The Difficult Genius of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

Mallika Rao at The Atlantic:

Jhabvala may have written of Indians, but she wrote largely for the Western Hemisphere. “I have no fans in India,” she told a Los Angeles Times writer in 1993, with what the article described as a “one-note laugh.” A self-confessed “chameleon” at ease in saris or slacks, Jhabvala doled out insights not often shared across racial or class lines. Such a position—an “our woman in India,” to remix the Graham Greene title—would be harder to pull off today, when few audiences are ever exclusive, when everyone seems able to hear everyone else.

The characters collected in At the End of the Century thus deploy, through Jhabvala’s satirical lens, what could be thought of as endangered speech. “Even physically the English looked cold to her,” goes a line in the story “Miss Sahib,” “with their damp white skins and pale blue eyes.” The England-born teacher who moors the story finds during a stint at home that she longs to return to India, to be once more “surrounded by those glowing coloured skins; and those eyes! The dark, large, liquid Indian eyes! And hair that sprang with such abundance from their heads.”

more here.