M. M. Kaye

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M. M. Kaye
BornMary Margaret Kaye
(1908-08-21)21 August 1908
Simla, British India
Died29 January 2004(2004-01-29) (aged 95)
Lavenham, Suffolk, England
GenreHistorical fiction
Notable worksThe Far Pavilions
SpouseGodfrey John Hamilton (m. 1945; wid.1985)

Mary Margaret ('Mollie') Kaye (21 August 1908 – 29 January 2004) was a British writer. Her most famous book is The Far Pavilions (1978).


M. M. Kaye was born in Simla, British India, and lived in an Oakland, Shimla, a heritage property from 1915 to 1918. She was the elder daughter and one of three children born to Sir Cecil Kaye and his wife, Margaret Sarah Bryson. Cecil Kaye was an intelligence officer in the Indian Army. M. M. Kaye's grandfather, brother and husband all served the British Raj. Her grandfather's cousin, Sir John William Kaye, wrote the standard accounts of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the First Afghan War. At 10, Mollie Kaye, as she was then known, was sent to England to attend boarding school. She subsequently studied children's book illustration and earned money by designing Christmas cards. In 1926, she briefly returned to live with her family in India, but after her father's death, she was displeased by her mother's pressure to find a junior officer to marry and so returned to England living in London on a small pension based on her late father's army career, augmented first by earnings from illustrating children's books and from 1937 from the publication of children's books written by Kaye. Her first adult novel, Six Bars at Seven, published in 1940, was a thriller that Kaye had been moved to write by regularly reading that type of books from the Fourpenny Library: "Most of the stuff I was reading was total rubbish, and I used to think I couldn't write worse. So I sat down and wrote one."[1][2]

The £64 that she received for Six Bars at Seven enabled Kaye to return to Simla, where she lived with her married sister, Dorothy Elizabeth Pardey. In June 1941, Kaye met her future husband. The British Indian Army officer, Godfrey John Hamilton was four years her junior and reportedly proposed to Kaye on five days' acquaintance.[3] Kaye was pregnant with the couple's second child when she and Hamilton were able to marry on Armistice Day 1945, Hamilton's first marriage having been dissolved. After her second child's 1946 birth Kaye returned to writing. (Hamilton's first wife, Mary Penelope Colthurst, lived in Ireland with the couple's daughter. Kaye would later state of her affair with Hamilton, "We just couldn't wait. Had it been peacetime, I wouldn't have done it because of the way I had been brought up. But these were the pressures of war".)[3] After the 1947 dissolution of the British Indian Army because India's achieved independence, Hamilton had transferred to the British Army, where his career necessitated him and his family to relocate 27 times over the next 29 years, with Kaye using several of those locales in a series of crime novels.[1] That inaugurated the rise of the pen name M. M. Kaye, the writer's previous published works having been credited to Mollie Kaye. Kaye's literary agent was Paul Scott, who had been an army officer in India and would find fame as author of The Raj Quartet. It was with Scott's encouragement that Kaye wrote her first historical epic of India Shadow of the Moon published in 1957. The focal background of Shadow of the Moon is the Sepoy Mutiny with which Kaye had been familiarised but stories heard as a child from her family's native servants. That early interest being reinforced in the mid-1950s, when Kaye, on a visit to friends, in India chanced on some transcripts of trials attendant on the Sepoy Mutiny in a shed on her friends' property.[4] Kaye would later state her displeasure over the original published version of Shadow of the Moon being edited without her knowledge, with sections focused on action, rather than romance, being largely deleted.[2]

Kaye's second historical novel, Trade Wind, was published in 1963. Kaye, inspired by a visit to India, then planned to commence work on an epic novel with the Second Anglo-Afghan War as its background, but she was diagnosed with lung cancer. The prognosis waa later changed to lymphosarcoma; enervated by chemotherapy, she was unable to write until she was back in good health, with a resultant delay in the start of her writing the masterpiece The Far Pavilions, until 1967, when Kaye and the newly-retired Hamilton became longtime residents of the Sussex hamlet of Boreham Street.[3]

Published in 1978, The Far Pavilions became a worldwide bestseller on publication and caused the successful republishing of Shadow of the Moon, with the previously-deleted sections restored, Trade Wind and Kaye's crime novels. Kaye also wrote and illustrated The Ordinary Princess, a children's book that was called "refreshingly unsentimental" by an article in Horn Book Magazine.[5] She originally it wrote as a short story,[6] and wrote a half-a-dozen detective novels, including Death in Kashmir and Death in Zanzibar. Her autobiography has been published in three volumes and was collectively entitled Share of Summer: The Sun in the Morning, Golden Afternoon, and Enchanted Evening.

In March 2003, Kaye was awarded the Colonel James Tod International Award by the Maharana Mewar Foundation of Udaipur, Rajasthan, for her "contribution of permanent value reflecting the spirit and values of Mewar."

Widowed in 1985, Kaye lived with her sister in a wing of Kaye's older daughter's house in Hampshire from 1987. Kaye relocated to Suffolk in 2001 and was residing in Lavenham when she died on 29 January 2004, at age 95. At sunset on 4 March 2006, Kaye's ashes were scattered over the waters from a boat in the middle of Lake Pichola. The duty was performed by Michael Ward, the producer of the West End musical version of The Far Pavilions, and his wife, Elaine.[7] A grandson is the comedian James Bachman.[8]



  1. ^ a b Obituary: MM Kaye | World news | The Guardian
  2. ^ a b M M Kaye - Telegraph
  3. ^ a b c M. M. Kaye Draws on 70 Lively Years to Create An Epic Book on Her Beloved India: People.com
  4. ^ "M. M. Kaye: capturing the intrigue of India". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. 30 #5 (12 April 1980).
  5. ^ Schmitz, Terri (July–August 2002). "Recommended Reissues: Safety in Numbers". Horn Book Magazine. Boston. LXXVIII (4): 432. ISSN 0018-5078.
  6. ^ "'Far Pavilions' author M.M. Kaye dies". USA Today. 4 February 2004. Retrieved 18 November 2008.
  7. ^ The Telegraph - Calcutta : Nation
  8. ^ Burke's Irish Family Records, 1976, ed. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, Burke's Peerage Ltd, p. 553

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