31 August 2022
August is Women in Translation Month, a 2014 initiative aimed at celebrating and promoting women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. As in previous years, we are highlighting a selection of books from across the European collections that we have recently enjoyed. We hope you enjoy them too.
Lize Spit, The Melting, translated by Kristen Gehrman (London: Pan Macmillan, 2021) ELD.DS.611746.
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
‘It wasn't a good day, but at least there's a story in it.’ Lize Spit consoled herself as a child with writing when life was against her. After a long, hard struggle she entered the literary world in Flanders and the Netherlands with her debut novel Het Smelt, or The Melting. It is part coming-of-age novel, part thriller about a young woman who takes revenge on her childhood friends for things done to her 13 years before. Spit doesn’t pull any punches, doesn’t flinch from cruelty. Just how good it is can be seen from the number of languages Het Smelt was translated into: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Danish, German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Croatian, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Czech, Swedish and English. The English translation is by Kristen Gehrman, who translates from Dutch into English, German and French.
Contemporary Georgian Fiction, translated and edited by Elizabeth Heighway (Champaign, Ill., 2012), Nov.2013/1985
Chosen by Anna Chelidze, Curator Georgian Collections
Published in 2012, this volume brings together stories by 20 prominent contemporary Georgian writers. It affords a view into a vibrant literary world that has been largely inaccessible to English-speaking readers. Written over the last 50 years, the selection of stories offers a very broad mix of writers with different literary styles. Some of the writers are well known, while others have only recently entered the literary world. Among them are five female authors, all from different generations and backgrounds, and each with a distinct authorial voice. They have achieved success in a number of literary competitions and have been awarded literary prizes, both Georgian and international. Some have previously been translated into other languages, for others this is their first published translation. Their names are: Mariam Bekauri, Teona Dolenjashvili, Ana Kordzaia-Samadasvili, Maka Mikeladze, and Nino Tepnadze. They succeed in creating powerful images of Georgia and its inhabitants, seen from different perspectives. The variety of contexts reflects changes in Georgian society in recent years, while the variety of narrative styles highlights the challenges presented to the translator, Elizabeth Heighway.
Madeleine Bourdouxhe, A Nail, a Rose, translated by Faith Evans (London, 2019) ELD.DS.439385 and Marie, translated and with an afterword by Faith Evans (London, 2016) H.2018/.7905
Chosen by Sophie Defrance, Curator Romance Collections
After years of neglect, the fiction of Belgian author Madeleine Bourdouxhe is undergoing a revival with new editions of her work appearing in the UK, the US and Germany. In her stories, Bourdouxhe explores the themes of resistance, but also the life, routine, sexuality, and ennui of women in the 20th century. First rediscovered in France with the reissue of La femme de Gilles in 1985, she has since become something of a feminist icon. Faith Evans’s recent translations of two of Bourdouxhe’s books into English put her works into their historical, political and stylistic context. She also shares with us her translator’s impressions, feelings and reasoning; and perhaps even more surprisingly, as it is so rare, the author’s impressions at being translated.
Iryna Shuvalova, Pray to the Empty Wells, translated by Olena Jennings and the author (Sandpoint, Idaho: Lost Horse Press, 2019). Awaiting shelfmark
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Presented in dual-language format, Pray to the Empty Wells is Ukrainian poet Iryna Shuvalova’s first book-length collection of poems in English. Drawing heavily on Ukraine’s folk culture and themes ranging from memory, the natural environment and Russia’s war in Ukraine, Shuvalova’s poems are meditative, intimate, unflinchingly direct and often visceral. The collection is beautifully translated from Ukrainian by Olena Jennings and Shuvalova, and forms part of Lost Horse Press Contemporary Ukrainian Poetry series.
Shuvalova will be appearing in the Worldwide Reading of Ukrainian Literature event at the British Library on 7 September, along with a host of other award-winning Ukrainian writers and translators. The event is free to attend and will also be live streamed on the LKN website.
05 May 2022
John Cruso (b. 1592/3) of Norwich, the eldest son of Flemish migrants, was a man of many parts: author, virtuoso networker, successful merchant and hosier, Dutch church elder and militia captain. His literary oeuvre is marked by its polyvocality. He wrote verse in English and Dutch, often sprinkled with Latin and French. He was also a noted military author, publishing five military works, which made a significant contribution to military science before and during the English Civil Wars. These works display Cruso’s knowledge of the canon of classical and Renaissance literature, allowing him to fashion himself as a miles doctus, a learned soldier, and to contribute to military science in Stuart England. Cruso’s great nephew, Timothy, studied with Daniel Defoe at the Dissenters’ Academy in Newington Green, London, and thus inspired the name of Defoe’s great literary creation, Robinson Crusoe.
Cruso’s parents, Jan and Jane, left Flanders in the years after the Iconoclastic Fury and Alva’s Council of Troubles. They arrived in Norwich, which already had a thriving Stranger community and Jan worked as a textile merchant.
Their eldest son, John, received a classical humanist education at Norwich free grammar school, which he would draw on in his published verse and prose. He became a freeman and took over running the family hosiery and cloth business from his father. In 1622, he published his first verse, a Dutch elegy. This appeared in a collection of Latin and Dutch elegies to the late minister of the London Dutch church, Simeon Ruytinck. It included verses by Constantijn Huygens and Jacob Cats and is arguably the most important Anglo-Dutch literary moment in the seventeenth century. In the late 1620s, Cruso wrote three English elegies, including one sonnet, on the late minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Lawrence Howlett. He was also the subject of an English verse by the Norfolk prelate and poet, Ralph Knevet.
Between 1632 and 1644, Cruso published several military works. In 1632, he published Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie, which was the first book published in England devoted solely to the cavalry. This was republished in 1644. In 1639 and 1640, Cruso published his English translations of two French military works, one of which was re-published in 1642. In the same year, as the opening shots in the First English Civil War were being fired, he published two military handbooks on the construction of military camps and the order of watches. He also had time, it seems, to publish two Dutch verses, an elegy to Johannes Elison, the late minister of the Dutch church in Norwich and an amplificatio on Psalm 8. His final publication, in 1655, was a collection of 221 Dutch epigrams, printed in quarto by Arnold Bon in Delft.
John Cruso, Militarie Instructions for the Cavallrie (Cambridge, 1632) 717.m.18
John Cruso, Castrametation, or the Measuring out of the quarters for the encamping of an army (London, 1642) 1398.b.7.
Most of Cruso’s works are in the British Library. A copy of the epigram collection, EPIGRAMMATA Ofte Winter-Avondts Tyt-korting (‘Epigrams or Pastimes for a Winter’s Evening’), shelfmark 11555.e.42.(4.), is the only known copy of this work.
Title page of I. C., Epigrammata, ofte Winter Avondts Tyt-korting (Delft, 1655) 11555.e.442 (4).
On the title page, Cruso uses his initials, I.C. In this copy someone has made C into O with a pen. Beneath the title are two lines from the Roman epigrammatist, Martial, which hint at the scabrous nature of some of the verses: ‘Non intret Cato theatrum meum: aut si intraverit, spectet’ (‘Do not let Cato enter my theatre: or if he does enter, let him look’), and ‘Innocuos permitte sales: cur ludere nobis non liceat?’ (‘Allow harmless jests: why should we not be allowed to joke?’). Many of Cruso’s Dutch epigrams are like Latin epigrams written by Sir Thomas More, and Cruso may have been inspired by some of these. One example is Epigram 94:
Vergeefs ghy voor u Huys een Sonne-wijser stelt;
Want gaapt maar, en men stracx aan uwe Tanden telt
De Uyren van den Dach. De Son dat wijst gewis
End uwen langen Neus den besten Gnomon is.
(On someone with an extremely large nose.
In vain, you place a sundial in front of your house;
For just open your mouth and people will be able to
Count the hours of the day by your teeth. And the sun shows
That for sure your long nose is the best style (gnomon) for the sundial.)
We know little about the reception of this collection, but the fact that the British Library has the only extant copy is one example of the importance of the Library to modern scholarship.
Christopher Joby, Adam Mickiewicz University
Christopher Joby is Professor in Dutch Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań, Poland, and Visiting Scholar at the Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan. His research focusses on the intersection of the Dutch language and culture and other languages and cultures in a historical context. His latest book is John Cruso of Norwich and Anglo-Dutch literary identity in the seventeenth century (Cambridge: D S Brewer, 2022) DRT ELD.DS.659151 (non-print legal deposit)
21 February 2022
Today is International Mother Language Day.
To celebrate this event The Limbörgse Academie has published a free online dictionary of Limburgisch, a dialect (or language) spoken in the South of the Netherlands, more specifically the province Limburg. The province borders Belgium and Germany. Indeed it has a ‘three-country point’, between Maastricht and Aachen. It is also the highest point of the Netherlands, just about 300 metres above sea level.
A map of the ‘Drielandenpunt’ between Maastricht and Aachen (via Bing Maps)
The dictionary is called ‘D’n Dictionair’ and contains 50,000 Dutch and 40,000 English words you can search the Limburgish equivalent for.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Limburgish contains many influences from Flemish, German and French. There had been written guides to the dialect in the past to support those who write in Limburgish, but there were differences between older and younger generations. In 2017 Microsoft included Limburgish in its software for mobile applications as a language.
A map showing the boundaries between different variants of Limburgish, From Limburgse Dialectgrenzen, Bijdragen en mededelingen der Dialecten-Commissie van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen. no. 9 (Amsterdam, 1947) Ac.944/19
Supporters of Limburgish are campaigning to get the dialect recognised as a language, like Frisian, under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.
Libretto of a comic opera in Limburgish, G.D. Franquinet, Jonk bij jonk en auwt bij auwt (Maastricht, 1861) 11754.d.5.
The British Library holds a number of works about Limburgish, most of them written in Dutch. Only a handful of items in our catalogue are identified as being in Limburgish, but there may be others. Perhaps the new online dictionary will offer a way to identify some more.
First issue of De Maasgouw: orgaan voor Limburgsche geschiedenis, taal en letterkunde (Maastricht, 1879) P:703/466. A journal Dutch-language journal dedicated tp Limburgish history, language and culture.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
Lysbeth Jongbloed-Faber, Jolie van Loo, Leonie Cornips, ‘Regional languages on Twitter: A comparative study between Frisian and Limburgish’, Dutch journal of applied linguistics. Volume 6, Issue 2 (2017) pp 174-196. 3633.059750.
04 February 2022
A Dutch Poet on ‘Tortured Majesties’: Reactions to the Executions of Mary Stuart and Charles Stuart.
Our current exhibition ‘Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens’, gives a thrilling and moving insight into the relationship between two women who were relatives as well as queens, through letters, books, paintings and objects. Many of the letters on display reveal their feelings towards each other and the political shenanigans around them and, it must be said, by them. There are letters written in code, with the key alongside and in one instance a screen that shows you how to decipher these codes. Fascinating stuff.
The exhibition ends with a moving display of the last letter Mary wrote, in French, in which she laments her fate. She would die on the scaffold the following day: 8 February 1587.
Ten months later, in the city of Cologne, a baby boy was born who would become the greatest Dutch playwright and poet of the Dutch Golden Age: Joost van den Vondel. (The Vondelpark in Amsterdam is named after him).
Portrait of Joost van den Vondel by Philip de Koninck, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Public Domain
Joost was born into a family of Mennonites, or Anabaptists. At one point the city expelled all those belonging to these religious movements, including the Vondels. They eventually settled in Amsterdam where Vondel lived and worked for the rest of his long life. He converted to Catholicism and became a staunch defender of that faith. He satirised Protestantism, and was especially harsh on his old faith, Anabaptism, as we shall see.
Vondel was a prolific playwright and poet, who didn’t mince his words when it came to commenting on political events in the Dutch Republic and abroad, although he did not always do so openly.
Take for instance an anonymous play, published in Cologne in 1646, entitled: Maria Stuart: of Gemartelde Majesteit (‘Mary Stuart: or Tortured Majesty’). It is suspected that the imprint is false and that the work was actually published in Amsterdam, but we can’t be sure. However, the disguise is pretty transparent. The style and the tone of the text make it pretty clear who the author is. Vondel may well have thought it prudent not to put his name on it, considering events in England at the time. The Dutch government was not exactly against the Parliamentarian cause in the English Civil War, but they did not support it wholeheartedly either. Why would Vondel write a play about Mary Stuart who died after 19 years of imprisonment by the English, if not to make a point about her grandson Charles I who had just been defeated in the First English Civil War? That to me sounds like too much of a coincidence.
Title page of Maria Stuart, of Gemartelde Majesteit. (Cologne, 1646), 11755.e.60.(13.)
Other editions were published in 1661, one of which we also hold (1478.aa.13.(7.))
The subtitle ‘tortured majesty’ gives you a clue whose side the author is on. In summary, Vondel praises Mary to high heaven and excoriates Elizabeth for her treachery and cruelty. He sees the conflict between Elizabeth and Mary as a religious issue, rather than a political one, so as a catholic he is firmly on Mary’s side. To hammer the point home he adds a number of poems to the play. In the first poem he lets Mary herself speak about her plight. (I must say I prefer her real own words, mentioned above). Vondel then introduces ‘an eyewitness’, none other than the historian of Elizabeth’s reign, William Camden, a protestant (!). If Vondel tried to use a protestant historian to present an ‘unbiased’ viewpoint he failed, because Camden, writing in the reign of Mary’s son James I, appears to lament Mary’s fate just as strongly as the catholic Vondel does in his play. Maybe he tried to make it look as if everyone, catholic and protestant were appalled by the execution of Mary.
Vondel concludes with a ‘Complaint about the Rebels in Great Britain’. In this last poem he tears into the Puritans, blaming them alone for causing the Civil War, and for beheading the Earl of Strafford.
The play was more or less boycotted by theatres at the time, because of its catholic stance, but it was revived in a performance by Theatre group Kwast in 2015. This group specialises in Dutch 17th-Century plays which they rehearse in one day and perform in the evening; text in hand.
In the year 1649 another ‘anonymous’ work appeared about the execution of Charles I, with the same subtitle as ‘Maria Stuart’ and initials instead of an author: I.v.V. ‘Bloedsmet’ (‘Bloodsmear’) for author. Well, who could that possibly be, I wonder?
Title page of Karel Stvarts, of gemartelde Maiesteyt: in Whithal den 10 van Sprokkel, des Jaers 1649 (S.l. , 1649). 11556.dd.27.
The title translates as: ‘Charles Stuart, Tortured Majesty, in Whitehall the 10th of February, in the year 1649’. (‘Sprokkel’ means ‘gathering of firewood’, which was the commonly-used name for February.) It uses the old Gregorian calendar which converts in the Julian calendar to the 30th of January. The imprint reads: ‘Printed in the Murder-Year of the King of England, 1649’.
In the poem Vondel introduces Henrietta Maria, Charles’ wife. She dreams that straight after the execution Charles’ head springs back onto his shoulders and he rises up again, like a phoenix, to slay his enemies (the Parliamentary General Thomas Fairfax is mentioned). And then she wakes up to reality.
In the second poem Vondel is all despair. Charles’ ghost cones to him in a dream and asks how it was possible that London dared to ‘prune his thistle’. Was Strafford’s death not enough to quell the bloodlust of the King’s enemies? But then he composes himself and says that the blow of the axe sounded like thunder and rocked France, Denmark, Spain and Holland, who will all surely come to the rescue. They will stock London Bridge full of heads and thus the land will be cleared from the ‘pestilence’. Then the Son (i.e. Charles II) will return for his bloody revenge.
The work concludes with a scathing attack on the regicides. Vondel lashes out at the Puritans: He asks indignantly: ‘Is this the pure religion? Is this ‘independence’? No!, this is a Rubicon!’ Again he attacks the Anabaptists by comparing the regicide Major General Thomas Harrison to Jan van Leyden, one of the leaders of the Anabaptists who briefly established an Anabaptist theocracy in the city of Munster in 1536. He calls ‘Master Peters’ (Hugh Peters, a Puritan preacher) the ‘Ape of Knipperdolling’ (i.e. Bernhard Knipperdolling, a partner of Jan van Leyden).
Last page of Karel Stuarts, of Gemartelde Majesteyt.
Vondel penned a third ‘anonymous’ pamphlet against the regicide: Testament om Fairfax vtersten Crom Will recht te maecken. In it he aims his arrows at Cromwell and Fairfax as leaders in the rebellion, with a pun on Cromwell’s name. ‘Crom Will’ means ‘crooked will’, so then the title becomes: ‘Fairfax’s Testament to make right a Last Crooked Will.’ It was signed: ‘The Devil Take the Rogues’.
Testament om Fairfax vtersten Crom Will recht te maecken. ([The Hague?, 1649?]) 8122.ee.3
Vondel was well informed about events in Britain. He must have read the many newspapers and pamphlets on these events, published in the Netherlands, some written in Dutch, some translated from English, many kept in our collections.
But that’s for another time.
Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections
31 December 2021
It’s the festive season again! Conversations in our multi-national department invariably turn to colleagues’ national Christmas and New Year traditions, especially what we have to eat in our home countries. In today’s post we learn about a Dutch New Year’s Eve staple
I always struggle to come up with a specific Dutch dish for Christmas. Many people in the Netherlands now have turkey, others have pork meat rolled into a big kind of sausage, often with stuffing. I remember Christmas dinners involving fondue or gourmet with a game of Monopoly on the go.
However, it is a different matter when it comes to New Year’s Eve! Then the whole country turns to baking Oliebollen en Appelbeignets (oil fritters and apple fritters) – buckets full of them.
And if people can’t, or won’t, bake these lovely fruity treats they buy them. From early December oil fritter vans spring up everywhere, like mushrooms in an autumn forest.
A long queue forms in front of an oil fritter stall at the Grote Markt in Groningen. Photograph by Irene Kingma.
Although the focus of this piece is on oil fritters, I do want to mention the apple fritters, because they too are indispensable on New Year’s Eve. Made of a tart apple, cored and cut into thick slices sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, they are dipped in a thick pancake batter and deep fried in oil. Drain them on some kitchen paper and dust with icing sugar to serve. They are a refreshing change from the often somewhat rich oil fritters and go very well with a glass of bubbly.
Oil fritter with icing sugar. Photograph by Marja Kingma
In Flanders the tradition of oil fritters is also kept, although recipes differ slightly. Using smout, a type of lard from pig kidneys, they call their oil fritters Smoutebollen. Another theory has it that smout means rapeseed oil, which to me makes more sense, because that was the oil used in the 17th century in the Northern Netherlands.
The Dutch version of oil fritters will usually include raisins, dried blackcurrants, candied orange or lemon peel and tart apple. The Flemish version will have no dried fruit, but will always contain beer. Many Dutch also add beer to the batter, to make it rise better.
In many households it will be the men who, whilst usually quite happy to leave the cooking to the women any other day of the year, don aprons and wield wooden spoons whilst marching off to the kitchen, or the garden shed where they will bake oil fritters all day long.
In my family it was my mother who baked the traditional New Year’s Eve treats. She beat the flour, dried fruits and milk with yeast into a fluffy smooth batter by hand, which was hard work. Once the batter had risen properly she’d boil sunflower oil in a special deep-frying pan and then take two metal spoons and scoop bits of batter into the oil. The fritters would flip over by themselves, indicating the batter was airy, so the fritters would taste light.
Whilst she was baking away we played outside, gliding over a stretch of snow until it was compacted and smooth and very, very slippery. That kept us busy until well after dark. Back indoors we had a mug of hot chocolate or tea with a warm oliebol, smothered in icing sugar.
The tradition of eating oliebollen is thought to have originated in Spain and Portugal where it was part of a Jewish tradition to eat a similar sweet cake at New Year. When the Sephardic Jews fled the Inquisition many made their way to the Dutch Republic, bringing these oil fritters with them. Before their arrival there is no record of the word referring to oil fritter.
A painting by Albert Cuyp from around 1652 (now in the Dordrechts Museum, image below from Wikimedia Commons) shows a kitchen maid holding a bowl of oil fritters.
A famous Dutch cookery book De Volmaakte Hollandsche Keuken-Meid (‘The Perfect Dutch Kitchen Maid’), first published in 1746, with many editions until about 1772, contains a recipe for ‘Oly-koeken’ in its Appendix. The STCN does not mention a year for this Appendix, but states ‘third quarter of the 18th Century’.
Recipe for Oly-koeken from Aanhangzel van de Volmaakte Hollandsche Keuken-Meid ... Originally published Amsterdam, 1761-3, facsimile edition by John Landwehr (Leiden, 1965) X.449/1511.
The recipe hasn’t changed much, because the most famous modern Dutch cook book, by C.J. Wannee, lecturer at the Amsterdam School for Housekeeping, has an almost exact recipe, albeit with fewer eggs.
Recipe for Oliebollen from C.J. Wannee, Kookboek van de Amsterdamse Huishoudschool. 18th ed. (Amsterdam, 1975) X.622/13062.
Researching this post I came across several titles of Dutch cookbooks with the shelf mark having a ‘D’ in front. That means that it was one of the victims of the bombing of the British Museum during the Second World War. Some 17th-century Dutch cookbook titles were amongst them, sadly.
Setting ‘good intentions’ for the new year is another long standing tradition. My first ‘good intention’ for 2022 will be to look for replacement copies for the destroyed titles.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.
11 November 2021
Literary awards are given to authors for their work. Sometimes this leads to controversy, such as in the case of this year’s winning author of the prestigious Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren (Dutch Literature Prize) Astrid Roemer. The prize is awarded every three years to a Dutch or Flemish or, since 2005, Surinamese author, and Roemer is the first black and Surinamese author to win it. She is known for being outspoken and an independent mind. The jury praised her work for being ‘unconventional, poetic and authentic’. These traits are bound to lead to controversy at some point. This is not the place to comment on the furore around the award and its winner. I have included some links to articles that discuss this in more detail at the end of the blog post.
Astrid Roemer, Over de Gekte van een Vrouw (Haarlem, 1982) X.958/16031.
I must admit that until recently I had never read any of Roemer’s work, but through research for this blog post I got the impression of a warm-hearted, compassionate woman, who has very nuanced views. ‘Identity’ plays a huge part in her work. Identity as an individual, or as a group, as a man or woman, as a black man or black woman, as a child or a parent, as a citizen in Suriname, or in the Netherlands, etc. She tells her stories usually through women who struggle to take their rightful place in society; who are keeping families together, no matter how fragmented these are.
It is as if she sees a parallel between individuals and families and Suriname itself. A young country still fighting for its place in the world, whilst at the same time different ethnic groups search for their place in the big Surinamese family within Suriname. And a country that struggles to find a relationship with its former ‘parent’, the colonial power that was the Netherlands and where many Surinamese people moved to study and work. Maybe that is why she is so good at presenting ‘big’ events and ‘big’ themes on a human scale.
The problems Surinamese immigrants to the Netherlands face in adapting to Dutch life whilst trying to stay faithful to their Surinamese identity is very well described in Neem mij terug, Suriname, Roemer’s first novel. First published in 1974, it was reprinted in 1975 and 2005. In 1983 it was published as Nergens ergens (Nowhere Somewhere) and in 2015 a jubilee-edition appeared, in celebration of its 40 year anniversary and for being awarded the P.C. Hooftprijs for her whole prose oeuvre.
Astrid Roemer, Neem mij terug, Suriname (Schoorl, 2015) YF.2017.a.33 and Astrid Roemer, Nergens ergens (Amsterdam, 1983) YA.1990.a.18843.
When she says: ‘I am married to Suriname, the Netherlands is my lover, I am in a gay relationship with Africa and I am inclined to have one-night stands with every other country’, she conveys the complexity of ‘identity’, as well as a sense of being a ‘world citizen’, but she doesn’t want to be labelled as such. She has lived in many different countries, but feels most at home in Paramaribo, the place of her birth.
When her mother died in 2019 she moved there, partly as a way to process her loss. She finds comfort and solace there as well as space to write in her day-to-day routine. And write she does.
What is called her ‘Suriname trilogy’ Gewaagd Leven (Risky Life) from 1996, Lijken op Liefde (Resembling Love) from 1997, and Was Getekend (Was Signed) from 1998 will be re-issued as Onmogelijk moederland (Impossible Motherland) early next year. About this trilogy Roemers said: ‘On the rubbish heap of slavery, colonialism and the present I searched for irreducible remains to experience my identity as Suriname-Dutch woman anew.’
Astrid Roemer, Gewaagd Leven (Amsterdam, 1996) YA.1996.a.19238, Lijken op Liefde (Amsterdam, 1997) YA.1999.a.10270 and Was Getekend (Amsterdam, 1998) YA.2000.a.36919.
She will publish a new novel in 2022: Dealers Daughter, set in Paramaribo about a young woman whose father gets involved in a murder. Roemer has also worked on a selection of poems by Maya Angelou for a Dutch audience: En Toch Heradem Ik : Haar 25 mooiste gedichten (Amsterdam, 2022). Her English-language debut, Off-White, translated by Jan Steyn, is due to be published next year.
I cannot wait to discover more of Roemer’s work.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
Other works by Astrid Roemer held by the British Library:
Levenslang Gedicht (Haarlem, 1987) YA.1990.a.23555
Waarom zou je huilen mijn lieve, lieve... (Schoorl, 1987) YA.1990.a.21044
De achtentwintigste dag (Breda, 1988) YA.1990.a.15920
Het Spoor van de Jakhals (Schoorl, 1988) YA.1990.a.8974
Niets wat pijn doet (Amsterdam, 1993) YA.1993.a.24646
Suriname : een gids voor vrienden (Amsterdam, 1997) YA.1999.a.9861
‘Miauw’ (Breda, 2001) YA.2002.a.35999
Liefde in Tijden van Gebrek (Amsterdam, 2016) YF.2016.a.26486
Olga en haar driekwartsmaten (Amsterdam, 2017) YF.2017.a.3034
Gebroken Wit (Amsterdam, 2019) YF.2019.a.17264
Hugo Pos, ‘Inleiding tot de Surinaamse literatuur’. In: Tirade 17 (1973), p. 396-409
Hilde Neus, ‘Roemer in redeloos redeneren’, Neerlandistiek, 15 August 2021
Tessa Leuwsha, ‘Astrid H. Roemer: ‘Dutch Will Slowly but Surely Disappear From Suriname’’ (interview with Astrid Roemer, translated by Anna Asbury)
27 August 2021
There is only one author in the Netherlands who is laying down the law about how to write biographies as fiction and that is Connie Palmen.
30 years ago she burst onto the literary scene with her book De Wetten, a semi-autobiographical ‘Coming of Age’ story about a woman trying to understand the world and herself. Over the course of seven years she meets seven men who all seem to have a grip on life without having read many books; they just ‘know’. The protagonist doesn’t understand how this is possible. Translations appeared in 24 languages, including Richard Huijing’s English version, The Laws (London, 1992; H93/2400). The novel was voted European Novel of the Year in 1992 and was shortlisted for the 1996 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Cover of Connie Palmen, De Wetten (Amsterdam, 1993.) YA.1994.a.3161.
Palmen has also written about her relationships with two men, Ischa Meijer and Hans van Mierlo, both public figures in the Netherlands. Here too she chose the form of the novel over the traditional biography, making it almost impossible to tell what is fact and what is fiction, so she can reveal and hide in equal measure whilst writing a riveting story.
Cover of Connie Palmen, Jij Zegt Het (Amsterdam, 2016). YF.2016.a.2830.
In her most recent love story, Palmen focuses her attention on a different couple. Jij Zegt Het (Your Story, My Story) has Ted Hughes, speaking in the first person, reflect on his marriage with Sylvia Plath and the decades after her death. He speaks out against how the world responded to their tragedy, including the literary world.
Cover of Connie Palmen, Your Story, My Story, translated by Eileen J. Stevens and Anna Asbury. (Seattle, 2021) On order
In numerous biographies Plath is given martyr-like status, while Hughes is portrayed as a traitor and murderer, condemned by complete strangers and accused by people he regarded to be his friends.
In 1998, shortly before his death, Ted Hughes published Birthday Letters (YA.2006.a.15922), a collection of 88 poems about their relationship. It is this collection that led Palmen to write Jij Zegt Het, first published in 2015, which won the 2016 Libris Literature Award.
Palmen describes the thoughts, fears and adjurations of the husband, and the deeply tragic bond with the woman who would determine his life. This is how it begins:
For most people we only exist in a book, my bride and I. Over the past 35 years I have witnessed in horror how our real lives were smothered by a mud stream of apocryphal stories, false statements, gossip, fantasies, myths and how our true, complex personalities were replaced by cliché characters, reduced to simple images, cut to size for a sensation seeking public. She, the fragile saint, me the brutal traitor. I remained silent. Until now.
Palmen does not claim that this is the last word on the matter, and it isn’t, because the recent publication of Plath’s letters to her therapist and friend Ruth Barnhouse in a new edition of Plath’s correspondence has once again ignited debate. As long as it results in works like Palmen’s I say: ‘Bring it on!’
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
J.W Niesing, De Wetten. (Apeldoorn, 1992). YA.1993.a.26869. An introduction for students.
The letters of Sylvia Plath, edited by Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil. (London, 2019) YC.2020.a.3212 (Vol. 1); YC.2020.a.3213 (Vol. 2)
Andy N. and Amanda Steele, ‘Reading in Bed’ podcast, Ep. 37, January 2021 (Includes discussion of Your Story, My Story)
Other titles by Palmen:
Als een weke krijger: verspreid werk. (Amsterdam, 2005). YF.2016.a.2964.
Het drama van de afhankelijkheid. (Amsterdam, 2017). YF.2018.a.16391
De erfenis. (Amsterdam, 1999). YF.2005.a.2288 (Book Week Gift)
De vriendschap. (Amsterdam, 1995). YA.1995.a.14809; English translation by Ina Rilke, The friendship (London, 2012.) ELD.DS.190913.
Geheel de uwe. (Amsterdam, 2004) YF.2005.a.25865
I.M. (Amsterdam, 1998). YA.2000.a.5493 .
Een kleine filosofie van de moord. (Amsterdam, 2004). YF.2005.a.27342
Logboek van een onbarmhartig jaar. (Amsterdam, 2011). YF.2016.a.14344
Lucifer. (Amsterdam, 2007). YF.2016.a.2833
Het weerzinwekkende lot van de oude Socrates. (Amsterdam, 1992). YA.1993.a.19834
29 July 2021
This post is part of our 'Inheritance Books' series, where colleagues choose an 'inherited' item that was already in the library when we started working here, and one that we have acquired or catalogued for our collections during our own time to 'pass on' to future users, visitors and colleagues, and explain why they're important to us.
When I started as a cataloguer, the debut novel De avonden by Simon van het Reve, pseudonym of Gerard van het Reve, was already in the collection. The subtitle ‘een winterverhaal’ (a winter’s tale) suggests sitting around a warm fireside telling stories of legends. Instead of being set in homely surroundings, the novel is set against the cold of winter outside and characters forever lighting a stove inside. The protagonist is called ‘de held van deze geschiedenis’ (‘the hero of this story’) but he is not heroic. The tone of the novel would have been much darker if it was not for the irony and humour as expressed by the subtitle and continued throughout the novel.
Cover of De avonden by Simon van het Reve (Amsterdam, 1947). YA.1991.a.15442
The story describes ten days in the life of Frits van Egters, a 23 year old office clerk, during December 1946. These ten days are written in ten chapters and are also the last ten days and evenings of the year. The strength of the novel lies in how it has been written rather than what happens. Ironically the ‘narrative’ of the story is that nothing happens: there is no action, everything is static ‘de lege uren’ (empty hours) and expressed for instance by constantly checking clocks and watches that hardly seem to move. It is static because the focus is on the introspection and self-analysis of the protagonist. This leads to a sense of entrapment, disillusionment, loneliness and is exaggerated by Frits’s cynicism. Much of this negativity is expressed in his relationship to animals and his parents but also in disturbing dreams. What makes the novel interesting is the way it has been written with a clear focus on realistic detail.
Portrait of Van het Reve (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Although De avonden has much to offer to any reader in any language, it took nearly 70 years for the novel to be translated into English. Tim Parks, novelist and translator, ends his review of the translation: “So, huge respect to Pushkin Press for finally doing the business, and in particular to Sam Garrett for a translation that avoids a thousand pitfalls to give us this enfant terrible of Dutch genius in an entirely convincing English.”
In the 15 years that I have been cataloguing Dutch books, there is one publication that stands out in particular. It is a six volume work of the complete letters by Vincent van Gogh: De brieven: de volledige, geïllustreerde en geannoteerde uitgave. This edition is the product of 15 years of research by the Van Gogh Museum and the Huygens Institute.
There is also a freely available web edition of Van Gogh’s complete letters. All letters have been translated into English and are extensively annotated and set in their biographical and historical context.
Van Gogh regularly embellished a letter with a small drawing or enclosed a freehand sketch. “The value of the sketches lies in the fact that they forced him to depict the essence of a drawing or painting. He usually drew them with ordinary writing ink, and in some cases he added colour notations, which can be compared to the actual paintings.”
In a letter of 6 April 1885, addressed to his brother Theo, he wrote, “I desire nothing other than to live deep in the country and to paint peasant life … I plan to make a start this week on that thing with the peasants around a dish of potatoes”. In a letter written 3 days later, he includes a small drawing of the ‘Potato Eaters’.
Sketch of Potato Eaters in a letter of 9 April 1885
The scene is set in Nuenen in his home country of the Netherlands. The colours are dark and earthy unlike the bright canvases that most people are familiar with and that belong to his later works. In this same letter, Van Gogh shows an awareness of characteristics of his work that will come to define in particular his later works. He writes: “I see a chance of giving a felt impression of what I see. Not always literally exactly — rather never exactly — for one sees nature through one’s own temperament”.
A good example of a ‘felt impression’ of what Van Gogh saw is the painting of his bedroom. Vincent was living in Arles, France at the time. In a letter to Theo of 16 October 1888, he gave a very detailed description of his bedroom in particular of the colours used and also included a detailed sketch:
The walls are of a pale violet. The floor — is of red tiles.
The bedstead and the chairs are fresh butter yellow.
The sheet and the pillows very bright lemon green.
The blanket scarlet red.
The window green.
The dressing table orange, the basin blue.
The doors lilac.
Sketch of bedroom in a letter of 16 October 1888
Vincent van Gogh died on 29 July 1890. In the last few years before his death, the range and intensity of colours in his paintings increased dramatically confirming what he had stated five years earlier: “for one sees nature through one’s own temperament.”
Gerard Reve, The Evenings: a Winter’s Tale, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (London, 2016). Nov.2018/1916
Tim Parks, “The Evenings by Gerard Reve review – a masterpiece, translated at long last” (The Guardian, 9 November 2016)
Vincent van Gogh, De brieven: de volledige, geïllustreerde en geannoteerde uitgave, onder redactie van Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten en Nienke Bakker (Amsterdam, 2009). LF.31.b.6957
09 July 2021
On Saturday 26 June the Dutch dream of winning the Euro 2020 tournament ended. The Orange team lost 2-0 against the Czech Republic. Coach Frank de Boer was promptly sacked, for not having reached the last 16.
It wasn’t the first time that the Czechs had trounced the Netherlands. On 19 June 2004 the Dutch lost to them by 3-2; having been in the lead by 2-0. I remember it well. I watched the game at The Hems, the ‘Dutch’ pub in Soho, together with a friend from Moscow who seemed more hacked-off about it than I was.
Perhaps he had better understood what had actually happened. Read Maarten Moll’s ‘De Wissel’ in Wat Een Goal! and you’ll understand.
19 juni 2004 Nederland-Tsjechie (EK) ‘De Wissel’. In: Maarten Moll, Wat een goal! Een kleine canon van het moderne voetbal (Amsterdam, 2012) YF.2013.a.294.
How different things were back in 1988, when Rinus Michels led the Orange team to a 2-0 victory in the Euros against Russia. Part of that winning team was Johan Cruijff, who took the concept of ‘total football’ to a whole new level. More on him in my blog from 2014.
However, for many the more important victory had been in the semi-final against Germany. It avenged the traumatic defeat of 1974. What followed on that night was the first show of what is now known as ‘Orange Madness’. The usually calm, down-to-earth and level-headed Dutch erupted in an exuberant mass: everywhere people took to the streets, singing and dancing and waving orange flags.
Euro 1988 was the first time an outburst of nationalist pride in sport on such a scale took place. They decorated their houses and streets with orange flags, bunting, balloons, inflatable dugouts, you name it. They dressed in orange clothes with all sorts of orange head gear, and the like, turning stadiums orange with their presence.
Ad Rooms, in De Jaren 80 writes that during the Dutch team’s celebratory boat tour along the canals of Amsterdam house boats were sunk by crowds dancing on top of them.
People celebrating Dutch victory on 25 June 1988. In: Ad Rooms, De Jaren 80: doemdenkers en positivo’s. (Zwolle, 2017) YF.2018.b.692
Jan Mulder comments with great irony on the phenomenon in his column ‘Oranjegekte’ published in De analyticus.
Jeanet Kullberg did research on ‘Orange madness’: which groups within Dutch society engage in it, in what neighbourhoods, and (most importantly) why? She shows that ‘Orange madness’ is a complicated phenomenon - mainly exercised by people in lower-income areas, as a way to express an identity and to celebrate together. Her article ‘Met voetbal kan het wel, normal kijk je de buren niet aan’, loosely translated as: ‘When there’s football it’s ok – outside that we don’t talk to our neighbours’, published in the journal Amsterdams Sociologisch Tijdschrift of May 2001 makes for fascinating reading.
If Euro 2020 has whetted your appetite to know more, do come to the British Library and delve into our rich collections on football.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
Nicholas Piercey, Four histories about early Dutch football, 1910-1920: constructing discourses (London, 2016). ELD.DS.488972. Available free online via Directory of Open Access Books
David Winner, Brilliant orange: the neurotic genius of Dutch football (London, 2000). YK.2000.a.10395
Maarten Meijer, Louis van Gaal: the biography (London, 2014) ELD.DS.180919
Hugo Borst, O, Louis: in search of Louis van Gaal (London, 2014) YK.2015.a.4621
Dennis Bergkamp with David Winner, Stillness and speed: my story (London, 2013). YK.2014.a.13494
Dennis Bergkamp’s career in football. Archived BBC Sport webpage
More European Studies blogs about Euro 2020:
19 April 2021
Today, 19 April, is the anniversary of the death of Maria van Reigersberch, or Reigersbergen the wife of Hugo de Groot a.k.a. Grotius. Her husband is well known for his legal writings in which he launched the idea of the freedom of the seas and international law. Grotius is credited with stating that rights are not just connected to objects, but also to people, although that doesn’t make him a human rights activist in the modern sense: his work is very much aimed at the advancement of the interests of the Dutch Republic.
Maria van Reigersbergen by a painter from the circle of Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt. Source: Wikipedia.
Grotius had made his career in the service of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt the most powerful man in the Republic, who got himself in trouble with the Stadholder Maurits. It cost him his head and he dragged Grotius down with him. Grotius was actually lucky to escape with his life, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Castle Loevenstein.
Maria van Reigersberch campaigned hard to obtain better living conditions for her husband and permission to join him at the castle, together with their maid Elselina (Elsje) van Houwening. The women were allowed to join Grotius. Big mistake!
Maria negotiated with the authorities to have books brought to Hugo, so he could continue his studies and work. The books were delivered in a large trunk and I can just imagine Maria looking at that trunk and thinking: ‘Trojan Horse in reverse!’
Hugo de Groot, by Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt (1631) Source: Wikimedia
Portrait of a woman presumed to be Elselina van Houwingen (anonymous, 1656). Source: Houweningen, Elselina van (?-1681) (knaw.nl)
They prepared their plan very well. Maria made Hugo lie in the chest very still for up to two hours for several evenings. Then on 22 March 1621 Hugo climbed in the chest, Maria made up the bed with his clothes and put his slippers in front of the bed to make it look like he was asleep. She sent the trunk off, out of the castle. Elselina went with it and watched over it fiercely.
Maria stayed behind in prison. She was eventually released and joined Hugo in Paris. He was never allowed to return to his home country and Maria returned there only to die.
Hugo was also a rather accomplished poet and he wrote a poem in thanks to his wife: Silva Ad Franciscum Augustum Thuanum (Paris, 1621; 11405.i.18.(13.)).
The story of this audacious escape has been written about in books, poems, and plays over the centuries. The first to record it was Gerard Brandt, who actually spoke to Elselina herself, so it is a first-hand account. Brandt’s son Caspar compiled his father’s notes and published them as Historie van het leven des Heeren Huig de Groot, beschreven tot den aanvang van zyn gezantschap ... aan’t hof van Vrankryk (Dordrecht/Amsterdam,1727; 10760.g.12.).
Brandt’s notes show how Elselina looked after the chest with its precious contents with great dedication. The chest was of course heavy and the soldiers carrying it noticed that and suggested De Groot must be in it. To see if that were true they wanted to drill a hole right through the chest. She replied that they needed a drill as long as the way to his rooms in the castle. Then the captain of the ship that would take them to Gorinchem wanted to put down a rickety plank over which the soldiers had to carry the chest. She was having none of it, saying that the chest could easily fall in the water and then ‘all the books would be spoiled. They were fine books that had been borrowed, so had to be returned in good order.’ I think she missed her vocation as a librarian. A sturdier plank was duly supplied.
Elselina van Houwening survived Hugo and Maria by decades. She died in March 1681 and was buried on the 8th of March, only a few weeks short of the 60th anniversary of the escape.
Image of Grotius’s book chest from Het Leven van Hugo de Groot, getrokken uit de voornaamste historie-schryvers en dichters (Amsterdam 1785) 10760.e.1
And what happened to the chest? Well, as with so many ‘mythical’ objects, there are three chests which the institutions that hold them claim to be the real one. These are at the Rijksmuseum, Slot Loevestein and Het Prinsenhof in Delft. Recent research has concluded that the Delft chest has the best claim, but the outcome was not conclusive. It is much more likely that the original chest disappeared sometime in the 17th century.
Front cover of De Boekenkist van Hugo de Groot, by Arnout van Cruyningen. (Utrecht, 2021). (awaiting shelfmark)
The latest book on the topic has just come out and is by Arnout van Cruyningen. (Utrecht, 2021) which will be available for BL readers later this year.
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections
References and further reading
Jeronimo de Vries, Hugo de Groot en Maria van Reigersbergen (Amsterdam, 1827). DRT Digital Store 1560/1614.
Marco Barducci, Hugo Grotius and the century of revolution, 1613-1718 : transnational reception in English political thought (Oxford, 2017) YC.2018.a.7730
Henk Nellen, Hugo Grotius: a lifelong struggle for peace in church and state, 1583-1645, translated from the Dutch by J.C. Grayson. (Leiden, 2014) YD. 2015.a.204
Grotius and law, edited by Larry May and Emily MGill. (Farnham, 2014) YC.2015.a.11580
Grotius, edited by John Dunn and Ian Harris. 2 vols. (Cheltenham, 1997) YC.1998.b.5202
De Hollandse jaren van Hugo de Groot, edited by H.J.M. Nellen and J. Trapman. (Hilversum, 1996) YA.1997.b.411
For more information on women in Dutch history:
Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland, or Digital Womenlexicon of the Netherlands. Freely available on [Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland (knaw.nl)]
Els Kloek, et al, 1001 Vrouwen uit de Nederlandse geschiedenis (Nijmegen, 2013) YF.2015.a.1208.
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