THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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59 posts categorized "Netherlands"

29 February 2020

Children's Tales from Across the Channel (1)

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The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover. Here’s a first selection.

Cover of 'The Mitten', showing a child losing a mitten in a snowy wood

Cover of Alvin Tresselt, The Mitten (Kingswood, Surrey, 1964) X.992/87.

‘Rukavychka’, traditional Ukrainian folktale
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

‘Rukavychka’ (‘The Mitten’) is a much-loved Ukrainian folktale about a lost mitten that stretches and stretches (and stretches!) to provide shelter for an increasing number of woodland animals, ranging from a mouse to a bear. Eventually the mitten bursts and they all tumble out. There are a number of different versions of the story, including a 1964 retelling in English by Alvin Tresselt  with beautiful illustrations by Yaroslava (pictured above), but the overarching message is one of sharing and helping others in need.

Illustration of Vitalis the Fox, walking on his hind legs with a nest of birds perched on his tail
Vitalis the Fox, from Jan Brzechwa, Od baśni do baśni (Warsaw, 1969) X.990/1813

Szelmostwa lisa Witalisa’ (‘The Tricks of Vitalis the Fox’)  
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

This verse tale by Jan Brzechwa tells the story of a mischievous fox, Vitalis, who is renowned for his beautiful tail and exceptional intellect. Unfortunately, he uses his intelligence again and again to trick other animals for his own benefit. Following an election campaign full of empty promises, Vitalis becomes president of the forest animals. His tyrannical, exploitative rule triggers a revolution, in which the fox’s tail is shaven and Vitalis himself chased away from the forest. And thus a brilliant, but overly arrogant dictator is punished by his subjects – a scenario by no means limited to fairy tales.

Cover of 'Glasblåsarns barn' with an illustration of two children and a coachman
Cover of Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (Stockholm, 1987) YA.1997.a.9920.

Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (The Glassblower’s Children)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

First published in 1964, Glasblåsarns Barn tells how Klas and Klara, children of the brilliant but impoverished glassblower Alfred and his long-suffering wife Sofia, are kidnapped by a nobleman as a gift for his own childless and unhappy wife. But their presence doesn’t make her any happier, and in the great house beyond the River of Forgotten Memories the children are neglected and traumatised. A governess is hired to look after them but turns out to be a monster who makes life unbearable for the whole household. It it takes a benevolent witch from the children’s home village and her wise raven to defeat the awful Nana, restore happiness to the nobleman and his wife, and return Klas and Klara to their parents. Maria Gripe’s story, attractively illustrated by her husband Harald, is funny and moving by turns, a fantasy that asks real-life questions about family life, love and loss, and the nature of human desires. It was translated into English by Sheila La Farge (London, 1974; X.0990/4514) and that was how I came to discover the book as a child in my local public library.

Cover of a 1924 edition of 'Pinocchio' with an illustration showing some of the characters of the story
Cover of Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure Di Pinocchio: Storia Di Un Burattino (Florence, 1924) F10/1460

Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

The story of the rebellious wooden marionette who wants to become a real boy is universally known, yet every edition of Pinocchio carries a unique freshness, a special appeal that continues to charm readers across generations. The iconic pointy nose, that grows every time he lies, the cone-shaped hat made of bread crumbs, these are Pinocchio’s most recognizable features across almost 150 years of this popular character.

Over 200 editions of Carlo Collodi’s story, first published in Italian in 1883, are held by the British Library, in virtually every language and dialect, illustrated by famous and lesser-known artists, so it’s been really hard to pick one. I chose the popular 1924 paperback edition, richly illustrated by Maria Augusta and Luigi Cavalieri, because this could be the copy that every average Italian household keeps in its bookshelves. These are the images that children look at before learning how to read.

The book is a bildungsroman telling the adventures and the many metamorphoses of an innocent and ignorant young character, who is granted human nature at the end of the story, as a reward for his efforts and hard work. Quintessentially Italian, Collodi’s book wasn’t my favourite as a child, but I can now see it in all its literary richness, not only as a reminder of the importance of frugality, honesty and education in become young adults. In fact, Pinocchio’s pedagogical value follows the introduction of mandatory education for children in the newly unified Italian Kingdom, but Collodi adds an unruly, almost anarchic edge to his story, making it a global evergreen.

Cover of 'Afke's Ten' with a picture of a small sailing-boat on a river
Cover of Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s Ten, translated by Marie Kiersted Pidgeon (Philadelphia, 1936) 12801.f.21.

Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s tiental (Afke’s Ten)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Afke’s tiental is a timeless story about ten children growing up in a poor household in Friesland, the Northern province in the Netherlands where Frisian is spoken. Since its first edition in 1903 it has seen over 60 editions. The author Nynke van Hichtum (pseudonym of Sjoukje Maria Diderika Troelstra-Bokma de Boer) was married to Pieter Jelle Troelstra, the leader of the socialist party in the Netherlands
The foreword of the first English edition describes it as:

A story of modern child-life in a large, happy Dutch family in a Frisian village, written by a pioneer for better children’s books in the Netherlands, “Afke’s Ten” (Afke’s tiental) is not only considered a juvenile classic in Holland, but has been recognized by the International Bureau of Education in Switzerland as one of the best “international goodwill” stories in the world for boys and girls.

It adds that ‘Mrs Troelstra had already made a name for herself with translations of Robinson Crusoe, Kipling’s ‘White Seal’ and other English stories.’

20 February 2020

Travelling through the British Library’s Dutch-Surinamese Collections via Johan Fretz’s ‘Onder de Paramariboom’

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“Mummy comes from the Paramaribo-tree – that’s a tree on the other side of the ocean, and black people like mummy and Ruud Gullit grow on it.” – Johan Fretz, Onder de Paramariboom

Paramari-what? Sometimes it takes a child’s perspective to make you realise how little you really know about something; when you find you’re unable to correct what they’re saying with any degree of accuracy. Of course, when my coursemates and I were given the opportunity to work with the Dutch-Surinamese author Johan Fretz and translate part of his semi-autobiographical novel Onder de Paramariboom, I could have told you that Surinamese people don’t grow on a big tree named after the country’s capital, Pamaribo, but I couldn’t have told you much else about Suriname or its people.


Cover of 'Onder de paramariboom' with an image of two women in sihouette and an aerial view of a landscape
Cover of Johan Fretz, Onder de Paramariboom (Amsterdam, 2018) YF.2019.a.5725.

The British Library’s vast collection of maps, texts and images from and related to the former Dutch colony provides a pretty good impression of Suriname, but nowhere could I find mention of the ‘Paramaribo-tree’. The reason, of course, is that it has been invented by Johannes, the narrator of Fretz’s novel (the wordplay in the original title with the Dutch word ‘boom’ (‘tree’) is lost in English) who, despite having a Surinamese mother, has never really felt in touch with his Surinamese roots. It’s not until he visits Suriname that he realises how much he has been shaped by this part of his identity. As a fellow lover of a good pun, I adopted Johannes as my guide through the British Library’s collection.

Suriname, once known as Dutch Guiana, is located on the north-east coast of South America and is just over twice the size of Scotland. Although British planters were the first Europeans to permanently settle there, Suriname was largely under Dutch rule from 1667 until its independence in 1975.

Johannes’ mother, Virginia, was born and raised in Paramaribo, where Fretz’s novel is mainly set. The historical inner city, on the left bank of the Suriname River, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002. 

The oldest and most important street in Paramaribo is Waterkant (‘waterside’). Many of its buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1821, including the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Housing, which was rebuilt and now looks, according to Johannes, “like it has been blown up and then put back together again, all higgeldy-piggeldy.” (Fretz, p.29)

The photograph below is taken from a collection of wonderful pictures taken by Dutch photographer Willem van de Poll during the 1955 state visit of the Dutch Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard.

The Waterkrant in Paramaribo with wooden colonial-era buildings
‘The Waterkant, Paramaribo’. From Willem van de Poll, Suriname (Paramaribo, [1959]) X.709/26675.

A map in King George III’s Topographical Collection lying on the desk before me tells me that Virginia’s favourite district in Fretz’s novel is Commewijne, named after the river that flows through it. Commewijne lies on the opposite side of the Suriname river to Paramaribo and is a former plantation district: the map shows plantations tightly packed along the rivers Commewijne and Suriname.

Map of Suriname in the late 18th century
Algemeene Kaart van de Colonie of Provintie van Suriname, met de rivieren, districten, ontdekkingen... (Amsterdam, [after 1758]) K.Top.124.47.1.

Many Dutch families owned plantations in Suriname, and family members would sometimes visit them. A journal by Gaspar van Breugel records one such visit in 1823 to inspect two plantations partially owned by his family. In his journal he calls these plantations ‘Carolinenburg’ and ‘Schoonwoud’, but a little bit of research provided me with their real names and details: the 500-acre Cliffort Kokshoven a coffee and cotton plantation in Commewijne, and Kocqswoud was a 163-acre coffee plantation in the Marrowijne district.

Title-page of 'Dagverhaal van eene reis naar Paramaribo' with a vignette of a white plantation owner and an African slave
“It was one of those subjects – just like slavery – that was not to be talked about, which of course meant that it was talked about as often as possible”. (Fretz, p.53).  The picture shows the title-page of G. P. C. van Breugel, Dagverhaal van eene reis naar Paramaribo en verdere omstreken in de Kolonie Suriname (Amsterdam, 1842) 10055.cc.6

Slaves were shipped to Suriname from the west coast of Africa. While the majority worked the plantations, some were domestic slaves. A major and unique publication in Dutch colonial history was Wij Slaven van Suriname (‘We Slaves of Suriname)’, by Anton de Kom. Born in Suriname to a former slave and having received an education which neglected to tell the narrative of the slaves who had been forced to work there, De Kom wrote his book to draw attention to the history of slavery in Suriname. The British Library houses a copy of the first edition of this important text.


Title-page of 'Wij Slaven van Suriname'
Title page of Anton de Kom, Wij Slaven van Suriname (Amsterdam, [1934]) X.529/73312

“Uncle Jimmy. He’s black, much darker than the rest of my family.
‘That’s because uncle Jimmy is a maroon,’ says my mother. ‘But of course, you should never say that.’
He came from the inland to Paramaribo when he was fifteen years old. (Fretz, p.54)

Slaves that managed to flee their masters tended to make their way into the rainforests of the Surinamese interior. Here, they formed groups with other runaway slaves, known as maroons, and established communities which still exist today. Johannes’ uncle Jimmy is a descendant of one such community. Often maroons would return to their former plantations and attack them, “both from a Spirit of revenge for the barbarous and inhuman treatment … they had received … & from a view of carrying away plunder … in order to provide for their subsistence and defense.” This quote is taken from John Gabriel Stedman’s  Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Suriname. Stedman was a British-Dutch colonial soldier who volunteered to assist local troops fighting maroons in Suriname.


View of a Surinamese plantation estate beside a riverView of the Estate Alkmaar, on the River Commewine. From J.G. Stedman, Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Suriname (London, 1796) 145.f.15

Stedman began writing his Narrative once back in Holland in 1778, based on the diaries he kept during his time in Suriname between 1773 and 1777. The book details the Dutch colony at the time as seen by an ‘outsider’ – Stedman documented most of what he witnessed, from military campaigns to flora and fauna to relationships between slaves and their masters. His editor, however, made significant alterations (unbeknownst to Stedman) to remove the text’s anti-slavery undertones. Indeed, extracts from later uncensored versions of the text proved valuable to those involved in anti-slavery efforts. The Narrative contains 80 etchings based on Stedman’s drawings, some made by William Blake, a close friend of Stedman during the mid-1700’s.

Slavery was not abolished in Suriname until 1863, although the slave trade had been illegal since 1814. To help prevent illegalslave trading, Dutch navy ships patrolled routes between Freetown in Sierra Leone and Paramaribo. Sierra Leone was then a British colony and, following the British Abolition of the Slave Trade Act (1807), there was a one-sided ban on the slave trade between Africa and Suriname. The British pressured other countries to ban the trade out of ‘economic necessity’, since while others continued to import plantation workers, they themselves faced labour shortages. After the British threatened not to return confiscated Dutch colonies, the Netherlands banned the slave trade in 1814. In a treaty of 1818 the British and Dutch agreed to work together to prevent illegal slave trading between their colonies. Both could search each other’s vessels, and two mixed commission courts, in Freetown and Paramaribo, were established with the power to sentence slavers.

Gerard Van Lennep Coster was a Dutch naval officer who served on one such ship from 1819 to 1821. I discovered this in his travel memoir Herinneringen mijner reizen naar onderscheidene Werelddeelen (‘Memories of my travels to different continents’), which I also find on my reading room desk alongside his Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën... (‘Annotations kept during my stay in the West-Indies...’), a journal documenting his time in Suriname.

 

Cover of 'Herinneringen mijner reizen' with vignette showing the god Neptune in a sea-borne chariot

Above: Title page of Gerard van Lennep Coster, Herinneringen mijner reizen naar onderscheidene Werelddeelen (Amsterdam, 1836) 10027.e.7. Below: Title page from Gerard van Lennep Coster, Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën, in dejaren 1837-1840 …(Amsterdam, 1842) 10470.d.3.

Title-page of 'Aanteekeningen, gehouden gedurende mijn verblijf in de West-Indiën'

In Fretz’s novel, Johannes’ trip to Suriname took him on a journey of self-discovery which also led me through the collections of the British Library. I may not have covered the distance that he did, but Fretz’s narrative certainly made me feel closer to Suriname. Suddenly, Suriname’s history doesn’t seem so distant, and I’m pretty sure that I could hold a conversation about the country that stretches a little further than quashing a child’s notion of the roots of the Surinamese.

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

13 December 2019

De Bezige Bij – 75 years and still buzzing

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One of the most successful literary publishers in the Netherlands of the 20th and 21st centuries is De Bezige Bij (‘The Busy Bee’). Currently, it has almost 600 authors on its list, among them many big international names, together good for 1344 titles by my count.

De Bezige Bij started during the Second World War as a clandestine publishing house, of which there were a great many. Not so many, though, continued after the war, or were as successful as De Bezige Bij. It was among the most outstanding publishing ventures during the war, both in terms of content and of appearance.

It all started with saving Jewish children from the Nazis. When the deportations started and Jewish citizens of Amsterdam had to assemble at the Hollandsche Schouwburg, some women managed to get children out of the building and into the adjacent school for teachers. Soon the group grew and established sub-groups elsewhere, for instance in Utrecht. This so-called ‘Children’s Fund’ needed large sums of money. That money came in part from the Utrecht Student Corps (USC), of which Geert Lubberhuizen was a member. He became involved in the Children’s Fund to such an extent that he was nicknamed ‘The Busy Bee’.

One of the women founders, Anne Maclaine Pont, gave him a typed copy of ‘De Achttien Dooden’ (‘The Eighteen Dead’), the most famous illegal poem produced in the occupied Netherlands. Written by Jan Campert, the poem is a homage to the eighteen men who were executed following the ‘February Strike’, a general strike in protest against the persecution of Jews, led by dock workers in Amsterdam on 24 February 1941. They were the first Dutch men to be executed for alleged anti-German acts.

Broadside of the poem 'De Achttien Dooden' with a woodcut header
Jan Campert, De Achttien Dooden, 2nd ed. (Utrecht, 1943) HS.74/325.(21.) 

The poem was circulated in manuscript or typescript. A total of 15,000 copies were produced during the war, not all by De Bezige Bij. However, it was Geert Lubberhuizen who decided late 1942, or early 1943 to make an illustrated printed broadside of it to raise money for the Children’s Fund. It was published by Lubberhuizen and Ch.E. Blommestein, and printed by J. Hendriks in Utrecht. The illustration is signed as Coen ’t Hart, the pseudonym of Fedde Wiedema.

That is how ‘De Achttien Dooden’ became De Bezige Bij’s first publication, almost two years before its official establishment as a publishing house. ‘The Bee’ as it became known continued to issue clandestine publications to support the work of the Children’s Fund.

The Library holds three editions of this broadside. The earliest is from 1943 and, according to Anna Simoni’s bibliography Publish and be Free, is of the 2nd edition. It was donated in September 1969, by Jaap Romijn, who ran another clandestine publishing house in Utrecht. Richter Roegholt wrote a history of De Bezige Bij, published in 1972 and mentions Simoni’s letter to him in reply to his attempts to solve the mystery of spelling errors in the poem. That is a story in itself which is best saved for some other time

.Cover of 'De Geschiedenis van De Bezige Bij', with a list of 12 questions in Dutch about the publishing houseFront cover of Richter Roegholt, De Geschiedenis van De Bezige Bij (Amsterdam, 1972) 2708.c.35.

A second copy is from 1946 (74/L.R.410.y.1.(5.)) and was purchased in February 1968. The third copy (85/Cup.600.d.(2)) is from 1955, and has the real name of the illustrator alongside the pseudonym. This is printed on ‘pancake paper’ and is much narrower than the two others.

Production was increased after ‘Crazy Tuesday’ on 5 September 1944, when the Dutch thought, mistakenly, that the war had ended. By December 1944 it was clear that the war truly would not last much longer. So on 12 December 1944 the co-operative publishing house ‘De Bezige Bij’ was established, on the basis of a ‘Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij in hoofdlijnen’ (‘Main outlines of a Plan for the co-operative publishers The Busy Bee’). 


Front cover of Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij in hoofdlijnen
Cover of Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij in hoofdlijnen
([Utrecht, 1944]) Cup.406.b.19.

The first article outlines the publishers’ intention to continue the business after the war:

Encouraged by the success of its. publications and by the interest from many authors and illustrators who, from the beginning have enthusiastically contributed to ‘The Busy Bee’, which has as its aim to collect as much money as possible for the national cause, next to the continuation of the free Dutch literature, the management of this publishing house has decided to continue her work after the war with the aim to serve the cause of its authors.

The first article of Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij
The first article of Plan voor de coöperatieve uitgeverij De Bezige Bij

Its first ‘official’ publication was a printing (in English) of The Atlantic Charter,  declared by President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on 14 August 1941. 100 copies were printed by Fokke Tamminga, who personally delivered one to the British Museum in 1969. The colophon makes clear that this was a clandestinely produced booklet, but its execution is nonetheless exquisite.

Opening of the Atlantic Charter, printed in blue and black ink, with a large blue initial Colophon of the Atlantic Charter, printed in blue and black ink with the British Library's green acquisition stamp
Opening (left)and colophon (right) of The Atlantic Charter (Utrecht, 1944). Cup.406.a.9.

This blog’s limitations do not allow for a discussion of the post-war history of ‘The Bee’. For that I refer to Roegholt and to the publisher’s own website . But I make an exception for Geheid Deelder, a collection of six stories by Jules Deelder on the occasion of De Bezige Bij’s 50th anniversary. Jules Deelder is after all just a few weeks older than De Bezige Bij.

Cover of 'Geheid Deelder' with a photograph of the author
Cover of Jules Deelder Geheid Deelder’ (Amsterdam, 1994) YA.1994.a.14827.

It goes without saying that De Bezige Bij is positively buzzing with activity around its 75th anniversary. On the 10th of this month a new poem by Ramsey Nasr  entitled, ‘De dag kan komen’ (‘The day may come’) was unveiled in the firm’s offices, where it now hangs opposite Campert’s ‘De Achttien Dooden’. 

Long may this Busy Bee keep buzzing!

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections.

References

Anna Simoni, Publish and be free: a catalogue of clandestine books printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945, in the British Library (The Hague; London, 1975.) 2725.aa.1

04 December 2019

From Bach to Jazz in Rotterdam

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A belated ‘Happy Birthday’ to two giants of Dutch literature: Jules Deelder and Maarten ’t Hart. Born within one day of each other, Deelder on 24th and ’t Hart on 25th November 1944, they grew up in or near Rotterdam. Maarten is more of an outdoor man, whilst Deelder is a real city slicker, nicknamed the ‘Night Mayor of Rotterdam’.

At first glance there couldn’t be two more different Dutch authors, but a closer look shows they have a few things in common.

Both published their first work around 1969 and have published a title almost every year for decades.

Both authors are passionate about music: ’t Hart wrote about Johann Sebastian Bach and other classical composers. Deelder wrote about jazz and pop.

Neither of them shuns controversy. Deelder is a performer/poet, who calls himself an ‘aucteur’. His hard-hitting black humour is not for the faint-hearted. He has a totally unique view on day-to-day topics. Maarten ’t Hart has a nickname, too: ‘Maartje ’t Hart’, the feminine version of ‘Maarten’, which refers to his love of wearing dresses.

Maartje/Maarten studied biology and did his PhD on the stickleback, published in a commercial edition as De Stekelbaars (X.329/17493). His breakthrough came in 1978 with a book with a bird in its title: Een Vlucht Regenwulpen (‘A Flight of Curlews’). The book was made into a film, with the lead character played by Jeroen Krabbé.

Cover of Een Vlucht Regenwulpen

Cover of Een Vlucht Regenwulpen 9th ed, (Amsterdam, 1979) X.908/88682

’t Hart writes mainly prose. As far as I am aware he has never published a poetry collection, just as Deelder has never published a novel.

Both are prolific writers as the list on the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (DBNL) website shows; there you can find more information on both authors. The British Library holds most titles by both authors, including translations into English.

Poem on De Lijnbaan featuring an abstract apartment block in the background

Poem on De Lijnbaan. In: 60 jaar Lijnbaan, by Astrid Aarsen et al. (Rotterdam, 2013) YF.2015.b.2051

Deelder visited London in 2015 to read from the collection 100 Dutch-language poems, translated into English by Paul Vincent, to which he contributed.

Photograph of Jules Deelder wearing a black hat with a book and pen in his hand

Jules Deelder in London 2015 . Photo by author.

Deelder’s poetry collection Transeuropa, originally published in 1995 has been translated into English by Scott Emblen-Jarrett, a graduate from the Centre of Dutch Studies at UCL. It is out this year. 

Deelder’s latest poetry collection is entitled Hard Gin. A distillery in Schiedam, another town under the smoke of Rotterdam and once the centre of gin distilling has developed a related ‘Hard gin.’

Long may both authors live and delight us with their writings.

Marja Kingma, Curator for Dutch Language Collections

References:

Jules Deelder
Hard Gin. (Amsterdam, 2019)
Jazz: verhalen en gedichten. (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1993.a.21208
Transeuropa: poems translated by Scott Emblen-Jarrett. (London, 2019) Awaiting shelfmark

Maarten ‘t Hart
De Stekelbaars. (Utrecht, 1978). X.329/17493
Mozart en de anderen (Amsterdam, 2006.) YF.2006.a.26678
Johann Sebastian Bach. (Amsterdam, 2018). YF.2019.a.15081

100 Dutch-language poems: from the medieval period to the present day, selected and translated by Paul Vincent and John Irons. (London, 2015). YC.2017.a.3500

25 October 2019

Dutch Literature takes Centre Stage at the British Library

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The New Dutch Writing campaign came to the British Library on Saturday 12 October. Martin Colthorpe from Modern Culture and the Library’s Events team had organised a day packed full of great names from Dutch literature, society and culture and topped it all with a keynote by Simon Schama.

Three panels, consisting of Joris Luyendijk and Naema Tahir, Esther Gerritsen and Herman Koch, and Jeroen Olyslaegers and Bart van Es, talked about tolerance, identity and belonging.

There were around 70 people in the audience, including pupils from the Rainbow School, a Dutch school in London, and undergraduates from the Dutch department of UCL.

Panel 1: left to right Joris Luyendijk, Naema Tahir, Henriette Louwerse
Panel 1. From left to right Joris Luyendijk, Naema Tahir, Henriette Louwerse (chair). (Photo: Marja Kingma)

Naema Tahir was born of Pakistani parents who moved first to the UK and then to the Netherlands. She herself has lived all over the world. She has written several books about immigration as seen through the eyes of the immigrant.

Cover of Eenzaam Heden

Cover of Eenzaam Heden (Amsterdam, 2008) YF.2008.a.22909

Brits and Dutch alike get confused about her, because she does not answer to any of their stereotypes. She regards the Dutch as tolerant, but believes that they only accept immigrants to a certain point, never wholeheartedly. They are not interested in the heritage of the immigrants.

Joris Luyendijk can relate to that. He has lived abroad for many years and did projects on subjects unfamiliar to him. The most famous example of this is his blog for The Guardian on the 2008 financial crisis in the UK and the subsequent book Swimming With Sharks. Luyendijk sees Dutch ‘tolerance’ as ‘enlightened indifference’, a belief that as long as immigrants totally conform, become like the Dutch, it is all fine. This may stem from the time when the Dutch regarded themselves as the guide country of the world. He sees problems arising when immigrants live according to their own traditions and values, which sometimes clash with Dutch liberal attitudes or long running traditions.

Title page Swimming With Sharks

Title page Swimming With Sharks (London, 2015) YK.2016.a.1327

Current Dutch literature has moved away from a very introspective view, agonising about one’s own identity, and family relations within very ‘Dutch’ families. This had made it hard to sell abroad. Today novels feature global topics, such as immigration, terrorism, globalization and climate change, which identity issues are made a part of.

Panel 2. From left to right: Suzi Feay (chair), Esther Gerritsen, Herman Koch
Panel 2. From left to right: Suzi Feay (chair), Esther Gerritsen, Herman Koch (photo: Marja Kingma)

I wonder whether Dutch citizens would finally embrace their fellow immigrant citizens if they participated in the ‘free market’ on Dutch National Day, or ‘King’s Day’. After all, that day is where the real character of the Dutch comes out in full, observes Herman Koch in his latest novel The Ditch. Adults actively encourage children to stake out a plot on the street as their market stall, which they guard jealously against anyone who dares to trespass. And all in order to sell junk to each other.

Like Koch, Esther Gerritsen is interested in the dark side of the human psyche, including infidelity. In her novel Roxy the eponymous protagonist goes in search of an enemy to take revenge on, after she discovers her husband’s affair when he and his lover die in a car accident. She is an outsider both in the glamorous world of her late husband and in the working-class environment she came from. The road trip she embarks on with two other women she hardly knows and her toddler daughter is a belated coming-of-age journey, where she finds she doesn’t really belong anywhere. Gerritsen feels similarly an outsider, or as someone ‘from the cold side’, a Dutch expression referring to the ‘in-laws’. Being from a working-class background she doesn’t always feel at home in the Dutch literary scene.

Panel 3. From left to right: Helen Fry (chair), Jeroen Olyslaegers, Bart van Es
Panel 3. From left to right: Helen Fry (chair), Jeroen Olyslaegers, Bart van Es (photo: Marja Kingma).

The Second World War was a time when ‘identity’ was a matter of life and death. Bart van Es won the Costa Book Award in 2019 for his story The Cut-Out Girl, about Lien, a Jewish girl who lived in hiding with his family and stayed with them after the war. It wasn’t until fairly recently that Lien felt she belonged somewhere and was loved. Not surprising if you lose all of your family when you are not even ten, when you are constantly on the run from your oppressors, moving from one hiding place to the next as a Jewish girl amongst Christians. As Lien said, “Without family you have no memory.” Bart himself discovered things about his family he never knew.

Jeroen Olyslaegers’ Will is a novel based on real events during the War, set in Antwerp. In it Olyslaegers examines people’s choices during times of oppression and danger. As a police officer ordered to take Jewish families out of their houses, what do you do? What did others do? Did they resist, or were they bystanders? All of Olyslaegers’ characters in Will are ambiguous; they are first and foremost looking after themselves, trying to survive, and that means not always acting morally correctly.

Cover of Will

Cover of Will (London, 2019) ELD.DS.455850

Despite the countless books written about the war, both Van Es and Olyslaegers are convinced that there are many more stories out there that want to be told, written down, and translated into new stories for a new audience.

Simon Schama closed the day with a passionate talk about Rembrandt. I stopped taking notes, hanging on his every word. Schama sees Rembrandt as a great intellect, a learned man, considering the large archive of drawings he kept, which he later was forced to sell.

Rembrandt. ‘Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver’

Rembrandt. ‘Judas Returning Thirty Pieces of Silver’ (1629, private collection.) Reproduced in Simon Schama, Rembrandt’s Eyes (London, 1999) YC.1999.b.9511.

Rembrandt mastered the two criteria set by Alberti for being a great artist: craftsmanship and creativity. Rembrandt had both in spades. Schama placed Rembrandt in the midst of Amsterdam’s transformation from almost rural backwater to the city that became the trading centre of the world. Rembrandt ended up alongside Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael, by being known by his first name only. Now that is some identity.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections (Dutch languages specialist)

 

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).