Jacob was a well-known novelist in the 1930’s. Christened Naomi
Eleanor Claire Jacob, she was born in Ripon, Yorkshire
Her father, Samuel Jacob, was brought up in
Towcester. Born in Marlborough, Wiltshire, he was the son of a Jewish refugee, Simon
Jacob. Simon had fled from a pogrom in his native Prussia which had killed both his
parents. Brought up in a Yiddish speaking home, his father was a cantor in the
Simon came to England
in the 1840’s, and married an English girl, Clarissa Saunders, in
Marlborough, Wiltshire. He moved to Towcester in about 1857, and rented the
shop on the corner of Bakers Lane
(now an estate agents). The couple had 7 known children. Simon continued to
maintain Jewish traditions, but allowed his wife to have the children baptised
in the Anglican church. He lived
in Towcester until after 1901 (later moving to the other side of the High
Street), and moved south to the Edmonton area of
his death in 1912. In the 1891 Census, he is a widower, with Naomi’s
cousin Clarissa Jacob visiting him. It is interesting to speculate what
Towcester made of a Jewish tailor who spoke Yiddish.
Naomi’s father, Samuel (Simon’s second
son), rejected his Jewish ancestry, and taught at Ripon Cathedral
Choir School, where he
married Nina Collinson, daughter of the owner of the Unicorn Hotel in the town.
He appears to have been a violent and promiscuous man, and the marriage broke
up. Naomi was sent to stay with her grandfather in Towcester for a while. The family later scattered. Naomi went
to Middlesborough, as a student teacher, her father went to Leeds,
and her mother and sister headed south.
Naomi, in an era of anti-semitism,
proudly drew attention to her Jewishness. She appears to have been very
attached to her Yiddish-speaking grandfather, and drew on what she knew of his
experiences in her novel Barren Metal.
Her Jewishness was not the only thing she was open about. She often dressed in
trousers, and lived an openly lesbian lifestyle in an age where this was still
a criminal offence.
Having contracted TB, she lived for many years in Italy, returning to the UK during the Second World War to
join up, even though over age. She wrote more than 40 novels, many of which
depict courageous heroines struggling against hard-drinking, miserly husbands,
a reflection on her father. She died in Italy in 1964.