Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Active - 1963 - 2008  |   Born - May 7, 1927 in Cologne, Germany  |   Died - Apr 3, 2013   |   Genres - Drama, Romance

Share on

Biography by Sandra Brennan

Novelist and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala was born Ruth Prawer in Cologne, Germany, on May 7, 1927. The daughter of Polish-Jewish parents, she came to England as a young refugee with her family in 1939. After attending University of London, where she studied English, Prawer married Indian architect C.S.H. Jhabvala in 1951 and moved to New Delhi. It was there that she began writing; during the mid-'50s, most of her novels and short stories were published in England -- many of her stories centered on the culture clash between the Indians and the British colonialists. By the mid-'60s, Jhabvala was writing screenplays and had begun a long, productive association with the filmmaking team of James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, who first collaborated with her on their filmed version of her novel The Householder (1962). Her work with the two resulted in a number of distinguished films that focused on post-colonialist life. In 1984, after their usual type of film began to lose popularity, the three changed tactics, and Jhabvala began adapting period novels, particularly those of Henry James and E.M. Forster. This change, exemplified by films such as The Bostonians (1984) and A Room with a View (1985), brought Merchant, Ivory, and Jhabvala acclaim from both critics and audiences alike. The latter film also won Jhabvala a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar; she also won in 1992 for her adaptation of Forster's Howards End. She was again nominated for the same award the following year for her screenplay for Merchant Ivory's adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day.Though she primarily worked with Merchant Ivory -- by century's end, Jhabvala had collaborated with them three more times on Jefferson in Paris (1995), Surviving Picasso (1996), and A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (1998) -- she also wrote for others, as evidenced by her screenplay for John Schlesinger's Madame Sousatzka (1988). She continued her relationship with Merchant Ivory through the end of her career, writing her last screenplay in 2009, The City of Your Final Destination. Jhabvala passed away in 2013 at the age of 85.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography


  • Fled Nazi Germany with her Jewish family in 1939, eventually settling in London. 
  • Father committed suicide in 1948, after losing all of his Polish family in the Holocaust.
  • Lived for 25 years in her husband's native country of India.
  • Sent her first manuscript, Amrita, to her mother, who eventually found a British publisher for it.
  • Eventually began spending half her time living in New York, holding dual American-British citizenship.
  • Won the Booker Prize for her 1975 novel Heat and Dust, which she later adapted for the screen.