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]


Literature dead (1870) says Katawampus

Found in an obscure short-lived journal  The Trifle of September 1912 (edited  by Ernest Hicks Oliver, a writer on yachting and history.) Oliver  quotes the writer and lawyer Sir Edward Abbott Parry ('Judge Parry') the  speaker at the annual ladies' night debate of the Hardwicke Society. It is amusing to see someone declaring reading dead over 100 years ago- in fact in the view of the diehard Parry since 1870 - when the Elementary Education Act set the framework for schooling of all children between the ages of 5 and 13 in England and Wales.

There were many objections at the time  to the concept of universal education, primarily it was felt by some that it would make the poor 'think' and become dissatisfied with their lives, it might even encourage them to revolt. Parry's objections are more on aesthetic and elitist lines...He was a fairly prolific dramatist and writer for children. At the time of this speech he was writing Katawampus - A Musical Play for Children of All Ages and Katawampus: its Treatment and Cure:

The demand for good literature ended about 1870, when the Education Act came in and literature went out. Since that date every citizen has been taught to read, but not to know what to do with his reading. Any rubbish for which he has a taste is constantly supplied to him, he is exercising enormous influence on the so called literature of today. Men's ideas are formed today, not by their fathers and mothers in their homes, but by codes shot  from education departments, and carried out by half educated people. Good taste in books and literature is born in the home, and it is impossible to get it in schools. Today the demand for literature is really in the hands of the feeble-minded, who are in the great majority, and rule the market. One piece of evidence as to that feeble-mindedness is to be found in problem plays and problem novels. There is nothing in literature more degrading than the vogue for such plays and novels. People are not assisted by them in understanding any great problems, they are only enabled to swagger around as those who know a little more than their neighbours.