|Occupation literary agency|
Name Paul Scott
Spouse Penny Scott (m. ?–1941)
Notable awards Booker Prize
|Born 25 March 1920
Southgate, London (1920-03-25) |
Education Winchmore Hill Collegiate School
Died March 1, 1978, London, United Kingdom
Movies and TV shows The Jewel in the Crown, Satan in High Heels, Staying On
Parents Frances Scott, Thomas Scott
Books The Jewel in the Crown, Staying On, The Towers of Silence, A Division of the Spoils, The Day of the Scorpion
Similar People Christopher Morahan, Peggy Ashcroft, Tim Pigott‑Smith, Harry Reid, Geraldine James
Paul Mark Scott (25 March 1920 – 1 March 1978) was an English novelist, playwright, and poet, best known for his monumental tetralogy The Raj Quartet. His novel Staying On won the Booker Prize for 1977.
Paul Scott was born in Palmers Green, in Southgate, London, then in Middlesex, the younger of two sons. His father, Thomas (1870–1958), was a Yorkshireman who moved to London in the 1920s and was a commercial artist specializing in furs and lingerie. His mother, Frances, née Mark (1886–1969), the daughter of a labourer from south London, had artistic and social ambitions. In later life Scott differentiated between his mother’s creative drive and his father’s down-to-earth practicality.
He was educated at Winchmore Hill Collegiate School (a private school) but was forced to leave suddenly at the age of 14, without any qualifications, when his father’s business met financial difficulties. He worked as an accounts clerk for C. T. Payne and took evening classes in book-keeping, but started writing poetry in his spare time. It was in this environment that he came to understand the rigid social divisions of suburban London, so that when he went to British India, he felt an instinctive familiarity with the interactions of caste and class in an imperial colony.
Scott was conscripted into the British Army as a private early in 1940 and assigned to the Intelligence Corps. He met and married his wife Penny (born Nancy Edith Avery in 1914) in Torquay in 1941. She also became a novelist.
In 1943 Scott was posted as an officer cadet to India, where he was commissioned. He ended the war as a captain in the Indian Army Service Corps, helping to organize the logistic support for the Fourteenth Army’s reconquest of Burma, which had fallen to the Japanese in 1942. Despite being initially appalled by the attitudes of the British, by the heat and dust, by the disease and poverty and by the sheer numbers of people, he, like many others, fell deeply in love with India.
After demobilisation in 1946, Scott was employed as an accountant for the two small publishing houses: Falcon Press and Grey Walls Press, headed by Conservative MP Peter Baker. His two daughters, Carol and Sally, were born in 1947 and 1948.
In 1950, Scott joined the literary agents Pearn, Pollinger & Higham (later to split into Pollinger Limited and David Higham Associates) and subsequently became a director. Whilst there, the authors he covered included Arthur C Clarke, Morris West, M. M. Kaye, Elizabeth David, Mervyn Peake and Muriel Spark.
Scott published a collection of three religious poems entitled I, Gerontius in 1941, but his writing career began in earnest with his first novel Johnny Sahib in 1952. Despite 17 rejections from publishers, it met with modest success. He continued to work as a literary agent to support his family, but managed to publish regularly. The Alien Sky (US title, Six Days in Marapore) appeared in 1953, and was followed by A Male Child (1956), The Mark of the Warrior (1958), and The Chinese Love Pavilion (1960). He also wrote two radio plays for the BBC: Lines of Communication (1952) and Sahibs and Memsahibs (1958). All the novels were respectfully received, although their sales were moderate. Nonetheless, Scott decided in 1960 to try becoming a full-time author.
Scott's novels persistently draw on his experiences of India and service in the armed forces with strong subtexts of uneasy relationships between male friends or brothers; both the social privilege and the oppressive class and racial strata of the empire are represented, and novel by novel the canvas broadens. The Alien Sky remains the principal fictional exploration of a very light-skinned, mixed race, British-Indian woman who has married a white man by pretending to be white. A Male Child is set principally in London and deals with the domestic effects of losing a family member to imperial service. The Chinese Love Pavilion, after an Indian opening, is largely concerned with events in Malaya under Japanese occupation. These novels can be seen in retrospect as studies leading up to The Raj Quartet, one of whose minor characters is named in The Birds of Paradise (1962), but the lack of commercial impact forced Scott to broaden his range. His next two novels, The Bender (1963), a satirical comedy, and The Corrida at San Feliu (1964), comprising multiple linked texts and drawing extensively on family holidays in the Costa Brava, are a clear attempt to experiment with new forms and locales. Again, these were well received critically, but neither was especially successful either financially or artistically, and Scott decided that he had either to write the great novel of the Raj of which he believed himself capable, or return to salaried work.
Scott flew to India in 1964 to see old friends, both Indian and Anglo-Indian, make new acquaintances in independent India, and refresh himself by confronting again the place that still obsessed him. Artistically he felt drained and a failure, feelings that were reinforced by financial straits and physical weakness. Since serving in India, Scott had been suffering from undiagnosed amoebic dysentery, which can seriously affect sufferers' mood as well as digestion, and had managed to handle it by consuming what his biographer, Hilary Spurling, describes as “alarming” quantities of alcohol. The condition was exacerbated by the visit to India, and on his return he had to undergo painful treatment, but afterwards felt better than he had for many years.
In June 1964, Scott began to write The Jewel in the Crown, the first novel of what was to become The Raj Quartet. It was published in 1966 to minor and muted enthusiasm. The remaining novels in the sequence were published over the next nine years: The Day of the Scorpion (1968), The Towers of Silence (1971) and A Division of the Spoils (1974). Scott wrote in relative isolation and only visited India twice more during the genesis of The Raj Quartet, in 1968 and in 1971, latterly for the British Council. He worked in an upstairs room at his home in Hampstead overlooking the garden and Hampstead Garden Suburb woodland – a far cry from the archetypal administrative province, between the Ganges and the foothills of the Himalaya, in which the novels were set. He supplemented his earnings from his books with reviews for The Times, the Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman and Country Life.
The Jewel in the Crown engages with and rewrites E. M. Forster's A Passage to India (1924), and so is necessarily set in a small, Hindu-majority rural town with an army garrison, but the wider province is implicit, and the later novels spread out to the cold-weather capital on the plains, the hot-weather capital in the hills, a neighbouring Muslim-ruled princely state, and the railway lines that bind them together – as well as Calcutta, Bombay, and the Burmese theatre of war. The cast also expands to include at least 24 principals, more than 300 named fictional characters, and a number of historical figures including Churchill, Gandhi, Jinnah, Wavell, and Slim. The story is initially that of the gang-rape of a young British woman in 1942, but follows the ripples of the event as they spread out through the relatives and friends of the victim, the child of the rape, those arrested for it but never charged and subsequently interned for political reasons, and the man who arrested them. It also charts events from the Quit India riots of August 1942 to the violence accompanying the Partition of India and creation of Pakistan in 1946–47, and so represents the collapse of imperial dominance, a process Scott describes in the early pages of The Day of the Scorpion as the time when "the British came to the end of themselves as they were."
Scott's wife Penny had supported him throughout the writing of The Raj Quartet, despite his heavy drinking and sometimes violent behaviour, but once it was complete she left him and filed for divorce. Forced to reassess his life and options he turned to teaching, and in 1976 and 1977 he was a visiting professor at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma. His coda to The Raj Quartet, Staying On, was published in 1977, just before his second visit there. Soon after its publication and while he was in Tulsa, Scott was diagnosed with colon cancer.
The novels of The Raj Quartet were, individually and collectively, received with little enthusiasm on first publication. Only The Towers of Silence and Staying On achieved some success with the award of the Yorkshire Post Fiction Award and the Booker Prize in 1971 and 1977 respectively. Scott was too ill to attend the Booker presentation in November 1977. He died at the Middlesex Hospital, London, on 1 March 1978.
Scott stated, "For me, the British Raj is an extended metaphor [and] I don't think a writer chooses his metaphors. They choose him." From his earliest experiences in north London, he felt himself an outsider in his own country. As his biographer comments,
Probably only an outsider could have commanded the long, lucid perspectives he brought to bear on the end of the British raj, exploring with passionate, concentrated attention a subject still generally treated as taboo, or fit only for historical romance and adventure stories. However Scott saw things other people would sooner not see, and he looked too close for comfort. His was a bleak, stern, prophetic vision and, like E. M. Forster's, it has come to seem steadily more accurate with time.
The Jewel in the Crown has at its heart the confrontation between Hari Kumar, the young, English public-school educated Indian liberal and the grammar-school scholarship boy turned police superintendent Ronald Merrick. Merrick both hates and is attracted to Kumar and seeks to destroy him, after Daphne Manners, the English girl who is in love with Kumar and has been courted by Merrick, is raped. Critics have seen this conflict as one fundamentally influenced by Scott's own bisexuality, with Kumar representing everything young, bright, and forward-looking that had been brutally crushed in Scott's own youth. At the same time Merrick, probably (but not absolutely certainly) a repressed homosexual, with authoritarian leanings and an arrogant sense of his own racial standing, is partly a self-portrait, in which Scott confronted his own and his compatriots' defensive impulse to racial and personal self-aggrandisement, and to moral and political pretence. The result is widely seen as a substantial and to date definitive fictional exploration of the underbelly of the Raj in India and of its workings.
In 1980, Granada Television filmed Staying On, with Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson as Tusker Smalley and his wife Lucy, famously advertised at the time as "Reunited for the first time since Brief Encounter". The success of its first showing in Britain in December 1980 encouraged Granada to embark on the much greater project of making The Raj Quartet into a major 14-part television series known as The Jewel in the Crown, first broadcast in the UK in early 1984 and subsequently in the US and many Commonwealth countries. It was rebroadcast in the UK in 1997 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Indian independence, and in 2001 the British Film Institute voted it 22nd in the all-time best British television programmes. It was also adapted as a nine-part BBC Radio 4 dramatisation under its original title in 2005.
While Scott was teaching creative writing at the University of Tulsa in 1976, he arranged to sell his private correspondence to that university's McFarlin Library, thus making available some 6000 personal letters. The materials begin in 1940, when Scott was enlisted in the British Army, and end only a few days before his death on 1 March 1978.
In the David Higham Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin can be found Scott’s correspondence with clients Arthur C. Clarke, M. M. Kaye, Muriel Spark, children's author Mary Patchett, Peter Green, Morris West, Gabriel Fielding and John Braine.