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Screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Dies at 85

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala Headshot - P 2013
Mary Evans/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection

She won Oscars for the Merchant Ivory British classics “A Room With a View” and “Howards End.”

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, whose four-decade collaboration with Merchant Ivory earned her Oscars for her adapted screenplays for the modern-day British classics A Room With a View and Howards End, has died. She was 85.

Jhabvala, who also received an Academy Award nomination for The Remains of the Day (1993) — another of the 21 feature films she did for the late producer Ismail Merchant and/or director James Ivory — died Wednesday from a pulmonary condition at her home in New York.

A German Jew who was uprooted to England during World War II, Jhabvala was schooled in London. She married an Indian architect and lived in India for more than two decades before relocating to New York in the 1970s.

With India serving as a major inspiration, Jhabvala wrote 19 novels and short-story collections. Heat and Dust, her 1975 novel, won her Britain’s prestigious Man Booker Prize, and she adapted her book for Merchant Ivory’s 1983 film.

Jhabvala started working with Merchant and Ivory when they asked her to turn another of her novels, 1960's The Householder, into a screenplay for their 1963 feature.

“I told them I’ve never done anything like his before,” she once recalled. “But they said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We haven’t either.’ ”

Jhabvala also wrote adapted screenplays for their films including Roseland (1977), Jane Austen in Manhattan (1980), The Bostonians (1984), Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990), Surviving Picasso (1996), A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries (1998), The Golden Bowl (2000), Le Divorce (2003) and The City of Your Final Destination (2008).

Her Oscars for A Room With a View (1986) and Howards End (1992) came from adaptations of E.M. Forster novels and helped cement Merchant Ivory as a brand that made tasteful, literate films with rich production values and lush period settings. (The shy writer did not appear at either Academy Awards ceremony to accept her statuettes.)

Jhabvala’s only original screenplay was for Merchant Ivory’s Jefferson in Paris (1995). She also did the adaptation for John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka (1988).

In addition to her husband Cyrus, she is survived by her daughters Renana, Firoza and Ava and six grandchildren.