Obituary: Robert Rubens

Robert Gilbert Rubens, novelist: born Camden, New Jersey 26 June 1937; died London 14 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a tiny but exquisite room in Pimlico, he memorialised the society he had known in a vast roman-fleuve, which is as yet unpublished.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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman