The NYTimes reports that M.M. Kaye, the novelist who gave Americans a rather romanticized and, in my opinion, a parochial view of the British Raj died Thursday. She is best known for writing The Far Pavilions. A television series by the same title, in 1984, brought her worldwide attention.
M. M. Kaye, 95, Novelist Who Evoked Raj, Dies
By WOLFGANG SAXON
Published: February 5, 2004
M. M. Kaye, the British writer and illustrator, who wrote “The Far Pavilions,” a luxuriant evocation of her upbringing in the India of the British Raj, died last Thursday. She was 95 and lived in Suffolk, England.
Her death was announced Tuesday by her New York agents, Harold Ober Associates.
Mary Margaret Kaye — or Mrs. Hamilton, as she was also known — started a moderately successful writing career in the late 1930’s. She had filled a medium-size bookshelf with children’s books, novels and mysteries before she published her blockbuster of a historical romance in 1978.
“The Far Pavilions,” published in the United States by St. Martin’s Press, was an immediate best seller. Set at the zenith of Britain’s Indian Empire and covering a period from roughly 1885 to 1920, it led to a television mini-series in 1984, sold millions of copies around the world and remains in print, as do a dozen of her other books.
Using her nickname Mollie Kaye, she wrote stories for younger readers, like her “Potter Pinner” series (1937-41), and “Black Bramble Wood” (1938). Some of her other books were ascribed to Mollie Hamilton.
She had written two earlier historical romances of lesser renown, “Shadow of the Moon” (1956) and “Trade Wind” (1963). The first dramatized events of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 as witnessed by an orphaned Anglo-Spanish heiress sent to India to marry. “Trade Wind,” set in Zanzibar, similarly tells a story of conflicting cultures.
“Far Pavilions,” nearly 1,000 pages long, was written over about 16 years and relived a world of the viceroys and maharajahs that its author knew well. She was born in Simla, summer residence of the British viceroy. Her father, Sir Cecil Kaye, was titular head of an Indian state, Rajputana. Her husband, Maj. Gen. Goff Hamilton, served with Queen Victoria’s Own Corps of Guides, as had his father.
She started the book in 1964, but it had barely reached three chapters, when a diagnosis of cancer stopped her. She picked it up four years later, upon her husband’s retirement, and kept writing and doing the research for it in England while fighting her illness.
The result has been compared by some to the Civil War epic “Gone With the Wind.” She said she “just let the book take over and write itself.” It surprised her, she said, when Thomas McCormack, president of St. Martin’s Press, acquired the manuscript without cuts.
Her other work thrived as well, thanks to the fame of “The Far Pavilions.” She had written many detective and mystery novels, beginning with “Death Walked in Kashmir” (1953) and continuing into the mid-1990’s. The settings of the books shifted with her husband’s postings, from Berlin to Cyprus to Kenya. They, too, remain in print.
In “The Far Pavilions,” passions, intrigue and narrow escapes involve concubines, dashing heroes and princesses. Its television adaptation, presented in installments, starred Ben Cross and Amy Irving and featured Omar Sharif, Christopher Lee and John Gielgud.
Miss Kaye edited several volumes of poetry by Rudyard Kipling and wrote an autobiographical trilogy, “The Sun in the Morning: My Early Years in India and England” (St. Martin’s, 1990), “Golden Afternoon” (St. Martin’s, 1998), and “Enchanted Evening” (Viking, 1999). All remain in print.
General Hamilton died in 1985. They had two daughters, Carolyn and Nicky, who survive, according to The Telegraph of London, as does a stepdaughter. Speaking of pseudonyms as a writer’s alter egos, Miss Kaye told Herbert Mitgang of The New York Times in 1978, “If you’re writing about rabbits, readers might not take you seriously with a large historical romance under the same name.”