Absorbing the Worlds of Others: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Adapted Screenplays
Despite being a prolific and well-decorated adapter and screenwriter, the screenplays of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala are largely overlooked in adaptation studies. This is likely, in part, because her life and career are characterised by the paradox of being an outsider on the inside: whether that be as a European writing in and about India, as a novelist in film or as a woman in industry. The aims of this thesis are threefold: to explore the reasons behind her neglect in criticism, to uncover her contributions to the film adaptations she worked on and to draw together the fields of screenwriting and adaptation studies. Surveying both existing academic studies in film history, screenwriting and adaptation in Chapter 1 -- as well as publicity materials in Chapter 2 -- reveals that screenwriting in general is on the periphery of considerations of film authorship. In Chapter 2, I employ Sandra Gilbert’s and Susan Gubar’s notions of ‘the madwoman in the attic’ and ‘the angel in the house’ to portrayals of screenwriters, arguing that Jhabvala purposely cultivates an impression of herself as the latter -- a submissive screenwriter, of no threat to patriarchal or directorial power -- to protect herself from any negative attention as the former. However, the archival materials examined in Chapter 3 which include screenplay drafts, reveal her to have made significant contributions to problem-solving, characterisation and tone. I argue that she develops themes pertinent to her and in Chapter 4 I posit outsider characters in particular as sites of her authorship. In the final chapter I explore the collaborative nature of the working environment which made these contributions possible. I adapt Kamilla Elliott’s incarnational concept of adaptation to reincarnation in order to argue that adaptation and screenwriting are both continual, collaborative processes. Segments of Chapters 2 and 5 have been included in published articles and feature in the appendices: ‘A room with many views: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s and Andrew Davies’ adapted screenplays for A Room with a View (1985, 2007)’; and ‘Screenwriting, adaptation and reincarnation: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s self-adapted screenplays’.
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