The Raj Quartet

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The Raj Quartet is a four-volume novel sequence, written by Paul Scott, about the concluding years of the British Raj in India. The series was written during the period 1965–75. The Times called it "one of the most important landmarks of post-war fiction."[1]

The story of The Raj Quartet begins in 1942. World War II is at its zenith, and in South East Asia, the Allied forces have suffered great losses. Burma has fallen, and the Japanese invasion of the Indian subcontinent from the east appears imminent. The year 1942 is also marked by Indian nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi’s call for the Quit India movement to the British rulers of India. The Raj Quartet is set in this tumultuous background for the British soldiers and civilians stationed in India who have a duty to manage this part of the British Empire, known as the "jewel in the crown" of the British Monarch. One recurrent theme is the moral certainty of the older generation as contrasted with the anomie of the younger.[2] Another is the shocking racism to which this leads.[3] To justify the racism and combat this danger of anomie and disintegration, the British characters let themselves be "trapped by codes and principles, which were in part to keep their own fears and doubts at bay."[4] Most of the major characters suffer difficulties, and some die, either because they try to follow codes which have become outmoded (Ahmed Kasim, Merrick, Teddie Bingham) or because they reject the codes and become outsiders (Kumar, Lady and Daphne Manners, Sarah Layton).[5] Some critics have compared The Raj Quartet to the epic novels of Proust and Tolstoy.[6] Though some critics have thought the Quartet to be a straightforward example of nineteenth-century style realism, others have argued that its non-linear narrative style and occasional "outburst of dreams, hallucinations and spiritual revelations" give it an added dimension.[7]

The lead characters in the first novel, which sets the stage for the subsequent ones, are Daphne Manners, a young Englishwoman who has recently arrived in India, and her British-educated Indian lover, Hari Kumar. Ronald Merrick, a British police officer belonging to the Indian Police Service, is another main character.

The manner of narration is, especially in the first volume, looping and elliptical, shifting from 1942 to 1964 and back again, with detours back to the early 1900s. The voices shift as well as the perspective, from a third-person narrative about the doomed schoolteacher Edwina Crane to a first-person narration by another character, Lady Chatterjee, to a tour of Mayapore one evening in 1964.[8] This shifting chronology, while never confusing, has inspired much discussion.[9][10][11]

The Novels[edit]

The four volumes are:

Some of the characters are carried through to a further novel called

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

  • 2005: A 9-part BBC Radio 4 adaptation under the original title, using the book titles as subtitles.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Publisher's website
  2. ^ For instance, in Day of the Scorpion, Sarah Layton envies the "self-assurance" of her older aunt. See Day of the Scorpion, Book Two Part Two ch. IV
  3. ^ For example, in Day of the Scorpion, Hari Kumar describes how the British were shocked and embarrassed at the sight of an Englishwoman treating an Indian as a human being rather than as an inferior being. See Day of the Scorpion Book Two Part One Ch. I
  4. ^ review of Raj Quartet in The Spectator
  5. ^ P. Morey, Fictions of India: Narrative and Power, p.153
  6. ^ Steinberg, Twentieth Century Epic Novels, p.125
  7. ^ Morey, Fictions of India, p.158
  8. ^ New York Times review of TV series
  9. ^ N. Hale, Chronotopicity in Paul Scott's "The Raj Quartet"
  10. ^ Lennard, The Raj Quartet and Staying On, p.17
  11. ^ Eva Brann, Paul Scott's Raj Quintet, p.192