Berta Ruck and Virginia Woolf

One of the authors mentioned in Jane Potter's paper on Wednesday was a romantic novelist called Berta Ruck, author of Khaki and Kisses, etc.

Wanting to find out a bit more about this author, I did some idle googling, and came across the following story:

When writing Jacob's Room, Woolf used the name Bertha Ruck for one of her characters – and killed her off, which could have been taken as a nasty dig at a fellow-writer.

Ruck's husband, Oliver Onions, was particularly indignant, and threatened a lawsuit, not believing Woolf's claim that the use of the name was inadvertent.

Eventually they made up, and Berta and Oliver were invited to a Bloomsbury party, where, to Virginia Woolf's delight,  Berta sang the song   "Never allow a sailor an inch above your knee."

I want to hear that song!

 Which all goes to prove a point made by Jane  Potter in her paper – popular writing didn't happen in a separate universe from literary writing, and the two could intermix in quite surprising ways.

Further details of the story are on page 2 of the pdf file at this reference:

 Berta Ruck

Here's Berta Ruck in translation. Probably considerably post-war, I should think.


  1. Posted May 12, 2006 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    One of the novels I’m going to post about at some point is Ruck’s first one, His Official Fiancee (1914), which I enjoyed. She was a prolific most author and lived until she was a hundred.

  2. Nemo
    Posted August 27, 2006 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Interesting story. You mention Ruck’s husband, Oliver Onions. He was born George Oliver Onions in 1873. He began publishing fiction as Oliver Onions in 1900 and married Ruck in 1909. He changed his legal name to “George Oliver” in 1918, but continued to publish as Oliver Onions. Every source I have seen dealing with the name change says he did so at his wife’s insistence. It seems a bit odd that she would object to being “Mrs. Onions” in private life (I am assuming she did not use her maiden name socially) after 9 years, especially after having been “Miss Ruck” before that. However, their sons were born in 1912 and 1913, so she likely wanted to spare them torment at school based on their “unfortunate” surname.

    Onions himself is one of those interesting writers who exist on the boundary between “serious literary person” and “popular entertainer”. Much of his writing is in genres such as mystery fiction, but late in life, in 1946, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Award for one of his historical novels (this award went to L.P Hartley the next year and Graham Greene the year after).

    Onions is remembered today only for his ghost stories, and really only for one, a novella titled “The Beckoning Fair One”, which displays a psychological depth comparable with Henry James.

  3. Posted August 27, 2006 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this – it’s very useful background info. According to Hugh Cecil, Onions also wrote novels about the difficulties of adjusting to post-war life. “Peace in our Time” and “Cut Flowers” are on my to-read list.

  4. Pat Ruck
    Posted January 15, 2007 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Bertha Ruck was, as far as I was told, my great, great Aunt. Another great Aunt told about her before she died. We were informed she was, like all us, ‘Ruck’s was a very independent lady and very modern for her era. She probably retained her maiden name because of this, as in fact quite a few of us ‘Rucks’still do. She was related also to Ruth Ruck who wrote non-fiction such as ‘Reminiscences of the Old Country’ about a tour through England. It is well know in our family that following initial indignation over the use of her name in a novel by Virginia Wolfe, Bertha Ruck actually became friends with the Bloomsbury set.and often met with the group. There is a family connection between the Ruck family and George Bush American President.

  5. Posted January 15, 2007 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Pat – it’s great to hear from you. Berta Ruck is an ancestor to be proud of.

  6. Kim Velk
    Posted May 30, 2007 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this. I research, in a haphazard hobbyist way, the work of Gladys Peto, who was an illustrator/writer and fashion designer and a contemporary of Ruck’s. I have surmised that the two were friends, based on a contribution by Ruck to a children’s book compiled by Peto in the late 20s or early 30s. The book, now extremely rare, is called “The China Cow.” Other contributors were Sewell Stokes and Christine Jope-Slade and Peto’s husband, C.L. Emmerson. I am curous about this “set” who were, at least for a time between the wars, A-listers, and are now all but forgotten. Their chief claim to fame seems to be their link to Woolf and Bloomsbury through the tenuous connection of this semi-famous might-be insult. I had heard about it before but nice to be able to Google a question on Ruck and find this clarification.

  7. James Herrera
    Posted September 30, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    I just recently found a copy of THE UNKISSED BRIDE at Goodwill. Definitely a “romance novel”, but some wonderful characters keep me reading it. Interesting to hear about the husband and, of course, Ms. Woolf.

  8. Adam Ruck
    Posted November 29, 2007 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    I would be interested to know more detail about Pat Ruck’s family connection with the novelist Berta Ruck, and the alleged relationship with Ruth Ruck and the Bush family

  9. Mary Beth
    Posted June 19, 2008 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    I have loved Berta Ruck since I was little. My aunt Laura introduced me in the 70’s

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