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Howard Jacobson

JACOBSON, HOWARD (1942– ), English novelist and broadcaster. Born in Manchester, Jacobson was educated at Cambridge University, where he was strongly influenced by F.R. Leavis, the English literary critic. He then lectured in English literature at Sydney University, Australia, and, on his return to England, supervised students at Cambridge University. After a variety of jobs in publishing, teaching, and retailing, he was appointed a Lecturer in English at Wolverhampton Polytechnic. This experience was to provide the material for his first novel, Coming from Behind, published in 1983. Jacobson, with Wilbur Sanders, also jointly published a critical study entitled Shakespeare's Magnanimity (1978).

Jacobson is widely regarded as one of the most original and brilliant comic voices to have emerged in post-war England. Coming From Behind, a campus novel, was widely reviewed in England and quickly established Jacobson as a comic writer. According to Jacobson, the novel was meant to be "the last word in academic novels," but, instead, he found himself "writing about gentileness; about what a foreign place England is to a Jew."

Peeping Tom (1984), Jacobson's second and far more substantial novel, examines the consequences of being a culturally dispossessed Jew in a "foreign" country. In this novel, Jacobson's Jewish persona is contrasted with "peeping" Thomas Hardy and the English literary rural tradition. Jacobson, with a considerable ironic punch, then goes on to transform his persona into Hardy's reincarnation. Hardy, that is, provides the "negative" Jew with his identity.

Jacobson's distances himself from what he calls the "super-Anglicization" of many Anglo-Jewish writers in the 1980s who, with a welcome self-assurance, examine and take risks with their Jewish identity in a literary context. Jacobson, for this reason, has been compared to American-Jewish comic writers Woody Allen and Philip Roth. He has also expanded his comic talent in a series of radio broadcasts.

Jacobson's descriptions of the Anglo-Jewish community in Roots, Schmoots (1993) were severely criticized by some for their relentless hostility to Orthodox Judaism. Jacobson was awarded the Jewish Quarterly / Wingate Prize for fiction in 2001, while his semi-autobiographical novel The Mighty Walzer (1999) won the Bollingen Prize for the best comic novel of the year.


The Jewish Quarterly, 32 (1985), 117; Times Literary Supplement, (May 3, 1985).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.