Dan Jacobson Jacobson, Dan (Vol. 14)

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jacobson, Dan 1929–

An English novelist, short story writer, and essayist, Jacobson was born in Johannesburg. His skillful fiction explores problems of identity and environment in South Africa. (See also CLC, Vol. 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

The Trap is a skilfull short story padded out to look a great deal longer than it is. In fact, Mr. Jacobson … has worked up an anecdote of life on a small veld farm suggestively enough to make the reader interested in what he may write next. The Trap probably should have formed part of a book of short stories rather than a volume on its own, for it offers not much more than a tale, in the Conrad manner, of a white man being influenced against a trustworthy black servant by an untrustworthy one. The setting is vividly and economically created, and Mr. Jacobson handles his stolid baas and his unfortunate employees very professionally. Patently, he is a writer of considerable promise, whose ability to write ironic dialogue is matched by a telling restraint in the use of descriptive prose. He has style; when he has more to do with it than embellish a familiar and basic plot with a slick twist it will be possible to see how deep his talent runs.

"Mingled Shades," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1955; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2793, September 9, 1955, p. 521.∗

Simon Raven

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Jacobson [in The Price of Diamonds] presents his people with subtlety and intelligence, carefully sets them down in an unappetising South African township, and then, with the reader's interest fully and skilfully aroused, sets them ticking at a nicely calculated pace. But alas, the nicely calculated pace can apparently neither be varied nor halted, and one can only pray for the breakdown which Mr. Jacobson is much too efficient to allow…. After a promising and almost striking start, and with the evident talent at Mr. Jacobson's disposal, it is a pity the total performance should be so utterly futile.

Simon Raven, "Upstairs, Downstairs …," in The Spectator (© 1957 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 199, No. 6756, December 20, 1957, p. 879.∗

A. Alvarez

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Violence makes a strange ending for a love story, even if the setting is South Africa. But because Dan Jacobson has the ability to create sensitive, intelligent people and make them act sensitively and intelligently despite the background of guilt and shock, The Evidence of Love is neither propaganda nor sensationalism. It is, instead, a considerable artistic achievement, all the more impressive because it was written calmly out of the same tensions as created the South African explosion.

It is the story of a love-affair between a Cape Coloured boy and a white girl….

The Evidence of Love might have been just another case-history. But since Jacobson is a novelist, not a politician, he knows none of the answers in advance. Despite the ending, I'm not even sure he knows them in retrospect. He has only an artist's answer—people. It is a matter not of dogma, but of the moral intelligence. And even that is an uneasy, unwilling affair, with conscience instead of theories, feelings instead of principles, and insights which are unpredictable, fluctuating, not to be controlled. Jacobson, in fact, is political against the grain. His book is less a tirade against the South African set-up—though all that is implied—than a drama of the profound difficulty of being South African…. There is an answer to all this, but it is an implicit, an artist's answer. It lies in what gives Jacobson's work its distinction: the witty, compassionate writing which creates a dimension of detachment, honesty and judgment in which his characters take on their full significance….

His lovers are neither isolated at heart and battering against their isolation, nor are they romantically afloat in a warm continuum of passion. Instead, they are rooted in a world made solid and alive by the precision of Jacobson's...

(The entire section is 2,551 words.)