The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott

The Jewel in the CrownThe Jewel in the Crown
by Paul Scott
Rating: ★★★★
Series: The Raj Quartet #1
Publication Date: January 1, 1996
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Pages: 472
ReRead?: No
Project: Mt. TBR 2022

India 1942: everything is in flux. World War II has shown that the British are not invincible and the self-rule lobby is gaining many supporters. Against this background, Daphne Manners, a young English girl, is brutally raped in the Bibighat Gardens. The racism, brutality and hatred launched upon the head of her young Indian lover echo the dreadful violence perpetrated on Daphne and reveal the desperate state of Anglo-Indian relations.

The rift that will eventually prise India - the jewel in the Imperial Crown - from colonial rule is beginning to gape wide.

The Day of the ScorpionThe Day of the Scorpion
by Paul Scott
Rating: ★★★★
Series: The Raj Quartet #2
Publication Date: January 1, 1968
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Pages: 493
ReRead?: No
Project: Mt. TBR 2022

In "The Day of the Scorpion," Scott draws us deeper in to his epic of India at the close of World War II. With force and subtlety, he recreates both private ambition and perversity, and the politics of an entire subcontinent at a turning point in history.

As the scorpion, encircled by a ring of fire, will sting itself to death, so does the British raj hasten its own destruction when threatened by the flames of Indian independence. Brutal repression and imprisonment of India's leaders cannot still the cry for home rule. And in the midst of chaos, the English Laytons withdraw from a world they no longer know to seek solace in denial, drink, and madness.

The Towers of SilenceThe Towers of Silence
by Paul Scott
Rating: ★★★★
Series: The Raj Quartet #3
Publication Date: January 1, 1971
Genre: fiction, historical fiction
Pages: 399
ReRead?: No
Project: Mt. TBR 2022

India, 1943: In a regimental hill station, the ladies of Pankot struggle to preserve the genteel façade of British society amid the debris of a vanishing empire and World War II. A retired missionary, Barbara Batchelor, bears witness to the connections between many human dramas; the love between Daphne Manner and Hari Kumar; the desperate grief an old teacher feels for an India she cannot rescue; and the cruelty of Captain Ronald Merrick.

A Division of the SpoilsA Division of the Spoils
by Paul Scott
Rating: ★★★★★
Series: The Raj Quartet #4
Publication Date: January 1, 1975
Genre: historical fiction
Pages: 623
ReRead?: No
Project: Mt. TBR 2022

After exploiting India's divisions for years, the British depart in such haste that no one is prepared for the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1947. The twilight of the raj turns bloody. Against the backdrop of the violent partition of India and Pakistan, A Division of the Spoils illuminates one last bittersweet romance, revealing the divided loyalties of the British as they flee, retreat from, or cling to India.

I started this quartet of books on May 9 and finished the fourth book, A Division of the Spoils, two months later on July 9. When I pulled the first book, A Jewel in the Crown, off of my TBR cart to begin reading, I found the receipt from my purchase of the quartet. I bought the four matching fat paperbacks (not the editions I used for the review information – mine all have the same cover and they are pretty ugly, actually. I think they may be a tie-in for the 1984 BBC television series which I have not seen) from a UBS in 2013. The total length of the quartet is in the neighborhood of 2000 pages. There is also, actually, a Booker Prize winning 5th novel, which isn’t part of the quartet, but which is nominally attached to the first four books and which focuses on a married couple who stay in India after independence, called Staying On.

The series starts, in the first book, with the triangular relationship between a British woman, Daphne Mannering, an Indian man who was educated in England, Hari Kumar, and a British police officer, Ronald Merrick. This relationship doesn’t just inform the first book, it provides a thread, a through-line, for the entire series. Daphne falls in love with Hari Kumar (or Harry Coomer, as his name is Anglicized during the years of his education). They embark on a relationship which proves the downfall of both of them, both at the hands of their culture(s), generally, and, more directly in the case of Hari, at the hands of Ronald Merrick.

Scott may have been taking his cues from E.M. Forster, because in this first book, like in A Passage to India, the rape of an English woman, Daphne, provides the central event of the book. And, ultimately, of the quartet itself, which becomes, in a way, a forensic examination of the crime, as a way of explaining the end of colonialism in India. Multiple POV’s are employed by Scott, both first person and third person. The Jewel in the Crown deals with Edwina Crane, a missionary/educator; Daphne herself, Hari himself, and Ronald Merrick, who becomes the central antagonist of the entire quarter.

In the second book, The Day of the Scorpion, the analysis transfers from Daphne and Hari to the Layton family, and especially Sarah Layton, as well as Nigel Rowan, a British Army Captain, and Mohammed Ali Kasim, a principled Indian politician and Muslim man. The book continues to analyze the Bibighar Affair (as the rape is called), and Hari Kumar is allowed to tell his own story, through an interview with Nigel Rowan, that is one of the great elements of the entire series. The Bibighar Affair has far reaching implications, but those implications treat Daphne and Hari, the individuals at the center of it, as almost beside the point. We hear little from Daphne once the rape investigation concludes; Hari remains the object of the controversy, and neither of them have more than nominal opportunities to speak for themselves.

In the third book, The Towers of Silence, the POV changes again, and most of the time is spent with an elderly spinster, Barbara Batchelor, who makes her home with Sarah Layton’s aunt Mabel, until Mabel’s death. Scott continues to depict the crumbling of the British raj, through the characters through whom he has chosen to tell his story. The final book, A Division of the Spoils, is the end of the Raj. The characters are, finally, making their arrangements for what the future of India will look like, after the partition, and where they will live out their days. Some characters are planning to return to England, a place that is more foreign to them than India in many ways, the Indian characters, variously Hindu and Muslim, are trying to figure out what their future looks like under self-rule. This is the longest of the books, and provides a satisfying and compelling end to Scott’s story.

I have not yet read Staying On, although it’s on its way to me from the library. It was not part of my set of books, and is quite short in comparison to the others.

Overall, this is a remarkable work of scope and power. It is not a quick read – it took me 2 months to finish, and I needed, during that time, to empty my brain with a fair number of lightweight and fluffy thrillers as I read the 2,000 pages. I am, at this point, making space on my bookshelves for these four books forever. I am not yet ready to dive back in, but I feel that these are the types of books that are even better the second time around, because knowing where Scott is going will help me better understand the journey to get there.

Highly recommended.


  1. I read these eons ago but really enjoyed them, too. I am wondering how I’d find them after all my diverse and anti-colonial reading, although I think I remember Scott shows a variety of reactions to the Indian locals through his characters. I really enjoyed Moving On, too, though feel I read that too long after the original quartet, so you’re doing the right thing getting onto it soon!

    1. The characters definitely have a colonial perspective, although I don’t get the impression that Scott is weighing in approvingly on his character’s perspectives. It was such a detailed series of books that it really does feel almost like a dispassionate, forensic examination of the characters. Like, they are butterflies pinned to a card and he is staring at them under a microscope.

      That felt like genius, to me. I’ve never seen a series of books do quite what this did, looking at a single crime from all different angles/facets.

      Do you have any recommendations for other books about this same time period, but which are written from the perspective of the Hindus/Muslim who were really at the center of the conflict?

      1. Yes, I remember that, very interestingly done. Vikram Seth’s A suitable Boy is set just post-Partition, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children starts at the moment of Partition. Atia Hosain’s Sunlight on a Broken Column looks at a woman’s struggle at the time of Independence. Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines traces the diaspora. Hope that helps!

        1. I have a copy of Midnight’s Children on my TBR cart, actually. It’s been on my shelf for a long time. I remember when A Suitable Boy was published – a lot of my friends raved about it. It’s a gigantic book, but now that it’s available on kindle, maybe I’ll read it. I love “real” books, but when they are 1500 pages, they are hard to manage! I just took a quick peek at it on Amazon, & it’s free with the Kindle Unlimited library right now. Woohoo! I’ll check out the other two, as well.

  2. I read the first book a few years ago via audio and really enjoyed it, but it took a really long time. I don’t know why I never picked up the second, I guess I just lost momentum. I’ve since found the last three in paperback (probably the same TV tie-in editions!) on the giveaway cart at the library, so naturally I snatched them up and they’ve remained untouched ever since. Thanks for reminding me how much I liked the first book, you’ve inspired me to dig them out and finish the series.

  3. These books saved my sanity during one of my years in Peace Corps in Malawi in 89-91. No tv, little radio. Nothing but a very, very long evening. Later, while unemployed back home, I discovered the tv version. I devoured it too. Loved it. Not that I’m saying “Yeah! Colonialism” (I’m not–heck I was in Peace Corps!) just it was an exceptionally well told story.

    1. Thank you for your comment Lisa – somehow I missed it.

      I haven’t seen the television series. I’m going to make a point to see if it’s available anywhere because I’d like to watch it.

  4. I read this series back in the late 1980s, and when I saw the entire series of paperbacks for sale for one dollar at a charity shop last summer, I decided it was time to re-read it. It’s up next on my reading list!

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