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On Display

Dan Jacobson, 20 August 1998

King Khama, Emperor Joe and the Great White Queen: Victorian Britain through African Eyes 
by Neil Parsons.
Chicago, 322 pp., £15.25, January 1998, 0 226 64745 5
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... Botswana is a landlocked country bordered by South Africa to the south and east, Namibia to the west, Angola to the north and Zimbabwe to the north-east. Though considerably larger than France (with Wales and the Benelux countries thrown in), it supports a population of only 1.5 million, almost all of whom belong to one or another grouping of the Tswana-speaking people ...

My Life

Dan Jacobson, 1 September 1983

... There are people, birds and mice, other cats, cars. There are trees, flowerbeds, the lawn, paths, fences. There are rooms, stairs, radiators. It would be untrue to say that I have never known anything else. I can remember a place quite unlike this one. It had no shapes and names; it consisted only of a darkness that squirmed and moved about; it was part of me and I was part of it ...

‘Patient’ – Part Two

Dan Jacobson, 19 May 1983

... Dippy-dippy-dation, my operation: How many stitches did you have? Children’s Counting Song Six weeks after being taken to hospital during a severe attack of pancreatitis, I returned there to have my gall-bladder removed. This is of course a routine surgical procedure (routine for the surgeons, if not for the patients): indeed, a timely newspaper article had informed me that it was ‘the major surgical intervention most commonly carried out in Great Britain ...

About ‘The God-Fearer’

Dan Jacobson, 9 July 1992

... It is always difficult to admit to oneself, let alone convey to others, the peculiar combinations of indolence and energy, chance and obsession, which go into the making of any piece of fiction. To say that inattention and vacancy of mind are as important to it as concentration and purposefulness sounds like a mere piece of mystification: but I fear it is the truth ...

‘Going Native’

Dan Jacobson: Sexual favours in colonial East Africa, 25 November 1999

... The recipient of the following letter was Sir James Hayes-Sadler, Governor of the East African Protectorate (soon to become known as the Colony of Kenya). Its author was a British settler writing from Nyeri, in the colony’s newly established ‘white highlands’. The year was 1908.            Dear Sir James Sadler,      A grave matter has occurred here ...

Kipling in South Africa

Dan Jacobson: Rudyard Kipling and Cecil Rhodes, 7 June 2007

... The first piece of verse by Rudyard Kipling I committed to memory – without even knowing I was doing so – was incised in large Roman capitals on a wall of the Honoured Dead Memorial in Kimberley, South Africa. During the Anglo-Boer War, Kimberley was besieged for some months by forces from the two Boer republics, the Transvaal (De Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) and the Orange Free State ...

You Muddy Fools

Dan Jacobson: In the months before his death Ian Hamilton talked about himself to Dan Jacobson, 14 January 2002

... This is the first part of a two-part interview. Part 2: ‘The Price’. Ian Hamilton died of cancer on 27 December 2001, aged 63. It was a death that the ‘LRB’ has especial cause to lament. He was a great support to this paper, helping to get it going in 1979, serving ever since on its editorial board, and above all contributing many exact, unsparing and funny pieces on poetry, on novels – and on football ...

The Price

Dan Jacobson: The concluding part of Dan Jacobson’s interview with Ian Hamilton, 21 February 2002

... This is the second part of a two-part interview. Part 2: ‘The Price’. I want to ask you about Robert Lowell: as an influence on your work, that is, and only then as what he later became – a ‘Life’, the subject of your first full-length biography. You did and do admire him greatly as a poet, yet in his poetic practice didn’t he trample all over the distinctions, the reticences and borderlines, you set so much store by in your own verse? Yes ...

Dan’s Fate

Craig Raine, 3 October 1985

Time and Time Again 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 213 pp., £8.95, September 1985, 0 233 97804 6
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... thematic designs through one’s life should be, I think, the true purpose of autobiography.’ Dan Jacobson would agree. In his foreword to these 13 austerely beautiful recollections, he commits himself not only to the truth but also to shapeliness, to design, to form, to narratives ‘which would appear to begin naturally, develop in a surprising and ...


Tessa Hadley: Dan Jacobson, 20 October 2005

All for Love 
by Dan Jacobson.
Hamish Hamilton, 262 pp., £16.99, February 2005, 0 241 14273 3
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... explain the puzzle of lives lived, but to seize and transcribe it. In his new book, All for Love, Dan Jacobson captures a story from late 19th-century European history with an anthropologist’s eye for detail. Through his foolish, unself-knowing lovers and the extraordinary, half-absurd drama of their affair, we seem to see the shapes and forms of ...

Pale Ghosts

Jeremy Harding, 12 January 1995

The Electronic Elephant: A Southern African Journey 
by Dan Jacobson.
Hamish Hamilton, 373 pp., £17.99, June 1994, 0 241 13355 6
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Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela 
Little, Brown, 630 pp., £20, November 1994, 0 316 90965 3Show More
None to Accompany Me 
by Nadine Gordimer.
Bloomsbury, 324 pp., £15.99, September 1994, 0 7475 1821 1
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The Rift: The Exile Experience of South Africans 
by Hilda Bernstein.
Cape, 516 pp., £25, February 1994, 0 224 03546 0
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... Dan Jacobson grew up in the diamond town of Kimberley, South Africa. England was one of the places he looked to for inspiration. As it turned out, his interest in English literature and his habit of falling on copies of the New Statesman were ways of sending ahead. From his description of Kimberley on a Saturday afternoon in Time and Time Again (1985), it is obvious why he hankered for another life, the further away the better: Helpless with boredom, stupefied by their own nullity, town and sky yawned at one another ...

Short Cuts

John Sturrock: The Evil List, 25 April 2002

... fate of those written by him, which, as readers of the obituaries and of his conversations with Dan Jacobson in this paper will recall, cost the late Ian Hamilton much grief when he tried to quote them verbatim in his biography and was taken to court. Salinger wasn’t having any, and you have to wonder whether the old curmudgeon deserves even a ...


Stephen Wall, 16 March 1989

The Art of the Novel 
by Milan Kundera, translated by Linda Asher.
Faber, 165 pp., £9.95, June 1988, 0 571 14819 0
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Adult Pleasures: Essays on Writers and Readers 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 144 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 0 233 98204 3
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... ends with a heartfelt declaration of his desire to hold onto Kafka’s artistic legacy. Dan Jacobson alludes adversely to Kundera in an essay (on Sinyavsky) collected in Adult Pleasures, but only in passing. His charge is one of whimsicality, and it may be true that in practice there is more difficulty in combining the novel of play with the ...


Denis Donoghue, 6 November 1986

Write on: Occasional Essays ’65-’85 
by David Lodge.
Secker, 211 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 436 25665 7
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... Song, Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons, the Oxford American Dictionary, two books – by Dan Jacobson and Robert Alter – on Biblical narrative, Robertson Davies’s The Rebel Angels, William Golding’s The Paper Men, Peter Brooks’s Reading for the Plot, and John Updike’s Hugging the Shore. There are also essays on Ring Lardner, on ...


Frank Kermode: Being a critic, 27 May 1999

... in that pub. A few of the celebrants are, or have been, English dons – John Fuller, Simon Gray, Dan Jacobson; but even they arrived by what might be called the bohemian route. There are of course other ways in; anybody can see how much space the dons occupy in the respectable papers and magazines. Many moved in by routes that did not necessarily pass ...

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