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A Very Private Dinner, 1912

In the year of the Titanic and the Antarctic disasters here is the handwritten menu --found among the papers of Ernest B Rubinstein, of a special meal—possibly a marriage feast—held by members of the Rubinstein and Laurance families at 42, Boundary Road, South Hampstead.

Not that remarkable you would think, although on closer inspection some of the dishes are unusually named -- 'Sole distrait a Laurance,' 'sauce Agnes', 'poires matrimonial,' 'gelee avec raisin d’etre'. If the dinner was held to mark a marriage—and 'poires matrimonial' strongly suggests this-- then it was a marriage that produced one of the most original children’s writers of the twentieth century.

That writer was Patricia Rubinstein, aka Antonia Forest (1915 – 2003 ), who was born three years after the dinner, later attended South Hampstead High School, just a few minutes walk from 42, Boundary Road, and who learned her love of literature, and particularly drama, from her stage-struck father, Ernest B. Rubinstein, whose signature heads the list of diners that appears on the reverse of the menu.

Others signatures include that of Kate Rubinstein, an Irish Protestant whose marriage to Ernest introduced her into a Jewish circle in Hampstead whose members were to contribute their signatures and messages to Patricia’s autograph book of 1924—another item found among the Rubinstein papers. Two other Rubinstein signatures on the menu were probably those of Ernest’s siblings.

It could be said that Antonia Forest guarded her privacy every bit as jealously as J. D. Salinger did his own. For most of her life she lived quietly in Bournemouth. Even her devoted fans did not know her real name and in one of her very rare interviews she studiously omitted any meaningful details of her parentage and early life that might help a biographer. Because of this, the career of her father as a prominent theatre critic, versifier and amateur playwright, has remained shrouded in mystery---until now. But we can at least surmise that the much more prominent man of the theatre, Harold Rubinstein (1891 - 1975), who as a lawyer defended Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1960, was a relation-- possibly a nephew.[RR]

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