The first post in my promised series on Paul Scott is about the Raj Quartet. Not the novels themselves, but their covers. I make no apology for the niche topic. It may be of interest to you if you’re a Scott obsessive, an amateur bibliographer or a book design geek. If you’re none of those things, I won’t be offended if you decide to skip it.
I want to talk about Paul Scott.
If you’re thinking, “Who’s Paul Scott?” don’t worry. You’re in the typical majority. If I say, as I usually do, “he wrote the Raj Quartet – you know, The Jewel in the Crown,” you might now be experiencing a tiny flicker of recognition. You’ve at least heard of the title, and can guess it’s about British India, but you don’t know any more than that. If you’re a bit older, you might be doing better, remembering the 1984 TV series. But that’s about as far as it goes for most people. Even among the educated and well-read, he’s now faded well into obscurity.
That seems a shame for someone who was both a Booker Prize winner and the author of an acknowledged masterpiece of historical fiction, the Raj Quartet. Those are the relatively objective claims. Personally, I would add a few more. Firstly, that the Raj Quartet is the definitive literary statement of the final days of British rule in the subcontinent, a time of epochal political and social change, and therefore has lasting significance. Secondly, that he is a writer of astounding psychological insight and depth, on a par with more widely recognised writers of human drama such as D. H. Lawrence. Thirdly, that even his now totally forgotten earlier novels are works of brilliance, worthy of greater attention.
In short, I believe Paul Scott is one of the most under-rated British writers of the 20th century.
Over the next few weeks, therefore, I’ll be writing a few more blog posts about Scott and his works. Please keep reading.