Publication Date: August 23, 2014
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.
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)
About the Author
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 centuries.
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.
Interview: (With Naomi Jacob’s living relatives)
1. Having read many standard English novels, it’s shocking that the Jewish characters are not featured, and their culture (a very rich one in Europe), is metaphorically ghettoized, in a sense, in many 19th century novels. Daniel Deronda was really my first exposure to the Jewish community, in England, in the Victorian Era. Curiously, you never hear much about Daniel Deronda, in literary circles, and I certainly have never heard of Naomi Jacob’s own novels, until now. At the time they were published, were they just as unknown, and what do you believe the reason were for their kinda niche status, so-to-say? (Maybe, they weren’t niche reads then and even now, so correct me if I’m wrong!)
Although Naomi Jacob has been somewhat neglected in more recent years, she was a very popular and well-known author during her lifetime. Her books were read by millions of readers around the world, and she was also a regular guest on BBC radio. The Gollantz Saga titles, including The Founder of the House, are among the bestselling and most loved of her books, and they have been reissued a number of times since the 1930s. However, as far as I know, now is the first time in a few decades that new editions have been published, and I suppose that is because most authors go out of fashion at some point. Many of her contemporaries are also no longer read in the same numbers as they used to be. There can be all sorts of reasons for this; there are a lot of wonderful novels that no longer receive the attention they deserve. One of the main goals of my imprint is to introduce some of these forgotten modern classics to a new generation of readers.
2. Naomi Jacobs seemed like quite the provocative, though richly fascinating figure? What quality of hers really made her able to endure the inevitable backlash, and be able to stand on her own, doing the many things she felt so richly passionate about?
It’s difficult for me to answer, because Naomi Jacob died fifty years ago, and so sadly I never had the opportunity to meet her. But, having spoken to her family, and researched her work and life, I haven’t learned of any particular backlash against anything she did. Maybe this is because, despite being an unconventional figure in many ways, she wrote mainstream popular fiction, and her books were found in bookshops, libraries and homes around the country. Although, as I’ve mentioned, she was regularly on radio, and she also wrote a number of autobiographies, I imagine that many readers enjoyed her stories without giving too much thought to the author as a person. Over the past year, I’ve spoken to some older readers who remember reading her books in the 1950s and 1960s, but didn’t know anything about the author and her life. She was undoubtedly a “personality” but probably not in the sense that we understand that term now, in a world of 24 hour news and social media, where aspects of people’s lives (famous or not) are lived very publicly on a daily basis. It is interesting to imagine, if she were alive today, what her Twitter and Facebook timelines would include!
3. Do you think that it’s perhaps the personality of writers, an innate adventurous spirit or zeal, or just a sharp curiosity, that really gives storytellers that ability to both exist in society, but also exist separately, from an observant standpoint?
That’s an interesting question. I think that “sharp curiosity” you mention is essential for a good storyteller, but for some writers that curiosity could be simply a curiosity about oneself, rather than the human race as a whole. I can’t answer for Naomi Jacob, but from what I have heard and read, she was a very sociable woman, who loved to be surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. Personally, I don’t think she could have written about people’s foibles in that acute yet warm and witty way of hers, if she hadn’t been able both to take part in and observe society.
4. As mentioned before, the Jewish community, sadly, was often seen by the native British people as “invasive immigrants,” and that perspective was unfortunately built into/embedded in the European class-structure mindset. In many ways Naomi Jacob’s book The Founder of the House seems like a series that subverts this notion,and provides a rich heritage and history for a culturally Jewish family in Europe, who have a story, a history of their own as well. When writing this, did she draw on her own experiences within her own life? And what really impassioned her to write this type of novel?
Naomi Jacob’s own family and experience were definitely a large influence behind the Gollantz Saga. Although she was raised an Anglican, and later converted to Roman Catholicism, her paternal grandfather was a Jewish tailor who escaped to England from a pogrom in Western Prussia. Jacob wrote about and campaigned against anti-Semitism throughout her life. In 1935 she famously rejected an international award for her writing when she discovered that another recipient had been Adolf Hitler. She also helped Jewish refugees in Sirmione, Italy – where she lived – after the Second World War. The Founder of the House mainly reflects on the status of Jewish people in Vienna (where most of the novel is set). The later volumes (starting withThis Wild Lie… coming in early 2015) deal with the experience of Jewish immigrants in England.
5. Do you think that the first novel of this series should be offered in English literature curriculum, which problematically subdue the voices of other groups and classes sometimes, focusing entirely on the upper-crust instead, or just a specific social noble class instead? (In my own opinion, this type of book, offering a rich, dynamic history of a European Jewish family, gives people an appreciation for the depth and intricate nature of people from all classes and backgrounds.)
Well, in the UK there has been a lot of discussion recently about which texts should be studied in English literature – you can read some of it here:https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/315546/English_lit_mythbuster.pdf. Of course, I’d be very happy ifThe Founder of the House was included on the curriculum. I think it is a book of great historical and sociological interest, but which can be enjoyed purely as an engaging family saga.
Thanks again for the interview!! Naomi Jacobs is such a fascinating, rich personality, and I really, really enjoyed being exposed to her work.
Thank you Justin for the opportunity to introduce you and your readers to Naomi Jacob and her writing. I am really pleased to hear you enjoyed her work, and hope that others will too.