Today I have a different type of interview, but I think that’s pretty neat! I feel as if I might be interviewing the ghost of Naomi Jacob (1884-1964), in a way, as on August 27 this year (also my birthday!) was the 50th anniversary of this legendary author’s death. So what this interview will be is a legacy to the life of Naomi, with answers by Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books, in the hopes that it will enlighten readers to this interesting woman and reignite a passion for her writing. And not only was she a writer, but she was a political activist at a time when women’s voices were rarely heard, an actress, a broadcaster, journalist, and made many appearances on BBC’s Woman’s Hour. Sound like my kind of woman!
Let me start by giving a little background about Naomi, who many times wished to be called Mickie, if as a reader you haven’t heard of the author. I absolutely love reading myself about classic women writers who gave so much to their genres and to literature, but sometimes are lost to our current generations. Luckily, Corazon Books, an imprint of Wyndham Media Ltd., is re-issuing her best-selling and much-loved series, The Gollantz Saga, starting with the digital version of Founder of the House.
Erin Q: I’m assuming the entire series will be released in electronic format. Will that be all at once, or in stages? Will any of her other list be digitized?
Ian Answer: Yes indeed, we are releasing digital editions of all seven titles in the Gollantz Saga, in stages, between now and spring/summer of 2015. The second book in the series, That Wild Lie … will be published before Christmas. As for digital copies of other novels by Naomi Jacob – as a long time admirer of her work that certainly appeals, so you never know!
Erin Narrates: In continuing on about Naomi, I have heard her style described from past professionals as a bit like Barbara Taylor Bradford; however, from what I’ve read her novels dealt with deeper themes of the time like domestic violence, prejudice of the Jews, the problem with pogroms (riots against ethnic groups), as well being based on some of the experiences of her ancestry escaping violence in Western Prussia before the Second World War.
Erin Q: How is her writing style generally described, and which comments are true? Who or what could a new reader relate to in deciding to read her books? What type of reader would enjoy her series?
Ian Answers: I wouldn’t describe her writing style as similar to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s (although she is of course a great writer too) but there are similarities in that both are strong Yorkshire women who write compelling family sagas. While The Founder of the House (and the rest of the Gollantz Saga) does deal with serious historical events and attitudes, for me what marks it out is Naomi Jacob’s sharp eye for human foibles, vanities and desires – the truths we choose not to acknowledge, the reasons we give for excusing our actions, how trying to maintain your integrity and loving the wrong person can get you into trouble! I think the series will appeal to readers who enjoy a story with strong characters, focusing on the ups and downs of family ties and friendships, all within an interesting historical context.
Erin Narrates: Naomi Jacob was a prolific author. She could write fast and so she wrote with ease in the morning, leaving her afternoons free for conversation with friends, something she enjoyed. She became a best-selling author in 1925 and boasts a very long list of novels (I heard 60-80!)
Erin Q: Why are her novels still an important part of literature today? What can readers and other novelists learn from her and her works?
Ian Answer: A good story, told well, with vividly drawn characters, never goes out of fashion. Naomi Jacob wrote about universal themes that are as relevant to readers today as they were at the time of writing.
Erin Narrates: I read that she associated with the Du Maurier’s (for me, another favorite classic women’s author in Daphne Du Maurier!) and with a love of the stage herself at a young age, with various performers and artists such as Marie Lloyd (an actress), Radclyffe Hall (a poet and author best known for her work in lesbian literature), Little Tich (a 4 foot 6 English comedian and dancer), Henry Irving, Sarah Bernhardt, and others. She seemed to enjoy like-minded creative people and honestly, they were all very unique.
Erin Q: What made Naomi so unique in her time? What is she remembered most for or should be remembered for by future generations?
Ian Answers: I think that in many ways she was a woman of great contrasts. She had relationships with other women (although she never publicly discussed her sexuality), yet she was loved by millions of readers for her quite traditional romance novels, as well as the Gollantz Saga. She lived for many years in Italy, yet much of her writing is set in her beloved Yorkshire. She was an English Catholic, yet identified with her European Jewish roots and campaigned passionately against Antisemitism throughout her life. These days, older readers will remember her romantic fiction and, of course, the Gollantz Saga, both of which were hugely popular for decades. Hopefully future generations will recognise her as an interesting woman and a talented author.
Erin Q: I know that Naomi was very involved in the Women’s Suffragette movement and the Labor Party and was an advocate for rights during her lifetime. As I am a supporter of the women’s rights, I’m interested in her work in this regard. Is there any more information or anything more documented about her time with the movement in England?
Ian Answers: She claimed that during the fight for women’s suffrage, she placed an alarm clock in a tin box outside a house where the then Prime Minister, Lloyd George, was staying. Apparently, it was hastily removed in case it was a bomb.
Erin narrates: She was also as I mentioned an actress, broadcaster and journalist, appearing on BBC programming. Here is a YouTube video I found of her in a part in a 1956 radio play. I found it on a blog written by her great-great nephew. I thought it was so cool!
Erin Q: I understand that she contracted tuberculosis and eventually left England, and had to give up acting as a career, and opened a home in Italy where the weather was better for her lungs. Did this help in extending her writing career? What family or friend stories were recorded from her time in Italy?
Ian Answers: I had a lovely chat with Naomi Jacob’s great-nephew who told me that despite the poor condition of her lungs she continued to smoke heavily until her death at the age of 84, so perhaps the cleaner air of Lake Garda helped extend her writing career and life! Her great-nephew also told me that her house was always full of interesting, creative people, and that Naomi Jacob loved company and conversation.
Erin Q: I read during the Second World War that she came back to England to entertain the troops, remembered forever for her crew cut, monocles, and her First World War Women’s Legion uniform. What an interesting character she was! Being of part-Jewish descent, was she active in other ways about the war? Did she write any books after the Second World War?
Ian Answers: Although she had to leave Italy for a time when it was under occupation, she did return and gave assistance to Jewish refugees. This was the subject of a report on CNN a few years ago. She continued writing after the Second World War. In fact, her writing career spanned forty years, from her debut novel in 1925, to a posthumously published one in 1965.
Erin Q: Did she ever say why she wrote or what she liked most about writing? Did she hope to accomplish anything with her writing?
Ian Answers: She wrote a lot about her life and writing. You can learn a lot more by reading her many autobiographies.
Erin Q: If someone asked Naomi then what her favorite things about life were, what might she say?
Ian Answers: I wouldn’t like to answer for her, as sadly I never met her. But based on what I have read, and from speaking to her family, she definitely sounds like someone who enjoyed life, who was bold, and who knew how to get the most out of every situation. Attributes for all of us to aspire to.
Erin Q: Did she win any awards for her writing or have any critical praise?
Ian Answers: She certainly garnered a lot of critical acclaim during her lifetime, and was an extremely well-loved author for many generations of readers. She was awarded a rather controversial prize for her writing in 1935. This was the Eichelberger International Humane Award, for outstanding achievement in the field of humane endeavour. However, she rejected the award when she discovered that a previous recipient had been Adolf Hitler for Mein Kampf! She also wrote a long and passionate letter to a national newspaper explaining why she did not want to receive the award.
Erin: Thank you so much Ian for your time in discussing the life of Naomi Jacob. I am looking forward to learning more about her and reading the entire Gollantz series, as well as some of the rest of her back list of novels.
Ian: It was my pleasure. Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about Naomi Jacob and her work. I hope you and your website readers will want to discover more about her writing, and that we can keep her literary legacy alive for the next generation of readers.
And now, an EXCERPT from The Founder of the House by Naomi Jacob
(The Gollantz Saga Book One)~
In this excerpt, Fernando Meldola discovers that the young Abraham Gollantz has deceived him both professionally and personally. Meldola is furious to learn that Gollantz has been pillaging Italy’s treasures with Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, and also that his beloved niece, Miriam, is carrying Gollantz’s child …
His fine old face changed, his eyes lost their kindly twinkle and met Fernando’s coldly. He drew back a little, as if he wished to increase the distance between them.
‘I know?’ Fernando said. ‘I know? What do you mean, Dominico? Why do you look at me so coldly? How should I know of this?’
‘You provided one of the experts.’
‘I did? Expert in what? Explain yourself.’
Comparetti frowned, then began to speak with some irritation.
‘Did you not know that Monge and Berthollet were taken with the Army to Italy in the position of advisers on matters of art?’
‘No – and I question of how much value either of them will be.’
‘Did you not allow Lannes to take your partner, Gollantz, with him as an unofficial expert?’
‘Gollantz? He went to Italy as a clerk, because he wished to see the country and spoke the language.
Lannes himself told me that was to be his position – a clerk who spoke the language.’
Comparetti gazed earnestly at the face before him, as if he endeavoured to see into the soul of his friend. At last he spoke.
‘Fernando, you have been made a fool of by Lannes and this young man. I know, Monge and Berthollet know, all Paris knows that he has gone to Italy to assist in the work of spoliation. He is a valuer, an assessor, an assistant thief! Legalized theft, perhaps, but theft none the less.’
‘Why should they approach him? An unknown young man. It is fantastic.’ ‘The whole army is that, my friend. Napoleon loves fantasy. He sees himself as king of the world, his marshals, kings under him, his whole court a gorgeous, perpetual carnival. Why did they choose this young man? Because they dare not ask Fernando Meldola, and yet they relied on the tuition which Fernando Meldola had given this fellow. That is why.’
Fernando pushed away his empty coffee-cup, and sighed.
‘Dominico, I ask you to believe that I knew nothing of this. Believe that, please, and believe too that Gollantz shall return to Paris immediately. I pledge my word.’
‘Which has always been the best guarantee in the world to the man who knows you, Fernando. Shalom!’
Fernando walked back to his house, his head bent, his hands clasped behind him. Dominico had said: ‘Shalom!’ Peace! He felt that peace had left his house for ever, that it must have taken flight when Abraham Gollantz entered it.
That night he wrote again to Lannes, stating that Gollantz must return immediately, and offering, quite frankly, a large sum of money, which should be paid into the Marshal’s private banking account on the same day that Gollantz arrived in Paris. The sum was considerable, and Meldola was too good a man of business not to resent losing such an amount.
‘It is fantastic!’ he said softly. ‘Dominico was right – the whole affair is fantastic. To think that this man’s child may one day be my heir!’
Gollantz returned to Paris in August, when the dusty streets and hot days, heavy suns and suffocating nights had begun to rob Miriam of some of her beauty. Meldola watched her pale face and her general air of lassitude with anxiety. He knew that she suffered intensely, and that her days were filled with a nervous dread that Gollantz might refuse to return. She knew nothing of the money which her uncle was prepared to pay for that return.
He arrived, tired and dusty, bringing with him several large boxes, and far more bags than had comprised his original luggage. His manner was untinged by nervousness; he held his head high, and greeted Meldola with respectful affection.
‘You look well in spite of the heat,’ Gollantz cried. ‘It is hot in Paris, but in Italy it was like living in an inferno. How is your niece? I have brought her some little trinkets from her own country. They will please her, I hope.’
Meldola looked at the slim young figure, noted the well-shaped head set so admirably on the broad shoulders. For the first time he realized that he hated Abraham Gollantz, and that he could have seen him lying dead at his feet without a pang of regret.
‘Sit down,’ he ordered. ‘Before you see my niece there are many things which I have to say to you. First, you are a seducer, a liar, a cheat, and a common adventurer. You hear that? Good! Please remember that always in my mind those epithets are used silently when I mention your name. Secondly, you will prepare immediately to marry my niece whom you have wronged so cruelly. Tomorrow we shall make arrangements. You understand?’
The young man’s face reddened under its tan. ‘I had no idea – I did not know. Miriam never wrote to tell me of this. I can understand that you feel angry with me, despise me. I despise myself for having brought a moment’s anxiety on either her or you. I am speaking honestly now, sincerely.’
‘Pah! You have never been sincere in your life! You will tell me next that you love Miriam!’
‘But I do. I love her devotedly. You tell me that I must marry her. There is nothing which will make me happier. I was wrong, foolish, to make it possible for her to – to suffer. I admit it. I was tempted, I yielded to temptation. She’s young, beautiful; I am young, and young blood is hot. Can’t you understand?’
Meldola’s fine lips curved into a sneer. ‘My business has taught me to differentiate between fine shades of colour. I admit no shades of behaviour. Right is right, decency is decency – and lying is always lying.’
‘Then there is no good purpose in my trying to defend myself.’
‘None! You cannot defend yourself in this matter or the question of going to Italy – as a clerk. You – you gonoph! Thief in the pay of other thieves. Robbing churches, palaces, defacing history! I know, Abraham Gollantz, you realized that to admit your reason for going with Lannes would be sufficient for me to disown you. So you lied, you poor, pitiful fool – and I found you out! What have you brought home as a result of your private robberies? How much has your master allowed you to purloin from a nation which extended hospitality and tolerance to your own race? Those boxes will be opened tomorrow, and everything – mark that, everything – will be returned in due time to the place where it belongs. Not yet – or it might again fall into the hands of the Corsican and his hordes, but later, when it is safe to return it. Now, go and tell Miriam that you are home. Tell her that you love her, and will try to make her a good husband.’
Young Gollantz stood for a moment, uncertain. He was ashamed, not only of what he had done, but because he had allowed his plans to miscarry. His quick brain already tried to think of some way in which he might save the treasures of gold, silver, and ivory which he had brought back with him.
He believed that abasement was the best method of obtaining forgiveness.
‘Very well,’ he said gravely; then stretching out his hands with a gesture which was admirably impulsive, he cried: ‘Oh, forgive me! I’ve been foolish, stupid, nothing more. Criminally stupid, I admit it. I will make amends. Will you try to forget the past and let me begin again?’
The Founder of the House, Synopsis
Publication Date: August 23, 2014 (re-issue to digital)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set in nineteenth century Paris, Vienna and London, this is a novel about family ties and rivalries, love and ambition.
The Founder of the House introduces us to Emmanuel Gollantz, the son of a Jewish antique dealer, Hermann Gollantz.
Hermann lives his life according to the principles of loyalty, honesty and honour instilled in him as a child. But these ideals are ruthlessly exploited by his wife’s family, threatening everything that is important to him. Protecting his beloved wife, Rachel, from the truth carries a great cost.
As a young man, Emmanuel, becomes involved with the inner circle of the Viennese Court, where his passion for the married baroness, Caroline Lukoes, has far-reaching consequences both for himself and the House of Gollantz.
The Founder of the House is the first book in the bestselling Gollantz Saga – an historical family saga tracing the lives and loves of the Gollantz family over several generations. This seven-novel series explores how one family’s destiny is shaped by the politics and attitudes of the time, as well as by the choices and actions of its own members.
The Gollantz Saga Titles
Book One: Founder of the House
Book Two: That Wild Lie
Book Three: Young Emmanuel
Book Four: Four Generations
Book Five: Private Gollantz
Book Six: Gollantz: London, Paris, Milan
Book Seven: Gollantz & Partners
Praise for The Gollantz Saga
“Recommended. Ms Jacob writes skilfully and with that fine professional assurance we have come to expect of her.” The Times
“Impressive.” London Evening Standard
“A good family chronicle.” Kirkus Reviews
“Besides the interest of the plot, Miss Jacob’s book has much to recommend it. The style of the novel is unimpeachable, marked by sincerity, dignity and a sense of the dramatic. I can safely recommend “The Founder of the House.” Western Mail (Perth)
Buy the eBook~
The Late Author Naomi Jacob, Biography~
Naomi Jacob (1884-1964) was a prolific author, biographer and broadcaster. She is perhaps best known for her bestselling seven-novel series, The Gollantz Saga, which traces several generations of the Gollantz family in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Jacob had a mixed heritage, which influenced her life and work. Her paternal grandfather was a Jewish tailor who had escaped the pogroms of Western Prussia and settled in England, while her mother’s family had strong Yorkshire roots. Her maternal grandfather was the two-time mayor of Ripon in Yorkshire. He also owned a hotel in the town. Her father was headmaster of the local school.
Jacob loved the theatre and became a character actress on stage and in film, notably opposite John Geilgud in The Ringer (1936). She also associated with the Du Mauriers, Henry Irving, Marie Lloyd and Sarah Bernhardt.
She published her first novel, “Jacob Usher” in 1925. It became a bestseller.
In 1928 she appeared for the defence of Radclyffe Hall’s “The Well of Loneliness”, and developed a friendship with Hall and her companion Una Troubridge.
After suffering with tuberculosis, in 1930 she left England for Italy, where she lived for most of the rest of her life. She lived in a villa in Sirmione on Lake Garda, which she called “Casa Mickie” (she was known to friends and family as “Mickie”).
In 1935 she was awarded the Eichelberger International Humane Award, for outstanding achievement in the field of humane endeavour, for her novel “Honour Come Back”. She rejected the award when she discovered that another recipient of the award had been Adolf Hitler, for “Mein Kampf”.
Jacob was involved in politics – she stood as a Labour PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate) and was a suffragette.
In 1940, she was evacuated back to England when Italy entered the Second World War. She joined the Entertainments National Service Association, becoming famous for her flamboyant appearance— crew cut hair, and wearing a monocle and First World War Women’s Legion uniform.
She returned to Sirmione before the end of the war, helping Jewish refugees in the town. Over the years, she frequently returned to the UK, and in the 1950s and early 1960s was regularly to be heard on the BBC radio programme “Woman’s Hour”.
She wrote the seven-novel Gollantz saga about several generations of a Jewish family, tracing their path from Vienna in the early nineteenth century to establishing a life and antique business in England in the twentieth century. It is a saga about family loyalty, honour and love, while also reflecting on the politics and ideals of the era.
See the full tour here: