Violet Jacob (1863-1946), bom Violet Kennedy-Erskine, enjoyed some success in the early twentieth century with her novels and short stories, and her poetry in the Lowland Scots tongue. Her books were widely reviewed both north and south of the border, and she had a recognised place in the literary scene of her time. For many years, however, Jacob was represented only by a bare handful of poems in anthologies, until her prose work started reappearing in print in the 1980s and ‘90s. Now it is possible to see that her output is more diverse than has sometimes been assumed.
‘The spirit of place drew her mightily’, it is written of a character in her novel The History of Ay than Waring, and the same might be said of Jacob herself, much of whose work is based self-consciously in the various territories which were her ‘Own Country’. ‘Regional’ literature was popular in her time; it has not always been in favour since, but as Linda Hutcheon remarks of contemporary literature, ‘the local, the regional, the nontotalising are reasserted as the center becomes a fiction’. The time may be ripe for a revaluation of a writer like Jacob, whose work evokes physical place but also location in other senses.
Most of Jacob's significant work was written between the 1890s and the 1920s. She began working at the fin-de-siècle, in what Elaine Showalter has identified as a period of borderline battles, a time of cultural insecurity characterised by ‘fears of regression and degeneration’, when ‘the longing for strict border controls around the definition of gender, as well as race, class, and nationality, becomes especially intense’. Jacob, however, is located on borderlines of various kinds: her work explores borderlands, challenging boundaries, enacting ‘border crossing’.
Jacob grew up in Angus, on the east coast of Scotland, at her landed family's home at Dun, but first began writing seriously when, in the 1890s, she accompanied her Irish husband, Arthur, an army officer, to India, and recorded her life there in diaries and letters. Although she was also writing her first novel The Sheepstealers at this time, she expresses doubts about the value of her fiction in her diaries.