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Le Joyau de la Couronne (1966)

par Paul Scott

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Séries: The Raj Quartet (1)

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In August of 1942, a young Englishwoman is raped in an Indian garden, and her fate and that of an elderly English schoolteacher entwine.

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Paul Scott’s Jewel in the Crown is an expansive work that tackles every difficult issue that could be imagined for British ruled India. It takes place during the 1940’s, with World War II being fought and ravaging the English homeland, India being used as a buffer between the British forces and Japan, and the painful transition to self-government that can no longer be pushed off by the British rulers. Into this powder keg are dropped an English girl, Daphne Manners, who has been raised by a liberal-minded aunt and uncle, and an Indian boy, Hari Kumar, who has been reared in England and knows nothing of India and the squalor or prejudices she contains.

On page one we are told, This is the story of a rape, of the events that led up to it and followed it and of the place in which it happened. It is indeed all of that, but it is also the story of people caught in an out-of-control situation that is both personal and political, and an event that is subjected to interpretations that do not seek for truth or justice and are rooted in prejudice and preconception.

"The action of such an attitude is rather like that of a sieve. Only what is relevant to the attitude gets through. The rest gets thrown away. The real relevance and truth of what gets through the mesh then depends on the relevance and truth of the attitude, doesn't it? If one agrees with that one is at once back on the ground of personal preference--even prejudice--which may or may not have anything to do with truth."

Therein lies the problem, even the most even-handed of the British find it almost impossible not to view the Indian people through this sieve, this attitude, that always leaves them with more or less the outcome they anticipate, primarily because they have pre-ordained it. They do not know what to do with a person who should be on their side of the divide but who fails to look at the Indian population through this filter.

In consequence of this attitude, any Indian who does not fit the mold is suspect. Any Indian who does not know and keep his place is dangerous. Any Indian who cannot see that the color of his skin excludes him from a higher society must be taught the finer lessons of societal behavior. Which brings us to Ronald Merrick, a small-minded man who holds a position of too much authority and with too much power and does not hesitate to abuse it or the people who are put in his path. The heightened tensions of the time allow him the latitude he needs to take a very personal revenge on a woman whom he feels has spurned him in favor of an inferior, and a man for whom he has only contempt.

This might be the story of the physical rape of Daphne Manners, but it is as much the story of the emotional rape of Hari Kumar. He is subjected to a kind of demoralization and dehumanization that makes a person weep in despair for all of mankind. At one point in the novel he states that he has become invisible, and he is right that the true self, the individual who is really Harry Coomer (the name he used in England all of his first eighteen years of life), can no longer be seen by anyone beneath the forced personae of Hari Kumar. In his lonely, isolated existence, in which he belongs to neither side of the society--not English because his skin is the wrong color, not Indian because his upbringing and exposures make him foreign--he finds Daphne Manners, a person who sees Harry Kumar, the whole person, both the Indian and the English reality. For Daphne, Harry is real, he is visible.

Kumar was a man who felt in the end he had lost everything, even his Englishness, and could then only meet every situation--even the most painful--in silence, in the hope that out of it he would dredge back up some self-respect.

It hurt me to think that Harry felt the need to gather his self-respect. He had done nothing to deserve the loss of it in the first place. The fact that he was anything but proud of himself was a result of the demeaning reactions of those around him, but in a society that was this constricted, knowing your place was difficult for even those who were raised in full knowledge of their station.

During the English Raj, there were two Indias. They existed side-by-side and they required contact, but there was no tolerance for intermingling them and most of the British population thought of the Indians as a lower species of being, undeserving of their attentions. For those Indians who did achieve some status in government or business, the general attitude was that they should be grateful and remember precisely where the invisible line was drawn. The truly accepting and open officials, such as Daphne’s Aunt Ethel and Uncle Henry, were rare.

The Jewel in the Crown is an impressive and important work. Scott manages to bring India to life in a physical as well as a spiritual sense. He paints scenes that swelter, you can smell the stench of the waste in the river, you can picture the long verandah of The MacGregor House and the lush and overgrown remains of the Bibighar Gardens, smell the fetid breath of the beggars and the acrid smoke of the cheap cigarettes. He is just as facile in painting emotional territory. It was easy to feel the confusion, distress, unhappiness, humiliation, condescension, and momentary joys of his characters.

Perhaps this is why Mayapore had got bigger but made me smaller, because my association with Hari--the one thing that was beginning to make me feel like a person again--was hedged about, restricted, pressed in on until only by making yourself tiny could you squeeze into it and stand, imprisoned but free, diminished by everything that loomed from outside, but not diminished from the inside; and that was the point, that’s why I speak of joy.

I am looking forward to reading the next novel in this series that make up the Raj Quartet. With all the novels and movies I have seen that dealt with this time period, this one stands out as the first time I have felt that India was at my fingertips in all her guises and with all her glories and flaws.
( )
1 voter mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
This takes place at around the time India became independent of the British Empire. It deals with racial issues in a relatively sensitive way. I lot of cultural color from that era. It involves the early 40s when England was still deep in WW II. It is part of a 4 book sequence called The Raj. I suspect it will take me a while to work my way through the series.
I was in India several years ago and had a fascinating time there. I recognize it is a world apart from the one I live in but I have to say I found it very vibrant and energetic.
Learning more about India always seems worthwhile. ( )
  waldhaus1 | Feb 20, 2022 |
"There's a difference between trying to stop an injustice and obstructing justice."

Set in 1942, shortly after the collapse of British Burma and the Japanese forces threatening other British colonies in the east, 'The Jewel in the Crown' is the first book in Scott's Raj quartet which cover the final decline of the British Raj in India. The novel features such hefty issues as racism, class and colonialism but revolves around one particular incident, the rape of a young English woman.

The novel is told as if the incident is being investigated years later from the point of view of a number of characters and times using a variety of forms, from diaries and letters to interviews which allows the author to cover a number of topics such as the war, the independence movement and various social, political and religious concerns of the time without the reader being sidetracked by too much extraneous plot.

Using a sexual assault to explore themes of race and class is nothing new, in fact it had already been done within a colonial Indian context in 'A Passage to India' as well as more modern classics like 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. However, what I found the most interesting aspect of this book was the tale of Hari. In an age where migration seems to have become the norm I found his experiences thought provoking. How are we altered, even benignly, when we move to another country and would we or our offspring be ever able to resettle back in their home nation? Or is it simply a matter of the age we are when we do it? My own brother has lived in Germany for over thirty years (not as varied as Britain and India I realise) but was left wondering just how he would manage if he moved back and would his children be able to do so? Equally is his presence in the country having any affects on the natives that he comes into contact with?

This is not an easy read by any means. Some of the topics are difficult and uncomfortable reading, Britain doesn't come out of it very well as you would expect, but I also feel that at times it was rather over-blown (there are a lot of brackets) and could have done with some judicious editing. However, I still feel that it is worth tackling and as such am moving on to the next in the series. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Oct 29, 2020 |
At a couple points I really thought of giving up on the book--up until about halfway through. There were a couple sections in the first half that kept me going, but it was a bit of a chore. There just isn't much that happens in the story. One saving grace that kept me going was that it did seem to portray accurately (at least from what I know of that time period) what was happening between the British and Indians during the Raj. Also, in the second half of the book I was intrigued by what had actually happened in the rape of Miss Manners. If you are willing to slog through some really cumbersome reading, you can find a pretty good story. ( )
  ChuckRinn | Oct 4, 2020 |
If the violent act in Bibighar Gardens is the focus and fulcrum of this novel, Scott is determined to explore every tiny root deep into the soil of personal histories. And that is both the strength and the weakness of the novel. Strength because there is great power in the way in which the various threads finally pull together. Weakness because of the slow pace and lack of narrative coherence in the earlier part of the book. In the end, the strengths far outweigh the weaknesses. 9 February 2020 ( )
  alanca | Feb 12, 2020 |
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Paul Scottauteur principaltoutes les éditionscalculé
Dastor, SamNarrateurauteur secondairequelques éditionsconfirmé
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Imagine, then, a flat landscape, dark for the moment, but even so conveying to a girl running in the still deeper shadow cast by the wall of the Bibighar Gardens an idea of immensity, of distance, such as years before Miss Crane had been conscious of standing where a lane ended and cultivation began: a different landscape but also in the alluvial plain between the mountains of the north and the plateau of the south.
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