Although Violet Jacob (1863 – 1946), is highly regarded in her native Scotland as the author of the much admired novel Flemington (1911) and as a poet writing in the Scots vernacular, she is hardly known in England. She is often compared in stature to Hugh MacDiarmid (whom she knew) and her work,both printed and in manuscript form, can be found in public collections throughout Scotland. She is also appreciated online, where a scholarly site records her life in two parts—early and late. The letter shown here , which dates from Boxing Day 1935, and is from the archive of her friend Annie Schletter,
belongs to the last decade of her life, when she was often to be found touring Europe with her severely asthmatic husband Arthur, a former soldier. On this particular sojourn in a part of Italy that she seems to have known since at least 1930, she was staying in the very opulent Hotel de la Reine in the fashionable Ligurian resort of Ospedaletti, a favourite haunt of the English for decades. In the previous decade Sigmund Freud had stayed at the same hotel, but a very different kind of clientele became the target of Jacob’s lash in Christmas 1935. In a very lively account of her latest stay at the hotel, she turns her withering humour and novelist’s eye on her fellow guests:
The usual old trouts---Mrs Steve, the Ellis & Benson sisterhood, the Nightingale family & the trio of Miss Ashley, her sister, Mrs Fletcher & her cousin Mrs James. The latter sisterhood are almost more than I can bear. Miss Ashley herself has a face like a cow-pat & that is the truth. Platitudes fly from table to table. I just pretend that I am deaf & dumb & blind & so I survive. I do wish you were here. Arthur & I laugh in private & he, being one of the greatest mimics I ever knew, gives me little private impersonations.
Jacob also announces that she has taken up oil painting and that the Italian that Schletter had taught her ‘has been the joy of life here ‘. Alas, Jacob’s life was to change forever a few months later with the death of her beloved husband. She retired to Kirriemuir in Angus and died in 1946. [RR]