Dan Jacobson Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dan Jacobson, a South African expatriate who moved to London, is one of his country’s finest writers and social critics. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to Liebe and Michael Jacobson, Jewish immigrants to South Africa from Latvia and Lithuania. His fiction, which tends to examine the position of the outsider, derives from both his Jewish heritage and the immigration of his parents. When he was four years old his family moved to Kimberly (“Lyndhurst” in his fiction) in the Cape Province, where he attended school and experienced the environment he later described in his South African writing. After receiving his B.A. degree in English from the University of Witwatersrand in 1948, he lived in a kibbutz in Israel for nine months. After teaching in a private Jewish school in London for a year, he returned in 1951 to South Africa, where he worked briefly for a press digest before returning to Kimberly and the family business. He began writing essays and stories about the South African situation and then, after marrying Margaret Pye, returned in 1954 to England to become a freelance writer. His first novels, The Trap and A Dance in the Sun, were set in South Africa, the subject of his fiction until 1970, when he published The Rape of Tamar, an experimental novel about biblical times. He also began teaching English at the University of London in 1974, remaining there until his retirement in 1994. Jacobson continued to experiment with the novel form, but he also published collections of essays and travel books. He frequently visited the United States, Israel, and South Africa.

Jacobson’s early short stories and first five novels are set in South African rural communities, where apartheid, the separation of blacks and whites, is portrayed as emotional, psychological, and geographical isolation. In A Dance in the Sun the village and the main house are separated by a dry riverbed; “The Zulu and the Zeide” probes the complex relationships between an old Jew and his servant; and The Evidence of Love, Jacobson’s miscegenation novel, documents a young couple’s problems before they are united....

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Dan Jacobson Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Deeter, Midge. “Novelist of South Africa.” In The Liberated Woman and Other Americans. New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1971. Profile of Jacobson.

Gready, Paul. “Dan Jacobson as Expatriate Writer: South Africa as Private Resource and Half-Code and the Literature of Multiple Exposure.” Research in African Literatures 25, no. 4 (1994): 17-32. Expatriate writers always present a view of their homeland that differs from that of writers who remain at home; Jacobson is fitted into this paradigm.

Lenta, Margaret. “Choosing Difference: South African Jewish Writers.” Judaism 50, no. 1 (2001): 92-103. The inherent tension of Jacobson’s position as a South African Jew is discussed.

Parker, Kenneth. Introduction to The South African Novel in English: Essays in Criticism and Society, edited by Parker. New York: Africana, 1978. Jacobson’s work is discussed in this overview of South African fiction.

Roberts, Sheila. Dan Jacobson. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A good introduction, with biographical material and critical analysis.