Obituary: Rudolf Nassauer

Peter Owen
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:47

Rudolf Nassauer was an underrated writer whose most important work, The Hooligan, the first in-depth analysis of Nazi psychology, became a Sixties cult book.

He was born in Frankfurt in 1924 into a prosperous family of Jewish wine merchants. After Kristallnacht, on 9-10 November 1938, his father and sister fled to London, leaving the young Rudi and his mother to settle their affairs. Frau Nassauer was unacquainted with business, and the adolescent Rudi had to deal with the Nazis on the family's behalf.

Shortly afterwards, he and his mother also came to England. Rudi had to learn English in order to complete his education, which he did at St Paul's School. While it was always his ambition to become a writer, he entered the family wine business, Nassauer Bros, which, after the war, specialised in German wines.

In 1947 he married Bernice Rubens. Together they cultivat-ed the friendship of writers and intellectuals, many of them their neighbours in Hampstead. Among these were Elias Canetti, Peter Vansittart and Angus Wilson. During this period, while continuing to work as a wine merchant, Nassauer wrote in his spare time. In the late 1950s, the manuscript of his first novel, The Hooligan, on which he had worked for 10 years, was submitted to publishers. After numerous rejections, it was shown to me. I accepted it at once and it was published in 1960.

It was launched to a fanfare of praise: Iris Murdoch called it "a most distinguished and important book", Elias Canetti found in it "the first presentation of a Nazi that belongs to literature . . . every page is as profound as it is exciting". The Hooligan quickly went to a second edition and was later translated into German and Italian. It was followed by The Cuckoo in 1962, a painful dissection of a failing marital relationship.

Had his German education not been interrupted, Nassauer might well have become a major European writer. As it was, forced to adjust to writing English, he never really fulfilled his promise. Apart from The Hooligan, his most significant work was his last, Kramer's Goats (1986), in which he returned to a dissection of his European roots.

After Bernice's debut as a writer in 1960, and her winning the Booker Prize with The Elected Member (1969), some rivalry occurred between herself and Rudi, and they eventually divorced, although they remained "best friends".

After the death of his father in the 1960s, Nassauer continued to run the family wine business until it collapsed some years later. Subsequently he became a director of the wine merchants Ehrmann's, where he worked until retiring in 1991. He was also very interested in modern art, and acted as patron to a number of young artists, becoming a close friend of the painter Paula Rego.

Rudolf Nassauer, writer and wine merchant: born Frankfurt 8 November 1924; married 1947 Bernice Rubens (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved); died London 5 December 1996.

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