Joseph Jacobs: Biography & Fairy Tales

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Joseph Jacobs may be responsible for some of your favorite stories from childhood, and you didn't even know it! In this lesson, we'll take a look at the life of this folklorist and his contributions to your favorite childhood stories.

Thank You, Joseph Jacobs

What would your childhood have been like without some of these popular fairy tales?

  • ''Goldilocks''
  • ''The Three Little Pigs''
  • ''Henny Penny''
  • ''Jack and the Beanstalk''

Can you imagine growing up without having heard one - or all - of these classics? Well, without the help of author Joseph Jacobs, some of these famous stories may never have made their way to the listening ears of youngsters everywhere.

Joseph Jacobs helped spread the tale of Goldilocks and other popular fairy tale characters.
goldilocks, three bears, joseph jacobs

Let's take a close look at the life and works of this English folklorist (one who studies and interprets the artifacts of a group of people).

Learning More about Joseph Jacobs

Joseph Jacobs was born in Australia in 1854, the son of John and Sarah Jacobs. Jacobs was educated at Sydney Grammar School and, later, the University of Sydney, before moving to England and enrolling at St. John's College.

Jacobs was described as a ''voracious reader'' from an early age, and was first told the story of ''Henny Penny'' and ''Jack and the Beanstalk'' when he was only six years old. One of those stories appeared in Jacobs' first anthology, or collection, of English fairy tales.

A Career Evolves

Jacobs later became involved in the Society of Hebrew Literature, where he wrote about Jewish persecution and, later, a book titled Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica: A Bibliographical Guide to Anglo-Jewish History.

A few years later, Jacobs dipped his pen into the world of fairy tales, editing English Fairy Tales, the start of his focus on fairy tales over the next decade. He followed it up with More English Fairy Tales shortly thereafter.

Though he was smitten with compiling and popularizing European fairy tales, he also worked on stories from the Jewish culture as well as from India. He was motivated by the opportunity to present fairy tales to an English-speaking audience, where they were previously presented in other languages, such as French and German. A few of his works include:

Title
Celtic Fairy Tales
More Celtic Fairy Tales
Indian Fairy Tales
European Folk and Fairy Tales

Jacobs would later use his own children, two sons and a daughter, to try out the stories he would collect from the library to include in his books. He was especially focused on writing the stories the way they would be read aloud to a young audience. Historians believe he was inspired by the works of the popular fairy tale writers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

Yet, fairy tales were not the only stories that Jacobs enjoyed. He also worked on versions of Fables of Bidpai and Fables of Aesop. Fables, like fairy tales, are short stories, but generally include a clear moral or life lesson for readers.

Giving Fairy Tales a Boost

Perhaps Jacobs' largest claim to fame was his work to popularize fairy tales which, at that point, were only available in non-English languages. Thanks to his work, English-speaking audiences have gotten to enjoy some of these favorites:

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