Rubens, Bernice

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RUBENS, BERNICE (1927–2004), British novelist, film writer and director. Born in Cardiff, Rubens was educated at University College, South Wales. She taught English and from 1950 worked as a documentary film writer and director. Her first novel, Set on Edge, was published in 1960. She also published two plays, Third Party (1972) and I Sent a Letter to My Love (1979), which is based on her novel of the same title.

Rubens' first novels, Set on Edge (1960), Madame Sousatzka (1962), Mate in Three (1965), and The Elected Member (1969), are all extreme fictional versions of the author's Cardiff Jewish childhood. She has been described as a "chronicler of the frayed edge of middle-class Jewish life." In particular, the question of destructive familial expectations is a central motif in Rubens' early fiction. Spring Sonata (1979) addresses this theme from the startling viewpoint of an unborn child and I Sent a Letter to My Love (1975) is a Welsh version of this theme.

Rubens' fiction is concerned with marginal characters whose personality is often on the point of breakdown. Representative examples of this preoccupation are The Elected Member, her Booker Prize-winning novel; A Five Year Sentence (1978); Sunday Best (1980), the journal of a transvestite; and Mr. Wakefield's Crusade (1985). For the most part, Rubens avoids a gloomy pessimism – inherent in her subject matter – by dotting her fiction with welcome black humor. In later years, she reverted to an exclusively Jewish environment with the publication of Brothers (1983), an ambitious Jewish family saga. Above all, Rubens' fiction evoked with considerable power the dark underside of what passes for normal human behavior. In this way, she has challenged the cozy reality of mainstream Anglo-Jewish fiction.


J. Vinson (ed.), Contemporary Novelists (1982), 566; The Jewish Quarterly, 21, 1–2 (1973).

[Bryan Cheyette]