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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, award-winning author and screenwriter, dies at 85

April 03, 2013|By Elaine Woo
  • Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. (Fay Godwin / Harper & Row )

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a novelist and screenwriter whose long collaboration with Merchant Ivory Productions yielded two Academy Awards for her work on the films “A Room With a View” and “Howards End,” has died. She was 85.

Jhabvala died early Wednesday at her home in Manhattan after a long illness, said her daughter Firoza.

A prolific author, Jhabvala (pronounced JOB-vah-lah) wrote 19 novels and short-story collections that reflected the cultures she absorbed on three continents during her half-century career. A German Jew who was uprooted to England during World War II, she lived in India for more than two decades before relocating to New York.

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India was the inspiration for many of her stories, including “Heat and Dust,” a 1975 novel that won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize.

She began her collaboration with producer Ismail Merchant and director James Ivory in the early 1960s, when they asked her to turn her novel “The Householder” into a screenplay. She went on to write the majority of their movies over the next several decades, including “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,” “The Remains of the Day,” “The Bostonians” and “The Golden Bowl.” Most were adaptations of works by authors such as E.M. Forster and Henry James.

She wrote only one original screenplay, “Jefferson in Paris,” the 1995 movie that generated controversy for its portrayal of Thomas Jefferson’s affair with his black slave, Sally Hemings.

A complete obituary will be posted soon at


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