1 minute read

Bernice Rubens (Bernice Ruth Rubens) Biography

(1928–2004), (Bernice Ruth Rubens), Set on Edge, Madame Sousatzka, Mate in Three, The Elected Member

British novelist, born in Cardiff, educated at University College, Cardiff. She taught English at a boy's grammar school in Birmingham, and subsequently worked as a documentary film writer and director for the United Nations and other organizations. Her first novel, Set on Edge (1960), displayed the elements of outrageous comedy and keen observation of the family unit which emerge in different combinations in much of her subsequent work; like Madame Sousatzka (1962) and Mate in Three (1965), it is an explicitly Jewish novel, exploring the particular idiosyncrasies of the Jewish character and family and their potentially tragic repercussions. Her fourth novel, The Elected Member (1969; Booker Prize), inspired by the work of R. D. Laing, is a searingly honest examination of the emotional damage caused by a Jewish matriarch's exaggerated expectations of her family, and showed that Rubens was as much at home in the psyche as the sitting room. Rubens stepped outside the claustrophobic Jewish household in her next novel, Sunday Best (1971), a suspense story whose central character is a transvestite, yet she continued to focus on airless settings which allow examination of intense relationships: the expatriate community of The Ponsonby Post (1977), and the passengers on a cruise in Birds of Passage (1981). She took a much broader canvas in The Brothers (1983), tracing six generations of a Jewish family and their survival through hundreds of years of antagonism and racial hatred. Rubens's narratives are written in a precise, straightforward style which accommodates her extremes of imagination and quirky humour. Her books are not descriptive of appearances, and the colour of surfaces is replaced in her fiction by brilliant flights of fancy which can invent a fiddle-playing foetus in Spring Sonata (1979) and a Deity who leaves messages on an answering machine in Our Father (1987). Other works include A Solitary Grief (1991); Mother Russia (1992), a historical saga; and Autobiopsy (1993). In Yesterday in the Back Lane (1995), an elderly woman reflects on her past and the murder she committed at the age of seventeen when threatened with rape. Rubens also wrote for the stage and television, and two of her novels have been filmed.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: M(acha)L(ouis) Rosenthal Biography to William Sansom [Norman Trevor Sansom] Biography