Berta Ruck travel journals
Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267
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Amy Roberta (Berta) Ruck was born in Muree, India, on August 2, 1878, the eldest of eight children. Both her parents were from army families, and her father, Colonel A.A. Ruck, was a Welsh commander in the British army. By her second year, Ruck's family had moved back to North Wales, where her father became Chief Constable of Caernarvonshire in 1888. After graduating from a boarding school in Bangor, and working briefly as an au pair in Germany, Ruck attended art school in London and Paris. Initially, Ruck worked as an illustrator, providing drawings for stories inThe Idler and the children's magazine Jabberwocky. In the latter, she was also able to publish a short story, and she began writing fiction for women's magazines.
In 1909, Ruck married the writer Oliver Onions (1873-1961), who later changed his professional name to George Oliver. They had two sons, Arthur (b. 1912) and William (b. 1913). With Onions' assistance, Ruck revised her story "His Official Fiancée," which had been serialized inHome Chat in 1912, for publication in book form. The novel, which appeared two years later, was a success in both Great Britain and the United States, and it began Ruck's prolific career as a popular writer. Over the next fifty-eight years, she would publish over a hundred books, often producing as many as three a year. Some of her novels, including His Official Fiancée and Sir or Madame? (1923) were also adapted into movies. Her stories were primarily modern-day romances, but she also wrote five autobiographical works; the last, Ancestral Voices, which appeared in 1972, was her last book.
In 1922, Ruck found herself inadvertently included in the Virginia Woolf novelJacob's Room; the book had placed the name "Berta Ruck," which Woolf had apparently chosen at random, on a tombstone. This coincidence lead to a correspondence between Ruck and Woolf, despite litigious threats from Onions. The two women shared a common friendship with Russian dancer Lydia Lopokova. Ruck died in Aberdovey, Wales on August 11, 1978, at the age of 100.
Bell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. London: Hogarth Press, 1972."Berta Ruck." Twentieth Century Romance and Gothic Writers. Detroit: Gale Research Center, 1982."Miss Berta Ruck: Girl's own novelist centenarian." London Times, 12 August, 1978.Ruck, Berta. A Smile for the Past. London: Hutchinson, 1959.
Berta Ruck's Travel Journals spans the dates 1928 to 1937. The collection includes six volumes, as well as correspondence, photographs, and ephemera laid or pasted in. Oversized material that was laid in has been removed and placed in folders.
Ruck's journals are a mix of diary, workbook, and scrapbook. They contain partial drafts of her works in progress, accounts of her financial and romantic difficulties, and memorabilia from her travels. Throughout the journals there are numerous mementoes of her journeys, including photographs, postcards, theatre and music programs, pressed flowers, and travel and financial documents. There are also numerous clippings mainly in English and German, a few in French and Norwegian; these are sometimes reviews of Ruck's novels, but often they describe current events that have caught her interest, and that she wishes to write about. Ruck is frequently searching for real life incidents to incorporate in her fiction, and much of the journal is a record of brief impressions of the scene around her, often with notes to use the more picturesque and exotic incidents in her novels. The most ominous impressions that Ruck records detail the growing anti-Semitism and the gradual rise of Nazi support in Austria.
The journals contain letters from Ruck's family and friends, including her two sons Arthur and William, and her father. Ruck also included pieces of her fan mail. There are several letters from her husband, Oliver Onions, whom she frequently refers to as O.O. in the journals. He never accompanied her on any of these travels, and although their letters are amiable, her journals frequently attest to an atmosphere of discord at home.
The first journal is labeled "Notes May October 1928 Aberdovey. Austria" and details Ruck's vacation to Vienna and Gneixendorf. During this time, she was writing serial installments for her novelThe Unkissed Bride (1929), and the journal contains several notes and drafts for the story, as well as notes of cultural events Ruck experiences in Europe that she wants to work into her novel. The early part of her journal also describes her trip to a flying exhibition, where she observed the pilots' families and wrote an article, "Do Wives Make Good Moth-ers," a clipping of which is pasted in the journal. Ruck's fascination with airplanes reappears throughout her journals. In this journal are also her recollections of meetings with writers Rebecca West, Ezra Pound, and Anita Loos. She also records her Austrian hosts' impressions of the past war and the rising German nationalism. Among the artifacts Ruck collected from her trip are a schedule for the Orient Express, Viennese theatre programs, sheet music for popular French songs, receipts, and clippings, including obituary notices for actress Ellen Terry.
The second journal was written between 1928 and 1929, and is entitled "Notes and Journey with Menié, Summer in Austria." The first part of the journal takes place in London, where Ruck records a tense family Christmas. She also describes her current projects, the parties she attends, her visits to Wales, and, in March, another meeting with Rebecca West. That April, she embarks on a voyage to Egypt with her wealthy but physically fragile friend Menié Murial Norman (1867-1945), who under her maiden name Dowie had been a novelist at the turn of the century. Ruck records the details of her voyage from the south of France to Athens, Cairo, and Alexandria, including detailed descriptions of her surroundings and her fellow travelers. She returned through Venice, where she records a meeting with the writer Evelyn Waugh. She also notices "[b]lack shirts and young fascists in great evidence." Likewise, when she returns to Gneixendorf for the summer, she records: "Much anti-semitism." The journal also includes notes and drafts for Ruck's next novel, which she refers to asEnter Pet but which becomes Today's Daughter (1930). Among the ephemera that Ruck included in this journal are several items from her English life, including several Christmas cards and reports from her son's boarding school.
The third journal is labeled "[J]une 1929. Vienna Sep: 1929. Villefranche." It continues her summer in Austria, where she has moved from Gneixendorf to Vienna. She has finishedToday's Daughter and has begun writing The Love Hater (1930), which is published in London as The Missing Girl. In August, she travels to Villafranche to vacation with her sons and some of their friends. There, she records another meeting with Rebecca West. She also includes obituary on the zoologist Sir Ray Lankester, who had been a friend and a fan of her novels. Certain portions of her journals are written backwards. These record her thoughts about a recently defunct affair with someone named "Harry."
The fourth journal is labeled "May 1934. Cruise around Spain. Vienna. Gneixendorf. Tirol." It begins with a cruise on the S.S. Montrose that stopped in the Spanish cities of Vigo, Ceuta, Palma, and Cadiz. Ruck recounts her excursions at these stops as well as the social life on board the Montrose. Her experiences on this cruise would quickly find their way into her novelSunshine Stealer: The Story of a Cruise (1935), notes for which occur later in this journal. In this journal, Ruck also begins to display an interest in the mystical. In both this and the next two journals, she records her dreams and visits to fortune tellers and addresses her desires and ambitions to an unnamed "Power." After the cruise, she goes to Wales, then back to Austria, which she again alternates between Vienna and Gneixendorf, where, propelled by financial worries, she concentrates on her writing.
The fifth journal is labeled "1934. Gneixendorf. Tirol. Hampstead." It begins in Gneixendorf on Ruck's fifty-sixth birthday. She is working on her novelsA Star in Love (1935) and Spring Comes to Miss Lonely Heart (1936). In early August, she travels to Tirol to see her son Arthur, where she remains for the next month. She returns to Vienna briefly and is back in London by the end of September, where both her sons are pursuing their respective careers: Arthur is working on a film set and William is trying to become an airplane pilot. She also records the difficulty she is having in selling her stories.
The label on the sixth journal is partially torn and reads "Notes. June 193 June 30 flight . . . Austria by . . ." This journal has the first mention of Ruck's flight to the continent, and she has included a brochure from Imperial Airways. She again travels to Tirol, this time with her niece, Barbara. During this time, she is working on her novelHandmaid to Fame (1938). There are several letters pasted and laid into this journal, some from "Inge," a fan of her novels who lives in Austria, and others requesting Ruck's presences at various speaking engagements. This journal also contains a 1970 draft of a letter written by Ruck to an unknown correspondent.
Boxes 1-6: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes (1 inch)
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Selected materials from the collection are available through the University of Delaware Digital Institutional Repository.
Purchase, October 1997
Processed by Shanon Lawson, May 1998. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, December 2022.
- Women travelers--20th century
- Tourism--Europe--History--20th century
- Cruise ships--History--20th century
- University of Delaware Library Special Collections
- Finding Aid Author
- University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
- Finding Aid Date
- 2022 December 9
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