Bernice Rubens 192?–
Welsh novelist and filmmaker.
A distinguished writer who has experimented with style in many of her novels, Rubens has maintained compassion for victims of emotional suffering throughout her fiction. Among the issues Rubens examines are the conflicts in personal relationships and the destructiveness of loneliness. Although most of her themes are pessimistic, Rubens infuses her best works with humor and irony.
In her first four novels Rubens drew on her ethnic background to delineate the inner struggles of Jewish family life. Set on Edge (1960), Rubens's first novel, details the ways in which the members of the Sperber family exploit and hurt each other. Many of the concerns of her early fiction are integrated in The Elected Member (1969; published in the United States as Chosen People), often called Rubens's most accomplished novel. In this work, a Jewish family disintegrates under the pressure of its various problems. Although the themes of these novels are of universal import, the significance of Rubens's families lies in the closeness of her characters and in the compassion she shows toward their plight. Critics find especially praiseworthy Rubens's realistic protagonists and her use of black humor, which balances the pervading bleakness of her work. Rubens won the Booker Prize for The Elected Member.
Sunday Best (1971) was Rubens's first novel not primarily concerned with Jewish characters. It is the story of a transvestite forced by a series of scandals to face his unpleasant childhood. In this work, as in all of her fiction during the 1970s, Rubens experimented with perspective. Her darkest novel, Spring Sonata (1979), centers on a four-year-old child who refuses to be born; when he becomes aware of the pain in the exterior world, he cuts his umbilical cord. Birds of Passage (1981), the story of a group of passengers on a cruise ship, was praised for its insights into the lives of its lonely, disaffected protagonists. Although some critics faulted the novel for its inadequate development of character, most agreed that Rubens was skillful in her selection of detail.
In her recent novel Brothers (1983) Rubens again focuses on the Jewish family. In this work she traces the fortunes of several generations of brothers from 1835 to the present. Also included are historical accounts of European anti-Semitism.
(See also CLC, Vol. 19; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 14.)