Fonds GB 0210 RUBENS - Bernice Rubens Papers

Identity area

Reference code



Bernice Rubens Papers


  • 1923-2004 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1.899 cubic metres (18 boxes).

Context area

Name of creator

Biographical history

Bernice Ruth Rubens (1923-2004) was a novelist, best known as the winner of the 1970 Booker Prize for Fiction (the first woman to win the prize) for The Elected Member, and as the winner of the 1976 Welsh Arts Council Prize for I sent a letter to my love, but she also published many other novels, short stories and articles, and worked as a teacher, a writer and director of documentary films, and a literary prize judge.

Born in Cardiff in 1923, the third child of an Orthodox Jewish father from Lithuania, she was brought up in a musical family. Her three siblings all became professional musicians, but Bernice Rubens was drawn towards literature, and married the novelist Rudolf (Rudi) Nassauer in 1947. She left Cardiff for Birmingham in 1948, but soon became disillusioned with her post as a teacher of English and French. Resolving to pursue a career in film, Rubens moved with her husband to London in 1950, where they cultivated the friendship of writers and intellectuals. Over the next two decades she worked on a number of films for organisations such as the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children, the Society for the Blind, and the United Nations. The films dealt mainly with the vulnerable and disadvantaged, particularly children, the disabled and the developing world.

After the birth of her two daughters, Sharon (b. 1952) and Rebecca (b. 1954), Rubens devoted much of her time to them, and turned to novel writing as a convenient and rewarding use of her spare time. Her first novel, Set on Edge, was published in 1960, and its success encouraged her to continue writing. Popular and critical recognition of her talent was consolidated and increased as more of her work was published, but this created tension between Rubens and Nassauer, and the marriage was dissolved in 1970.

More than twenty of Bernice Rubens's novels have been published since 1960, and a number of them have been adapted for stage and screen. Although her first four novels dealt with Jewish family life, Rubens's work as a whole is difficult to categorise, as she was drawn towards exploring and experimenting with new and often unusual ideas. Her writing is firmly rooted in her sense of Jewishness, Welshness and womanhood, but fundamentally she was concerned with the universal human problems of love, communication, identity and survival. Her principal characters are often isolated socially or emotionally, facing the consequences of loneliness, guilt, selfishness and persecution. Rubens's style has been characterised as dark tragicomedy, witty yet sombre and unadorned, with the emphasis on character rather than description, revealing a down-to-earth interest in the quirky, the ironic, the contradictory and the unpredictable.

Critical reaction to Bernice Rubens's work has sometimes been mixed, but her novels have been published all over the world and her contribution to twentieth-century English literature is widely recognised. She died in 2004.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Bloomsbury Book Auctions (acting on behalf of Bernice Rubens); London; Purchase; B2000/5

Ms Sharon Nassauer (daughter of Bernice Rubens); London; Donation; October 2010

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers, 1923-2004, of Bernice Rubens, novelist, writer, and director of documentary films, including manuscript and typescript drafts of her novels, film scripts and plays, and adaptations of them; related press cuttings, interviews and publicity material; business and personal correspondence; and her memoirs and some personal papers.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling

Action: The fonds has been appraised: details are given at the appropriate level of description..


Further accruals are possible.

System of arrangement

Arranged at NLW in two groups: 2000 Purchase; and 2010 Donation. The arrangement within files reflects Bernice Rubens's own filing system.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Readers consulting modern papers in the National Library of Wales are required to abide by the conditions set out in information provided when applying for their Readers' Tickets, whereby the reader shall become responsible for compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998 in relation to any processing by them of personal data obtained from modern records held at the Library.

Conditions governing reproduction

Normal laws of copyright apply.

Language of material

Script of material

Language and script notes

English unless otherwise specified.

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

A hard copy of the list of papers purchased in 2000 is available at NLW.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Related descriptions

Publication note

Details of publications based on papers in the archive are given at the appropriate levels of description.

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Virtua system control number


GEAC system control number


Access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Rules and/or conventions used

This description follows NLW guidelines based on ISAD(G) Second Edition; AACR2; and LCSH


Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

May 2002 and January 2014.


  • English



Archivist's note

Compiled by David Moore. The following sources were used in the compilation of this description: interviews, articles, reviews, letters and personal documents contained within the Bernice Rubens archive;

Accession area