THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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54 posts categorized "Netherlands"

27 September 2019

Ik, Jan Cremer – controversial, but not banned

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Banned Books Week (22–28 Sept 2019) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. It was launched in 1982 in response to the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. The theme for 2019 urges readers to ‘keep the light on’ to ensure censorship doesn’t leave us in the dark.

This week is Banned Books Week. The Low Countries have always a reputation as a tolerant region, so it may come as a surprise that some books were banned, even in the 20th century. Banned foreign titles included Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Madame Bovary.

One of the most controversial Dutch novels of the 20th Century is writer and artist Jan Cremer’s Ik, Jan Cremer (I, Jan Cremer), which is sometimes compared to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Its publication in 1964 caused great furore, a tiny revolution even. Quite a feat for a debut. Most critics were shocked. ‘Blood and sperm are dripping off it’, wrote Clara Eggink in the Leidsch Dagblad. Adriaan Morriën from Het Parool called Cremer ‘fascist’, because of the references to S&M (boots and whips), the relish with which Cremer describes how he destroys the interiors of cafes and restaurants and ‘most of all’ his sleeping around with anybody.

Photograph of Jan Cremer on a motorbike

Back cover of Jan Cremer in Beeld, by Guus Luijters. (Amsterdam, 1985) YA.1994.b.4290

Others criticised Cremer’s self-promotion and the way the book was marketed; just like any other day-to-day commodity. This typifies the snobbery of the Dutch intelligentsia at the time. Author Willem Frederik Hermans, however, loved it: ‘I read it in one night.’ Hermans especially loved Cremer’s style in which he showed a high ability to find the right words for his ideas. He does so at breakneck speed, frantically switching between topics, between fantasies and memories, between seriousness and irony.

The book is a picaresque novel about Cremer’s life as a writer and artist. He travels, paints, tells stories, loves women and rides his motorbike. He lived in America for a time, where his book also sold many copies. The same was true in Germany. The novel paints a brilliant picture of the time in which everything became possible for the first time. Cremer was one of the first Dutch authors to write so openly about sex and violence in raw language. He opened the door for other younger authors.

Photograph of Jan Cremer in a sports car

Jan Cremer in a sports car. From: Ik, Jan Cremer 6th ed. (Amsterdam, 1964) X908/4821

Ik, Jan Cremer wasn’t officially banned, although Hendrik Koekoek, leader of the ‘Farmers’ Party’, argued that it should be. Many parents forbade their children to read it – naturally with the opposite effect. The first edition of 5,000 copies sold out in a week. It saw 14 editions in its first year alone and 44 in total, the last one in 1987. To date over 400,000 copies have been sold in the Netherlands. Most critics , even those who enjoyed the book, did not regard it as ‘Literature’, but Cremer did not see himself as a literary writer. On the contrary, rejecting the label ‘literary author’ was his way of opposing the establishment.

Cremer wrote 13 books in total. In 1966 a Second Book of Ik, Jan Cremer was published, which received the Amsterdam Literary Prize. So within a few years the shock had worn off. The Third Book (2008, YF.2009.8242) hardly caused a ripple. More of the same with nothing much new.

Cover of the Third Book of Ik, Jan Cremer

Cover of the Third Book of Ik, Jan Cremer (Amsterdam, 2008) YF.2009.a.8242.

Ik, Jan Cremer, once threatened with banning, has become a classic and a must-read for secondary school pupils as well as adults.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (speciality Dutch languages)

References:

https://www.schrijversinfo.nl/cremerjan.html

The Library will be holding a number of events to mark Banned Books Week, and for more related posts, see our English and Drama and Americas blogs

13 September 2019

How to Catch a Whale? (And Some Herring, Too)

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Sometimes an opportunity to net a big fish that is irresistible comes along. Last year a title appeared in a dealer’s catalogue that was similar to a title destroyed in the bombing of the British Museum in September 1940. Being able to replace a destroyed copy does not happen often, and I was able to acquire it with the help of funds from the British Library Members.
The book in question is a work on whaling:

Title page of Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery.: met veele byzonderheden daar toe betreklyk

Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery.: met veele byzonderheden daar toe betreklyk. (Amsterdam, 1792). RB.23.b.7844.

The book is interesting in quite a few ways. We do not know who the author of this whaling manual is. Joop Schokkenbroek, an expert on Dutch whaling history, believes the author was a whaler himself, who wrote from experience. 

The names on the title page refer to the artists who made the engravings: Dirk, or Diederik de Jong, Hendrik Kobell and Matthias de Sallieth.

Of Dirk de Jong we know very little. No date or place of birth is known. All that is certain is that he worked in Rotterdam from 1779-1805. He was an illustrator and engraver, especially of maps. However, none of the maps in the book carry his name, or any name for that matter, so I cannot say whether de Jong made them.

Engraving from the book depicting Spitsbergen

Engraving from the book depicting Spitsbergen, not Greenland. RB.23.b.7844

Hendrik Kobell lived from 1751 to 1779 and worked in London, Paris and Rotterdam. He came from a family of artists and draughtsmen. While some of his relatives specialised in drawing cattle, Hendrik preferred ships, seascapes and sea battles.

The third artist who contributed to the book is Matthias Sallieth (1749-1791). Originally from Prague he settled in the Netherlands in 1778. He copied Dutch artists from the past, such as Willem van de Velde the famous painter who witnessed sea battles first hand and then painted them.

Many of the engravings in the book bear both names: Kobell and Sallieth, indicating a close working relationship. From the names and dates on the engravings it seems likely that Sallieth was the artist and Kobell the engraver.

Engraving by Kobell (engraver) and Sallieth (artist) of a whaling scene

Engraving by Kobell (engraver) and Sallieth (artist) of a whaling scene. RB.23.b.7844

Sallieth did a nice little sketch of the heads of the four Dutch naval commanders who were involved in the Battle of Medway, in 1667, taken from earlier works. One of them is Michiel Adriaansz de Ruyter (1607-1676), who as a young sailor in 1633 served as pilot on board whaling ship De Groene Leeuw (The Green Lion) , hunting whales near Spitsbergen. He wrote an account of this expedition, a summary of which was re-issued in a collection of six other journals on whaling voyages.

Title page of the summary of the journal by Michiel A. de Ruyter of his expedition to the Isle of Jan Mayen

Title page of the summary of the journal by Michiel A. de Ruyter of his expedition to the Isle of Jan Mayen. In: L’ Honoré Naber, Walvischvaarten, overwinteringen en jachtbedrijven in het Hooge Noorden 1633 – 1635 (Utrecht, 1930) Ac.9017.b/8.

De Jong’s work saw two print runs in quick succession, one in 1791 and one in 1792. This copy is from the second issue. The destroyed copy was from 1791, so it is not an exact match, though close enough. The book consists of four parts: the first is about the history of whaling and the manner in which the whales, walruses and seals are caught, and it gives a description of the various species of these animals.

Engraving of a Sperm Whale

Engraving of a Sperm Whale. In: Nieuwe beschryving der walvisvangst en haringvisschery (Amsterdam, 1792). RB.23.b.7844

The Library holds many more whaling journals, dating as far back as the early 17th Century, describing expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic, from the late 16th Century onwards. Adventures and hardships endured by the whalers were very popular with readers back home. Our collections provide ample material for another blog.

De Jong’s book stands out for its attention to the wider context in which whaling took place. Apart from the practical aspects of whaling and herring fishing, it describes not only the seas where fishing occurred, but also the surrounding lands, the people that lived there and the flora and fauna.

Engraving of a Brent Goose and a Puffin

Engraving of a Brent Goose and a Puffin. RB.23.b.7844

Engraving of Icelandic woman

Engraving of Icelandic woman. RB.23.b.7844

The last chapter discusses the herring fishery, which includes a foldout engraving of the lifting of nets by Kobell and Sallieth. Why is herring fishing included here? I’m not sure. Herring fishing was certainly a major trade for the Netherlands; called the Big Trade.

Engraving of herring fisheries by Sallieth (artist) and Kobell (engraver)

Engraving of herring fisheries by Sallieth (artist) and Kobell (engraver). RB.23.b.7844

By the year 1800 whaling had declined, due to wars and competition. King William I tried to revive the industry with large subsidies. I wonder whether the King had read De Jong’s book. Schokkenbroek wrote a review of the facsimile edition published in 1992. In it he wonders whether the author’s intention had been to revive interest in the whaling industry once more. On the last page he refers to the glorious history of Dutch whaling “that from the oldest times onwards was held for a goldmine to this Commonwealth, will continue to flourish, and deposits its treasures in the lap of the Netherland’s inhabitants.”

It wasn’t to be. In the early 19th Century the industry collapsed once more. It was only after the Second World War that private companies decided to go out whaling again. There was a lack of foreign currency as well as margarine, so the best way for the Dutch was to get their own oil to make margarine. With help from the Dutch government the ship Willem Barents II completed eighteen expeditions to the Southern hemisphere. When this financial support was stopped whaling became unsustainable. In May 1964 the Willem Barents II returned to port with the very last oil.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (speciality Dutch languages)

10 September 2019

A European Autumn at the British Library

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This autumn, as part of our ‘European Literature Focus’, the British Library will be hosting a number of events featuring writers and writing from across the continent. So we thought we’d give you a quick taster here to whet your appetites.

Cover of Echoes of the City by Lars Saabye Christensen

Lars Saabye Christensen, Echoes of the Citytranslated by Don Bartlett (London, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark. Norwegian edition: Byens spor - Ewald og Maj (Oslo, 2017), YF.2018.a.9337 

First up, on Monday 7 October, you can hear Norwegian Lars Saabye Christensen in conversation with Georgina Godwin. In a rare UK appearance, he will be talking about his latest novel to appear in English translation, Echoes of the City, which traces an Oslo community’s slow recovery from a period of crippling austerity after the Second World War. Christensen is one of Norway’s most popular and critically-acclaimed writers; he has been awarded the country’s top literary prizes and his breakthrough novel Beatles (1984), a coming-of-age story about four teenage Beatles fans in 1960s Oslo, remains a bestseller in Norway over 30 years after its publication.

Photograph of Elif Shafak

Elif Shafak © Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch

On Tuesday 8 October Rosie Goldsmith, director of the European Literature Network and a familiar and welcome face at British Library events on European literature, chairs ‘Future Library: Art, Ideas and Time’, a discussion with artist Katie Paterson, novelist Elif Shafak and philosopher Roman Krznaric about Paterson’s ‘Future Library’ project. This is a public artwork in Oslo, begun in 2014 and designed to unfold over a century. A forest has been planted just outside the city to supply paper for an anthology to be published in 2114. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unread and unpublished, until the anthology appears. Elif Shafak contributed a text in 2017; other contributors so far have included Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and the Icelandic author Sjón.

Cover of The Cut Out Girl

Bart van Es, The Cut Out Girl (London, 2018). ELD.DS.290811

Fans of Dutch literature are in for a treat on Saturday 12 October, when Bart van Es, author of Costa Prize-winning The Cut Out Girl, joins bestselling novelist Herman Koch, rising literary stars Esther Gerritsen and Jeroen Olyslaegers, and historian Simon Schama at a special day of talks on new Dutch writing presented by the Dutch Foundation for Literature in association with Modern Culture. And if you’re not (yet) a fan of Dutch literature, a day exploring the complex history and current politics of the Netherlands, and the chance to discover the latest Dutch books in English translation will surely make you one!

Covers of recently published works by Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová

Recently published works by Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová

Two further events take the revolutionary changes in Europe in 1989 as a starting point. On Friday 25 October there is a rare chance to meet a new generation of Slovak authors at ‘Raising the Velvet Curtain’, part of a series of events under the same name presenting contemporary Slovak writers and artists to English audiences, organised with the support of Fond na podporu umenia (the Slovak Arts Council) and the Embassy of the Republic of Slovakia. Three leading contemporary writers – Balla, Uršuľa Kovalyk and Ivana Dobrakovová – will present their recently published works (translated into English by Julia and Peter Sherwood) and discuss with host Lucy Popescu how Slovakia has changed over the past 30 years.

Photograph of Rosie Goldsmith next to the Berlin Wall

Rosie Goldsmith, November 1989, Berlin Wall

On Tuesday 26 November Rosie Goldsmith returns for ‘Riveting Germans: After the Wall’, chairing a discussion of German literature and its translation into English since 1989. Prize-winning authors Durs Grünbein, Julia Franck and Nino Haratischvili, and translators Charlotte Collins, Karen Leeder and Ruth Martin will consider what what has or hasn’t worked for UK readers of German literature, and what the the impact of the East-West divide has been on German authors. The event is organised in collaboration with the European Literature Network, the British Council, Goethe-Institut London, Frankfurt Book Fair and the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany London, and marks the publication of a German-themed issue of The Riveter, the magazine founded by Rosie with the aim of making European literature popular and accessible across the UK.

Self portrait, Leonid Pasternak

Self portrait, Leonid Pasternak

Finally, on Thursday 29 November, Doctor Zhivago: A Pasternak Family Affair’ looks at a much-loved Russian classic in a new light. Translator Nicolas Pasternak Slater and picture editor Maya Slater present their recent work on a new translation of Doctor Zhivago illustrated with 70 pictures by Boris Pasternak’s father, the Impressionist painter Leonid Pasternak, and just published by the Folio Society. They will also reveal how members of the Pasternak family living in England experienced the writing and publication of the novel.

Booking is now open for all these events and you can find full details and purchase tickets via the links above. We hope you’ll be able to join us to celebrate and discover some of the literatures of Europe this autumn.

30 August 2019

Women in Translation Month: top picks from the European Studies team (Part 2)

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Collage of book covers featured in the blog post

In this two-part blog post, the European Studies team have selected books by women authors in translation from across the continent. Ranging from 20th-century classics to contemporary fiction, the majority of these works were also translated by women, and several have won or been shortlisted for literary and translation awards.

Cover of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

Olga Tokarczuk, Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017), ELD.DS.228759
Chosen by Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections

Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for her novel Flights, is one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful Polish writers of her generation, particularly noted for the hallmark mythical tone of her writing. The Polish title Bieguni refers to runaways, a sect of Old Believers, who believe that being in constant motion is a trick to avoid evil. Flights is a fragmentary novel consisting of over 100 episodes, each exploring what it means to be a traveller through space as well as time. Set between the 17th and 21st centuries, the novel includes some fictional stories and some fact-based, narrated from a perspective of an anonymous female traveller. It was translated by Jennifer Croft, an American author and critic who works from Polish, Ukrainian and Spanish. She is a founding editor of the Buenos Aires Review.

Cover of The Polyglot Lovers by Lina Wolff

Lina Wolff, The Polyglot Lovers, translated by Saskia Vogel (And other stories, 2019), ELD.DS.410017
Chosen by Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

Referred to as ‘feminism for the Fleabag generation’ (Spectator), Lina Wolff’s second novel takes down ‘myths of male authorship’ (FT) in this absurb book about love and loss. Both this and Wolff’s first novel, Brett Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs, were awarded PEN Translates awards by English PEN, thanks to the translations of Saskia Vogel, prolific translator of Swedish fiction, who recently wrote about how she has mainly translated women authors, who ‘question the shape of society and the assumptions we make, with a particular interest in sex and gender, language, economics, and power.’

Covers of Parts I and II of The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history by Ágnes Heller, featuring an owl

Ágnes Heller, The time is out of joint: Shakespeare as philosopher of history (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), translated by Magda Módos (Osiris, 2000), YC.2003.a.4129 (English) YF.2010.a.20242 (Hungarian)
Chosen by Andrea Déri, Cataloguer

‘The time is a sphinx in Shakespeare’s plays, but a sphinx whose secret will never be known, whose riddle will never be solved.’ ‘[…] for the secret of time is the meaning of life. A life has no meaning except for the question concerning meaning itself.’

Hungarian philosopher Ágnes Heller (1929–2019) interrogates time and temporality in Shakespeare’s plays in this book and engages her readers in doing the same in their life as well; challenges foreshadowed by Hamlet’s words in the title. An obituary in the Financial Times described Heller as ‘one of the most respected European philosophers of her generation’, ‘a life-long fighter for freedom’. Magda Módos, known for her interest in philosophy, translated the book from the English original into Hungarian.

Cover of Bad Roads by Natal'ya Vorozhbit

Natal'ia Vorozhbit, Bad Roads, translated by Sasha Dugdale (Nick Hern Books, 2017), ELD.DS.228387
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

First performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London in 2017, Natal'ia Vorozhbit’s powerful and sometimes bitterly comic play focuses on the impact of the conflicts in Ukraine on women from different generations and backgrounds. A leading contemporary Ukrainian playwright, Vorozhbit is the co-founder of the Theatre of the Displaced in Kyiv and curator of the Class Act project in Ukraine. Bad Roads was translated from the Russian by the prolific poet, translator and editor Sasha Dugdale, who reflected on her experience of translating the play and its harrowing subject matter in an article for the Guardian.

Cover of Bitter Herbs by Marga Minco, featuring a drawing of a woman

Marga Minco, Bitter Herbs, translated by Roy Edwards (Oxford University Press, 1960)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

This autobiographical novella or chronicle about a Dutch Jewish family during the Second World War was published as Minco’s debut in 1957. Bitter Herbs was given a literary award in 1958 and has been translated into several languages. Minco became the Dutch voice in European war literature. The book’s sober, clear, direct style belies its deeper meanings. Minco’s themes are loss, loneliness, fear, guilt, and a longing for security. She and her uncle were the only members of her family to survive the war. Minco received the highest Dutch literary award, the PC Hooftprijs, for her complete oeuvre in 2019, at the age of 98.

Cover of The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern, featuring a figure sitting on a bench
 

Hélène Gestern, The People in the Photo, translated by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz (Gallic Book 2014), Nov.2018/1771
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections

Hélène Gestern (born 1971) is a French writer and academic. One of her favourite themes is photography, and the power it exercises over memory. In The People in the Photo, Hélène is an archivist living in Paris. Her mother died when she was a baby, so she posts a newspaper ad requesting information about a mysterious photograph of her mother alongside two unknown men. This provokes a response from Stéphane, a Swiss scientist living in Ashford, who recognises his father. The People in the Photo revolves around the exchange of letters, emails and text messages between the two, and explores themes of memory, loss and the power of photography and images as the pair shares discoveries and speculate about their parents’ secrets. Published in 2011, the original French Eux sur la photo received the “Prix Coup de cœur des lycéens” de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco and the Prix René Fallet in 2012.

13 August 2019

Max Havelaar: the Novel that Killed Colonialism

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“The book is multifarious… disjointed… straining for effect… the style is poor… the author inexperienced… no talent… no method…” Fine, fine, all of it fine! But… THE JAVANESE ARE MISTREATED! THE MAIN POINT of what I have written is irrefutable!

These words fill the final pages of Max Havelaar or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company. Written by Multatuli -- pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker – and causing a political storm on publication in the Netherlands in 1860. Max Havelaar remains required reading for students of Dutch literature in the Netherlands and Belgium and is to the Netherlands what Harriet Beecher-Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851) is to the United States. Just this year, New York Review of Books published a new English translation of this masterpiece of Dutch fiction which paints a damning picture of 19th-century Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule.

Portrait of Multatuli

The so-called ‘Sjaalman portrait’ of Multatuli. Reproduced in: Dik van der Meulen, Multatuli: leven en werken van Eduard Douwes Dekker . (Amsterdam, 2002). YA.2003.a.41440

Perhaps it’s Max Havelaar’s explosive nature that attracts contemporary readers – Multatuli’s book was considered so controversial by the first publisher, Jacob Van Lennep that he set about altering the novel to tone down its political volatility. A copy of the first edition as censored by Van Lennep, with dates and the names of people and places crossed out, is housed in the British Library. It wasn’t until 1875 that Multatuli was able to buy back the copyright of his own novel and to have Max Havelaar published with the original names and dates re-inserted.

Title page of the 1860 edition of Max Havelaar

Title page of Max Havelaar, of de Koffij-veilingen der Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij, (Amsterdam, 1860) RB.23.a.35956

The cover image of the latest English edition clearly hints at the explosiveness of Multatuli’s work: Indonesian artist Raden Saleh’s painting of Indonesia’s most active volcano, Merapi, meaning “the one making fire” in old Javanese, occupies the front cover. A fitting choice for the book that, according to the Indonesian writer Pramoedya Anata Toer, “killed colonialism.” What made Max Havelaar so politically charged was Multatuli drawing attention to the suffering of those dominated by colonial rule. Multatuli was considered an extraordinary thinker for his time – he wrote about his experiences with the local population in Indonesia not as their oppressor, but as someone determined to be their ‘saviour’ – although this sense of white responsibility is of course also part of the colonial mindset.

Cover of the 2019 English edition of Max Havelaar with a painting of Indonesia’s most active volcano, Merapi

Cover of Max Havelaar or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company (New York, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark.

Whether Multatuli’s motivations for writing Max Havelaar were purely self-serving – he wanted his job as a colonial administrator back – or whether he wrote to campaign for better conditions for the Indonesians, it was essential for him to present Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia in a negative light. One of his most effective tools was altering the perceptions of the native Indonesian; utilising Orientalist descriptions and portraying them as victims of colonialism. A key example of this is the enduring story of Saidjah and Adinda, which depicts a pair of Indonesian star-crossed lovers. This tale is perhaps the most well-known from Max Havelaar and has been published as a separate story numerous times.

Title page of a 1956 edition of Saîdjah en Adinda

Saîdjah en Adinda. Toespraak tot de hoofden van Lebak ... (The Hague, 1956). 12586.a.24.

A tragic tale of love and loss at the hands of ruthless oppressors, the story of Saidjah and Adinda awarded the Indonesians a sense of humanity they had previously been denied. Multatuli contradicts earlier descriptions of the Indonesians as threatening and violent by depicting them as peaceful, close to nature and, thanks to their unsophisticated life goals of owning buffaloes and pleasing their families, less corrupt than the Europeans who ruled over them.

Multatuli’s writing style, which sees him break into the narrative as the righteous omniscient narrator who speaks truth to power, made Max Havelaar all the more persuasive. This style, innovative to readers back in colonial Europe and still so fresh today, earned the text its reputation as a literary masterpiece. Nearly 160 years on, the themes of the novel still resonate – questioning those that hold power and bringing about emancipation for the subjugated remain ever-significant. Max Havelaar continues to entice readers worldwide, both as a novel and as an indictment of oppression that brought about a decisive change in policy and national mindset.

In 1948, less than a century years after its first publication, Communist publisher Pegasus issued its own edition of Max Havelaar, edited by the editor of ‘De Waarheid’, the newspaper of the Dutch Communist Party. At the start of the Indonesian War of Independence, Pegasus’goal was to raise awareness of the colonial history amongst the Dutch soldiers sent to suppress the independence fighters. This plan did not succeed, because Dutch bookshops and libraries refused to stock it. There are very few copies held by libraries in the Netherlands, which makes it all the more special that the BL received a copy in donation in 2017.

Title page of the 1948 edition of Max Havelaar

Title page of the 1948 edition of Max Havelaar, published by Pegasus in Amsterdam. YF.2018.a.8223

Megan Strutt, University of Sheffield

Written as part of the Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) scheme, working in collaboration with Marja Kingma (Curator Germanic Collection BL) and Filip De Ceuster (University of Sheffield).

21 May 2019

P. G. Wodehouse under Continental Covers

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Some time ago our Translator in Residence, Rahul Bery, wrote a post for the BL English and Drama blog about translations of the works of P.G. Wodehouse. As an unexpected but welcome response to this we were contacted by Wodehouse expert Tony Ring, who asked if we would be interested in a donation of Wodehouse novels in various European languages. We were of course delighted to accept and recently the collection of 100 books, in Danish, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Russian and Swedish, arrived in the Library.

Unpacking them I was fascinated by the range of different cover designs. I always associate Wodehouse with the gently humorous drawings of ‘Ionicus’ (J.C. Armitage) which adorned the British Penguin editions for many years. but readers abroad would encounter Wodehouse under many different covers, some of them quite surprising.

To start with some straightforward ones, in the 1970s and 80s, the Dutch publisher Spectrum issued a number of Wodehouse novels in its ‘Prisma’ series with covers by the well-known political cartoonist Peter van Straaten and there are nine of these in the collection. Straaten’s lively drawings clearly represent characters and situations from the books – not as common as you might think! Here are two, from Summer Lightning (De ontvoerde zeug), translated by W. Wielek-Berg, and Something Fresh (Nieuwe Bezems), translated by W.N. Vandersluys.

Covers by Peter Straaten for Dutch translations of two P.G. Wodehouse novels

Van Straaten’s illustrations show the characters dressed more or less appropriately for the period when the books were set. However, this is not always the case. This 1962 cover by Georges Mazure for Dokter Sally, translated by Henriëtte van der Kop, reflects the fashions of the day rather than of its original publication date thirty years before.

Cover of a Dutch P.G. Wodehouse translation showing characters in 1960s clothing

Likewise, Ulrich Lichtenhardt’s cover for this 1980 German edition of Spring Fever (Frühlingsgefühle) bears all the hallmarks of the late 1970s rather than of 1948 when the book first appeared. Incidentally, all seven German translations in the collection bear the rider ‘Heiterer Roman’ (‘light-hearted novel’) on their covers – playing to a stereotype of an earnest German reader needing to be assured that laughter is allowed?

Cover of a German P.G. Wodehouse translation with characters in 1970s clothing

If the Germans want to emphasise humour, some of the Russian covers seem to imply a darker side to the tales. The Angler’s Rest and its regulars have surely never looked as louche as on the vaguely expressionistic cover of this 2011 translation by I. Gurova of Mulliner Nights (Vechera s misterom Mullinerom). This is probably my favourite cover in the whole collection.

Cover of a Russian Wodehouse translation showing two men drinking in a bar and an abstractly drawn cityscape

Two other Russian Mr Mulliner collections also use expressionist artwork on the cover, to rather angst-ridden effect, but most worrying is this bleak 2002 cover for A Damsel In Distress (Deva v bede), which to my mind looks better suited to Tess of the d’Urbervilles than to the world of Wodehouse. I can only think that the designer was given nothing to go on but the title.

Cover of a Russian Wodehouse translation showing a straw hat and flowers on an empty chair

I find there’s also something slightly threatening about this Italian cover by Stefano Tartatrotti for Adriana Motti’s translation of Uncle Dynamite (Zio Dinamite) from 1998, but as with the Russian Mulliner Nights, the humour wins out.

Cover of an Italian Wodehouse translation showing a man standing in front of a sculpture of himself

Another Italian cover is very literal: a 1966 edition of Young Men in Spats (Giovanotti con la Ghette), translated by Zoe Lampronti.

Cover of an Italian Wodehouse translation showing two pairs of feet wearing spats

To my mind one of the most attractive covers in the collection is this Swedish dust-jacket by Björn Berg for Birgitta Hammar’s translation of Full Moon (Fullmåne), one of a number of Wodehouse covers that Berg illustrated in 1984. He also includes a brief portrait sketch of Wodehouse on the back of the jacket (and one of the Empress of Blandings on the title page).

Cover of a Swedish Wodehouse translation showing a man and woman in a garden at night

The back cover is also put to good use in Birgitta Hammar’s 1956 Swedish translation of French Leave (Fransysk visit), describing the characters and outlining the plot of the story on a ‘menu’ from the Hotel Splendide in the fictional French town where the story is set.

Back cover of a Swedish P.G. Wodehouse translation listing the characters as if on a menu

As for the French themselves, this 1947 translation of My Man Jeeves (Mon valet de chambre) has a vignette by J. Jacquemin which I think nicely captures Jeeves’s imperturbability.

Cover of a French P.G. Wodehouse translation showing Jeeves carrying a tray

A later series of Jeeves stories in French all use the same cover image of British actor Arthur Treacher playing the role, but change the colour of his cravat and buttonhole for each cover. I’m not sure Jeeves would really have approved of this sartorial frivolity; perhaps that’s why he looks rather troubled here.

Covers of three French Wodehouse translations showing actor Arthur Treacher in the role of Jeeves

But for sheer oddity, I think the prize goes to the Dutch for this 1974 cover for Jan Wart Kousemaker’s translation of Plum Pie (Plumpudding) which at first glance looks more like a cheap thriller than a collection of humorous stories.

Cover of a Dutch Wodehouse translation showing a jelly heart pierced by a dartOf course, we should never judge a book by its cover, and there is much more to say about this wonderful donation and the ways in which translators have tackled Wodehouse’s distinctive style. For now the books will go to be accessioned and catalogued so that they can be available for students of literary translation and reception – and for interested Wodehousians – in our reading rooms.

Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

Vignette portrait of P.G. Wodehouse
P.G. Wodehouse, ‘the world's most popular humourist’. Sketch by Björn Berg from the dustjacket of Fullmåne  

27 February 2019

The Cats’ Newspaper: or the Cat’s Pyjamas?

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A month after our current exhibition Cats on the Page opened, its lead curator passed me a donation of a number of issues of De Poezenkrant, or ‘The Cats’ Newspaper’, that came with a letter from its editor, P. Schreuders, who donated the issues as a ‘Thank You’ for the exhibition. These are currently being catalogued and shelfmarked and will be available on our CATalogue ‘Explore’  soon.

This blog is a ‘Thank You’ in return for Schreuders’ generous donation.

P. Schreuders started De Poezenkrant as a sort of newsletter about his family and the family cat R. van Plezier. (The ‘R’. stands for ‘Red’ as in ‘ginger’.)

Cover of 'De Poezenkrant' February 1977 showing two cats and a fir tree
Cover of De Poezenkrant Nr 21, February 1977, featuring R. van Plezier, P. Schreuders’ ginger cat. (Awaiting shelfmark)

Schreuders would send the newsletter to a select group of friends, but soon the mailing list expanded to a few hundred subscribers. Now it has fans all over the world. It sure looks like it has nine lives!

In 2015 Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant (‘The Big Book of The Cats’ Newspaper.’ ) was published to celebrate the 41st year of the newspaper/magazine. Why 41 years and not 40 is all explained in the book. It has the complete issues 1 -49BIS”A” (1974–2004) and is dedicated to R. van Plezier.

Cover of 'Het Grote Boek van De Poezenkrant' showing a stylised picture of a cat
Cover of Piet Schreuders, Het Grote Boek van De Poezenkrant (Amsterdam, 2015) YF.2018.b.808.

The Cat’s Newspaper is a strange little beast. Is it a magazine, or a newspaper? Is it about cats, or literature? How often does it appear and what will the next issue look like?

Mr. P. Schreuders likes to play a game of cat and mouse with his readers. De Poezenkrant is published irregularly and in ever-changing formats – just as a cat would behave. The cover of issue 62 is a case in point. It says ‘2017 à 2018’.

Cover of 'De Poezenkrant' 2017-18 Showing a woman and cat in a railway carriage
Cover of De Poezenkrant, vol. 44, No 62, 2017 à 2018.

De Poezenkrant has a whiff of Facebook about it. Readers from all over the world (global reach) submit their news, photos and stories (posts) for publication in the newspaper. Well known authors write literary articles for the newspaper, which results in a hugely varied content, in Dutch, English and sometimes other languages. This stimulates endless browsing. Add to that the fact that cats are, of course, one of the most popular themes on social media and you have a social media platform.

Several Dutch authors have contributed to De Poezenkrant over time. One of the most prolific contributors, almost from the beginning, was Willem Frederik Hermans who was a big fan of cats. Schreuders read an interview with Hermans in the newspaper NRC of 20 March 1971, in which Hermans only talked about cats, so Schreuders sent Hermans the next issue of De Poezenkrant. This was the beginning of a long collaboration between the two.

Two picture postcards with images of kittens and writing in Dutch on the reverse
Postcards sent by W.F.Hermans to P. Schreuders in May and June 1974, commenting on De Poezenkrant, reproduced in  Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant

On Christmas Day 1975 Hermans sent Schreuders a copy of the famous engraving by J.J. Grandville of the characters in the fable ‘Le Chat, la Belette et le petit Lapin’, by Jean de la Fontaine, from an 1838 edition of the Fables.

Hermans included a short note, in which he states that in his opinion the image deserved a place in De Poezenkrant. He points out the clogs on the feet of the rabbit, whom he compares to a Dutch author he doesn’t like very much. He also expresses his disappointment that the carved mouse heads on the chair of the cat Raminagrobis aren’t lion heads. The note was printed in De Poezenkrant nr 24 of July 1978.

 Typed note from W.H. Hermans to P. Schreuders
Detail of the typed note from Hermans to Schreuders, 25 December 1977, reproduced in  Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant

A few years later De Poezenkrant Nr 33 featured a full article on the cat Raminagrobis from La Fontaine’s fable, entitled ‘Op zoek naar Raminagrobis’ (‘In search of Raminagrobis’), in which Hermans’ copy of the Grandville engraving was included. The article discusses various editions of the fable, and their illustrations of the unreliable ‘judge’ Raminagrobis. Gustav Doré and Benjamin Rabier are mentioned, but the verdict is clear: ‘By far the most beautiful illustrations are those in the edition by Fournier Ainé (Paris, 1838) and are by Grandville’; this is indeed the edition on display in the Library’s exhibition.

Illustration from the Fables of Lafontaine showing a weasel and rabbit standing before a seated cat
Ms Weasel and the little Rabbit before Raminagrobis, published in Fables de La Fontaine. Édition illustrée par J. J. Grandville. (Paris, 1838) C.152.g.7.

Neither the exhibition, nor De Poezenkrant would be complete without the Cheshire Cat. The cover of issue 30, Autumn 1982 is in the style of 18th-century book title pages, but with modern concepts. The Cheshire Cat sits in the centre of the page, almost like a printer’s device. It is taken from the engraving by Sir John Tenniel made for the ‘dream play for children in two acts’ (London, 1886) adapted by H. Savile Clarke from Lewis Carroll’s Alice books

Cover of 'De Poezenkrant' issue 30 with an image of the smiling Cheshire Cat
Cover of De Poezenkrant Nr 30, reproduced in Het Grote Boek van de Poezenkrant

De Poezenkrant has an online presence, too and several issues are available on ISSUU.

Go and have a look; curiosity won’t kill the cat!

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page and the accompanying events season continue until 17 March.

25 January 2019

‘Tom Puss, conjure up a trick!’

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Our ‘Cats on the Page’ exhibition features several items on clever and cunning cats. It is probably fair to say that the most famous amongst them is Puss in Boots. He is represented in a charming pop-up book by Vojtěch Kubašta,  published in London in 1958 (W.E.d.692)

But did you know that the Dutch cherish an equally clever, cunning and cool cat? His name is Tom Poes, created by Marten Toonder (1912-2005)

TomPoes2MToonder Portrait of Marten Toonder by Kippa, from Was Tom Poes maar hier (Amsterdam, 2006) YF.2008.a.18079.

Toonder may never have guessed that the doodles of various animal figures he made one day out of sheer boredom would lead to 45 years of newspaper cartoons, cartoon strips, books, films, merchandise, illegal copies of his works, as well as to a statue of his little cat hero in the Rotterdam street where he was born.

TomPoes3shapes The first incarnation of Tom Poes, reproduced in Marten Toonder Heer Bommel en ik (Amstelveen, 2017) YF.2018.a.15780.

The doodles were filed away in a drawer where they lay forgotten, until a Dutch national newspaper, De Telegraaf, asked Toonder to write and illustrate a daily cartoon. Looking for inspiration he found the drawings and decided to give the little cat a try. His wife Phiny Dick, pen name of Afine Kornélie Dik, suggested the name ‘Tom Poes’ and it was she who wrote the first Tom Poes story, Het Geheim der Blauwe Aarde (‘The Secret of the Blue Earth’), which was published on 16 March 1941. However, she soon handed the whole enterprise over to Marten.

Very soon, during his third adventure (‘In the Magic Garden’, 1941) Tom Poes met the brown bear Olie B. Bommel, a ‘gentleman of standing’, for whom ‘money is of no importance’. Tom Poes and he become inseparable and Bommel became more popular than Tom Poes during their many adventures.

TomPoes4OBBommel Olie B. Bommel, detail from the cover of a publisher’s flyer for Marten Toonder: Alle verhalen van Olivier B. Bommel and Tom Poes

Bas van der Schot compared the couple to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Was Tom Poes maar hier (‘If Only Tom Poes Were Here’), a homage to Marten Toonder, published in 2006, a year after his death.

TomPoes5YinYangTom Poes and Olie B Bommel as Yin and Yang, by Bas van der Schot, from Was Tom Poes maar hier (Amsterdam, 2006) YF.2008.a.18079.

Olie B. Bommel may be fantastically wealthy, but he is not very clever, nor is he in touch with the ‘real world’. It is Tom Poes who has the brains, always keeps his cool, and gets them out of many a pickle. ‘Conjure a trick, Tom Poes!’ is another phrase that has entered the Dutch vernacular, which almost literally means the same as Baldrick’s ‘I have a cunning plan’.

TomPoes6VerzineenList

Cover of Marten Toonder,Verzin toch eens een list (Amsterdam, 1973) X.990/6049

De Telegraaf insisted Marten Toonder used the format of the text cartoon by which the text is printed underneath the illustrations, rather than in speech balloons. This format had been invented by the Swiss teacher, author, artist and cartoonist Rodolphe Töpffer, who was famous in the Netherlands for his Histoire de Monsieur Cryptogame, which was actually the very first cartoon to feature in Dutch newspapers. In Calvinist Holland speech balloon strips were frowned upon well into the 20th Century, but text cartoons were just about acceptable.

TomPoes7Textstrip2 Example of text strip in newspaper De Telegraaf. Reproduced in Marten Toonder, De Andere Wereld (Amsterdam, 1982) X.958/14755.

Toonder perfected Töpffer’s format by treating text and illustrations as equal, so the reader needed both to make sense of the story.

Right from the start Tom Poes was translated into various languages: Swedish and Czech were the first, published in 1941, soon followed by French, Spanish and some British titles. The Loch Ness Monster, published in Tom Puss Comics is one example.

TomPoes8TPComicsCover of Tom Puss Comics (London, 1949) 12831.g.31.

Over 45 years Toonder wrote 177 Tom Poes / Olie B. Bommel stories. The newspaper strips became known as the ‘Bommel Saga.’

A sign of its popularity is the Toonderstripkatalogus (‘Toonder cartoon catalogue’), meticulously detailing all manifestations of the Tom Poes stories; in newspapers, in weekly magazines, in book form, in translation and in other media, accompanied by a history of Toonder and his creations.

TomPoes9Bommelbibliografie Title page of H. R. Mondria, Bommelbibliografie. 2nd ed. (‘The Hague, 1974) X:908/80234

In his study of Toonder and the Bommel Saga, Henk R. Mondria discusses whether Tom Poes can be considered to be ‘Literature’. He answers in the affirmative. His arguments are that Olie B. Bommel is a rounded character, Toonder is a language virtuoso and the stories always have deeper layers than just the plot line. Furthermore, literary critics wrote polemics about this burning question, which is a sure sign of the literary value of Tom Poes.

Then, in 2008 the publisher De Bezige Bij embarked on a project of re-issuing all Tom Poes stories in a series Marten Toonder: alle verhalen van Olie B. Bommel en Tom Poes, plus commentary, in 60 volumes. The last volume was published in 2018: Als dat maar goed gaat (‘What could possibly go wrong?’). That settles the discussion once and for all; Tom Poes is well and truly part of the Dutch literary canon!

TomPoes10AlleVerhalenFront cover of a publisher’s flyer for Marten Toonder: Alle verhalen van Olivier B. Bommel and Tom Poes

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References / Further reading

Wim Hazeu, Marten Toonder: biografie (Amsterdam, 2012) On order.

Marten Toonder, Vroeger was de aarde plat: autobiografie. (Amsterdam, 2010) ZA.9.a.5120

Marten Toonder, Alle Verhalen (Amsterdam, 2008-2018). 60 vols. Individual volumes held at various shelfmarks.

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

16 November 2018

The Netherlands’ ‘Red Week’ in November 1918 – Troelstra’s Mistake

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“I let myself go, but as soon as I noticed it would not have the desired effect I withdrew.”

Pieter Jelles Troelstra wrote these (freely translated) words in the fourth volume, posthumously published, of his Memoirs.

Portrait of P.J. Troelstra
Portrait of P.J. Troelstra, frontispiece from his memoirs, Gedenkschriften. Vierde deel: Storm. (Amsterdam, 1931) 010760.g.18.

Following the failures of the Second International in 1916 and of the peace conference in Stockholm in 1917 he advocated direct action when parliamentary processes failed.

Caricature of Troelstra as a shabby soldier
“What is left of the Internationale in the Netherlands”, cartoon by Louis de Leeuw from De Roskam, October 1916. Reproduced in A.H. Hahn, Troelstra in de karikatuur (Amsterdam, 1920) X.429/4421.

Troelstra deemed the time ripe for a revolution in the Netherlands, following food riots and an uprising on an army base. 

Caricature of Troelstra dressed as a revolutionary and carrying knives inscribed with the word 'revolution'
 “… And when the revolution is there, Pieter Jelles is ready.” Cartoon by Jan Sluyters from De Nieuwe Amsterdammer, 9 February 1918. Reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur.

Going against his own party and without their prior knowledge he held two speeches: in Rotterdam in front of dock workers on 11 November and in Parliament on 12 November, where he called upon the government to step aside for a socialist regime ans claimed that if they did not do so peacefully he would not rule out the use of violence. He then went home and waited for events to happen!

Whilst he was resting others were frantically busy organising a counter-revolution.

Leading figures were the secretaries of one of the directors of the Bataafse Petroleum Maatschappij (precursor of Shell) Hendrik Colijn, H.H.A. Gybland Oosterhoff and F.C Gerretson.

Colijn happened to be in London, where he negotiated an economic agreement, including food supplies. Gerretson & Oosterhoff contacted British Ambassador in The Hague, Walter Townley, on the evening of 12 November asking him to forward a telegram from Colijn’s party, but written by Gerretson, urging him to press Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to strongly emphasis that any food supplies would only be sent to the ‘Royal Government of the Netherlands’, and none would be forthcoming in case of disorder.

This happened and the strong warning was sent to the Dutch Government who immediately passed it on to the people in the form of a proclamation, issued on 13 of November.

Text in Dutch of a proclamation warning against popular violence and disturbance
Text of the Dutch Government’s proclamation issued on 13 November, warning that any revolt, violence or disturbance would halt the promised food supplies. From: H.J. Scheffer, November 1918: journaal van een revolutie die niet doorging. (Amsterdam, 1968)  X.809/7108.

This seemed to have had the desired effect, for Townley wired to Balfour on the 14th of November that “the proclamation had worked wonders” and suggested publishing a similar notice in London.

Meanwhile the largest Dutch trade union, the N.V.V., had distanced itself from Troelstra, as did his own party. It became clear that calling for a revolution on the basis of events in Germany had been a grave miscalculation.


Caricature of Trade Union leader Stenhuis being pulled in two directions by Troelstra and a rival
“The N.V.V, Wijnkoop and Troelstra. Stenhuis (Secr. Gen N.V.V.): Let go of my jacket, we’re going our own way.” Cartoon by Louis Raedemaekers, from De Courant, 22 March 1920. Reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur

On 14 November Troelstra was back in Parliament, admitting he had made an error. He claimed never to have called for a coup-d’état, nor advocated violence. This U-turn caused some unrest in the gallery to the extent that the speaker had to call for order.

Extract from proceedings of the Dutch parliament with Troelstra's denial of having planned a coup or advocated violence
 Troelstra: “I have never used the word ‘coup d-etat’. …. Troelstra: “ I have explicitly stated that I reject violence.” From: Handelingen Tweede Kamer 1918-1919 , 14 November 1918, p 395. www.statengeneraaldigitaal.nl.

The government has regained its grip, both mentally and in practice and the Dutch had shown their loyalty to the House of Orange in a mass demonstration in The Hague, on Monday 18th where the queen and her family were present. Townley gives a nice summary of events in his despatch to Balfour of that day, covered in the Rijskgeschiedkundige Publicatiën, vol 145, pages 619-624. He mentions the small group of people who ‘spontaneously’ unharnessed the horses in front of the queen’s carriage and pulled it themselves, a story that became a legend, although it later proved to have been a thoroughly rehearsed plan.

The consequences of Troelstra’s ‘mistake’ were that some of the social reforms that his socialist party had demanded were widely supported, resulting in an eight-hour day and 45 hour working week, more social housing, higher wages for civil servants and women’s suffrage!

Troelstra himself never gave up the idea of the possibility of revolution, should democracy fail.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Caricature of Troelstra drawing a dagger inscribed with the word 'revolution'
“The coquette politician. Mr Troelstra: ‘Such a dear knife! But…. What if it cuts the party in two?’”  Cartoon by Jan Sluyters from De Nieuwe Groene, 22 March 1919, reproduced in Troelstra in de karikatuur

References:

D. Hans, Troelstra en de Revolutie (Dalfsen, 1920) 8079.e.36

C. Smit et al. ‘Bescheiden Betreffende de buitenlandse politiek van Nederland 1848 -1919’. In: Rijskgeschiedkundige Publicatiën ; Grote Serie, 145. (The Hague, 1973) 9405.p. Also available online at: http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/retroboeken/bupo/#source=13&page=465&accessor=toc 

 

19 October 2018

Saving a city wiiiiiith a (red) herring!

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Around the 3rd of October I visited the current display of items from the archives of Michael Palin in our Treasures Gallery, where the scene with ‘The Knights Who Say “Ni”’ from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail sprang to mind. The leader of the Knights, played by Palin, tells the hapless King Arthur that if he fails to deliver a nice-looking (and not too expensive) shrubbery he ‘must cut down the mightiest tree in the forest, wiiiith…. a herring!’

I knew I was going to have herring with white bread and a hot pot of vegetables at the party that Friday to celebrate The Relief of Leiden, when the Sea Beggars brought barrels full of salted herring with white bread (a luxury for most people at the time) to the starving citizens of Leiden, on 3 October 1574. The city had lain under siege from the Spanish for five months and food had pretty much run out. 6,000 of the 15,000 people living in the city at that point had died. The population had come close to rebellion and demanded the surrender of the city at a meeting of the town’s council on 8 September.

LeidensOntzetFruinmap
Map showing the siege of Leiden, from Robert Jacobus Fruin, Het Beleg en Ontzet der Stad Leiden in 1574. (The Hague, 1874). 9405.aaa.42.

The councillors were faced with the difficult task of keeping the peace, whilst also persuading the desperate citizens to hold on just a bit longer, for they knew that help was on the way.

That confrontation went down in history as one of the most dramatic events of the siege. The drama came from Burgomaster Pieter Adriaansz van der Werff (1529-1604) who offered his own body as food for his people, in an act of utterly unselfish heroism. However, it turns out that this was a bit of a red herring.

LeidensOntzetvdWerffMattheus Ignatius van Bree, ‘De zelfopoffering van burgemeester Van der Werf’ (1816-1817). Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden 

The story of the self-sacrifice of Burgomaster Van der Werff first appeared in the second edition of Jan Fruytiers’ Corte beschrijuinghe van de strenghe belegheringhe ende wonderbaerlijcke verlossinghe der stadt Leyden in Hollandt ... (‘Short description of the severe siege and miraculous relief of the city of Leyden in Holland….’)

LeidensOntzetFruytiers1577Title page of Corte Beschrijuinghe van de strenghe belegheringhe ende wonderbaerlijcke verlossinghe der stadt Leyden in Hollandt,  2nd ed. (Delft, 1577). 9405.dd.8.

Funnily enough, Van der Werff had not featured in the first edition of the Corte beschrijuinghe, published in 1574. This may have something to do with Jan van der Does, also known as Janus Dousa. He had been commander of the city’s defence forces during the siege which put him well into the thick of it, alongside Van der Werff. He also happened to be a poet.

LeidensOntzetJDousaportr

Portrait of Jan van der Does from his Nova Poemata ... (Leiden, 1575). 11408.a.18.

In 1575 Van der Does published Odae Lugdunenses in which he criticises the conduct of Van der Werff and some of his colleagues, accusing them of contemplating surrender to the Spanish. Quite the opposite of heroic behaviour!

LeidensOntzetNovaPoemata Jan van der Does, Nova Poemata, containing the Odae Lugdunenses

This volume was printed on the press of the brand new University of Leiden, bestowed on the city as the first university in the Northern Netherlands in 1575, by Prince William of Orange, in gratitude to the people of Leiden. (Or so the story goes – we actually have no evidence of this.) Van der Does was its first librarian.

The second edition of Fruytiers’ Corte beschrijvinghe…. appeared two years later, in 1577. The story of Van der Werff’s heroism was reprinted in the 1646 as well as in the 1739 (augmented!) editions and so  lodged itself firmly in the collective memory of the Dutch about the siege.

Is it too far-fetched to think that the burgomasters nudged Fruytiers to write a ‘revised’ edition of the Corte beschrijvinghe, adding the self-sacrifice story, as a red herring to distract from their past conduct? We will probably never know the truth.

But never let the truth get in the way of a good story! And what a story it is, even without Van der Werff: the siege, the hunger, the radical decision to inundate the land, and the daring actions of the Sea Beggars; what drama! No surprise then that the play Belegering ende het Ontset der Stadt Leyden by Reynerius Bontius became the most popular play in the second half of the 17th Century. First published in 1645 it saw no fewer than 111 editions up to 1825 and numerous performances well into the 19th Century.

The Library holds editions from 1650, 1660, 1693, 1729, 1738, 1740, 1805 and 1821.

LeidensOntzetBontius11755bb18TtlpTitle page of Reynerius Bontius, Belegering ende Ontsetting der Stadt Leyden. (Leyden, 1660). 11755.bb.18

Bontius himself and many editors after him changed and added to the play, undoubtedly adding to the myth-making, until it became quite something different from the original. It was not performed much in the 20th Century, the most recent performance took place in 2005. It had become somewhat stale, like white bread a few days old.

What does not get stale, however is the party on 3 October, when Leiden and many places beyond celebrate Leiden’s Relief with white bread, hutspot and … herring!!!

LeidensOntzetherring Leidens Ontzet party at the Dutch Centre on Friday 5 October 2018, with herring and white bread (Photo M. Kingma).

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections 

References:

C.L. Heesakkers, Janus Dousa, dichter van Leidens Beleg en Ontzet : Lezing gehouden voor de leden van de Vereniging Oud-Leiden op 15 februari 1977. http://www.oudleiden.nl/pdf1/1977_10.pdf

Leiden University, Department of Dutch Language and Literature, Reynerius Bontius - Belegering ende het ontset der stadt Leyden – 1645 http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/Dutch/Ceneton/Bontius/index.html

Lakenhal Leiden, Verhalen, Leidens Beleg en Ontzet https://www.lakenhal.nl/nl/verhaal/leidens-beleg-en-ontzet