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Scott, Paul (1920-1978)  
 
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One can only speculate why the two great British novelists of the Raj should both have been gay. Like E. M. Forster, Paul Scott found in India a rich metaphor for the interior distances that must be traversed as one person seeks to connect with another, and for the mysterious heart of darkness that prevents even the well-intentioned from understanding oneself, much less another person, with any certainty.

Scott's accounts of the British in India invite the reader to take part in an existential drama that questions both who does and does not belong in a social world, and how one is able to find a home as a stranger in a strange land. But unlike Forster, who became part of a tight-knit if necessarily secretive gay community, Scott married, helped raise two children, and led to all appearances a heterosexual life, all the while repressing his natural desires and sinking into the alcoholism that contributed to his relatively early death at the age of fifty-seven.

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Biography

Paul Mark Scott was born on March 25, 1920, the younger of two sons of Tom Scott, a commercial artist, and Frances Mark Scott. Disappointed in love early in life, Tom Scott did not marry the socially ambitious, thirty-year-old Frances Mark until he was forty-six. He was, thus, distanced in age and by progressive deafness from his two sons, whose early years were dominated by their wildly imaginative but emotionally suffocating mother.

The Scott family order was thrown into disarray by the world financial collapse of 1929. At age 14, Paul was taken out of the private school in which he was flourishing, and apprenticed to an accountant so that he could contribute to the sadly retrenched family finances.

Scott seems never to have recovered psychologically from this jarring disruption. All his life he betrayed a sense of dispossession, which was compounded by the social insecurity that he felt in not having received a university education. Resentment of the injustice, combined with the need to defend himself emotionally from his domineering mother, forced him to retreat behind a carefully maintained surface imperturbability, however great his inner rage.

At eighteen, Scott began an affair with one of his bookkeeping clients. The middle-aged, culturally sophisticated Gerald Armstrong introduced Scott to the worlds of ballet and theater, and encouraged him to think of himself seriously as a writer. The married Armstrong also modeled for Scott how a gay man may pass for straight, treating one's homosexuality as a pleasure to be secretly indulged and, in effect, rendering it something of which one should be ashamed.

Scott's relationship with Armstrong had already run its course when Scott was called up for military service following the outbreak of World War II. A sexual indiscretion of some kind caused Scott the loss of his corporal's rank and resulted in his withdrawing further into himself.

Evidence suggests that Scott was betrayed, possibly blackmailed, by someone whom he considered a friend.

Whatever the causal event, Scott suddenly attempted to refashion himself as a heterosexual. On October 23, 1941, he married Penny Avery, a pretty but insecure and eager-to-please nurse whom he had met only six months earlier.

Not surprisingly, Scott's initial attempts to repress his homosexual desire coincide roughly with a ten-day drunken binge, the first evidence of the alcoholism that would dominate his adult life.

In March 1943, Scott was commissioned as an officer in the Service Corps and ordered to India, where--following their defeat in Burma--the British forces were rallying to ward off the Japanese invasion of the country considered the great "jewel" in England's imperial crown. Scott's extraordinary organizational skills, iron discipline, and ability to concentrate even under the most chaotic of circumstances allowed him to organize many of the supplies essential for the decisive defeat of the Japanese at Mandalay and the fall of Rangoon.

Scott departed India in May 1946. After a stint as bookkeeper and company secretary for a failing publishing enterprise, he became a literary agent, successfully representing clients as diverse as science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and poet D. J. Enright, and nurturing the talents of budding novelists John Braine, Muriel Spark, and John Fowles.

Doubly burdened by the needs of his own growing family (the Scotts would raise two daughters) and by financial responsibility for his aged, unemployed parents, Scott worked hard and drank heavily to relieve the resulting tension.

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