jhabvala the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

Jhabvala’s writing was essential. She contributed “cultivated dialogue,a keen eye for the nuances of upscale society and a sophisticated,internationalist view of class and ethnicity,” Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times.

Merchant,who died in 2005,was Indian,and Ivory is American,but Jhabvala brought a combination of cultural backgrounds to their film collaborations.

Ruth Prawer was born on May 7,1927,in Cologne,Germany. In 1951,she married Cyrus Jhabvala,an Indian architect,and moved with him to Delhi. Many readers assumed she was Indian.

Her first book,about a young Indian woman from a good family who falls in love with the wrong man was published in Britain in 1955 as “To Whom She Will” and in the US the next year as “Amrita.” It was followed by “The Nature of Passion” (1956) and “Esmond in India” (1957).

Jhabvala’s short stories were published in The New Yorker. Critics praised her satiric voice and compared her with Jane Austen,among others.

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