Stern, G.B. (1890–1973)

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Stern, G.B. (1890–1973)

English novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. Name variations: Gladys Bronwyn Stern; Gladys Bertha Stern. Born Gladys Bertha Stern on June 17, 1890, in London, England; died on September 19, 1973; daughter of Albert Stern (a gem dealer) and Elizabeth (Schwabacher) Stern; educated in Germany and Switzerland; spent two years at the Academy of Dramatic Art; married Geoffrey Lisle Holdsworth (a journalist from New Zealand), in 1919 (divorced).

Author of over 40 novels; best known for a multi-volume saga of the Jewish family Rakonitz, based on her own family, collected as The Rakonitz Chronicles (1932) and The Matriarch Chronicles (1936).

G.B. Stern was born in London in 1890, the second daughter of Albert and Elizabeth Stern . Her family was Jewish and involved in the gem business in London. However, when Stern was 14 years old, her family suffered financial ruin in an economic crash, and the remainder of her youth was spent in continuous relocation. She was 16 when she left high school to travel with her parents in Germany and in Switzerland, where she also studied, including two years at the Academy of Dramatic Art. In her autobiographical reminiscences, Stern recalled those years of moving frequently among apartments, boarding rooms, and hotels, and being unable to celebrate consecutive holidays in the same place. This pattern would continue into her adult life as she periodically resided in Cornwall, Italy, New York, and Hollywood.

As a child, Stern preferred the name Bronwyn to Bertha, and at the age of seven wrote her first play, which was produced in the family's billiard room. At 17, she penned her earliest published poem, which was accepted by the first magazine to which it was submitted, and, at 20, she wrote Pantomime, her first novel. However, it was Twos and Threes, her second novel, that brought Stern to the attention of critics and readers in 1916. From then on, her novels appeared every two or three years in regular succession, with several reprinted in the United States. She was much appreciated by her contemporaries, among them W. Somerset Maugham.

Stern's five novels about the wealthy Jewish family Rakonitz brought her lasting literary recognition. Loosely based upon Stern's own family, it is a multi-generational saga that begins in the late 19th century and moves forward into the 1940s. Children of No Man's Land, the first book in the series, appeared in 1919. The second book, Tents of Israel, which Stern dedicated to John Galsworthy in recognition of the influence of his Forsyte Saga upon her own work, was published in 1924 and reissued in 1948 as The Matriarch. This was followed by A Deputy Was King in 1926, Mosaic in 1930, Shining and Free in 1935, and The Young Matriarch in 1942. The novels were collectively published as The Rakonitz Chronicles in 1932, and The Matriarch Chronicles in 1936. A 1929 stage version of the first two of the "matriarch" novels starred Mrs. Patrick Campbell . The oppressive matriarch of the series was based on Stern's great-aunt, Anastasia Schwabacher , who lived to the age of 90 and who, according to Joanne Shattock , was upset with her portrayal and was "looking for Gladys with a gun" when the first novel was published. Stern herself was Toni, the young matriarch of the final volume in the series.

Stern also wrote several plays, a book about Robert Louis Stevenson, and co-wrote with Sheila Kaye-Smith two books on Jane Austen . Her autobiographical memoirs include Monogram (1936), Another Part of the Forest (1941), Trumpet Voluntary (1944), Benefits Forgot (1949), and A Name to Conjure With (1953). In 1954, Stern chronicled her conversion to Catholicism in 1947 in All in Good Time.

Stern met the man who would become her husband, Geoffrey Lisle Holdsworth, a New Zealand journalist, through their mutual friend Noel Coward who had provided him with some of Stern's writings. They were married in 1919 but were later divorced. She died in 1973.


Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. Twentieth Century Authors: A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Martha Jones , M.L.S., Natick, Massachusetts