‘Let Us No Longer Express Ourselves in a Local Patois’

Gerard Reve and England Looking back, we cannot imagine Dutch literature of the second half of the twentieth century without great writers such as Willem Frederik Hermans and Gerard Reve. However, when these writers were at the beginning of their careers in around 1950, they found themselves confronted with a literary atmosphere in which they…

The Containment of Chaos

The Work of Gerard Reve A dalliance with the English language nearly caused the Dutchman Gerard Reve to become an English writer. In 1951 the Dutch government awarded him a travel grant to write his novella Melancholy (Melancholia), but when the Minister for Culture got wind of the fact that the book contained a masturbation…

‘An order, within which there’s room for chaos’

The Poetry of M. Vasalis ‘Do not be misled by what you see on the surface; deep down everything has a meaning.’ Rainer Maria Rilke The poetic oeuvre of M. Vasalis (1909-) is admittedly modest in size (only around 100 poems in total, spread over three collections), but her poetry has nonetheless acquired a position…

Deeper and Deeper into the Forest

On the Work of Oek de Jong Before the publication of Pier en oceaan (Pier and Ocean, 2012), I asked myself once or twice whether it would be more accurate to refer to the work of Oek de Jong’s ‘pens’ rather than the work of his ‘pen’. After all, each new book bearing his name…

The Message of Meaninglessness

The Books of Willem Frederik Hermans Just as an entire generation of Americans and Europeans can recall where they were and what they were doing when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot, or that the Berlin Wall was coming down, so the death of Willem Frederik Hermans gave rise to reminiscences from…

Writing is Gilding

The Monumental Oeuvre of A.F.Th. van der Heijden When A.F.Th. van der Heijden (Geldrop, 1951) debuted under the pseudonym Patrizio Canaponi with a short story in the literary magazine De Revisor early in 1978, it was immediately clear that this heralded an extraordinary talent. At the time, however, no one could have suspected what a…

A Dutch Exotic in His Own Country

On the Writer Maarten ’t Hart He is coming increasingly to resemble the prolific Simon Vestdijk (1898-1971) from Doorn, author of 52 novels, 23 collections of essays and thousands of poems, whom he greatly admired. Poems aside, the total output of Maarten ’t Hart (1944) is getting fairly close: 19 novels, 9 collections of stories…

‘Nothing worthwhile ever happens, except maybe some acts of consolation’

Literature according to Herman Brusselmans Herman Brusselmans, the self-proclaimed Handsome Young Jupiter of Flemish literature, is nothing if not prolific. Since his debut in 1982 he has published two books a year with clockwork regularity and his total production now exceeds thirty titles. His first effort, a collection of stories, was not an immediate hit, but in the novels…

Translator or Actor?

I find myself asking myself more and more: ‘Why do you sit translating?’ What are the deeper-lying, the ultimate reasons for it? After all, for years I have objected to being referred to as ‘James Brockway, the translator’, for translating is only one of the things I have done in the Netherlands since the war.…

Remco Campert and the Dubious Lightness of Being

If ever a writer in Dutch literature was blessed with eternal youth, that writer was Remco Campert. For decades his books bore witness to an almost provocative insouciance, which was perfectly expressed by the boyish, slightly mocking laugh in most of his portraits. His own preferred image of himself was as he appeared on the…