Mary Margaret (‘Mollie’) Kaye (21 August 1908 – 29 January 2004) was a British writer. Her most famous book is The Far Pavilions (1978).
M. M. Kaye was born in Simla, British India, the elder daughter and one of three children born to Sir Cecil Kaye and his wife Margaret Sarah Bryson. Cecil Kaye was an intelligence officer in the Indian Army; and M. M. Kaye’s grandfather, brother and husband all served the British Raj: her grandfather’s cousin, Sir John Kaye, wrote the standard accounts of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the First Afghan War. At age ten Mollie Kaye – as M. M. Kaye was known – was sent to England to attend boarding school, subsequently studying children’s book illustration earning money by designing Christmas cards. In 1926 she briefly returned to live with her family in India but after her father’s death Kaye, displeased by her mother’s pressure to find a junior officer to marry, returned to England living in London on a small pension based on her late father’s army career augmented first by earnings from illustrating children’s books, and from 1937 from the publication of children’s books written by Kaye herself. Kaye’s first adult novel: Six Bars at Seven, was published in 1940, being a thriller which Kaye was moved to write by regularly reading books of that type from the Fourpenny Library: (quote) “Most of the stuff I was reading was total rubbish, and I used to think I couldn’t write worse. So I sat down and wrote one.”
The £64 she received for Six Bars at Seven enabled Kaye to return to Simla, where she lived with her married sister Dorothy Elizabeth Pardey. In June 1941 Kaye met her future husband: British Indian Army officer Godfrey John Hamilton, four years her junior, who reportedly proposed to Kaye on five days acquaintance. Kaye was pregnant with the couple’s second child when she and Hamilton were able to marry on Armistice Day 1945, Hamilton’s first marriage having by then been dissolved, and following her second child’s 1946 birth Kaye returned to writing. (Hamilton’s first wife Mary Penelope Colthurst lived in Ireland with the couple’s daughter. Kaye would later state of her affair with Hamilton: “We just couldn’t wait. Had it been peacetime, I wouldn’t have done it because of the way I had been brought up. But these were the pressures of war.”) Subsequent to the 1947 dissolution of the British India Army attendant on India’s achieving home rule, Hamilton had transferred to the British army where his career necessitated he and his family relocate twenty-seven times over the next nineteen years, with Kaye utilizing several of these locales in a series of crime novels which inaugurated the utilization of the pen name M. M. Kaye, the writer’s previous published works having been credited to Mollie Kaye. Kaye’s literary agent was Paul Scott who had been an army officer in India and who would find fame as author of the Raj Quartet. It was with Scott’s encouragement that Kaye wrote her first historical epic of India Shadow of the Moon published in 1957. The focal background of Shadow of the Moon is the Sepoy Mutiny with which Kaye had been familiarized via stories heard as a child from her family’s native servants, this early interest being reinforced in the mid-1950s when Kaye on a visit to friends in India chanced on some transcripts of trials attendant on the Sepoy Mutiny in a shed on her friends’ property. Kaye would later state her displeasure over the original published version of Shadow of the Moon being edited without her knowledge, with sections focused on action rather than romance being largely deleted.
Kaye’s second historical novel Trade Wind was published in 1963 which year Kaye, inspired by a visit to India, planned to commence work on an epic novel with the Second Anglo-Afghan War as its background: however she was diagnosed with lung cancer – a prognosis later changed to lymphosarcoma – and enervated by chemotherapy was unable to write until back in good health, with a resultant delay in the commencement of Kaye’s writing her masterwork: The Far Pavilions, until 1967, which year Kaye and the newly retired Hamilton became longtime residents of the Sussex hamlet of Boreham Street. Published in 1978, The Far Pavilions became a worldwide best-seller on publication in 1978 causing successful republication of Shadow of the Moon (with the previously deleted sections restored) and Trade Wind, and also Kaye’s crime novels. Kaye also wrote and illustrated The Ordinary Princess, a children’s book (called “refreshingly unsentimental” by an article in Horn Book Magazine) which she originally wrote as a short story, and wrote a half a dozen detective novels, including Death in Kashmir and Death in Zanzibar. Her autobiography has been published in three volumes, collectively entitled Share of Summer: The Sun in the Morning, Golden Afternoon, and Enchanted Evening. In March 2003, M. M. Kaye was awarded the Colonel James Tod International Award by the Maharana Mewar Foundation of Udaipur, Rajasthan, for her “contribution of permanent value reflecting the spirit and values of Mewar“.
Widowed in 1985, Kaye lived with her sister in a wing of Kaye’s older daughter’s house in Hampshire from 1987: Kaye relocated to Suffolk in 2001 and was residing in Lavenham at the time of her 29 January 2004 death at age 95. At sunset on 4 March 2006 Kaye’s ashes were scattered over the waters from a boat in the middle of Lake Pichola, a duty performed by Michael Ward, producer of the West End musical version of The Far Pavilions, and his wife Elaine.
Books in order of publication by series:
- Potter Pinner Meadow 1937 – writing as Mollie Kaye, illustrated by Margaret Tempest
- Black Bramble Wood 1938 – writing as Mollie Kaye, illustrated by Margaret Tempest
- Willow Witches Brook 1944 – writing as Mollie Kaye, illustrated by Margaret Tempest
- Gold Gorse Common 1945 – writing as Mollie Kaye, illustrated by Margaret Tempest
- The Ordinary Princess 1980 – written and illustrated by M M Kaye
- Thistledown 1981 – written and illustrated by M M Kaye
Autobiography: Share of Summer
- Part 1: The Sun In The Morning 1990
- Part 2: Golden Afternoon 1997
- Part 3: Enchanted Evening 1999
Suspense novels: The Death in… Series
- Death in Kashmir (originally published as Death Walked in Kashmir – 1953) 1984
- Death in Berlin (originally published as Death Walked in Berlin – 1955) 1985
- Death in Cyprus (originally published as Death Walked in Cyprus – 1956) 1984
- Death in Kenya (originally published as Later Than You Think – 1958, and It’s Later Than You Think – 1960) 1983
- Death in Zanzibar (originally published as The House of Shade – 1959) 1983
- Death in the Andamans (originally published as Night on the Island – 1960) 1985
- House of Shade (omnibus edition of Death in Zanzibar/ Death in the Andamans/ Death in Kashmir) 1993
- Six Bars at Seven 1940 – writing as Mollie Kaye **M M Kaye’s first novel**
- Strange Island 1944 – writing as Mollie Kaye (original version of Night on the Island)
- Wound of Spring 1961, unpublished
- Far Pavilions Picture Book 1979