Double Oscar winner and award-winning novelist Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has passed away from a pulmonary disorder at age 85. She won the Academy Award twice for her screenwriting for 1993’s Howard’s End and 1987’s A Room With a View. Both films were written for Merchant Ivory Productions, the famous team that paired director James Ivory and the late producer Ismail Merchant.
Both films were adapted from novels by English writer E. M. Forster, perhaps best remembered today for the famous line in Howard’s End — “Only connect.”
In an interview on the Merchant Ivory website, she mentioned fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 but didn’t dwell on the topic. According to the UK’s The Guardian, she didn’t speak about the tragedy of the Holocaust, which shattered her father’s side of the Jewish family.
Although her parents and her brother escaped with Ruth, most of her father’s relatives remained in Germany. Forty family members died, and he too killed himself in 1948 when he realized their fate.
In London, she escaped tragedy by immersing herself into the world of English literature, to the point where she eventually considered English to be her first language. She admitted that she didn’t consider studying literature to be real studying. Instead, for her it was a pleasure.
“If it weren’t for England, I wouldn’t have any memories at all,” she once said, according to The Guardian obituary.
Her 1975 novel, Heat and Dust, won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize. The BBC noted that she’s the only person who ever won both an Oscar and a Booker.
But it was as part of the Merchant Ivory Productions trio that she enjoyed her greatest success. In addition to the two Oscars, she was also nominated for 1993’s Remains of the Day, which starred Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.
[b/w photo of Ruth Prawer Jhabavala in 1962 courtesy CMacauley and Wikipedia Commons]
[music room photo courtesy Manfred Heyde and Wikipedia Commons]