Theme and Subject in Paul Scott's Works

Jacqueline Banerjee, Ph.D

One configuration appears repeatedly in Paul Scott's work. A larger-than-life male figure exerts a disproportionate amount of influence on others, and particularly on one other vulnerable male. The two characters involved may be brothers, like Dwight and Joe MacKendrick in The Alien Sky, or they may be thrown together quite by chance, like Brian Saxby and Tom Brent in The Chinese Love Pavilion. Look for other such pairings in Scott's work. Class and racial tensions may complicate matters, as when Ronald Merrick confronts the public school educated Hari Kumar in The Raj Quartet.

This element in Scott's fiction may have derived from some early relationship, perhaps during his army training. More than this, though, he seems to have feared something hard and destructive in his own nature, an inner force which he associated with the duende or goblin-figure described by the Spanish poet and dramatist, Lorca. Look at the curious, rather overwrought passage towards the end of The Alien Sky, when the originally liberal and humane Tom Gower goes to the jail to visit a young activist:

And now that they were together Gower knew the real reason why he had come. He wanted to see the boy cower. He wanted the boy to fall on his knees and beg for mercy. And he wanted to beat his own hands on the bars, beat and beat until the skin was broken and the blood came and some of his own agony was released to enter into the boy. Hoarsely, he said, 'I came to see if there's anything I can do for you'. [254-5]

In another image of captivity, the duende is seen by Edward Thornhill in The Corrida at San Feliu (1964) as a 'little black hunchback' chained up inside the human heart, 'aching with the pain of his imprisonment and his deformity' (117).

Does the duende have the last word in Scott's work? After all, what most people carry away from The Raj Quartet is the memory of the abusive Merrick. Yet for some time stronger heroes had been emerging in the novels, and a female figure, too, had been moving towards the centre of Scott's vision. Examples are the Eurasian Teena Chang in The Chinese Love Pavilion, and Dora Salford in The Birds of Paradise. The most heartening of such figures is Daphne Manners in The Raj Quartet. Daphne carries her unborn child, the child of her rape in the Bibighar Gardens, "like a woman in a stater of grace' (The Jewel in the Crown, 171), and this girl grows up into an 'enchanting' girl and a graceful young woman unburdened by the circumstances of her birth or her mixed cultural identity (A Divison of the Spoils, 595).

The Quartet synchronises a large number of intensely personal dramas not only with each other but also with the complicated political developments of the time. Inevitably, its shifts of perspective make it resistant to thematic closure. But there are many key passages in A Divison of the Spoils (such as the description of Sister Ludmila's statue of Shiva, the references to Emerson, and the lines from the fictional Urdu poet Gaffur), with positive connotations. Scott, like the girl who inspired the character of Daphne, seems to have been "strangely of good heart" by the end of this long work (My Appointment with the Muse, 60). Is this confirmed or repudiated by the Quartet's coda, Staying On?


Scott, Paul. The Alien Sky. London: Heinemann, 1978.

_____. The Corrida at San Feliu. London: Secker and Warburg, 1964.

_____. A Division of the Spoils. London: Mandarin, 1996.

_____. The Jewel in the Crown. London: Mandarin, 1996.

_____. My Appointment with the Muse: Essays, 1961-75, ed. Shelley Reese. London: Heineamann, 1986.

United Kingdom Paul Scott

Last modified 26 July 2005