Obituary: Robert Rubens
Wednesday 28 January 1998
Robert Rubens, who published six novels between 1964 and 1990, wrote of what he knew. As a young man in the 1960s, of great good looks, intellectual ability, and a certain degree of wealth, he had cut a swathe through the hearts of fashionable and literary London. In his last years, living in a tiny but exquisite room in Pimlico, he memorialised the society he had known in a vast roman-fleuve, which is as yet unpublished.
Rubens was an American and, moreover, a Philadelphian. He felt that the city where he was brought up, with its rigid social mores, had marked him - perhaps destroyed him. In the manner of a latter-day Henry James, his heart was set on Europe from an early age, and in later years there was no trace in his accent of his origins.
He arrived in London in 1961. He worked in a school and in a bookshop, and then as an assistant editor at the Transatlantic Review, founded by the millionaire Joe McCrindle to publish the best in contemporary writing. Rubens's first novel, The Operator, published in 1964, reveals in lightly coded form what came next.
His two principal female characters were based on leading novelists of the day; among male writers who knew him was Lord Kinross; and he ghosted the memoirs of the dancer and choreographer Leonide Massine, My Life in Ballet (1968). Rubens began giving parties in his new flat in west London, and by his fireplace one warm summer night Angus Wilson, Muriel Spark and Doris Lessing all met for the first time.
Rubens always insisted that his happiest period was in the 1970s and 1980s. He worked for a period for Sotheby's book department in New York, and returned briefly to Philadelphia, but the early 1970s saw him established back in London, where he continued to give fabulous parties. He lived for a time in Majorca, and in 1993 returned to London for good.
His second novel, The Cosway Miniature, was published in 1980, and serialised on Radio 4. Only after A Night at the Odeon (1981), Artist Unknown (1985) and Shadow Between Us (1987), in North of the Park (1990), does a darkening of tone begin, which is continued in the novel sequence of his last years.
I first met Robert Rubens soon after his return to London in 1993. Initially, I found him rather formidable; he could certainly be a tease. Only after he had been diagnosed with cancer in July 1997 did I discover fully what sort of person he was: fantastically brave, endlessly optimistic and interested in others, fundamentally good.
elephant appealPrince William signs up for our charity appeal
arts + entsThere were towering ideas, some scintillating performances and revelatory grooves... our writers pick out their personal highlights
peoplePrepare to be entranced by worms as the molecular biologist gets ready to give the Royal Institution science lectures
elephant appealSo says man jailed for cutting off dead elephant's tusks
booksWe examine the best titles for teens
voicesPeople moan that Christmas is too commercial, the spirit lost. But it is a time to over-indulge, and always has been, says DJ Taylor
scienceResearchers teach border collie to understand sentences using more than 1,000 words
booksA Christmas story in six parts
travelWill high-value tourism help the artisan workshops of this Renaissance city?
food + drinkA trifle without custard? Surely not! Nonsense – and here’s three to finish your festive meal that prove it
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe over immigration
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
Scientists ‘incredibly concerned’ for fate of banana as plagues and fungus infections spread across world’s supplies
- 1 Tim Sherwood challenges Daniel Levy to set out vision for Tottenham Hotspur’s future
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 #Teamnigella: It’s the only side to be on
- 5 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- < Previous
- Next >
£40000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits : Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer (WPF...
£45000 - £65000 per annum + London: Harrington Starr: Senior Automation QA Eng...
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Year 6 Teacher - Gilli...
Negotiable: Capita Education Resourcing Permanent Team: Teacher of English - S...