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literature

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Scott, Paul (1920-1978)  
 
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The pressure on him was both aggravated and eased by his determination to write. Before the war, Scott had concentrated on poetry and drama. But with Johnnie Sahib (1952), Scott discovered both his natural medium and great subject: the novel about India.

Retiring every night and all weekend to his study to write and to drink, Scott produced a steady stream of novels that received respectable reviews while generating mediocre sales: The Alien Sky (1953, distributed in America as Seven Days in Marapore), A Male Child (1956), The Mark of the Warrior (1957), The Chinese Love Pavilion (1960), The Birds of Paradise (1962), The Bender (1963), and The Corrida at San Feliu (1964).

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Beginning with The Chinese Love Pavilion, however, Scott became more willing to examine in fiction the destructive nature of sexual repression. A new power evident in his work convinced his publisher in 1964 to guarantee him an income, freeing him to quit his job as a literary agent and to write full time.

The immediate stimulus for the novels that compose The Raj Quartet (The Jewel in the Crown, 1966; The Day of the Scorpion, 1968; The Towers of Silence, 1971; and A Division of the Spoils, 1975) were the return visits to India that Scott made in 1964 and 1969. Traveling widely about the subcontinent, Scott questioned everyone he met regarding the native Indian character, the nature of the British occupation of India, and the consequences of its 1947 withdrawal. These conversations led to sensitive examinations of the dynamics of power, the nature of racism, and the corrosive effects of imperialism on both the governed and their governors.

In 1964, a medical specialist diagnosed a parasitic infection that Scott must have first contracted in India during the war and because of which he had suffered fatigue, nausea, insomnia, and bouts of chronic diarrhea for twenty years. The amebiasis may also have contributed to the suicidal depression that he had fought much of his adult life. (On one occasion, he closed himself in a garage with an automobile running; on another he swallowed his daughter's sleeping pills. Most tellingly, one night, in a drunken rage, he slashed the throat of his younger self in a portrait that hung on the wall of his study.)

Although a rigorous and painful treatment was able finally to destroy his intestinal parasite, allowing him the stamina that he would need for the ten-year ordeal of researching and writing the Raj novels, Scott's self-loathing continued so powerfully that he was unable to stop drinking.

Thus, his new found professional success--acclaim for the novels that compose The Raj Quartet, and receipt of the Man Booker Prize for Staying On (1977), his final novel about the British in India--was counterbalanced by the implosion of his family. While in college, his younger daughter attempted to commit suicide, in part because she did not feel loved by him. And, humiliated by his disdain and exhausted by his alcoholic binges, his wife Penny left him in July 1976.

Penny's desertion shook Scott badly. Initially, he was distracted by the novelty of a visiting professorship at the University of Tulsa in fall 1976. One year later, however, Scott was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, the result of his drinking a quart of vodka and smoking more than sixty cigarettes a day.

Worse, his doctors discovered that a previously undiagnosed cancer had already spread from his colon to his liver. Penny returned to nurse him in his last days. He died March 1, 1978, three weeks short of his fifty-eighth birthday.

Scott's greatest success proved posthumous. In 1980, British television movingly dramatized Staying On with revered film icons Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in what poignantly would be their last performances. Its success was but a prelude to the international acclaim that greeted a mini-series of The Raj Quartet initially televised in Britain in 1984 under the title The Jewel in the Crown, which won enthusiastic new audiences for the novels in both the United Kingdom and North America.

Oppressors and Oppressed

Scott said that he wrote novels "in order to give a voice to people who would otherwise remain inarticulate." That statement can justifiably be extended to include people who are afraid to speak at all lest they reveal a despised truth about themselves.

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