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by Bamber Gascoigne

Paul (Mark) Scott (1920-1978)


British writer, best known for The Raj Quartet (1965-1975), which describes from different points of view the events that led to the end of the British rule in India. Paul Scott was only noted as a master of his craft quite late in life. Just before he died, Scott  received the prestigious Booker Prize for the novel Staying On (1977).

"This is a story of a rape, of the events that led up to it and followed it and of the place in which it happened. There are action, the people, and the place; all of which are interrelated but in their totality incommunicable in isolation from the moral continuum of human affairs." (from The Jewel in the Crown, 1966; part one of The Raj Quartet)

Paul Scott was born in suburban North London, where he would continue to reside throughout most of his life. His father, Thomas Scott, was a commercial artist, and his mother, Frances, was a former shop clerk; she had written some novels which she destroyed after her marriage. George and Gilbert, his uncles, were commercial artists, who painted horses and hunting scenes with great success.

Scott was educated at Winchmore Hill Collegiate, a private school, but was forced to abandon his studies at the age of 16 when the family's money ran out. Scott then was sent to be trained in accountancy. Due to his "photographic" memory he passed the examination with great ease. During these dull years he read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, which had a profound and lasting influence upon him. He had a lover, an aesthetic estate agent called Gerald Armstrong. In 1940 he was sent for officer training in Torquay. Something happened there with a senior officer; whatever it was it took a long time before Scott obtained his commission.

At Torquau Scott met Nancy Edith Avery (Penny Avery), also known as "Penny", whom he married in 1941. They were soon separated when Scott was sent to India as an air supplies officer. He arrived in Bombay in 1943 without much knowledge of the country, but also without Kiplingesque prejudices. (Scott said that he had never been able to read Kipling.) He served in India and Malaya (1943-46) and wrote during this period various poems and plays. Primarily Scott was based in Assam. He did not see combat, but his work occupied all his time and thought, he found himself unable to write. Scott was promoted to Captain in November 1944. In a letter to his friend Scott said that his homosexual self, named Kapinsky, was dead. "I cannot let myself be unfaithful to my wife, for there can be only one woman in the world for me – I strongly believe this." (Paul Scott's "The Jewel In The Crown": A Novelist's Philosophy Of History And The End Of The British Raj by Kathryn Ann Hughes Nedegaard, 2016, p. 29)

Upon returning to England, with amebiasis, from which he suffered some 20 years but which was not diagnosed until 1964, he settled in London with his family and worked as book-keeper for the Falcon and Grey Walls Press. The publishing house was caricatured by Muriel Spark in A Far Cry from Kensington. In 1950 Scott joined Pearn, Pollinger & Higham as a literary agent. Its clients included John Braine and Arthur C. Clarke. After abandoning poetry he wrote radio play and television plays. The Pillars of Salt, published in 1948, was not performed. Lines of Communication (1952) and Sahibs and Memsahibs (1958) were produced and broadcast by the BBC.

But it was the novelistic narrative, its complexity and flexibility, which gave Scott's ideas and experiences the scope and variety he needed. He published a string of novels dealing more or less directly with British military figures on duty in foreign lands. From 1960 Scott devoted himself entirely to literature, though it took many years before he started to gain recognition as a novelist. However, after getting rid of dysentry, there was a new joy and ease in his writing.

The manuscrip of Scott's novel The Gradual Day, later re-entitled The Dazzling Crystal, was rejected by 17 publishers. Johnnie Sahib (1952), set in the border area of India and Burma at the end of WW II, won Scott the Eyre and Spottiswoode Award. The Alies Sky (1953), his second novel, was adapted for radio and television. In the United States the book was published under the title Six Days in Marapore. Scott's early works received mixed reviews and did not sell well. In 1964 Scott's publisher sent him to India. He revisited the country in 1969 and 1971. Eventually Scott gained an international reputation with the Raj Quartet.

Most of Scott's works depict India or have Indian themes and characters. The Raj Quartet, set in the final years of British India in 1942-47, was completed in 1974. It includes four novels, told from different point of views. Basically, Scott's perspective was that of an outsider.

The Quartet looks behind the facade of Britain's idea of itself in India. Through his characters and their stories and selective blindness, Scott examined the moral and ethical decline of the last years of the colonial rule. Like in Forster's A Passage to India (1924), which by 1968 Scott had read three times, accusations of rape parallel with the reality of colonialism and issues of class and race. However, Scott denied any direct influence from Forster, and he thought that the novel has no "conscious moral purpose" apart expressing the novelist's view of reality.

The Jewel in the Crown (1966) opens with an image of a girl running – in an essay Scott said that for him the inspiration for a novel always came in the form of an image. The novel presents for the reader Daphne Manners, a young Englishwoman, her Anglo-Indian lover Hari Kumar, and the homosexual sadistic police official Ronald Merrick, who feels superior to Kumar. Daphne is raped by a group of men in the Bibighar Gardens of Mayapore, when she is spending a night with Hari. She dies in childbirth. Daphne's and Hari's love is seen through the eyes of Lady Manners, her aunt. In The Day of the Scorpion (1968) Hari is imprisoned because of the rape and Merrick says that he believes Hari is guilty. During the interrogation, Merrick sexually abuses him as well. The Towers of Silence (1972) focuses on the Layton family, the engagement of Susan Layton and Teddie Bingham, their weddings, and the events before Teddie's death. A Division of the Spoils (1974) continues the story, but the central character is Guy Perron, who witnesses the independence process of India and hears about Merrick's death. Staying On  returns to the world of the quartet, and depicts two of the minor characters, Tusker and Lucy Smalley, an elderly couple, who live in an isolated retirement in India long after independence.

The novelist Salman Rushdie denounced The Raj Quartet for perpetuating colonial assumption and racial stereotypes. Both in E.M. Forster's novel A Passage to India (1924) and in Scott's work, imperialism and racism are associated with sexual abuse. "...if rape must be used as the metaphor of the Indo-British connection," Rushdie said, "then surely, the interests of accuracy, it should be the rape of an Indian woman by one or more Englishmen of whatever class." ('Outside the Whale', in Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991, 1991, pp. 87-101) Referring to India's struggle for independence, Timothy Foote wrote from an American point of view in his review of the first volume, that the whole subject is "too remote to be any pressing interest" and as a result, "The Jewel in the Crown, like a long delayed letters from a soldier whose death has already been announced by cable, sometimes seems touchingly irrelevant. ('Rape in India – Real and Allegorical' by Timothy Foote, Life, June 10, 1966) In has also been argued by many scholars that The Raj Quartet is nostalgic for the days of the Raj, even as it condems the exploitation of India under British rule.

Adrift in his life, Scott spent his last years traveling between his Hampstead house and the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was a visiting fellow. He suffered from cancer and his condition was weakened by heavy drinking, which had caused cirrhosis of the liver. Scott final published work, After the Funeral (1978), featured pen and ink illustrations by his daughter Sally. Paul Scott died on March 1, 1978, at the Middlesex Hospital, London, aged 57. According to Scott's biographer, the family also suffered from his violence – he often shut himself away for days in his study, working and drinking there. Eventually, after the Quartet was completed, his wife left him, seeking a first shelter at Chiswick Women's Aid. Penny Avery started to publish fiction late in life.

The Raj Quartet was adapted for Granada Television under the title The Jewel in the Crown (1984). Anthony Powell noted in his journal, that Merrick "seem to some extent a phantasm of Scott himself" but he "certainly makes the film memorable."

For further reading: Paul Scott by K.B. Rao (1980); Introducing The Raj Quartet by J. Tedesco and J. Popham (1985); Paul Scott's Raj by R. Moore (1990); Paul Scott by Hilary Spurling (1990); Paul Scott's Raj by R. Moore (1990); 'Outside the Whale' by S. Rushdie  in Imaginary Homelands (1991); Belonging and not belonging: Understanding India in novels by Paul Scott, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and V.S. Naipaul by Janet Mariana Pug (1993); Paul Scott: His Art and Vision by V.R. Badiger (1994); After Empire: Scott, Naipaul, Rushdie by Michael Gorra (1997); Paul Scott's "Raj Quartet": History and Division by Peter Childs (1998); Colonial Power, Colonial Texts: India in the Modern British Novel by M. Keith Booker (1998); 'Images of Rape and Buggery: Paul Scott's View of the Dual Evils of Empire' by Janis E. Haswell, in Studies in the Novel 33.2 (2001); Paul Scott: The Raj Quartet and Staying On by John Lennard (2010); Paul Scott's "The Jewel In The Crown": A Novelist's Philosophy Of History And The End Of The British Raj by Kathryn Ann Hughes Nedegaard (2016) - See also: Kilping, Tagore

Selected works:

  • 'I, Gerontius - The Creation - The Dream - The Cross', 1941
  • The Pillars of Salt, 1948 (play)
  • Johnnie Sahib, 1952
  • The Lines of Communication, 1952 (radio play, based on Johnnie Sahib)
  • The Alien Sky, 1953 (US title: Six Days in Marapore, 1953)
  • A Male Child 1956
  • The Mark of the Warrior, 1958
  • Sahibs and Memsahibs, 1958 (radio play)
  • The Chinese Love Pavilion, 1960
  • The Birds of Paradise, 1962
  • The Bender: Pictures from an Exhibition of Middle Class Portraits: A Novel, 1963
    - Pennitön perijä: näytteitä keskiluokan muotokuvagalleriasta (suom. Antero Tiusanen, 1964)
  • The Corrida at San Feliu, 1964
  • Jewel in the Crown: A Novel, 1966 (The Raj Quartet) 
    - Kuningattaren jalokivi (suom. Kyllikki Villa, 1985)
    - TV adaptation of The Raj Quartet under the title The Jewel in the Crown (1984), prod. by Granada Television, dir. by Christopher Morahan & Jim O'Brien, cast: Tim Pigott-Smith, Geraldine James, Wendy Morgan, Judy Parfitt, Rosemary Leach, Peggy Ashcroft, Geoffrey Beevers
  • The Day of the Scorpion: A Novel, 1968 (The Raj Quartet)
    - Skorpionin päivä (suom. Leena Tamminen, 1985)
  • The Towers of Silence: A Novel, 1971 (The Raj Quartet)
    - Hiljaisuuden tornit (suom. Leena Tamminen, 1985)
  • A Division of the Spoils: A Novel, 1975 (The Raj Quartet)
    - Saaliinjako (suom. Leena Tamminen, 1986)
  • Staying On: A Novel, 1977 (Booker Prize)
    - TV film (1980), prod. by Prestige Productions, dir. by Silvio Narizzano, featuring Trevor Howard, Celia Johnson, Saeed Jaffrey, Pearl Padamsee, Fida Bai, Zia Mohyeddin
  • After the Funeral, 1978 (with illustrations by Sally Scott)
  • My Appointment with the Muse: Essays, 1961-75, 1986 (edited with an introduction by Shelley C. Reece)
  • Collected Essays, 1991
  • The Raj Quartet, 2007 (2 vols., with an introduction by Hilary Spurling)
  • Behind Paul Scott's Raj Quartet: A Life in Letters, 2011 (edited by Janis Haswell) 

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