One of probably the most fascinating and enigmatic novelists of the twentieth century, Bernice Rubens stays largely unknown regardless of her exceptional literary achievements. She was the second recipient of the Booker prize in 1970 for her novel The Elected Member and its first feminine winner.
She stays the one Welsh winner within the historical past of the prize – a proven fact that maybe speaks volumes for the best way Welsh writing within the English language is perceived and recognised outdoors of Wales.
Rubens was born within the working class space of Adamsdown in Cardiff in 1923, to Polish and Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. She attended the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, Cardiff (now Cardiff University), the place she obtained a BA in English in 1947. Having taught English and labored on documentary movies early on in her profession, she solely began writing on the age of 30.
Rubens went on to publish greater than 20 novels and one work of non-fiction earlier than her loss of life in 2004, however nonetheless referred to her personal writing as merely “higher than most, not so good as some”.
This wry view underplays simply how versatile her model and subject material was, nonetheless. And whereas Rubens was well-known and applauded throughout her lifetime, her work, like so many different Welsh girls, is commonly unknown outdoors of Welsh college circles, some English literature levels and extra adventurous guide golf equipment.
Some of this relates, maybe, to the truth that she by no means actually fitted into the Cardiff literary scene and was usually overshadowed by a few of her contemporaries, particularly Welsh poet, Dannie Abse.
But as a working class Welsh-Jewish author, her capability to unflinchingly discover the traumas and legacies of her personal cultural heritage makes her writing particularly memorable and haunting.
In The Elected Member, Rubens appears at how the façade of a decent Jewish household crumbles when their beloved son plunges into the depths of drug habit.
Her 1983 novel, Brothers, explores the experiences of 4 generations of a household as they face the Tsarist military in Russia within the 1830s, the 1871 Odessa pogrom in Ukraine, emigration (to each Wales and Germany) and focus camps.
The novel exemplifies the worst of human behaviour in relation to marginalised and persecuted individuals. But it additionally underlines the necessity for human connection and, finally, hope. No one who reads Brothers may stroll away from the expertise unchanged.
From a Welsh perspective, her 1975 novel, I Sent A Letter to My Love, is certainly one of Rubens’ most annoying and unusually poignant works. Set within the “one-eyed” seaside city of Porthcawl, the novel follows the struggles of single, middle-aged Amy and her disabled brother, Stan, and their shut buddy, Gwyneth, as they reside out their tedious existences.
Much of the novel’s motion revolves across the drama that ensues from Amy inserting an advert within the private column of the native newspaper below the pseudonym “Blodwyn Pugh”. Instead of receiving an awesome postbag of suitors, Amy receives a single reply –- from her brother, Stan.
Their letter writing turns into more and more sexual, till Stan begins to develop emotions for Gwyneth. This willingness to confront the quasi-incestuous nature of the siblings’ relationship (albeit unknowing, not less than on Stan’s aspect), is without doubt one of the causes Rubens’ work is so discomfiting. It refuses to be simply labelled or contained in a style or model.
The novel was later made right into a French movie, Chère Inconnue, in 1982, starring Simone Signoret and Jean Rochefort, which additionally performs on the novel’s disturbing central plot.
Overall, Rubens’ fictions are hybrid and sit between totally different cultural identities. They are unimaginable to neatly pigeonhole. Indeed, critics like Hana Sambrook have referred to the “maddening” refusal of her writing to suit neatly right into a single class.
However, this refusal to suit is strictly why Rubens is so essential. Why ought to she match neatly into any class? Why will we put a lot worth on style and elegance being so exactly categorised?
Readers as we speak will discover a lot of Rubens’ again catalogue out there second hand. But solely a single novel, I Sent A Letter to My Love, has been integrated into the Library of Wales collection from writer Parthian Books, which goals to republish vital works of traditional Welsh literature in English.
Rubens sits alongside a small handful of different girls writers within the assortment, together with Rachel Trezise, Dorothy Edwards, Hilda Vaughan and Margiad Evans.
Perhaps the best way we immortalise our personal cultural historical past in Wales is a part of the rationale why working-class girls writers equivalent to Rubens are but to succeed in a wider viewers, past the recognition of their day.
However, much more importantly in my opinion, it lies with the failure of distinguished prizes to completely recognise Welsh girls’s contribution to literary historical past. Sadly, it’s a failure that appears unlikely to be overturned any time quickly.
Michelle Deininger is a member of the Green Party.