admired his poetry - of having remained a slave of the Dutch lower middle class. He did not spare himself either and stated frankly that the author of Mei had also been a member of the petty bourgeoisie in disguise. He characterized the limitations of the work of Van Deyssel, too, as limitations of a social nature, since Van Deyssel, unlike Zola, did not draw his material from a metropolis which in addition to a bourgeoisie and a lower middle class also contained a proletariat.
In his attack on the Movement of the Eighties, Gorter did not reject all individualism, but only what he called ‘bourgeois individualism in a state of decline’, and in his creative work he always remained one of the most individualistic poets of his time. In 1903 he published Verzen (Poems), a new volume of poetry under the same title as the volume of 1890. It was a volume of socialist poetry, written as a glorification of socialism and the working class. Although it is full of socialist propaganda, full of phrases such as ‘socialism is coming’, ‘socialism lives’, ‘the stench of capital’, ‘the brotherhood of men’, and although diction and imagery are less extreme than they were in the Verzen of 1890, the book is basically a collection of individualistic poetry: it is the self-expression of a man who had found in socialism his personal happiness and inspiration. Gorter himself was not blind to the fact that the individualistic mode of Verzen (1903) contradicted his anti-individualistic theories, and in an attempt to subordinate his inborn individualism to his anti-individualistic conviction, he then moved from lyrical poetry to the epic. His first epic poem was published in 1906 under the title Een Klein Heldendicht (A Short Epic). It deals with socialism in a much more concrete way than Verzen of 1903, and describes a young man's hesitation to take part in a strike - in 1903 there had been a railway strike, the first full-scale strike in the Netherlands - and a young woman's indecision whether to join a trade union. It also deals with socialist meetings, the eight-hour working day and Marxist theory in general. In
its subject-matter and ‘engagement’ it was the complete negation of the precepts of the eighties when social consciousness, let alone political propaganda, was taboo in poetry. Six years later Gorter published a second epic, Pan , more abstract and also more symbolical than the former. It is not concerned with two specific people finding their way to socialism, but with the liberation of all mankind by the socialist revolution. In 1916 Pan was rewritten and extended to 12,000 lines which, if one disregards some medieval compilations and Cats's De Proef-steen van den Trou-ring , makes it the longest poem in Dutch. Its concept was grandiose and ambitious, so ambitious in fact that it overtaxed Gorter's talents as a poet. Twelve thousand inspired lines are rare indeed, and in Pan the lack of inspiration shows up again and again. It might best be described as a volume of excellent lyrical poems connected by long passages of versified Marxist theory. As an epic it failed, but one must concede that it was a magnificent failure.
Gorter not only made propaganda for socialism in his poetry, he also played an active part in the socialist movement. In 1897 he became a member of the three-year-old Dutch Socialist Party in which he belonged to the left-wing radicals. After the Railway Strike of 1903 tension developed between radicals and revisionists, and in 1909, following a conflict with the Labour leader, P.J. Troelstra, Gorter resigned from the party. He then became a foundation member of a new left-wing Marxist party, the Social-Democratic Party, which in 1918 changed its name to Communist Party. In those years Gorter also published political essays, the most important of which was Het Imperialisme, De Wereldoorlog en De Sociaal-Democraten (Imperialism, the Great War and Social Democrats). It became known internationally and drew the attention of Lenin who particularly appreciated Gorter's attack on Kautsky. In 1920 Gorter went to Moscow to attend the Congress of the Communist Party. There he clashed sharply with Lenin about the value of the parliamentary system.
Gorter believed in a democratic communism and rejected any form of dictatorship. He put principle above power, always adhered to his radical point of view and never made concessions to the practical politicians, whether their name was Troelstra or Lenin. His stand at the Moscow Congress of 1920 caused an unbridgeable rift between him and Lenin, and Lenin's brochure Radicalism, a Childhood Disease was mainly directed against Gorter. After his visit to Moscow, Gorter regarded the Communist Party as unprincipled, and resigned his membership in 1921. He died in 1927, leaving behind a lengthy manuscript, posthumously published as De Grote Dichters (The Great Poets), in which he discussed Aeschylus, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Vondel, Goethe and Shelley in their social and economic environments.
Gorter was not the only poet of his time to play an important part in politics. For many years he had an active supporter in Henriëtte Roland Holst (née Van der Schalk), whose political life to a certain extent ran parallel to his. She was born in 1869 and met Gorter in 1893 through Albert Verwey. They studied Marx together and joined the Socialist Party at the same time. The year before, Henriëtte Roland Holst had published her first volume of poetry, Sonnetten en Verzen in Terzinen Geschreven (Sonnets and Poems Written in Tercets), with which she immediately distinguished herself from the rather large number of poets who were still following in the wake of the Movement of the Eighties. True, the influence of Verwey is noticeable in this volume, and at a greater distance that of Dante and Spinoza, but the derivative elements shrink into insignificance when compared with the great originality At a time when no sonnet was considered successful unless its rhythm and metre were regular, she used jumpy rhythms and irregular metres which show her disdain for the ‘beautiful sound’ of the poem as preached by Kloos and the younger Gorter. Her poetry was more cerebral and at the same time more intuitive than that of the poets of the Eighties.
Her first volume was a constant exploration of the Self, and as such egoistic and individualistic, but one also finds in it the same idealism of the brotherhood of men and universal love as in Gorter's later poetry, though not yet connected with socialism. Like Gorter, she was an individualist at heart, and like Gorter again, her individualism was problematic to her. Her next volume, De Nieuwe Geboort (The New Birth), published in 1902 and written after she had become a socialist, is characterized by this dilemma of innate individualism and the ideals of a new community. The fear that the two may never be reconciled gives several poems in this volume an accent of tragedy. Gradually her poetry became more positively socialist, and in Opwaartsche Wegen (The Upward Roads, 1907) she celebrated the victory of socialism in herself and enthusiastically anticipated it for the whole world.
In the meantime, the conflict between radicals and revisionists had led to Gorter's resignation from the Socialist Party. Henriëtte Roland Holst, though in agreement with Gorter's interpretation of Socialism, did not immediately follow suit, but let loyalty to the party prevail over loyalty to the individual. For two more years she defended orthodox Marxism against revisionism, until in 1911 she also resigned. She did not join Gorter's Social-Democratic Party, but stayed outside politics for some years. Then, in 1915, she founded the Revolutionary Socialist Party which in the following year fused with the Social-Democratic Party.
In her volume De Vrouw in het Woud (The Woman in the Forest, 1912) she described her isolation after she had broken with the Socialist Party. Like Dante, she finds herself lost in a forest, but no Virgil or any other guide comes to her rescue: she has to be her own guide. The enthusiasm of Opwaartsche Wegen has gone, and its place has been taken by a tone of lament, of disappointment and uncertainty. The conflict in this volume is not so much the clash between inborn individualism and community ideals, but rather between Dream and Action, between the
contemplative and active sides of her personality. She is torn between the dream of the socialist state with social equality and justice, and the action, cruel action, without which it cannot be brought about. Reconciliation between the dream and the action seems impossible to her: ‘want Droom en Daad kunnen niet samen wonen’ (for Dream and Action cannot live together). More and more she became concerned with the idea of revolution and its justification: Would a revolution with all its evils and miseries be justified by the good cause? Sometimes she was inclined to answer the question in the affirmative and in this volume she wrote:
Hoeveel duizend harten ook noodig zijn,
ge moogt ze nemen, en de prijs blijft klein.
De prijs blijft klein voor het mensche-geluk,
Gradually she moved away from the idea of revolution and in Verzonken Grenzen (Sunken Borders) of 1918 she stated that ‘de zachte krachten zullen zeker winnen in 't eind’ (the gentle forces will certainly win in the end). In 1923, in her volume Tusschen Twee Werelden (Between Two Worlds), she went a step further and rejected the revolution as ‘a dreadful disease, a life-and-death crisis in the body of society’. At the 1921 Congress of the Third International in Moscow she was one of the representatives of the Dutch Communist Party, but the Congress shattered her illusions about the revolution and, like Gorter the year before, she returned from the Soviet Union bitterly disappointed. Her ambivalent feelings about the revolution crystallized in the epic poem Heldensage (Heroic Saga), published in 1927, which on the one hand is a glorification of the Russian Revolution and on the other an attack on what had become of it. In the same year, also the year of Gorter's death,
she resigned from the Communist Party and published a new volume, Verworvenheden (Achievements), in which she repudiated Marxism in favour of a religious Socialism. It is a volume full of self-reproach: she deplores ever having advocated violence and is convinced that compulsion will never work. Summing up her life, she realized that little had become of all the plans and ideals of the earlier years. Verworvenheden was not her last volume - she wrote and published until shortly before her death in 1952 - but it was her final answer to the problems that she had posed in her earlier work. She also wrote some verse dramas, e.g. about Thomas More, and biographies of Rosa Luxemburg, Romain Rolland and Gandhi.
Her importance and influence in the Netherlands was great. For a long time she was the idol of the socialist section of the population and later, after the opposition between socialists and anti-socialists had lost its edge, she was venerated almost as a national figure, also by people who had never read a line of her poetry. Her work reads like a running commentary on her life. All her ideas, her hopes and desires, her disappointments and disillusionments, are reflected in it. Few poets have been so completely present in their work as Henriëtte Roland Holst was. There is no unanimity about the quality of her poetry. Some critics cannot praise it too highly, others regard the liberties that she took in rhythm and metre as chaotic and inadmissible. From a purely poetical and non-political point of view one of the main features of her work is that it represents a clear break with the tradition of the Eighties. Looking back from her work at the poetry of the Eighties, the idea of art for art's sake suddenly seems very remote indeed.
One of the original editors of De Nieuwe Gids, Albert Verwey, also turned his back on the ideas of the Eighties. He resigned his editorship in 1890 after a conflict with Kloos and from then on became more and more opposed to the extreme individualism that was cultivated by the Movement. His contributions to De Nieuwe Gids became less frequent
and after 1893 he sent a considerable amount of poetry to the Flemish journal Van Nu en Straks which was far more moderate in its espousal of individualism than De Nieuwe Gids. Verwey, however, was by nature a leader rather than a contributor, and in 1894 he set up a new magazine, Tweemaandelijksch Tijdschrift (Bi-monthly Magazine), which he needed as he wrote to his publisher, ‘in the same way as a clergyman needs a pulpit’. His co-editor was Lodewijk van Deyssel. The combination Verwey-Van Deyssel was a misalliance, as Van Deyssel realized from the beginning. After publication of the first issue he wrote to Verwey: ‘I don't feel my relation to this Magazine to be that of an active leader of a certain intellectual movement, but rather that of a director of an institute for publication’. Verwey on the other hand always felt that it was his task to give leadership, and the surer he became of himself, the stronger his leadership grew.
In the German magazine Blätter für die Kunst, Verwey, who was keen to give his magazine an international orientation, recognized a congenial spirit in the work of Stefan George. He reviewed George's Pilgerfahrten and Algabal in 1895. His review led to a meeting with George, and subsequently to several years of friendship and co-operation. They began to translate each other's work and the first fruit of their friendship matured in 1896 when Blätter für die Kunst published translations by George from the poetry of Kloos, Verwey and Gorter. The poetry which George and Verwey wrote in the late nineties gives evidence of a firm relationship between the two. George's Das Jahr der Seele (1897) shows affinity with Verwey's volume Aarde (Earth, 1896), while George's influence, specifically of his Algabal, is noticeable in Verwey's De Nieuwe Tuin (The New Garden), published in 1898. Through George, Verwey also came into contact with members of the George circle such as Friedrich Gundolf, Karl Wolfskehl, Ludwig Klages and Friedrich Wolters, so that at the beginning of the twentieth century there existed for some years a strong link between German and Dutch literature. What bound George and
Verwey together was their high appreciation of the poet's place in society, their belief in the ‘mission’ of the poet. Yet there were differences, and against George's cult of the Personality, Verwey placed his own cult of Reality. An early plan to write a book together on German and Dutch art, stranded on this disagreement. Also, Verwey continued for a while to defend naturalism - in which he had grown up, as he said - against George's fierce rejection of it. For several years their basic agreement prevailed over their differences and they continued to co-operate. In 1903 George and Gundolf published a volume of Verwey translations, and Verwey reciprocated with translations of George, Gundolf, Wolfskehl and Hofmannsthal. After that they began to drift apart and the contrast between Verwey, ‘the realist’, and George, ‘the prophet’, became more pronounced. Verwey deplored George's development towards a more and more esoteric poetry, especially after publication of Der Siebente Ring (1907) and Der Stern des Bundes (1914). When the First World War broke out, relations between George and Verwey became strained. The attempts made by George and Wolfskehl to justify the German position alienated Verwey, while Verwey's rejection of German nationalism was interpreted by George and Wolfskehl as a betrayal of their friendship. In 1929 Friedrich Wolters gave an account of the relations between George and Verwey in his Stefan George und die Blätter für die Kunst, to which Verwey replied five years later with his book Mijn Verhouding tot Stefan George (My Relation to Stefan George), which must be read as a necessary correction to Wolters's interpretation.
In the meantime Verwey had made the Tweemaandelijksch Tijdschrift into a monthly under the new title of De Twintigste Eeuw (The Twentieth Century). By 1905 the differences between him and Van Deyssel had become too great and in that year Verwey established a new magazine, characteristically entitled De Beweging (The Movement), of which he himself was the sole editor. Though the title of the new magazine referred directly to the Movement of the
Eighties, De Beweging was in fact a strong reaction against part of the heritage of the eighties. It opposed naturalism and sensitivism, it rejected the ‘art of the word’ in favour of the ‘art of the thought’ and it preferred philosophical poetry to the sensuous poetry of the Eighties. It also opposed individualism and gradually moved towards a defence of traditionalism. In 1911 and 1912 two poets belonging to the group that had formed around De Beweging, Geerten Gossaert and J.C. Bloem, even advocated a return to rhetoric, i.e. to the traditional imagery which thirty years before had been decried so loudly, also by Verwey. In an article written in 1913 and entitled De Richting van de Hedendaagsche Poëzie (The Direction of Contemporary Poetry), Verwey gave cautious approval to the demand for tradition and continuity, stating that the individual's belief that he could create everything out of himself without the support of a community was ‘beautiful but dangerous’. The attempt to re-introduce an element of rhetoric into poetry - ‘inspired rhetoric’ as Bloem called it - never grew into a strong movement and was opposed from the beginning by other poets who published in De Beweging such as Aart van der Leeuw and P.N. van Eyck; yet it was symptomatic of early twentieth-century reaction against the individualism of the Eighties. The socialist anti-individualists, Herman Gorter, for instance, and Henriëtte Roland Holst, did not support De Beweging either because they regarded it as insufficiently socialist: they published in De Nieuwe Tijd (The New Era), a socialist journal established in 1898.
In his own poetry Albert Verwey evolved from a youthful worshipper of Beauty - ‘a Calvinist visited by the fever of Beauty’, as Kloos maliciously put it - to a philosophical poet who expanded his relation with Beauty to a relation with ‘the All’ and who set himself the task of expressing the unity of the poet and ‘the world’. In the preface to the 1912 edition of his Verzamelde Gedichten (Collected Poems), he formulated the essence of poetry as ‘the creative imagination which is certainly most immediately embodied in poetry, but
which as the primary human instinct is conterminous with life itself’. In all his later volumes - the most important of which are Het Zichtbaar Geheim (The Visible Secret), De Weg van het Licht (The Way of Light), De Getilde Last (The Burden Borne), De Figuren van de Sarkofaag (The Figures of the Sarcophagus), all published between 1915 and 1930 - he wanted to give expression to what he called the Idea, a concept which he himself defined as ‘a forward pushing force which is the essence of all life and becomes visible only in its form’, and which in Simon Vestdijk's formulation is ‘something related to certain basic pantheistic principles such as the Absolute, the Will, the Unconscious’. Verwey's theoretical occupation with the Idea led to - or was perhaps a rationalization of - a strongly intellectualistic and philosophically introspective poetry, which in its terseness of diction is often reminiscent of Potgieter. This was no coincidence, for Verwey felt a strong affinity to Potgieter and recognized in his work his own ideal of ‘Dream and Discipline’, of imagination and level-headedness. In 1903 he wrote Het Leven van Potgieter (Life of Potgieter), a warmly appreciative study of his life and work showing in its very style the rapport that existed between Potgieter and Verwey.
Though a poet of considerable importance, Verwey, like Potgieter again, exercized his greatest influence as a critic. In his criticism, collected in ten volumes Proza (Prose), his ultimate criteria for evaluating a work of literature were intellectual and moral, not aesthetic. The intellectual content, the philosophical background, the moral implications, they were the aspects of the work on which he based his final judgment. As a critic therefore he became the antipode of his erstwhile collaborator Lodewijk van Deyssel who always adhered to the purely aesthetic approach. Verwey was also a student of the history of literature and was the first to rediscover the work of Jan van der Noot after his eclipse of three centuries. Besides his studies of Potgieter and Van der Noot Verwey published books on Hendrick Spiegel, on Ritme
en Metrum (Rhythm and Metre), and on the poetry of Vondel. In 1924 he was appointed professor of Dutch literature at the University of Leiden. He died in 1937, while working on a new edition of Vondel.
At the time when Albert Verwey, Henriëtte Roland Holst, Herman Gorter and several other writers were in full revolt against the principles of the Eighties, and in theory and practice were trying to steer literature in a new direction, there were also poets who remained true to the individualism and subjectivism of the Eighties. This continuing line of the Eighties is most clearly exemplified by J.H. Leopold and P.C. Boutens in the Netherlands, and by Karel van de Woestijne in Belgium.
Jan Hendrik Leopold was born in 1865, studied classics at Leiden and taught at a grammar school in Rotterdam until his death in 1925. In comparison with the poets of the Eighties, who on the whole began to publish when they were still in their teens, Leopold made his debut rather late. His first poems appeared in De Nieuwe Gids in 1893, in the same issue that carried the first poems of Henriëtte Roland Holst. His comparatively late debut is indicative of the reserve and shyness so characteristic of Leopold's personality. He was a lonely man whose inborn tendency towards isolation and aloofness was aggravated by progressive deafness. His life was as outwardly uneventful as that of Mallarmé with whom he has more traits in common. Leopold was probably the purest symbolist poet in Dutch literature and his metaphorical treatment of the poet's creativity and the strongly evocative character of his poetry show a close relationship with the poetry of Mallarmé. Yet if any poet was ever his own man, it was Leopold. It may not be difficult to point out some instances of influence, by Gorter, for example, but it would be impossible to confuse a poem of Leopold's with one of Gorter's or anyone else's. Leopold's poetry is immediately recognizable by its muted tone, its soft humming, as against the trumpet sound of Gorter's verse. When in 1912 the poet Boutens saw Leopold's first volume
Verzen (Poems) through the press - half against Leopold's own wishes - he wrote a short preface to the book in which he characterized the murmuring diction of Leopold as ‘audible musing’ and ‘near silence’. In contrast to the blue and gold that Gorter used so much, Leopold's poems exist in a world of greys, ‘half shadow and half twilight glow’ as he said in his poem Voor 5 December (For the Fifth of December). Even when he wrote about the splendour of a flower-garden, as in Albumblad II (Album Leaf II), he seemed to be developing a colour film in an emulsion that was only capable of reproducing shades of grey. Also, whereas much of Gorter's poetry was written out of abundance, out of an almost ecstatic mood, the dominant mood of Leopold's poetry is often that of loss and fear.
Like Gorter, Verwey and several other writers of those years, Leopold was strongly attracted to Spinozist philosophy. The notion of the interrelation of all things, of man being part of universal nature, offered a solution to the problem of the individual and the community. In one of his major poems, Oinou Hena Stalagmon (One Drop of Wine), published in 1910, Leopold described in elaborate images how one drop of wine permeates all oceans, and how the fall of an apple influences the balance of the universe; in the same way our thinking affects all seemingly separate lives and is in turn affected by them. At the same time it is a poem about poetry, symbolizing the creative and receptive functions of the poet.
Four years later Leopold resumed these themes in a long poem Cheops. It is one of his least accessible poems, and its hermetic character has caused lack of unanimity among the critics. The one aspect of the poem that all critics agree upon is Leopold's objectification of his own solitude in the Pharao Cheops. In image upon image the poem describes the journey through the cosmos which Cheops made after his death. He is shown as part of the procession of those who had ‘immaculately arisen’, as part of a community in which he, the former absolute monarch, has to conform to others
and suppress his own will. In the second part of the poem Cheops turns away from the others and returns to the loneliness of his own pyramid and sarcophagus where he is ‘captured by the symbols of the past’. Some critics read the poem as a eulogy of the poet's creativity, others regard it as Leopold's final recognition of the isolation of the individual. The latter interpretation is the more convincing one, particularly in the context of Leopold's other work which after Cheops became more and more concerned with this isolation. A good illustration of his development is to be found in his adaptations of Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat, which he came to know in 1903 in the translation of E.H. Whinfield.
The discovery of the Rubaiyat meant a great deal to Leopold. He recognized much of himself in Omar Khayyam's philosophy of life, his fatalism, his melancholy enjoyment of life, his occasional bitterness and rebelliousness. In Leopold's first series of quatrains, published under the title of Oostersch I (Oriental), the accent lay chiefly on the transitoriness of human life:
De wereld gaat en gaat, als lang na dezen
mijn roem verging, mijn kennis hooggeprezen.
Wij werden voor ons komen niet gemist,
Leopold identified himself with Omar Khayyam and there was undoubtedly a natural affinity between the two, as there was between Omar and Edward FitzGerald whose translations were also used by Leopold. On the other hand, Leopold's quatrains were more than just a faithful rendering of the Rubaiyat. In general one tends to emphasize what strikes one most, and in his subsequent translations from Omar Khayyam and other Persian poets - always from the
English or French editions - Leopold more and more accentuated the bitterness, the futility of life and the aversion to human contact:
Omgang met menschen, nabuurschap:
Leopold's translations are as much original poems as they are translations. They are ‘original poems on Persian motifs and in the Persian stanza-form’, as Theodoor Weevers rightly says.
Though translation of the Rubaiyat never became quite as popular in the Netherlands as it did in England after FitzGerald's edition of 1859, there were several poets who followed Leopold's example. None of their translations, however bears comparison with Leopold's and no other poet showed the same mastery in handling the quatrain form aaba or succeeded as Leopold did in giving the poems the unmistakable stamp of an original creation. The poet who came closest to Leopold's achievement was Pieter Cornelis Boutens, who translated FitzGerald's Rubaiyat - not Whinfield's as Leopold did - and also a number of quatrains from a French edition of Persian poetry which had also been used by Leopold. The Oud-Perzische Kwatrijnen (Old Persian Quatrains) of Boutens and the quatrains which Leopold published under the title of Soefisch (Suphic) go back to the same French source and throw some light on the differences between the two poets who were each other's next of kin in literature. To Leopold the dominant theme of the Persian quatrains was the renunciation of the world, whereas Boutens gave preference to the poems that dealt with mystic contemplation. Their approach to the Persian poems was so different, in fact, that their selections have only three quatrains in common.
When Boutens published his Rubaiyat in 1913 - the
Oud-Perzische Kwatrijnen were not published until 1930 - he was already known as the author of several volumes of poetry such as Verzen (Poems, 1889), Praeludiën (Preludes, 1902), Stemmen (Voices, 1907), Carmina (Songs, 1912), and a modern adaptation of the medieval poem Beatrijs (1908) which became his only really popular work. Born in 1870, he was five years younger than Leopold and, like him, firmly rooted in the individualist and subjectivist tradition of the Eighties. He shared Leopold's admiration for Gorter and in his early work was considerably influenced by Gorter's sensitivism. Next to Gorter, it was Leopold for whose work he felt most, and when in 1912, at the age of 47, Leopold had not yet published a volume of poetry, Boutens prevailed on Leopold to let him bring out a collection of the poems that had so far been published in literary journals. It seems that Leopold agreed at first, but later, unsuccessfully, withdrew his permission. Literary ambition, desire for fame or gain were entirely foreign to Leopold's nature. When later he was asked why he had washed his hands of this first publication, he referred with disgust to Boutens: ‘That man spoke of money’. Boutens was different and lacked Leopold's aristocratic disdain of material things. Yet realistic though he may have been in his approach to daily life, in his poetry he was an idealist, steeped in Platonic philosophy and always concerned with the reality that lies behind the outward appearance. Boutens gradually developed from lyrical spontaneity to a more philosophical and cerebral verse, but always retained his staggering technical virtuosity which enabled him to write poems of a cool marble-like beauty even when his ‘heart’ was not in it.
Both Leopold and Boutens held university degrees in classics and taught Latin and Greek in secondary schools, Boutens for a short while only, Leopold for many years. It is curious to note that whereas before the 1880s the study of theology seemed almost a pre-requisite for a place in Dutch literature, the eighties and nineties saw several classical scholars come to the fore. Beets was a minister of the church
and later a professor of theology, Busken Huet was a minister before he turned to journalism, Bakhuizen van den Brink, Drost, Van Lennep and a score of lesser known writers had all at some time studied theology. After 1880 the theologians receded into the background and their place was taken by the classicists: Kloos, Gorter, Leopold, Boutens. They did away with the moralist poetry of the theologians and devoted themselves to the cult of Beauty. Aestheticism reigned supreme, until poets such as Verwey, Henriëtte Roland Holst and the later Gorter began to challenge it.
The classical training of Kloos, Leopold, Gorter and Boutens was noticeable in a number of formal characteristics that were introduced during the eighties, such as the Homeric similes to be found in Kloos's sonnets and especially in Gorter's Mei , or the personifications of dawn, day and moon, so prevalent in the poetry of Boutens, or the crowding of participle constructions which gives Leopold's poetry its curiously open-ended character. This is not to say that the similarity of background led to a uniform poetry. Gorter, Leopold and Boutens were undeniably related, but their differences were just as marked as their similarities, especially in their approach to traditional language and form. Gorter, in his sensitivist period, made a complete break with traditional syntax. Boutens, on the other hand, accepted it, refined it, polished it and worked new miracles with it. Leopold took up a position in the middle: his syntax and his word-formation were more idiosyncratic than Boutens's, but less revolutionary than Gorter's. The same may be said of traditional form: Gorter for several years discarded it, Boutens went back to it and Leopold stood in between, employing some extremely strict forms, poems in which every syllable, every sound and every pause were accounted for, alongside the freer form of Cheops with blank verse and lines of unequal length.
Though considerably younger than Leopold and Boutens, the Flemish poet Karel van de Woestijne, born in Ghent in 1878, really belonged to their generation of writers. He did
not have their classical background, but studied Germanic languages and was professor of Dutch literature at the University of Ghent from 1921 until his death in 1929. Yet despite his lack of a formal education in the classics, he was almost as steeped in Greek and Latin literature as Leopold and Boutens. His poetry has strong links with both impressionism and symbolism, showing the impressionist's preoccupation with sensory perception, and the symbolist's introspection and devotion to the sound of the poem. At the same time he was a traditionalist who found in Renaissance poetry, particularly in the work of Hooft, the strict verse-form he was looking for. In this respect he was very much like Jean Moréas, the Graeco-French poet who after having been one of the original symbolists and the man who gave symbolism its name, moved away from it at the beginning of the century to advocate a return to the simplicity and the regular poetic forms of the Renaissance. Van de Woestijne held Moréas in high regard - after the latter's death in 1910 he wrote several in memoriam poems - and supported his program of a new classicism. In an interview given in 1913, he stated that ‘through individualism we come to a neo-classicism, a new classical period, a period of people who are totally conscious and who express themselves with complete sincerity, but who disregard anything that in their particular situation might be too personal, too idiosyncratic’.
Van de Woestijne's combination of impressionism and symbolism, together with his adherence to the new classicism of Jean Moréas, made his work into a unique synthesis of the various streams of European poetry. He owed a debt to many: to the poets of the Eighties (in the first place to Kloos), to Van Nu en Straks, to the French-writing poets of La Jeune Belgique (in particular Emile Verhaeren and Maurice Maeterlinck), to Baudelaire, Henri de Régnier, Jules Laforgue and Jean Moréas. Yet his poetry was by no means a hotchpotch of influences and reminiscences. The many names with which his work can be linked are not indications
of a derivative poetry, but rather of a very complex personality. His poetry, which he himself termed ‘a poetic and symbolic biography’, is a constant reflection of his attempts to establish harmony between the conflicting elements of his nature. The inability to achieve this harmony gives his work its singularly tragic tone. Locked up in himself, introverted to a very high degree, he sought and glorified solitude, while at the same time he hankered after communication and understanding, and stormed at his very loneliness. His work is pervaded by an intense sensuality to which he often abandoned himself, though never without a feeling of guilt. He longed for a purity which always seemed to elude him, contaminated as it was by his sensuality: ‘de reinste dag is zwaar van avond-zwoel begeeren’ (the purest day is heavy with sultry-evening desire). His loathing of his own sensuality and lack of purity extended to a revulsion to his entire nature, and gave a good deal of his poetry the character of a painful confession. Both the consciousness and the sincerity of which he spoke in the interview of 1913 are present throughout his work. Introverted though he may have been, on paper he exposed himself and in complete frankness poured forth all his hopes and frustrations, his desires and disappointments, sometimes with a cool but cutting honesty, at other times in lacrymose self-pity.
All this applies in a larger measure to his early volumes such as Het Vader-Huis (My Father's House, 1903), De Boom-Gaard der Vogelen en der Vruchten (The Orchard of Birds and Fruits, 1905) and De Gulden Schaduw (The Golden Shadow, 1910) than to his later volumes De Modderen Man (Man of Mud, 1920), God aan Zee (God at the Sea-side, 1926) and Het Berg-Meer (The Mountain Lake, 1928). The troubled sensuality and morbidity never entirely disappeared from his work, but they were gradually conquered by, or sublimated to, religious sentiments tinged by mysticism. It would be an overstatement to say that Van de Woestijne's tormented mind found its equilibrium in this mysticism, but much of the bitterness of the earlier volumes
slowly made way for a tone of serenity and resignation. At the same time the style of his poetry underwent a change. Characteristic of his early poetry was its sonority. Van de Woestijne employed all the tricks of the trade to build up the sound of the poem: assonances, alliterations, internal rhymes were used even more frequently than in the poetry of Perk and Kloos. Though he regarded Hooft as the supreme poet of the Dutch Renaissance, his own style of writing was closer to the baroque loftiness of Vondel. In musical terms, the sound of Van de Woestijne's poetry was not that of a Renaissance harpsichord but that of an organ, and again, not the transparent sound of a Baroque organ but that of a full-bodied Romantic one. The later poems were syntactically simpler and more subdued in sound, though they always retained their character of organ music, only the swell-box was not quite so fully open.
Van de Woestijne's interest in classical literature showed itself in a number of epic poems written between 1910 and 1914, and dealing with Orpheus, Hercules, Penthesilea, Chronos, Hebe and Helena. Quantitatively they constitute a considerable part of his poetic output, qualitatively they do not come up to the level of his lyrical poetry. To Van de Woestijne himself, they were Interludiën (Interludes), published in 1912 and 1914, and something which, in his own words, ‘happened to him’ in between his lyrical poetry. In the same years he wrote a number of prose stories, also often on classical themes (Gyges, Circe, Kandaules, Hercules), and like his poetry, symbolizing his own situation.
In 1915 he began to write an epistolary novel with his friend Herman Teirlinck. The novel was to be called De Leemen Torens (Towers of Clay), for, as Van de Woestijne jotted down in his diary, ‘We build the tower: it is made of clay, and as we raise it, it crumbles away below’. His pessimistic view was omnipresent, in his novel as well as in his poetry. His interest in plot, action, dramatics was slight, his interest in character was lively, his interest in himself predominant, which made the novel, like all his other work,
a searching essay in self-analysis. The book was published chapter by chapter in De Gids , but it was never properly finished. Van de Woestijne and Teirlinck intended to describe the impact which the war and the German occupation made on two sets of characters, one in Ghent and one in Brussels, but the atmosphere of the occupation drained them of their enthusiasm. Also, from the beginning there was a certain discrepancy of intention, and Teirlinck who set more store by a well-constructed novel than Van de Woestijne did, was the first to give up. In 1927 Van de Woestijne wrote a final chapter to round off what had already been written, and in 1928 De Leemen Torens appeared for the first time in book-form. Though the novel always remained a torso, it is valuable as a double self-portrait of two important writers, and also as a remarkable attempt to revive the epistolary novel which had gone out of fashion after the eighteenth century. De Leemen Torens was one of the last published works of Van de Woestijne. He died in the middle of the following year.
Herman Teirlinck was a year younger than Van de Woestijne and belonged originally to the writers of Van Nu en Straks. At the time of his collaboration with Van den Woestijne he was already well known as the author of a volume of poetry, some volumes of short stories and several novels, the most important of which were Mijnheer J.B. Serjanszoon, Orator Didacticus, published in 1908, and Het Ivoren Aapje (The Ivory Monkey, 1909). The former, written in a highly-wrought and very mannered style, portrays the life of an eighteenth-century hedonist. It is a book full of irony and at the same time full of appreciation of the epicurism which Mr. Serjanszoon has made into an art. It is undoubtedly a piece of virtuoso writing, but Mr. Serjanszoon's oratory is the kind of eloquence that hides more than it reveals, and in the last analysis the novel has little to say. At the time of writing it may have seemed to offer a promising alternative to the naturalist novel - a genre which Teirlinck had also practised - but its arti-
ficiality, preciousness and ambivalent point of view have caused it to date rather badly. In Het Ivoren Aapje Teirlinck moved closer to reality again, depicting the life of the upper middle-class in a semi-realistic Brussels, without, however, sacrificing his mannered style.
In the period between the two wars Teirlinck devoted much of his time and energy to the stage. For many years he was the central figure in the modernization of Flemish theatre, particularly after 1920 when he discovered the potentialities of expressionist drama. Apart from taking an active interest in play production and the training of professional actors, he wrote several plays, among which De Vertraagde Film (The Slow-motion Film), a play in which two lovers re-live their life and watch themselves as actors in a film, Ik Dien (I Serve), a stage adaptation of the medieval Beatrijs , and De Ekster op de Galg (The Magpie on the Gallows), a drama about the ravages of old age. His novel-writing took a back-seat during those years, until in 1940 he published Maria Speermalie . It is a novel of lust and passion - the association evoked by the name of the main character is no accident - but like the earlier novels it suffers from over-ornateness of style and lacks the power to convince. Most novels of Teirlinck fail to carry conviction because of a certain ambivalence, if not indifference of the author with regard to his characters. This also applies to the book that is usually regarded as his masterpiece, Het Gevecht met de Engel (The Battle with the Angel), which was published in 1952 when Teirlinck was seventy-three. It is his most ambitious novel, ranging from the Middle Ages to the present day and describing the struggle between two families of which the one symbolizes ‘nature’ and the other ‘culture’. One cannot deny the book's imaginative force nor its narrative power, but structurally it shows serious defects and it is basically as non-committal as the other novels. A stronger claim for the honorific title of masterpiece can be made for the novel which Teirlinck published in 1956 under the title of Zelfportret of Het
Galgemaal (Self-portrait or The Last Meal), a novel in which a seventy-year old banker analyses his own life. He is outwardly successful and respected, but gradually he begins to realize that he is a deceiver, a poseur, a hypocrite, and that the entire façade of his life is phony. It is not a book with a cheerfully heroic ending. The banker in his newly-found self-knowledge does not throw away the mask of insincerity that he has worn so long, for the simple reason that he has worn it so long. The courage and energy needed for a radical break with his past life fail him: ‘You have got under way. You step onto the stage’. Teirlinck presents the story without moralizations, he neither condemns nor defends. Whether the title of Self-portrait has to be taken literally, i.e. as referring to the author himself, is a debatable point. In any case, it is not of any great importance to the reader. The main thing is that Teirlinck in this novel was much more involved in the inner life of one of his characters than in any previous book, and that this time he was writing about a man whom he knew inside out. Though Teirlinck remained active and kept writing until shortly before his death in 1967, Zelfportret still stands as by far his most convincing book.
Teirlinck was too intellectual a writer to gain widespread popularity, and it was Stijn Streuvels, a nephew of the poet Guido Gezelle, who became the most popular prose-writer of his generation. Streuvels, whose real name was Frank Lateur, was born in 1871. He did not have the erudition of either Teirlinck or Van de Woestijne, or their intellectual background and feel for life in the big city. He grew up in a small town in West Flanders and in the early years earned his living as a baker. His first stories attracted the attention of the writers of Van Nu en Straks who asked him through Karel van de Woestijne to contribute to their journal. Once introduced into the literary world, Streuvels developed in a short time into a very prolific and widely-read author.
The work of Streuvels has little in common with that of Teirlinck. For one thing, his world is much smaller. His
territory is confined to the countryside of West Flanders. The cities which so fascinated Teirlinck and Van de Woestijne are of no consequence to him. He does not attack or deride city-life, he ignores it. His characters are the peasants whom he saw in the fields and to whom he ascribed uncomplicated, but often violent passions and desires. There is no room in his work for sophisticated psychological nuances, nor is there room for subtle ramifications of plot. His psychology is only concerned with basic emotions and motivations, his plots are simple and straightforward and can usually be summarized in two or three lines. Life is reduced to its essentials: food-production, love, death. In much of his work the focal point is nature rather than man. His human beings live in direct and constant confrontation with nature which is sometimes benevolent, but more often hostile, and which has the power to strike man down with the inescapable force of fate. A man may spend his whole life fighting back, if nature is against him he will end up crushed like Jan Vindeveughel in Langs de Wegen (Along the Roads), Streuvels's first full-scale novel which appeared in 1902. In Langs de Wegen Streuvels set out to depict, in his own words, ‘a man with everything that surrounds him and with the sky that overhangs it all’. The plot develops slowly in circular fashion: Jan works as a groom on a prosperous farm, he gets married, struggles desperately to support his wife and children on a small plot of land, until finally, beaten by nature and forsaken by his children, he returns to the farm where he is now received as a tramp.
In Streuvels's best-known novel, De Vlaschaard (The Flax Field, 1907), man is no longer entirely dominated by nature. Fatalism is still present, and the main characters, the flax-growers, are still harshly dealt with by nature, but they are given a modicum of freedom, initiative and success. At the same time, Streuvels gave fuller treatment to the human conflicts that existed between the characters, in particular to the enmity between the farmer Vermeulen and his son which leads to the tragical climax of the book.
Even though De Vlaschaard was a great advance on Langs de Wegen, plot and development of character were never to become Streuvels's forte. He was at his best in his short stories and novellas in which the characters remained static and in which the slow epic progression of the narrative combined more satisfactorily with the lyrical descriptions of nature than in the novels. The earlier stories, collected in such volumes as Lenteleven (Life in Spring), Zomerland (Summer Country), and Zonnetij (Sun Tide), all published between 1896 and 1898, suffer on the whole from over-descriptiveness. In the later volumes, especially in Werkmenschen (Working People) of 1926, he succeeded in striking a much better balance between the lyrical and the epic elements. Werkmenschen contains what is without doubt Streuvels's best story, Het Leven en de Dood in de Ast (Life and Death in the Oast-House), a masterpiece disputed by few and envied by many. Against the background of a violent rain-storm across the fields, the story focuses on a small group of labourers who work in a chicory drying-house. The work is hard, monotonous and soul-destroying. At intervals they talk about their lives, they reminisce about the past and build up illusory futures. When night falls, the fragments of conversation merge with their dreams; reality and imagination, past, present and future flow together. An old man enters and lies down to sleep. His snoring haunts the others and causes them to draw him into their fantasies. They are only dimly aware that he is dying. When the body is found in the morning, the men return to work, feeling vaguely that the hallucinations of the night were as much reality as their waking hours.
The psychological insight and the hallucinatory atmosphere of this story are an exception in the work of Streuvels. Generally speaking his strength lies in the sharp observation of country-life and in his ability to make the countryside visible. It is sometimes said that Streuvels is to Flanders what Knut Hamsun is to Norway. True, both forced the attention of their readers away from the cities and back to the ‘soil’, but there the similarity begins and ends. Streuvels is a realist,
not a romanticist of the Hamsun-type. Hamsun worships nature and glorifies the simple life of the countryside in a decidedly naive manner. Streuvels may be naive in many ways, but he does not romanticize. He is open to the grandeur of nature, to its exuberance and splendour, but equally to its hostility and threat. He is not an enthusiast, not a preacher like Hamsun, but a fatalist. He observes and records, but he does not try to influence. And, one must add, with all his interest in the land and the soil, he never fell victim to the blood-and-soil mystique in the way Hamsun did.
Streuvels was a prolific author, and when he died in 1969, at the age of 98, his oeuvre consisted of well over fifty volumes of original prose, not counting the numerous volumes of translations and adaptations. His own work was also extensively translated, especially into German.
In the Netherlands there was no-one like Streuvels nor did any of his contemporaries try to follow in his footsteps. Only in the generation that came after him does one find some regional novelists who show his influence in their style and choice of subject-matter. The northern writers of his generation were of a different persuasion. On the whole one can say that they were moving away from realism. Some of them - those who are usually grouped together under the heading of neo-romanticism - tried to revive the historical novel which for many years had been eclipsed by the naturalism of the Movement of the Eighties. The naturalist writers took little interest in historical material and dealt mainly with contemporary themes. The neo-romantics, who began to publish in the nineties, returned to the past and often to the Middle Ages. One of the first to do so was Adriaan van Oordt in his novels Irmenlo and Warhold , published in 1896 and 1906 respectively. These books can only be called neo-romantic because of their medieval setting; the impressionistic, ornate and mannered style makes them very much part and parcel of the aftermath of the Eighties, as does Van Oordt's preoccupation with a very naturalist-looking fatalism. Arij Prins, who had made his debut with a volume of
naturalist prose pieces Uit het Leven (From Life), followed suit in 1897 with Een Koning (A King), a collection of stories, some vaguely historical, others purely fantastic, but all rather reminiscent of the work of Joris-Karl Huysmans who was a personal friend of his. Prins's best-known work, the novel De Heilige Tocht (The Holy Journey), was published in 1912. Its main subject is a medieval knight who takes part in a crusade and who, after many adventures, is killed by the Turks. The fame, or rather the notoriety of the book is not based on its plot or the presentation of character, but on its style. Not since the days of Hooft had so many liberties been taken with the conventional patterns of Dutch prose. Prins was a painter at heart, and for the visions that he wanted to describe he developed a style that had little in common with everyday syntax. Groups of words followed one another according to what the eye took in rather than to the demands of syntax: what was seen first, took pride of place in the sentence. Words were coupled in extravagant fashion, or unexpectedly split down the middle, the finite verb was often dropped in order to reduce the action and intensify the pictorial aspect. Unfortunately, Prins did not really have a great deal to say, with the result that his work now stands in Dutch literature as a rather forlorn and very dated monument of eccentricity.
Arij Prins's attempts to turn the language into a painter's medium were not characteristic of the neo-romanticists in general. On the contrary, most of them were in full agreement with Verwey and the poets of De Beweging that ‘the art of the word’ had had its day and ‘the art of the thought’ should take its place. The accent should no longer fall on the individual word, but on the sentence as a whole, not only in poetry, but also in prose. At the same time, the call for ‘the art of the thought’ also meant that problems of a philosophical nature, which had been excluded from the naturalist novel, would be admitted again. So Augusta de Wit broached the question of the relation between eastern and western civilization in her novel Orpheus in de Dessa (Orpheus in the Dessa), published
in 1903. Aart van der Leeuw, a poet and novelist who in 1909 made his debut in De Beweging, gave the fatalism of the naturalists a neo-romantic twist in his novel Ik en mijn Speelman (I and my Minstrel) of 1928. Though not a historical novel in the strict sense of the word, the book is set in the eighteenth century and broadly speaking follows from a distance the plot of Marivaux's Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard, the message being that man cannot escape his fate, and that this fate may turn out to be rather more pleasant than anticipated.
The most serious attempt to revive the historical novel was made by P.H. van Moerkerken, born in 1877 and for many years Director of the State Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. After having written poetry, drama and a satirical novel De Ondergang van het Dorp (The Downfall of the Village), he published in 1914 De Bevrijders (The Liberators), his first historical novel. The book was written immediately after the celebrations of 1913 which commemorated the centenary of Napoleon's defeat and the liberation of the Netherlands. It was a very ironic contribution to the general festivities. Van Moerkerken's satirical bent - which apart from his first novel had also expressed itself in his doctoral dissertation on satire in medieval art - made the novel into an entertaining, but nevertheless hard-hitting attack on pseudo-courage and pious falsification of history. A few years later he began to write a series of historical novels under the collective title of De Gedachte der Tijden (The Thought of the Times), published between 1918 and 1924. The central theme, which makes these books into a cycle, is man's aspiration to freedom and happiness throughout the ages. The first volume, Het Nieuwe Jeruzalem (The New Jerusalem), centres on the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century, De Verwildering (The Lawlessness) describes the beginning of the Eighty Years' War, and In de Lusthof Arkadië (The Pleasure-garden of Arcady) the religious squabbles of the seventeenth century. The fourth volume, De Vraag zonder Antwoord (Question without Answer) ranges from the second half of
the seventeenth century to the French Revolution. The question that was asked implicitly throughout all the volumes is finally expressed at the end of this book: Why cannot the new world come without bloodshed and misery? It was followed by Het Demonische Eiland (The Demonic Island) which dealt with the Paris Commune of 1870. The last volume, Het Lange Leven van Habhabalgo (Habhabalgo's Long Life), recapitulated all preceding volumes in a kind of bird's-eye view of history. It was presented in the form of a series of lectures given by an old professor who at the end of the course finds that his audience has dwindled to one yawning student. The irony of the situation is emphasized by Van Moerkerken in the last sentence of the book: ‘Perhaps it might have been better if his words had also blown away on the cold wind of the lonely evening’. An ironic conclusion indeed, coming at the end of a series of six novels.
De Gedachte der Tijden is an impressive work and the most ambitious project of neo-romanticism in the Netherlands. The very ambitiousness of the plan was something that was part of the period. De Beweging had called upon the writers to think beyond the one poem or the one novel, and to aim at an oeuvre that consisted of larger and interrelated units. Verwey himself always thought of his poetry as made up of ‘series’ rather than of individual poems or volumes. In the field of the novel, Van Moerkerken was the first to put the idea of the cycle into practice. He was likewise one of the first to make the novel again into a forum for intellectual discussion. His work was a considerable achievement and a milestone in the history of the Dutch novel, but whether it was entirely successful artistically is another matter. In his reaction against naturalism, and his endeavour to inject the novel again with intellectual and philosophical content, Van Moerkerken now and then went too far. His characters are continually carrying on decisive discussions, solving religious and social problems, fighting over the solutions. They are always in the thick of things, whether they live in the sixteenth or in the eighteenth century. The ordinary, colourless man,
who stays at home and keeps out of strife is nowhere to be seen, however panoramic the books may be otherwise. Everything is intense, highly coloured and highly charged, as if Van Moerkerken was going to show once and for all that people were not as drab as the naturalists - the Dutch naturalists, at any rate - would have us believe. Moreover. Van Moerkerken's world is rather small. His characters keep meeting each other by accident and in unexpected and often unlikely places. It is a world that may be described as a microcosm seen through a magnifying glass. The quality of his writing is generally high. His straightforward, quiet and yet imaginative style has the effect of a breath of fresh air after the accumulation of detail of the later naturalists or the syntactical idiosyncrasies of Arij Prins. Van Moerkerken's work may not be flawless, it deserves attention as one of the more interesting experiments with the novel after the naturalist period, even if it eventually proved to be a dead end.
The honour of having written the very first neo-romantic novel in Dutch is due to Arthur van Schendel who was to develop into one of the major novelists of the Netherlands. He was born in 1874, which made him Van Moerkerken's senior by three years, and he published his first novel Drogon in 1896. True, this was the same year in which Adriaan van Oordt's Irmenlo appeared, but Drogon was written in 1894 or 1895, well before Van Schendel could have read Van Oordt's book. Van Schendel's romanticism was an even more conscious reaction against naturalism, or realism as he called it, than Van Moerkerken's. In a letter to Frederik van Eeden, written in 1897, he stated: ‘As a result of materialism, a conception of life holds sway, let us stand by the word realism, which rests on barren soil. Only the poets have had the good fortune to maintain a beautiful balance, but the prose writers of this century have lost this blessing because of their exclusive attention to the perceptible world.’ When he wrote this he had already published Drogon, a very personal reaction against ‘realism’, and a book for which he seems to have followed no model or example. Some have suggested that his
romanticism was of English origin and have mentioned Horace Walpole, Rossetti and Burne-Jones as his masters; others the work of Ludwig Tieck and Ricarda Huch. It is very unlikely, however, that any of these writers in any way influenced the writing of Drogon. It is far more likely that the young Van Schendel, steeped as he was in the poetry of Perk, Kloos and Gorter, harks back to these poets, and that he transformed the lyrical romanticism of their poetry into prose, bypassing the realist novelists of his own day such as Van Deyssel, Emants and Couperus. The reference which he made to the poets in his letter to Van Eeden supports this point of view. Van Schendel's early novels certainly show a greater affinity with the poetry of the Eighties than with the work of any prose writer, either English, Dutch or German.
Drogon, therefore, was the work of a young man of 20 or 21, who was striking out in a new direction, and the book undeniably bears the mark of this. There is an air of laboriousness about it, and it suffers from an unevenness of tone and style, very uncharacteristic of the later Van Schendel. Weak though it may be, it should not be ignored as it already contains much of the thematic material of Van Schendel's later novels. The dominant theme of all his work, that of Fate, makes its appearance in the first pages of the book when Drogon, a medieval knight, is tormented by ‘the riddle that was thumping in his heart, the riddle of Ill Fortune, understood by no mortal’. A few pages later, the second major theme is announced. Drogon's brother suggests that they join a crusade, but Drogon declines saying that another ‘longing’ prevents him from going: he intends to set out on a quest for a ring which contains a drop of Christ's blood. At the same time he is consumed by a desire for his brother's wife. These two desires, the one romantic-idealistic, the other earthy and sensual, are constantly at war in Drogon's mind and determine all his actions, until Fate finally strikes him down.
The themes of Drogon were resumed more successfully in Een Zwerver Verliefd (A Wanderer in Love, 1904). Tamalone, the main character, is like Drogon a man of loneliness -
his name may be an echo of ‘I am alone’ - and his life, too, is ruled by two desires, a romantic indeterminate longing, nameless and not directed at anything concrete, and an erotic desire for the wife of his best friend. As in Drogon, the erotic desire is ‘fatal’, i.e. it becomes the instrument through which Fate strikes: Tamalone kills his friend and indirectly causes the death of his wife. Fate, in other words, acts as a moral corrective. In contrast to Drogon, however, Tamalone himself is not destroyed by Fate, and in the sequel to the book, Een Zwerver Verdwaald (A Wanderer Lost), Tamalone even finds a certain peace of mind. The strength of these books lies in the evocation of mood and atmosphere, not in the presentation or analysis of character. Tamalone, driven by a longing which he himself cannot define, remains vague, as does Drogon, as does Merona in Merona, een Edelman (Merona, a Nobleman), published in 1927. In their dualist longing and in their living under the doom of Fate, the three are closely related. Also, they are all dreamers who prefer musing and pondering to action. When they act, they do so impulsively rather than as a result of a conscious decision. In this respect Van Schendel's neo-romantic novels provide a strong contrast to those of Van Moerkerken, whose gentle dreamers were not averse to action. Van Moerkerken showed that gentle dreaming can lead to cruel action, Van Schendel showed that corruption of the dream invokes the revenge of Fate. Though less ambitious than Van Moerkerken, the novels of Van Schendel are artistically more convincing. Yet even the talents of Van Schendel were not able to do much for neo-romanticism. It always remained an artificial flower, and Van Schendel's claim that realism rested on barren soil could more truthfully be applied to neo-romanticism. Neither Van Moerkerken's novel of ideas nor Van Schendel's novel of atmosphere could ensure its viability, and it was not long before realism asserted itself again.
Around 1930 Van Schendel turned away from neo-romanticism. In that year Het Fregatschip Johanna Maria (The Frigate Johanna Maria) appeared, to be followed in subse-
quent years by a number of novels in which the medieval and southern-European setting of the earlier books was replaced by that of contemporary or near-contemporary Holland. In these novels Van Schendel's style lost its poetic flavour and became more sober and matter-of-fact. The old themes were retained in essence, but they were tightened up, condensed and intensified. The vaguely idealistic longing of the neo-romantic novels became more concrete, and at the same time less idealistic, the erotic desire was relegated to the background or entirely eliminated, Fate grew more important and more destructive. In Het Fregatschip Johanna Maria the romantic longing hardened into the very concrete desire of Jacob Brouwer, the sailmaker, to own the ship in which he had sailed for so long. Brouwer's desire is also a good deal more intense than that of Drogon or Tamalone. In fact, desire and longing are no longer the words with which to describe Brouwer's feelings: passion or even fanaticism are closer to the mark. Fate holds off for a long time and only intervenes after Brouwer has realized his dream. When it does strike, its impact is greater than in the earlier novels, for although Brouwer's life had not been entirely irreproachable, he was in a moral sense less guilty than Drogon and Tamalone. Fate by losing its character of being a moral corrective, becomes blinder and more savage.
The theme of the man and his ship is echoed in De Waterman (The Waterman, 1933). Maarten Rossaert is wedded to his barge as Brouwer was to his frigate, but whereas to Brouwer possession of the ship was the very aim of his existence, to Rossaert the ship is only a means to an end, the means to become free from his own fears and from the narrow-mindedness around him. He breaks away from his environment, repelled by its hard-line Calvinism and intolerance. He joins a utopian religious community, the New Lights of Zwijndrecht - the book is set in the early nineteenth century - and uses his barge to give financial support to the brethren. But there is no escape from Fate, and the water claims his mother, his sister and his son. In the end, Rossaert himself is
also drowned. It is not a cheerful book, but its solid construction, its clear-cut delineation of character and its powerful evocation of the Dutch landscape, the rivers and polders and sombre skies, make it Van Schendel's best.
De Waterman was followed by three novels which are often regarded as his most significant novels of fate: Een Hollands Drama (A Dutch Tragedy), De Rijke Man (The Rich Man) and De Grauwe Vogels (The Grey Birds), published in successive years between 1935 and 1937. All three are tragedies. De Rijke Man is the tragedy of a rich young man who, touched by the story in the Bible, gives away all his possessions and dies in utter loneliness, forsaken and despised by everyone. The other two novels may be called tragedies of responsibility. In the former a grocer ruins his life by paying back a large sum of money which his brother-in-law had stolen, and by undertaking to bring up his brother-in-law's son. In the latter novel, a market-gardener brings about his own downfall by assuming responsibility for his invalid half-brother. The three novels are set in the contemporary Dutch middle class and their characters are all ‘grey birds’, those ordinary men and women whom the naturalists had placed in the centre of their work and whom the neo-romantics had ignored. It seems that in these books Van Schendel was drawing a little closer to the naturalist tradition from which he had always kept aloof. He devoted more attention to the influence of milieu and upbringing of his characters than before, and, particularly in Een Hollands Drama, he made heredity into a factor of considerable importance. It is, in fact, more meaningful to regard the doom that lies over the main characters of this novel as due to heredity than to fate, unless one wants to equate the two. Similarly, Kompaan in De Rijke Man is the victim of a delusion rather than the victim of fate. Only Kaspar Valk in De Grauwe Vogels is so relentlessly dogged by misfortunes that the word fate seems fully justified.
The five novels from Het Fregatschip to De Grauwe Vogels are undoubtedly Van Schendel's best work. They are ex-
traordinarily well-constructed novels, written with an unswerving fixity of purpose. The style is robust and even, unembellished yet evocative, unpoetic yet strongly rhythmic. It is a style that is fitted to perfection to capture the sombre grandeur of the landscape in De Waterman or the dour Calvinism in Een Hollands Drama. After De Grauwe Vogels Van Schendel did not continue in the same direction. He changed course as he had done in 1934. His next book, De Wereld een Dansfeest (The World, a Dance, 1938), was written in a more lighthearted vein than the preceding books, though it was still a tragedy, in spite of the title and the whimsy of the theme. Whimsical humour became an important element in Van Schendel's later novels and stories. Yet he was much more at home in tragedy than in comedy, and although he kept writing until his death in 1946 he was never able to surpass the five great books of the years from 1930 to 1937.
In the early years of the twentieth century, when Van Schendel was writing his neo-romantic novels, Verwey's De Beweging was the leading literary journal. It welcomed neo-romanticism as a healthy reaction to naturalism, and Verwey gave unqualified praise to Van Schendel's ‘power of imagination’. Neo-romantic poetry, too, was supported by De Beweging, but not to the exclusion of other streams. De Beweging explored all directions which gave promise of leading away from the extreme individualism of the Eighties. Neo-romanticism was one of these directions, but it turned out to be a cul-de-sac, in poetry as well as in prose. Neo-classicism proved to be more creative. Yet, outside neo-romanticism, and neo-classicism, the poet who came closest to Verwey's ideal of intellectual and philosophical poetry was J.A. dèr Mouw, a poet who belonged to Verwey's own generation.
Johan Andreas dèr Mouw was born in 1863, two years before Verwey, but although he had written poetry for many years, he did not publish any until he was 54. Then, in 1918, his work suddenly began to appear almost simultaneously in De Beweging, De Nieuwe Gids and the weekly paper De Amster-
dammer. Like several other poets of his generation, he was a classicist, and also a philosopher of repute, with an extensive knowledge of mathematics and science. As a philosopher he was strongly opposed to Hegel, and especially to the neo-Hegelians. It was in fact, his dislike of Hegel's system-building which led him, without turning away from European philosophy, to become more and more immersed in the systemless Indian philosophy of the Upanishads. There he found the expression of the unity of the Cosmos and the Self which was to become the mainspring of his poetry. Unity is the key-word of his work, and Brahman the symbol of the unity: that which comprises everything without forcing it into a system. He published his poetry, the two volumes Brahman I and Brahman II (1919 and 1921) under the Sanskrit name of Adwaita, that is ‘he who has overcome duality’.
Dèr Mouw was a mystic whose main poetic theme was that of the ‘unio mystica’. But as a mystic he was a class apart. His poetry was sometimes ecstatic, but always remained well-reasoned, very precise and nearly always cast in the strict form of the sonnet; it was deeply serious and at the same time humorous; it was philosophical, making considerable demands on its readers, but it was also couched in a most unexpected everyday language. The traditional hierarchy of values, which assumed that elevated thought was best expressed in elevated language, held no meaning for him. One of his best-known sonnets in Brahman I begins with the line: ‘K ben Brahman. Maar we zitten zonder meid’ (I am Brahman. But we are without a maid), and ends:
Dan voel ik éénzelfde adoratie branden
In 1919 this was too unconventional to find much response outside the small circle of Verwey, Kloos and Van Eeden. After his death in 1919 he was soon forgotten, and was only
rediscovered several years later by the writers of the Forum group. The poetry of Dèr Mouw was the crown of the ‘poetry of the thought’ which was so close to Verwey's heart, but it also marked its conclusion. It was almost symbolical that De Beweging ceased publication in 1919, the year of Dèr Mouw's death.
Before Dèr Mouw began publishing, the neo-classicism of Geerten Gossaert (pseudonym of F.C. Gerretson) and J.C. Bloem for some time put its mark on the poetry of the De Beweging group. In 1910 Gossaert published a long essay on Swinburne, who had died the year before. In this essay he broke a lance for ‘rhetorical poetry’, by which he meant poetry with traditional form and imagery. The next year Bloem supported him in a review article on the French neo-classicist poet Henri de Régnier, in which he, too, stood up for ‘rhetorical poetry’, though he modified Gossaert's phrase to ‘inspired rhetoric’. ‘In the Stances of Jean Moréas’, he wrote, ‘we have been able to observe how one can write genuine and original poetry with the most often used and the most well-known images, and in the most ordinary form. De Régnier's book is another example of this’. Other poets of De Beweging - Aart van der Leeuw, for instance, and P.N. van Eyck - questioned the soundness of the theory of Gossaert and Bloem, and pointed out the dangers that were inherent in a conscious return to rhetoric. Van Eyck, a poet in the mould of Verwey and later his successor as professor of Dutch literature at Leiden, was the most forceful opponent of the new rhetoric. Without rejecting traditionalism, he denied that the term ‘rhetorical poetry’ had any meaning and he opposed the idea that the poet should use ready-made imagery. As was stated before, Verwey gave qualified approval to the theory and tried to steer a middle course. History has proved the opponents right: rhetoric, inspired or not inspired, did not have much future as a poetic principle. The best example of it is Gossaert's own volume of poetry Experimenten (Experiments, 1911). It is an extraordinary volume, linked to the rhetoric of Bilderdijk and Da Costa, with reminiscences of
medieval and seventeenth-century poetry, occasionally influenced by Swinburne and Baudelaire, full of archaic words and phrases, and, not surprisingly, full of traditional imagery. Gossaert's own contribution to all this was a tremendous mastery of poetic technique, a great interest in metrical and rhythmical variations, passion and sensuousness, erudition and intellect. Experimenten remained a lonely experiment, and although it had considerable success and went through twelve editions, it was not the beginning of a new era in Dutch poetry. Before long it was overshadowed by the poetry of Bloem which proved of greater value, both intrinsically and historically.
Born in 1887, Bloem was twenty-four when he made his plea for traditionalism and coined the phrase of ‘inspired rhetoric’. In the same year 1911 he published his first poems, also in De Beweging. In their solemn tone, slightly archaic choice of words and elaborate structure, his early poems were closely related to those of his contemporaries Gossaert and Van Eyck. They were firmly rooted in tradition and were perhaps the best examples of the neo-classicism that was asserting itself in those days. At the same time the emotional basis of these poems was romantic. Just as in the early novels of Van Schendel, the recurrent theme was ‘longing’. In 1915 Bloem wrote a short essay in De Beweging under the title of Het Verlangen (Longing) in which he stated that it was longing which separated ‘poetic man’ from ‘a-poetic man’. Longing to him was not dissatisfaction, but a ‘divine unfulfilledness’ which makes one break through the banal confines of life. Since the longing was nameless and not directed at a specific object, as in the case of Van Schendel's Tamalone, it could not be fulfilled, and since it was not to be equated with dissatisfaction, its necessary complement was resignation. In his first volume, also entitled Het Verlangen and published in 1921, the resignation was hoped for and sometimes anticipated, but not attained. The next volume, Media Vita (1931), was characterized by a tone of disillusionment. The longing could not be fulfilled, but instead of leading to ‘life’, as
Bloem had intimated in his essay, or to the resignation he had hoped for in his first volume, it forced him more and more towards contemplation of death. The title, derived from the medieval antiphon Media Vita in Morte Sumus (In the Middle of Life we are in Death), hints strongly at his preoccupation with death. In De Nederlaag (Defeat), his third volume which was published in 1937, the disillusionment was complete and bitterer than in the previous volume. Love, which had held promise of at least temporarily filling the emptiness, failed and became meaningless. All that was left was loneliness and death. The opening poem of Sintels (Cinders), a small volume published in 1945, throws doubt even on the meaning of writing poetry which had always been the centre of his existence:
Is dit genoeg: een stuk of wat gedichten
Some twenty years before, in an essay on Baudelaire, Bloem had quoted with approval a poem of Baudelaire's which answered this same question in the affirmative. Now Bloem's disenchantment with life and himself was so great that he even denied himself the satisfaction that was to be derived from poetic achievement.
It has rightly been suggested that when Bloem proclaimed ‘inspired rhetoric’ as the essential element of the ‘tradition française’, this French tradition for him was first and foremost represented by Baudelaire. Baudelaire meant a great deal to the generation of Bloem, Gossaert and Van Eyck, and in Bloem's early poetry one can certainly find traces of his influence. Bloem himself, in an autobiographical essay of 1954, mentioned Leopardi, Thomas Hardy and A.E. Housman as the poets who were closest to him. Several parallels between the poetry of Housman and Bloem can be quoted, and Housman's ‘they say my verse is sad’ is echoed by more than one poem of Bloem's, perhaps even by the title of one of his later
volumes Quiet Though Sad (1946). Housman, he says in the essay, is decidedly a minor poet, but when four years later he compared him with Jean Moréas, and noted that neither of them displayed much variety in his poetry, with admirable disdain for the term ‘minor poet’ he declared both to be very great poets. One could not better characterize Bloem than with a similarly paradoxical phrase as a very great minor poet. His thematic range was limited, but he turned this limitation into a virtue by making even the simplest poem into a perfect work of art. His poetry was essentially modest, its tone was one of understatement, his style of writing, after the first somewhat solemn and grandiloquent poems, was like Housman's, direct and often colloquial.
Bloem's counterpart in Belgium was Jan van Nijlen, born in 1884. His poetry, too, ranged over a limited field, and developed from the solemn diction of Verzen (Poems, 1906) to a very simple and direct style in Het Aangezicht der Aarde (The Face of the Earth, 1923), De Vogel Phoenix (The Bird Phoenix, 1928) and especially in his last volume Het Oude Kind (The Old Child, 1938). Much in the same way as Bloem's, his work is concerned with disappointment and an uneasy resignation. Disillusionment is also the dominant mood, but, more often than in the poetry of Bloem, it is occasionally tempered by an ironic turn of phrase, by a shrug of the shoulder. The similarities between the poetry of Bloem and Van Nijlen are striking; the differences are mainly differences of degree. Van Nijlen lamented the loss of his youth, as did Bloem, but the memory of the past was less obsessive to him and less painful. There are several poems in which memory is not presented as pain but as a source of joy. Like Bloem, Van Nijlen recorded the passing of the seasons with feelings of sorrow for the passing of time, but on the whole his poetry was not quite as autumnal as the poetry of Bloem, nor was his view of nature as negative. To Bloem, nature meant little. The opening line of one of his best sonnets, De Dapperstraat (Dapper Street), reads: ‘Natuur is voor tevredenen of legen’ (Nature is for the contented or the empty),
and in the course of the poem he expresses his preference for the city, even on a miserable morning, walking in drizzling rain, in a street as depressing as Dapper Street in Amsterdam. Van Nijlen, on the contrary, often wrote appreciatively of nature and landscape, and stated in his poem De Stad: ‘Ik kan alleen maar houden van de stad / in lente en zomer, in de lauwe nachten’ (I can only love the city in spring and summer, in the warm nights).
Both Bloem and Van Nijlen began writing from a common basis of traditional and rather elevated poetry. In the early stages, their styles were influenced respectively by Gossaert and Van Eyck, and by Karel van de Woestijne. Gradually both poets moved away from the formality of their early work, and without breaking away from tradition, evolved a style of writing which stood much closer to everyday language and which paved the way for the colloquial style of later poets such as Martinus Nijhoff. From this point of view Bloem and Van Nijlen were traditional figures, linking the poetry of the mandarins to what Stephen Spender called ‘the poetry of the voices in the street’. Poetry in these years was developing towards a parlando style, a style that avoided any deliberate poetic idiom and employed as much as possible the vocabulary, syntax and rhythm of everyday speech. It was a development common to Western European literature in general. In France it led to the poetry of Jules Laforgue, in England to the Prufrock poems of T.S. Eliot, in the Netherlands to the poetry of Nijhoff. When Bloem and Van Nijlen were writing, the days of the mandarins and high priests were numbered, but not quite over. In the Netherlands, Adriaan Roland Holst (born in 1888) may be regarded as the last of the poets in the grand manner, the last of the prophetic poets. Roland Holst, one may say, related to Yeats as Nijhoff does to the early Eliot.
As in the case of Bloem and Van Nijlen, the basis of Roland Holst's poetry was romantic, but his romanticism was of a different order from theirs. Everything was on a larger scale: his longing, his disillusionment, his alienation from
contemporary reality. When Bloem and Van Nijlen spoke of the past, they spoke of their own past, of memories which were sometimes happy, but mostly burdensome. To Roland Holst the past is a mythical period that lies aeons before our time. It is a world not yet affected by the vulgarity and degeneration of the present day, a world in which man was ‘lonelier and more beautiful’ than he is now. This world often takes the shape of the world of Celtic tradition, re-created by Yeats and peopled by gods and heroes, bards and harp-players. In a short prose book, Eigen Achtergronden (Personal Background, 1946), Roland Holst relates that when he was a student at Oxford between 1908 and 1911, he came across an English translation of The Voyage of Bran, Son of Febal which, he said, had the effect of re-awakening old memories. In the same years he came to know the poetry of Yeats which, according to his own testimony again, had a profound and lasting influence on his work. On his return to the Netherlands in 1911, he published his first volume Verzen (Poems). It is a collection of elegantly written, but mostly conventional poetry, of which the last poem stands out because of its decisive statement that the only salvation lies in loneliness. In the next volumes, Belijdenis van de Stilte (Avowal of Silence) and Voorbij de Wegen (Beyond the Roads), the decision to turn away from the world hardened. Personal memories are no longer important; truth and purity are only to be found in what lies beyond these memories, in the lost Elysium of which the voices of the wind and sea are the messengers. These ideas form the nucleus of what gradually became Roland Holst's personal myth, an attempt to relate his own life to the world in which it was placed and to the powers that control it. The poet sees himself as an exile from the lost land. He dreams of his return, but knows that it cannot be, because he himself has lost his purity and has been infected by the evils of the world. Yet he has preserved in himself part of the truth that has long since been lost to man. He is the high priest, one of the initiated, one of the few who know what could have been.
In De Wilde Kim (The Wild Horizon, 1925), the high priest changes to a prophet of doom, foreseeing the destruction of the world:
Day of reckoning
Lonely and wild and cold and passionate -
can that still be the sea? What ultimate power,
what final token of that turbulent realm
of blinding, empty and unending light
now claims the waters? - Deserted are the coasts,
forgotten the high dreams of bygone worlds,
and like the brazen cymbal of fate and reckoning
the beating waters toll, in onset came
against the world, and high out of the west
from the steep ramparts of the dead are heard
the passionate, the lonely, the wild and cold
chords of the harps that herald the last day.
The great, raised by the prelude of this storm
out of their mortal trance, now calling come
to man's remaining strongholds, and are seen
on the dark western bastions, stern and gaunt,
and pointing to the fateful mystery
of doom and ruin. The spokesmen of our days
bore names, but these bear no names, being trumpets
condemning all that is to the ancient shadows
of what has been, primeval night, before
on high the four faces out of the spirit
appear: wide eyes and voices jubilant -
In the years that followed De Wilde Kim Roland Holst wrote little, and it was not until 1937 that he published a new volume, Een Winter aan Zee (A Winter at the Coast). In this volume, too, the poet is the seer who foretells the cataclysmic end of the civilization in which he lives. His prophecy is sometimes couched in straight and direct terms, at other times symbolized in a bitter farewell to a lost love. The unity of
theme and the strict uniformity of the eight-line stanzas gives this volume the appearance of one long poem. It was the culminating point of Roland Holst's oeuvre, and also the swan-song of late romantic poetry in the Netherlands.
In his later volumes, notably in Tegen de Wereld (Against the World, 1947), Roland Holst remained a prophet of doom, but, probably as a result of the war, his targets became more specific. In Eigen Achtergronden he had made a distinction between Reality and Actuality which, he said, stood in the same relation to each other as a fugue by Bach stood to the noise in the street. He had always shunned Actuality, but now, in his later poems, he occasionally raised his voice against it. Though in his later volumes his poetry shed some of its earlier loftiness and became more colloquial, it never developed into the ‘poetry of the voices in the street’: it always remained that of a lone aristocratic voice declaiming against the noises of the street.
The prose which Roland Holst wrote was the prose of a poet. It is incantation rather than narration, written in what Du Perron called ‘the long rhythms of his poetry’. In Deirdre en de Zonen van Usnach (Deirdre and the Sons of Usnach) and Tusschen Vuur en Maan (Between Fire and Moon) he symbolized his personal situation in terms of Celtic mythology as he had done in so many poems. In De Afspraak (The Agreement), his most powerful prose work, he referred more directly to his myth of the ‘foretime’ and the lost Elysium.
A large part of the work of Roland Holst, both poetry and prose, is concerned with the formulation and representation of this myth. His stubborn return to the same theme, intensified by recurring key phrases, gives his work a certain monotony: not the monotony of a tale told too often, but rather the spellbinding monotonousness of the wind in the trees or the breaking of the waves. A masterful technique and an almost mesmeric sense of rhythm in the service of a strong personality make his poetry entirely convincing. It was imitated by many, but since his romanticism is of such a personal nature, the imitations rarely led to more than a conventional world-
weariness, which is precisely what Roland Holst's poetry does not display.
With the work of Roland Holst the era of late-romantic poetry came to a close. He belonged to the group of traditional poets which also included Gossaert, Van Eyck, Bloem and Van Nijlen. They did not form a homogeneous group, still less a movement but they were linked by their belief that if the poet wants to be understood, he must preserve the poetic tradition. He may refine it, develop it and add to it, but he should not isolate himself from the community by discarding it. The tradition which formed the substratum of the poetry of Roland Holst, Bloem, and Van Nijlen was a Dutch tradition, dating back to the eighties and nineties, to Kloos, Gorter, Leopold and Van de Woestijne. Literary movements abroad left them largely unaffected. When they were influenced by foreign poets, it was also by traditionalists such as Moréas, de Régnier, Yeats. Dadaism, surrealism, expressionism, all movements which sought to bring about a radical break with the past, bypassed them without making any impact. Until 1920, the rallying point of these poets was De Beweging , and it was in this journal, too, that Martinus Nijhoff in 1916 published his first work.
Nijhoff, born in 1894, bridged the gap between two generations. He may be seen as a latecomer of the generation of traditionalists who began to publish round about 1910, or as the first of the modernists who in 1916 grouped themselves around the new journal Het Getij (The Tide). Whichever point of view one chooses, it is impossible to regard him as a revolutionary poet. His link with tradition always remained strong, from his first publication of ten sonnets in De Beweging to his last poem Het Uur U (Zero Hour), published in 1942. His interest in the sonnet-form is in itself a clear indication of his loyalty to tradition: his first volume De Wandelaar (The Walker) contained 48 poems of which 36 were sonnets.
The title of De Wandelaar (1916) was a program. In the title poem the poet presents himself as someone who walks in
solitude through the street, past a landscape or inside the walls of a room. He assumes various disguises: that of a Carolingian monk, a Renaissance artist, a Baudelairian poet, and from behind each mask he observes the world around him without taking part in it. He remains a spectator, an outsider to whom life is ‘a mosaic without perspective’. This pose of aloofness was an attempt to exorcize the fear caused by the realization that life was meaningless and chaotic. Fear of life, often manifesting itself as longing for death, is characteristic of De Wandelaar as well as of Nijhoff's second volume, Vormen (Forms), which was published in 1924. The relation between the poet and the world was as problematic to Nijhoff as it was to Bloem and Roland Holst, but Nijhoff's response to it was neither the romantic lament of Bloem nor the prophetic rejection of the world of Roland Holst. Nijhoff's reaction was twofold: sometimes he adopted an attitude of detachment, at other times he tried to come to terms with the world through those whose life was ‘unbroken’ and meaningful, the representatives of what he called ‘the simple life’: the mother, the child, the farmer, the soldier. The hesitation between these two attitudes persists throughout his early poetry and is matched by other dualisms: that of the spirit and the flesh, the soul and the body, heaven and earth. They give Nijhoff's poetry its curiously equivocal character and caused the critics to ask questions in the vein of ‘Will the real Nijhoff please stand up?’ Nijhoff's early poetry is certainly not of a piece as is Roland Holst's; it lacks the unity with which Roland Holst symbolized his relation to the world. De Wandelaar and Vormen show Nijhoff's personality to be very complex and often divided against itself. Although these dualisms were never completely resolved, they gradually lost their sharp edges.
In Nieuwe Gedichten (New Poems, 1934) the fear of life that dominated the earlier volumes disappeared. The poet is more inclined to decide for the earth and against heaven, for the body and against the spirit. The first poem that bears witness to this development is Het Veer (The Ferry) in which the martyr St. Sebastian regrets the decision that made him
forsake life and die for the spirit. Only after his death does he realize that ‘blood is deeper than the heavens are high’. Another poem in this volume, Het Lied der Dwaze Bijen (The Song of the Foolish Bees), settles accounts with the mystic urge to transcend the world: the bees rise higher and higher, but their goal remains elusive, and, dying, ‘they are whirling down homeward’. Poems such as these make statements about what should not be, they criticize the attitude that rejects the world, but they stop short of suggesting an alternative. Yet there are also poems in Nieuwe Gedichten that offer a more positive approach to the world. In the short opening poem, for instance, the poet meditates about loneliness, sterility and mortality, and then suddenly in the last stanza reminds himself that modern society holds the possibility of new life. Written during the years of the Depression, Nieuwe Gedichten also contains the poem De Vogels (The Birds), the only poem of Nijhoff's which expresses social criticism. The most elaborate, and also the most impressive report of the poet's desire to make contact with the world is to be found in Awater, the long poem that closes Nieuwe Gedichten.
The theme of Awater is expressed in its motto: ‘ik zoek een reisgenoot’ (I am looking for a travelling companion). The poet has lost his brother, and, wanting to go on a journey, he looks for someone who can take his brother's place. He has seen a man called Awater passing by in the street and he thinks of him as a possible friend. One evening he follows him through the city, from the office where he works, to the barber's, to the café which the poet used to visit with his brother, to a restaurant, to the square outside the station where the Salvation Army is conducting a meeting. At that point their roads part: though Awater seems to recognize the poet, he stays to listen to the speaker, whereas the poet enters the station. He leaves Awater behind and undertakes the journey alone.
Awater is presented as the ordinary man, one out of many. He is not clearly defined. We see him in action, but we do not know his motives or his thoughts. In a lecture on his own
work, Nijhoff commented on Awater and said that he wanted him to be no more than ‘an outline, a clear, translucent surface’. Also, he said, Awater was to be ‘an arbitrary human being with whom I had no personal ties’. The name of Awater strongly hints at this arbitrariness. Since ‘A’ also means ‘water’, Awater is twice water, and water in Nijhoff's poetry is often used as a symbol for multitude or collectivity. In Nijhoff's own words again, Awater was ‘no-matter-which individual, a neighbour, a fellow man who was a representative of the multitude and who had approached me along the slenderest thread of contact’. The poem itself makes clear that Awater is not only a representative of the multitude but also more specifically of modern society. Through him the poet hopes to establish a relationship between himself and this society. No real contact is made, however, and in the end the poet sets out alone. It may be that Awater after all fulfilled his function and that the distant contact and the fleeting moment of recognition gave the poet the strength to undertake the journey by himself; or, on the other hand, Awater may have proved to be a disappointment and the poet may have realized that there could be no question of involvement in society, that for him there was no alternative to loneliness. Awater is not a poem that divulges its secrets lightly. Whatever the interpretation, the poem does not end on a tragic note. The poet has either gained his independence, or he has resigned himself to his loneliness, but in either case he is cool and unemotional. In his commentary on Awater Nijhoff also wrote: ‘I am not an embittered poet. I am not going around in a corduroy jacket and long hair fulminating against my times because my times do not appreciate me and my soul, I have adjusted myself, I am an ordinary human being’.
Awater may not be an emotional poem, not a cry of triumph or a cri de coeur, yet it is a very personal poem, a personal drama in which the poet plays himself. The self was no longer hidden behind the mask of a medieval monk or a nineteenth-century poète maudit, a Pierrot or a clown as in the earlier poems, but it presented itself as an ordinary hu-
man being without any poetic trappings. In Awater Nijhoff appears as a poet of the type to which also T.S. Eliot belonged: the poet who was no longer a romantic bohemian, nor a recluse of the ivory tower, but a man among men. It is significant that when Nijhoff first planned the writing of Awater, he intended to model the main character on Potgieter, who in the nineteenth century was the prototype of the poet as an ordinary man. Significantly also, Eliot was with Cocteau the only poet whom Nijhoff mentioned as having been of any help when he wrote Awater, and if one wants to place Nijhoff in his European context, Eliot was his next of kin. Both poets may be called tradition-bound modernists, both were reformers rather than revolutionaries. Nijhoff acknowledged his affinity to Eliot by translating several of his poems and The Cocktail Party, but it is no simple matter to assess accurately to what extent Nijhoff's own poetry was influenced by Eliot. One can point to some stylistic parallels, or to a common tendency to give ironic treatment to romantic attributes of the past, but there is little evidence of any direct influence. As for the most striking parallel between their work, i.e. the remarkably successful use of the vocabulary and the rhythms of everyday speech, it is more likely that Nijhoff was building on the foundations laid by such poets as Gorter, Dèr Mouw and Bloem than that he was following Eliot. Another point of contact between Nijhoff and Eliot is the fact that both make considerable demands on their readers. Awater may not be quite as cryptic as The Waste Land, but it is a far from easy poem with its oblique references to the Bible, Joyce's Ulysses and the Parcival legend.
Nijhoff's next long poem, Het Uur U (Zero Hour), first published in 1937, is seemingly a much more accessible work. Its structure of rhyming couplets is the embodiment of simplicity in comparison to the long assonating stanzas of Awater; its imagery is transparent, its references are straightforward and easily located, its language is even closer to everyday speech than Awater's. Yet it presents as many problems to the interpreter as Awater does.
Both Awater and Het Uur U are narrative poems, but whereas in the former the poet played an active role as the ‘I’ who tried to establish contact with Awater, in the latter poem there is no ‘I’: the scene is observed and recorded without the poet taking part. A man walks through a street on a warm afternoon in summer. He has a strange effect on the street and on the people who live there. Water, gas and electricity under the pavement become audible, the silence begins to vibrate, the atmosphere becomes one of alarm. The doctor who lives in the street sees himself again as a young intern, the judge gives remission of sins and confesses his own guilt, the woman who is known as ‘the bitch’ finds herself ‘naked like Diana’ standing in the forest, drinking ‘living’ water. For one brief moment they experience pure happiness. The children who are playing in the street follow the man until he turns round the corner. Then the spell is broken and life resumes its normal course.
While the man is passing by, the people in the street experience their moment of truth. They see themselves as they were before their lives had gone awry, they are innocent and pure again as they were before their Fall. The man has the power to confront them with their Ideal Selves, to which they react with a mixture of fear and ecstasy. When the spell breaks, they are back in their own reality, face to face with their failings, disenchanted but also relieved. The children who have not yet lost their purity and innocence are unaffected by the passing of the man. The man himself remains anonymous and unknown and because of his mysterious lack of identity the interpretations of the poem have mainly centred on him. He has been likened to the Pied-piper - although he does not entice the children away -, others have seen in him traits of Christ and of Death. These traits are undeniably present in his actions and in the impact that he makes, but his most important aspect is his very lack of identity. Nijhoff said of Awater that he was to be no more than outline; the same is true of the man in this poem, only more so. As soon as one
starts filling in the outline, one changes the symbolic poem which Het Uur U is, into an allegory which it is not.
When in 1942 Het Uur U, considerably rewritten, appeared for the first time in book-form, it was published together with Een Idylle (An Idyl), Nijhoff's last long poem before his death in 1953. Though its setting and subject are far removed from those of Het Uur U, there is a close relation between the two poems. In Een Idylle, Protesilaos, the first Greek to die during the siege of Troy, is allowed to return to the world of the living for one hour in order to visit his wife Laodemia. When the time comes to go back to Hades, Laodemia comes with him as far as the ferry and persuades Hermes to let her cross over with her husband. Hermes also occurred in Het Uur U, and apart from this the poems have several images and symbols in common. Like Het Uur U, Een Idylle deals with a moment of truth. In the former poem the experience was partly horrific and it made the people in the street conscious of their failings; in the latter it is a moment of pure bliss in which love transcends the boundaries of life and death. It has rightly been said that the relation between the two poems is that of a negative and a positive print of a photograph. What Een Idylle lacks is the mysteriousness of the other poem. Nijhoff's son maintained that the origin of Het Uur U was to be found in a dream which he once had and which he described to his father. This explains to a certain extent the very evocative dreamlike atmosphere of the poem. With a term that is often used for the paintings of A.C. Willink, Pijke Koch and Raoul Hynckes, one might describe Nijhoff's approach to reality as ‘magical realism’: the forms of everyday realism are there, but they are arranged and coloured in such a way as to suggest a mysterious unreality hiding behind the reality of everyday.
Nijhoff's use of common speech as a language of poetry within the framework of fairly traditional form had a more enduring influence on modern Dutch poetry than the iconoclasm of many a revolutionary poet. As was said before, Nijhoff was not a revolutionary but a reformer. He did not pub-
lish manifestos nor did he subscribe to any, and he kept aloof from literary movements. He published regularly in traditionalist magazines such as De Beweging and De Gids , and only once in Het Getij , the journal of the modernists. When in 1919 Ernst Groenevelt, one the editors of Het Getij, published an anthology of poetry of the Getij group, he stated - rather ruefully, it seems - that Nijhoff had refused to declare himself at one with the group. Yet five poems of Nijhoff appeared in the anthology, and Groenevelt suggested that Nijhoff was well aware that essentially he did belong to the group. Most likely, Groenevelt was wrong, for neither the dualisms of Nijhoff's early poetry nor the coolness of his later work would fit easily into the poetry proclaimed by Het Getij. Established in 1916, the journal served for several years as a forum for a group of young writers who were in rebellion against the intellectualism and the lack of spontaneity of the Beweging poets. They came out for more passion in poetry, for freer verse-forms and for more individualism. The chief spokesman and most influential poet of the group was Herman van den Bergh, whose name is often linked with the beginning of expressionism in the Netherlands. The term expressionism had been used for the first time in the Netherlands in 1913 by Albert Verwey, but then only in a general sense to indicate poetry that was not impressionist. It is unlikely that Verwey knew the work of such poets as Benn, Werfel, Trakl, Stramm or Heym who had published in or before that year. It is also unlikely that Herman van den Bergh knew them. The Netherlands remained neutral during the First World War, the frontiers were closed and the work of the expressionist poets did not become known in the Netherlands before 1918. Van den Bergh always claimed that when he wrote the poems of his first volume De Boog (The Bow), which appeared in 1917, he had never read a single German expressionist poem. Also, in his essays collected in the volume Nieuwe Tucht (New Discipline) and written between 1917 and 1922, he did not once mention the word expressionism nor did he refer to any of the German expressionist
poets. The striking parallels in word-formation, imagery and use of colour that one finds between his own work and that of the German expressionists are attributable to an independent analogous development rather than to direct influence.
In comparison with Nijhoff's De Wandelaar which was published a year earlier, De Boog seemed to open up a great deal of new ground. Gone was the sonnet-form, gone the measured line and the restrained tone of voice, gone also the vacillation of the poet between the spirit and the flesh. Van den Bergh's poetry was an enthusiastic acceptance of the flesh and the earth, a resounding paean of fertility. Its earthiness was expressed with a vehemence of diction that contrasted sharply with the subdued tones of the Beweging poets and the sophisticated elegance of Nijhoff. It was visionary poetry in which image was heaped upon image, not infrequently at the expense of clarity. The critic who said of Nijhoff that he wrote as if he was talking softly to you, could have added that Van den Bergh was the equivalent of a brass band. The newness and loudness of his poetry certainly made an impact. The poet Hendrik Marsman reported later that when De Boog appeared, he read it with ‘enraptured veneration’, and his own early poetry testifies to this admiration. Yet, in proportion to the enthusiasm - and the cries of anarchism - with which Van den Bergh's poetry was welcomed, its influence was limited and short-lived. None of the established writers was converted to expressionism, and among the younger writers of importance it was only Marsman who in his early poetry was affected by it. Expressionism never became a strong force in Dutch poetry. In the Netherlands, that is, in Belgium the picture was rather different.
In the same year 1916, when Nijhoff published De Wandelaar and Van den Bergh made his debut in Het Getij, the young Flemish poet Paul van Ostaijen (born in 1896) dropped a bombshell with his volume Music-Hall . Dutch poetry in Belgium at that time was still dominated by the exuberance, sonority, loftiness and pathos of Karel van de Woestijne, and in all these qualities Van Ostaijen was his opposite. The
tone of Music-Hall was generally light, the language was as colloquial as Nijhoff's, if not more so, the mood hesitated between a slightly sentimental melancholy and an astringent irony, just as the form of the poems hesitated between traditional form and free verse. The novelty of this volume found its fullest expression in the long title poem which describes a music-hall and everything that goes with it: waiters, dancers, public. The point of view of the poem was the ‘unanimist’ view of Jules Romains which tried to express the ‘one soul’, the common spirit of a given community, rather than the psychology of the individual:
In de Music-Hall is er slechts één hart,
En één ziel. Eén kloppend hart
In his next volume Van Ostaijen progressed from recognition of the ‘one soul’ to a longing to become part of it, a longing that has been characterized as earthly mysticism. This second volume, Het Sienjaal (The Signal, 1918), abounds with poems expressing his belief in the brotherhood of men and in art as all-embracing love. By that time Van Ostaijen must be counted among the true expressionists. Because of the occupation of Belgium by the Germans, the eastern frontier was open and German books were freely available. When he wrote Het Sienjaal, Van Ostaijen was probably familiar with the work of Franz Werfel, Else Lasker-Schüler, Theodor Däubler and Kurt Heynicke as the numerous parallels with their work suggest. The names of Apollinaire and Walt Whitman should also be mentioned among those who influenced him in these years. Shortly after the publication of Het Sienjaal and a few weeks after the armistice of 1918, Van Ostaijen left Belgium because of the support he had given to the Flemish movement for autonomy, a movement that was also supported by the Germans. He settled in Berlin and there he
rapidly lost his humanitarian ideals. He dismissed Werfel, the chief representative of humanitarian expressionism, as a driveller, and rejected Het Sienjaal as ‘lyrical preening’. Repudiation of his own work was typical of Van Ostaijen. He was by nature an experimentalist who always rejected each former phase of his development in favour of the next. Though his stay in Germany was a continual disappointment, his productivity was great. The poetry which he wrote there was vastly different from his first two volumes. Of his belief in mankind, nothing was left. The poems speak of utter loneliness, of fear, of a feeling of complete alienation from the world and himself. Little was left of traditional form either. In Feesten van Angst en Pijn (Feasts of Fear and Pain) all punctuation marks were abandoned and ink of different colours was used to help express the mood. In Bezette Stad (Occupied City, 1921) the poems were printed in a dizzying variation of lettertypes. The words were scattered over the page, sometimes haphazardly, sometimes arranged in patterns that corresponded with the content of the poems, rather in the manner of Apollinaire's Calligrammes which had appeared three years earlier. The ‘rhythmic topography’ as he called it, and the jumble of words were a furious expression of Van Ostaijen's disillusionment: all that was left after the loss of his ideals was meaningless chaos: ‘lig nou niet te klessen / het leven / alles is zonder zin /nu / kattedrek’ (don't talk rubbish / life / everything is meaningless / now / muck).
Bezette Stad was not the end of the line, and in the years that followed he renounced its nihilism. It had been poison, he said, that had been used as an antidote. In the poetry written after Bezette Stad he aimed at ‘pure lyricism’, by which he meant poetry that was entirely disengaged from the poet's own personality. The poem was to be a pure organism without any further connection with its maker. It should not bear a message, it should not communicate emotion. ‘The subject of the poem is the poem itself’, Van Ostaijen wrote in one of his essays, echoing Baudelaire's ‘La poésie n'a pas d'autre but qu'elle-même’. ‘Poetry is not: thought, spirit, well-
turned phrases, it is neither doctoral nor dada. It is only a metaphysically anchored play with words’. As a critic and a theorist he applied the same principles. He was fiercely opposed to moral criticism and held that criticism should occupy itself with the poem and not with the poet, anticipating by several years the criticism of Scrutiny and the New Critics.
The poems written in these years were meant to be published under the ironic title of Het Eerste Boek van Schmoll (The First Book of Schmoll), the title of a piano tutor. Van Ostaijen died, however, in 1928 before he could prepare the book for publication. These last poems are undoubtedly his best work. After Bezette Stad they seem strikingly simple and tranquil. Yet they are often enigmatic, in the manner in which a simple nursery rhyme can be enigmatic. They often give the impression of having been written according to the process of free association whereby each word or image calls forth the next without any intervention of reason. Poetry to him was a play of rhythm and words, and he often referred to Guido Gezelle as the man who had understood this best. ‘I play with words’, he wrote, ‘like a juggler with torches. My poems have no contents, only a theme as in music. I only write a largo, an allegretto’. The poetry written in this manner has a mysteriousness and an evocative power that is rivalled only by the later poetry of Nijhoff, though the effects are achieved by entirely different means. Characteristic of many of Van Ostaijen's last poems is the musical element, not in the sense of the poems being sonorous or melodious, but in the sense of being rhythmically arranged sound patterns:
Berceuse nr. 2
Slaap als een reus
slaap als een roos
slaap als een reus van een roos
doe de deur dicht van de doos
Van Ostaijen was the first thoroughly modernist writer in the Low Countries, not only as a poet, but also as an essayist and as a writer of whimsical prose pieces which he called grotesques. His field of interest was international, and not confined to literature. It extended to the expressionism of the German poets and the dadaism of Picabia and Schwitters, to the cubism of the French painters and the architecture of ‘De Stijl’ and ‘Bauhaus’. In his essays he co-ordinated the various modernist directions and tried to arrive at a definition of what they had in common. Modernism to him was a natural instinct, something that could not be argued against. The problem of the relation between modernism and traditionalism in literature was an illusory one to him. When he was criticized for being an anti-traditionalist, he replied by saying that being against tradition was as meaningless as being against the air that one breathes: the air exists, tradition exists. At the same time he recognized only one starting point for the poet: from scratch. Du Perron recorded in his Cahiers van een Lezer (Journal of a Reader) that when the poet Marsman wrote to Van Ostaijen, saying: ‘You want modern poetry all the time, I some of the time’, Van Ostaijen was amused: ‘Modem poetry to him was a pleonasm; poetry, real poetry, could not be anything else but modern’.
The Marsman who wrote this in or about 1925 obviously had a more ambivalent attitude towards modernism. Born in 1899, three years later than Van Ostaijen, his first poetry was written in the expressionist manner, rather under the influence of Herman van den Bergh. Apart from the free form - much freer than Van den Bergh's - the most striking element of these poems was their cosmic vision. The poet felt himself part of the cosmos, and sometimes its ruler. It is a notion that one finds also in the work of expressionist poets such as Herwarth Walden and Hermann Kasack, but never expressed in such a passionate way as in the early work of Marsman. In 1921 he made a journey through Germany where he met Kasack and Walden, whose poetry he had come to know shortly before that year, either through the famous anthology
Menschheitsdämmerung, published in 1920 by Kurt Pinthus, or through magazines like Der Sturm and Aktion. As a result of this trip, Marsman wrote a series of poems in which he described various German and Dutch cities he had visited. The poems were originally grouped together under the title of Seinen (Signals), and at a first glance they seem to be purely expressionist poetry:
hooge vensters droomen hun vergaan
The outward appearance of a poem such as this is reminiscent of August Stramm, particularly in its use of one-word lines. Yet neither Stramm nor any of the other German expressionists had written this kind of city-portrait. The expressionists were interested in abstraction and wrote about ‘the city’ or ‘cities’ in general. They tried to capture the atmosphere of ‘the city as such’, whereas Marsman was concerned with the momentary impression which each individual city made on him. In poems such as these, the idiom is expressionist, the vision is closer to impressionism.
After the publication of his first volume Verzen (Poems) in 1923, Marsman turned his back on expressionism. His admiration of Stramm, Heynicke and Kasack faded away, and in an essay entitled Tien Jaar na Menschheitsdämmerung (Ten Years after Menschheitsdämmerung), written in 1929, he came to the conclusion that the achievements and ‘creative potentiality’ of expressionism were slight. Only Trakl and Heym, and ‘a few poems by a few others’ were excepted from this verdict. ‘Poetry’, he wrote, ‘is not dynamite, but diamond’. Two years later he also dismissed a considerable part
of Van Ostaijen's expressionist poetry as ‘humanitarian humbug’. By that time Marsman's own poetry had undergone a significant change. His first poems had generally been enthusiastic, passionate, virile, explosive. The poet saw himself as part of the cosmos as in Verhevene (The Sublime), or as its dominator as in Heerscher (The Ruler). He was lonely, but self-sufficient. Because of their bold and vigorous tone, these poems are often referred to as ‘vitalist’ poetry. Yet in several poems of the same period there was also a tone of defeat, of failure and death, and it was this tone that gradually grew stronger. The loneliness, which in the early poems had been taken for granted as part of the poet's exalted situation, began to acquire a tragic accent. Consequently, the poetry of the later volumes, Paradise Regained (1927) and Porta Nigra (1934), was no longer exclusively concerned with the self, but more and more with ‘the other’. These poems reflect a desire to overcome the loneliness through love and friendship, they record disappointment and loss, and express the fear of death which was ever present in his later work. At the same time, as in the case of Nijhoff, Marsman's style of writing became greatly simplified. The big words which had given the early poems a touch of grandeur - but which on occasion had sounded a little hollow - were discarded in favour of a more colloquial way of expression.
In 1940 Marsman published a new volume under the title of Tempel en Kruis (The Temple and the Cross), which was to be his last work. At first glance it seems a heterogeneous collection of poems, ranging from free verse to strict form and from narrative to lyrical poetry. It is, in fact, a closely-knit volume in which all poems are related to the central theme. Writing in the years just before the Second World War, when Fascism and Nazism were threatening the survival of Western-European civilization, the poet tries to define what to him are the foundations and the value of this civilization. He distinguishes two elements: the heritage of ancient Greece (The Temple) and Christianity (The Cross). Christianity which began as a brave and exciting religion, has degene-
rated into ritual and dogma, and become unattractive to the poet. Moreover, he rejects as unjust the dogma of original sin. Yet in his search for a community to which he can belong and which can allay his fear of death, he is drawn to the Roman Catholic Church. At the last moment, however, he withdraws and from then on regards his approach to the Church as a betrayal of life. Filled with despair, he travels to the Mediterranean, where in the atmosphere of Antiquity, and far from the memories of his youth, he finds himself again and feels liberated from the oppressive past. The fourth part of the poem, entitled De Onvoltooide Tempel (The Unfinished Temple), states that ‘twenty centuries breathlessly slipped by’ and made way for the peacefulness of Antiquity. The conclusion of the volume is ‘to write in the spirit of this sea’ and to choose the antique and Dionysian element of modern civilization. In writing these poems and arriving at this conclusion, Marsman was influenced by Nietzsche whose Also Sprach Zarathustra he tranlated into Dutch at about the same time.
Since Tempel en Kruis was Marsman's last work, it is often regarded as the crown on his poetry. It would be better, though, to regard it as an entirely new departure. Marsman had never before written a cyclic volume, nor had he ever before written such a searching analysis of his own situation. The combination of this intellectual analysis with his great lyrical talents makes Tempel en Kruis stand out from his own previous work as well as from that of most of his contemporaries. After 1940 a great deal more could have been expected from Marsman. His development was cut short, however, when in June 1940 the ship in which he was trying to escape from France to England was torpedoed by a German submarine just out of Bordeaux.
Marsman's talents were above all lyrical, and therefore showed to fullest advantage in his poetry. In his prose, his lyricism was often a liability. After writing some prose-poems - modelled perhaps on Trakl's - and also some stories, he embarked on a novel, Vera , which can only be regarded as a
complete failure. Though he re-wrote it several times, Marsman finally rejected it, and it was not published in book-form until 1962. His second novel, De Dood van Angèle Degroux (The Death of Angèle Degroux, 1933), was more convincing in spite of its structural weaknesses. The theme of the book is the inability of the two main characters to break through their own isolation, a theme not uncommon in Marsman's poetry. It is a novel of ideas rather than a novel of character, and the lyrical passages, however well-written and evocative they may be, often seem out of place. Such passages fitted more harmoniously into Heden Ik, Morgen Gij (Me Today, You Tomorrow, 1937), an epistolary novel which Marsman wrote together with Simon Vestdijk. The form which they devised for the book allowed Marsman to be his own lyrical self, without this becoming a strain on the narrative framework.
As a critic, too, Marsman was first and foremost a lyricist. His approach, he stated himself, was lyrical and intuitive. It was also aggressively subjective. Objectivity to him was ‘a cowardly prejudice, the prejudice of haying no prejudices or even preferences’. Criticism was a confrontation between two personalities: the reviewer and the reviewed. As a result, his critiques were very uneven. Sometimes his intuition enabled him to make sharp and valuable observations, particularly on writers to whom he felt an affinity. At other times his extreme subjectivity caused him to dispense with all argumentation and to make totally unsubstantiated, categorical pronouncements. The categorical tone was so dominant in his early critiques that some of them read like literary manifestos, laying down the law for writers, telling them what to write about and what not. Marsman had the temperament of a leader, and in the 1920s and 1930s he was accepted as such by many writers. In 1925 he became editor of De Vrije Bladen (The Free Pages), a journal that was set up in 1924 and that after the demise of Het Getij in the same year, quickly established itself as the leading journal of the new generation. Marsman's editorship was not an unqualified success. He himself was
disappointed because the fiery articles with which he tried to whip up the enthusiasm of fellow writers produced unimpressive, and sometimes undesirable results. The strong personalities went their own way, unaffected by Marsman's ‘whiplashes’, the weaker ones often contented themselves with becoming Marsman-imitators. This led to tensions within the group of contributors to De Vrije Bladen.
In 1931 the growing sense of uneasiness was expressed by Menno ter Braak, the most forceful essayist of the group, in an attack on the epigonism that had developed within the journal. The immediate cause of the attack was Prisma (Prism), an anthology of modern poetry edited and introduced by D.A.M. Binnendijk, one of the editors of De Vrije Bladen. Ter Braak derided the imitativeness of some of the poets represented in the anthology and put in a strong claim for more originality and character. The ensuing debate quickly moved away from originality and epigonism, and centred on the more theoretical question of which was more important in literature: the beauty of the work itself, or the personality of the man behind it. In a letter to his friend Du Perron, Ter Braak summed up the conflict in the simplest possible terms: ‘the only essential thing is that all this beauty means nothing to me if it does not reflect character, whereas he (Binnendijk) carefully wants to peck up even the smallest grain of beauty (in poetry, that is)’. The poet J.C. Bloem summarized the issue with the catching phrase of ‘vorm of vent’ (form or fellow). Seen in a larger, international context, the opposition of ‘form’ and ‘fellow’ was a reflection of the old contrast between an aesthetic and a moralist approach to literature, or, in other words, the contrast between ‘art for art's sake’ and ‘engagement’. Marsman who had resigned his editorship of De Vrije Bladen in 1926 and had then become editor again from 1929 to 1931, adopted an ambivalent and slightly aloof attitude during the controversy. He admitted the lack of originality of several poets, but at the same time he dissociated himself from Ter Braak's notion that ‘character’ in poetry was more essential than ‘beauty’.
The results of the ‘form or fellow’ debate were far-reaching. Ter Braak broke away from De Vrije Bladen and with Du Perron and the Flemish novelist Maurice Roelants established a new magazine Forum which was to exert a very strong influence on the development of Dutch literature. In the first issue, which appeared in 1932, the editors made a stand against the ‘idolization of form at the expense of creative man’. Elaborating on Ter Braak's remarks in the Prisma controversy, they declared themselves supporters of the view ‘which regards the personality as the first and the last criterion by which the artist is judged’. They gave an indication of their preferences by singling out Multatuli for ‘a respectful salute’.
The influence of Forum was due in the first instance to the formidable polemic powers of Ter Braak and Du Perron. They emerged victorious from the Prisma debate after having defeated Binnendijk and having pushed Marsman into a defensive position. There was continuing opposition from a group of Roman Catholic writers led by the militant Anton van Duinkerken, from a group of humanists led by Anthonie Donker and Dirk Coster, and from the young Protestants led by Roel Houwink and Klaas Heeroma, but there can be no doubt that between 1930 and 1940 the ideas of Forum prevailed. During that period most of the important writers were in one way or another connected with Forum. Marsman, too, came round. His subjectivity fitted in well with the subjective approach of Ter Braak and Du Perron, and although he remained suspicious of Ter Braak's attitude to poetry, he did become an active contributor to Forum. In these later years his criticism lost much of its sweeping character and he showed a greater willingness to enter into the world created by the writer, even when it did not correspond with his own.
Though Forum attracted many writers, its main driving force was the team of Ter Braak and Du Perron. When the journal was established, Ter Braak had published one novel, Hampton Court (1931), and was writing his second, Dr. Dumay Verliest (Dr. Dumay Loses, 1933). They are both very
readable books, and of importance because of their autobiographical content, but they are not the books of a great novelist. Ter Braak's real strength lay in the essay. Born in 1902 as the son of a country doctor, he studied history at the University of Amsterdam where he gained his doctorate in 1928 with a thesis on the medieval Emperor Otto III. Then he turned to essay writing and criticism, and in a few years' time proved himself to be a very erudite and intelligent critic. In the first volume of Forum he published a long essay under the programmatic title of Demasqué der Schoonheid (Beauty Unmasked) which continued the attack on aestheticism begun during the Prisma debate. It was Ter Braak's personal settling of accounts with the adoration of Beauty that dated back to the Movement of the Eighties. The greater part of Ter Braak's work can be placed under the heading of ‘settling accounts’, either with his opponents or with himself. In his next book, Politicus Zonder Partij (Politician Without a Party, 1934), he argued - as a true disciple of Nietzsche's - that self-interest was the basis of most of man's actions, even his most idealistic ones. The main theme of the book is the unmasking of ‘the spirit’ and the ‘verbal trickery’ that had been perpetrated in its name. In one of the chapters of the book he pitted Nietzsche against Freud, and though full of admiration for Freud's scientific achievements, he finally rejected him as a system-builder and opted for the unsystematic intelligence of Nietzsche. It is a book against ‘earnestness’, against those ‘who maintain that they derive greater pleasure from reading poetry than from eating oysters’, against the ‘phony proprieties with which we keep up our position vis-à-vis our fellow mammals’. At the same time it is a plea for humour, i.e. for a greater sense of relativity. Politicus Zonder Partij makes clear that the invocation of Multatuli in the first issue of Forum was no hollow phrase, for there is no other book in Dutch literature that so determinedly continued Multatuli's assault on dogmatism. Ter Braak, as individualistic as Multatuli, rejected all systems, all dogmas and all collectivities, and with them all intellectuals who sought support in a system, a
dogma or a collectivity. In Van Oude en Nieuwe Christenen (Of Christians, Old and New, 1937) he discussed collective movements such as socialism, fascism, national-socialism and communism in the light of their demand for equality, the origin of which he found in early Christianity. The starting point of his analysis was again provided by a thesis of Nietzsche's which considered the demand for equality to be a product of resentment. Since democracy pursues equality without coercion and leaves the individual more scope than any other system, Ter Braak regarded it as the only acceptable form of government.
Ter Braak's literary criticism, too, was characterized by his urge to expose false values and to track down any trickery with words. True to the ideas expressed during the Prisma polemics, he was always more interested in the man behind the work than in the way the work was presented, more in the ‘communicative’ aspect of poetry than in its ‘ornamental’ aspect. Dèr Mouw, whom he rediscovered after an eclipse of many years, was often quoted by him as a good example of a ‘communicative’ poet, while to him Leopold was the representative of what he termed ‘ornamental poetry’. Ter Braak's literary criticism, contained in four big volumes, is the most comprehensive collection of criticism since Busken Huet's Literarische Fantasieën en Kritieken , and just as readable. The standards which he applied were high, and there is no doubt that they had a salutary effect on the literature of the thirties. On the other hand, there is no doubt either that the critical basis from which he operated was a narrow one. Its narrowness was determined by his own temperament, but also by the period in which he was writing. In the years before the Second World War, when the threat of nazism was becoming stronger every day, questions of aesthetics were more easily overruled by questions of character than they might have been in other times. If the threat of totalitarianism had not been so strong, the personality theory of Forum might never have been honed to such a sharp edge. In the last years before the war, Ter Braak became one of the most outspoken opponents of nation-
al-socialism. He committed suicide after the German invasion in May 1940. ‘He did not wish to survive the triumph of the lie and barbarism’, as Thomas Mann wrote in a tribute to him.
His friend and co-founder of Forum , Charles Edgar (E.) du Perron, came from an entirely different background. He was born in Java in 1899, and came to Europe when he was twenty-two. Europe to him was the Promised Land, but the Europe he was attracted to was France rather than the Netherlands. He settled in Paris where he lived the life of a bohemian, not from necessity, but because his reading had given him a taste of Montmartre that he wanted to put to the test. He formed friendships with several artists and writers, of whom Pascal Pia and André Malraux were the most important (in 1933 Malraux dedicated his novel La Condition Humaine to him). The fruits of Du Perron's Parisian days were poetry and criticism, and also a novel, Een Voorbereiding (A Preparation). It was an autobiographical novel, a little naively written and also rather sentimental, but of interest as an account of his first year in Europe. The history of its publication is an eloquent illustration of Du Perron's views on literature which a short time later were to crystallize into the personality theory of Forum. The book was first published in 1927 in a small edition of 125 copies, 50 of which Du Perron said he had burned himself. Four years later he partly rewrote it, and then published it again, fully aware that it was still a weak novel, but not wanting to suppress it because it was part of himself. Writing was in the first place a registration of one's own development; suppressing a book because of artistic faults seemed faintly dishonest; the ‘fellow’ outweighed the ‘form’.
Du Perron's criticism was based on the same principles. It was even more personal, more subjective, more ‘man to man’ than Ter Braak's or Marsman's. It was therefore diametrically opposed to that of Van Ostaijen, who was a close friend of Du Perron's for some years. Du Perron made it quite clear that he did not want to be regarded as a traditional critic by
presenting his work under the collective title of Cahiers van een Lezer (Journal of a Reader). He never made any claim that his opinions were valid for anyone but himself and a few friends who thought along the same lines. He stated this unequivocally in one of his best-known and, ironically, perhaps most influential essay on Jan Slauerhoff, a poet and novelist of the Forum group: ‘Mind you, I only maintain that I, and if necessary I alone, care a great deal for the poem Dsjengis (Slauerhoff) and nothing at all for the poem Cheops (Leopold)’. His criticism was essentially directed at finding out whether the man behind the work was ‘Friend or Enemy’, as indicated in the title of one of his volumes of criticism, Vriend of Vijand . He often seemed to use the literary work solely as a yardstick to measure the degree of friendship or enmity to be accorded to the writer. His preferences and aversions were often ‘instinctive’ as he said, but he went to great lengths to argue them out. In his Uren met Dirk Coster (Hours with Dirk Coster), for instance, he painstakingly analysed Coster's work before putting him in the pillory as a phrasemonger and a sloppy thinker. But, as always, the man was worth more than the book, even when it meant going back on an earlier verdict. When in 1939 Dirk Coster proved to be as implacably opposed to nazism as Ter Braak and Du Perron and all other writers of any importance, Du Perron had the remainder of his anti-Coster book destroyed. It is not very difficult to dismiss Du Perron's criticism from an academic point of view as irrelevant and dilettantish. He himself would have been the first to agree. It is far more important to recognize that he was the most lively and the most stimulating critic of the thirties. It is ironical, again, that he who abhorred being regarded as a literary ‘adviser’, had a greater influence on younger readers and writers than any of his contemporaries. Without exaggeration one may say that a large part of the generation of the thirties and the forties was brought up on his preferences: Stendhal, Gide, Larbaud, Malraux, Wilde, Multatuli, Roland Holst, Slauerhoff, all writers who were what he called ‘present’ in their work. It has been
said that whereas Ter Braak resembled Busken Huet (a comparison against which Ter Braak protested), Du Perron was closest to Multatuli. His affinity to Multatuli was certainly great, and when he was back in Java between 1936 and 1939, he demonstrated this by writing an excellent biography of Multatuli, De Man van Lebak , not only a sound documentary, but also an impassioned case for the defence.
Considering his feelings of affinity with Multatuli, it was not surprising that when in 1933 he began writing his second novel, he mentioned Multatuli as the first point of reference. In a letter to Jan Greshoff he wrote: ‘The larger part will be taken up by memories of the past in the Indies, but in between there will be short stories, portraits, anecdotes etc. As a whole it will look like the Ideas of Multatuli, but not so far as contents or tone are concerned; in general, it will be more narrative’. The book was entitled Het Land van Herkomst (The Country of Origin) and was published in 1935. The Forum writers set great store by autobiographical work and Du Perron's novel is also to a large extent autobiographical and self-searching. The main character, Arthur Ducroo, gives a description of his life in Paris in the thirties, relating it all the time to the memories which he retains of his youth in Java. The account of the present and the memories of the past provide the answers to the two questions that underlie the structure of the book: ‘Who am I now?’ and ‘Who was I then?’ Malraux formulated the main theme of the book in the following words: ‘His constant introspection is not seeking for the key to man; it is endeavouring to fathom its own singularity’. Ducroo tries to define his ‘singularity’ by linking his present life to his past, by recording his thoughts and opinions, by showing who his friends are and who his enemies. The motivation behind this detailed self-portrait is his wish to present to the woman he loves a picture of himself that is as complete and as honest as possible. This starting-point made the book one of the most unconventional novels in Dutch. It consists of memoirs, diaries, conversations, letters, narration, all put together in a seemingly incoherent fashion. Its
heterogeneity recalls Multatuli's Max Havelaar , as does the double setting in Paris and Java. It is even further removed from the traditional novel than Max Havelaar because it dispenses with any semblance of plot, which Du Perron regarded as artificial. Yet Het Land van Herkomst, like Max Havelaar, is in fact a novel of great coherence and unity, since the events in the past and in the present are selected in such a way that they constantly put each other in perspective. Though Du Perron rejected the traditional form of the novel and even called his book an anti-novel, in the arrangement and welding together of the various episodes he showed himself to be a craftsman of the first order. The book also gives a clear demonstration of Du Perron's contention that the writer must always be ‘present’ in his work. It would be a mistake to identify Ducroo with Du Perron on all points, but the book is undoubtedly a thorough and honest attempt at self-analysis. Egoistic though it may be, it never wastes time on irrelevant detail, it never degenerates into exhibitionism, and in addition it gives a valuable picture of the intellectual climate in Paris and the Netherlands in the thirties. Marsman hit the nail on the head when he characterized it as ‘the most complete expression of our generation’.
When he wrote Het Land van Herkomst, Du Perron was living in Paris where he worked as a journalist. In 1936 he went back to Java, but returned to the Netherlands in 1939, just before the outbreak of the war. Weakened by a heart-attack, he died during the German invasion in 1940, on the same day as Ter Braak.
The impact which Forum made on the literature of the thirties manifested itself more convincingly in criticism and in the novel than in poetry. True, most of the writers connected with the journal were poets as well as prose writers, but in all cases except Slauerhoff's, their poetry was overshadowed by their prose. Ter Braak wrote no poetry. Du Perron did, and his volume Parlando is still very readable, but it is not the work of a man who expressed himself primarily in poetry. On the whole, the Forum poets were minor poets who avoided
anything that tended to grandeur or ostentatiousness. They employed the ordinary word and preferred to limit themselves to everyday themes. Though sometimes slightly romantic, their poetry in general was down-to-earth, rational and often anecdotal. In their use of form they were traditionalists. The poet and critic Jan Greshoff may be regarded as the father of the Forum poetry. Born in 1888, he belonged to an older generation than Ter Braak and Du Perron, and made his debut more than twenty years before Forum was established. During the 1920's he was one of the first to turn towards a deliberately colloquial idiom, and this, together with the personal tone of his work, had a considerable influence on the poetry of the twenties and the thirties. When Forum was established, Greshoff became a regular contributor, and when it ceased publication in 1935, he continued to support its case as an editor of Groot Nederland , a literary journal that was published between 1903 and 1944.
The only writer of the Forum group who was both poet and novelist without the one crowding out the other, was Jan Slauerhoff. He was also the most individualistic member of the group, so much so that one should perhaps not label him as a member of the group at all, or of any group. Apart from some fiery outbursts against writers who had aroused his displeasure, and apart from a short period as a newspaper critic, he was not really active in the literary arena as Ter Braak, Du Perron, Marsman and Greshoff were. He was born in Leeuwarden in 1898 and studied medicine in Amsterdam. After his graduation in 1923 he signed on as a ship's surgeon and made numerous voyages to the East and West Indies, China and Africa, until shortly before his death in 1936. As a poet he made his debut in Het Getij in 1921, and published regularly in De Vrije Bladen from the moment of its inception. Yet it was from Forum, and in the first place from Du Perron, that he received unqualified recognition. When in 1930 Du Perron wrote his influential Gesprek over Slauerhoff (Conversation about Slauerhoff), Slauerhoff had published six volumes of poetry: Archipel (Archipelago, 1923), Clair Obs-
cur (1927), Oost-Azië (East Asia, 1928), Eldorado (1928), Saturnus (1930) and Serenade (1930), which taken together had collected a good deal of praise but which had also encountered strong resistance. Marsman had carefully weighed the pros and cons. Slauerhoff's poetry, he wrote, was genuine, it was averse to literary prettiness, it had purity, depth and sometimes greatness; on the other hand, it was careless, nonchalant, suffering from halting rhythms and at times also from a triviality of feeling. Du Perron, with characteristic absolutism, rejected Marsman's approach: ‘Perhaps Marsman belongs to those men who, when they love a woman whose nose is a little awry or whose hands are a little heavy, would like to amputate the nose and the hands’. The clash between these two views: qualified and selective approval versus complete acceptance, warts and all, has been a feature of Slauerhoff-criticism ever since.
Slauerhoff certainly was a strange apparition in Dutch poetry in the twenties and thirties. There was something nineteenth-century about him, something of the poète maudit, especially of Tristan Corbière, with whom he identified himself in his early years. His themes were love, the sea, the ship, the outsider, the outcast. In many ways his poetry was late-romantic, but it was a romanticism that usually ended on a note of cynicism or bitterness. His directness and his anecdotal style were modern enough, as Marsman well realized. What attracted Du Perron so much was Slauerhoff's being present in all of his work. Not many other poets have so unreservedly expressed their personality in their work as Slauerhoff did. His idealism and his cynicism, his vulnerability and his cruelty, his restlessness and his longing for peace, his recalcitrance, his truculence which sometimes turned against the very poem he was writing, all these contradictory characteristics together give his work its uneven, capricious, but very personal stamp. In everything he wrote, his voice, ‘his hoarse, shy tone’ as Greshoff called it, was always unmistakably present. It was a tone of melancholy, of disillusionment and often of deep despair that did not care about a smooth-
running rhythm, a mellifluous phrase or what the critics were wont to term ‘good taste’. That the unevenness of Slauerhoff's poetry should have anything to do with a deficient technique, as has sometimes been suggested, is contradicted by a poem such as Chineesche Dans (Chinese Dance) from his first volume Archipel , which shows that from the very beginning Slauerhoff had a grasp of poetic technique that was rivalled by few others.
The novels of Slauerhoff are just as idiosyncratic and unconventional as his poetry. They are certainly not impeccable novels. They are neither well-polished nor smooth-running, their composition is sometimes chaotic and the characterization usually minimal. Yet they are by no means insignificant or unsuccessful books, for they hold a fascination that overrules all technical imperfections. Het Verboden Rijk (The Forbidden Empire), first published in the first volume of Forum in 1932, consists of two interwoven life stories: that of the sixteenth-century Portugese poet Camoens and that of a ship's wireless operator in the twentieth century. Camoens, exiled in Macao, becomes involved with the daughter of the Administrator and is caught up in the intrigues that are rife in the town. He is arrested and taken away. At this point the novel focuses on the Irish wireless operator, who after being shipwrecked feels himself driven by an inexplicable compulsion towards Macao. Gradually his life begins to merge with that of Camoens. He recognizes places where he cannot have been before, he has the sensation that he is about to become someone else, his memories become a mixture of his own experiences and those of Camoens. At the end of the novel he finds himself in a hotel in Macao, liberated from the oppressive weight of his own personality and hoping to be absorbed by the anonymous millions of China. Self-destruction was a pronounced trait of Slauerhoff's character, and the loss of identity experienced by the wireless operator - who is never given a name - is clearly a symbolization of Slauerhoff's personal situation. His next novel, Het Leven op Aarde (Life on Earth, 1934), is also set in China and also has as its cen-
tral figure a wireless operator who this time is given the name of Cameron. Like the former book, Het Leven op Aarde is also a novel about the loss of identity: Cameron loses himself, not in the identity of someone else, but in the oblivion of opium. These two novels were to form the first and second part of a trilogy, but the third part was never written. Instead, Slauerhoff wrote a short novel, De Opstand van Guadalajara (The Revolt of Guadalajara, 1937), set in Mexico and dealing with a wandering glazier who is persuaded to act as a Saviour to a group of poor and oppressed Indians. In all these books the main characters are outsiders. It is said of the wireless operator that he was ‘neither fish nor fowl, neither sailor nor landlubber, neither belonging to the officers nor to the men’. Slauerhoff, who began one of his poems with the lines: ‘only in my poems can I live, never did I find shelter anywhere else’, was deeply involved in the fate of his outsiders and their attitude to society. His personal involvement and his unique style - sometimes clipped and laconic, at other times lyrical and visionary - give his books a place of their own in the history of the novel.
In the history of the novella one older contemporary was just as much sui generis as Slauerhoff. In 1911 J.H.F. Grönloh (1882-1961) published De Uitvreter (The Sponger) under the pen-name of Nescio, a pseudonym which he guarded jealously until 1929. The story did not create much of a stir, either on first publication or in 1918 when it appeared in book form together with two more novellas under the title of Dichtertje, De Uitvreter, Titaantjes (Little Poet, The Sponger, Little Titans). Yet Nescio's slim volume was to make a great impact, not so much on his own generation but on the writers and readers of the fifties and the sixties. In 1932 Du Perron drew Ter Braak's attention to Nescio's work, and it was Ter Braak who, in the following year, when the book was reprinted, wrote the first full-length and warmly appreciative article on Nescio. He was particularly taken by the subtle way in which Nescio dismissed bourgeois singleness of purpose without uncritically glorify-
ing the bohemian aimlessness of his characters.
Nescio's Little Titans are a group of young men who try to keep society at bay with words rather than with actions:
What we wanted to do never became clear. We would do something. Bekker had a vague idea that he wanted to pull down all offices. Ploeger wanted to make his boss pack all his own clocks and to look on with a cigar stuck in his mouth, cursing the chaps who could never do anything properly. We were agreed that we had to get out. Out of what, and how?
Their ineffectual anarchism leads nowhere. Bekker sells out to society and becomes a well-to-do businessman. Ploeger starts working for the Gas Company in a uniform cap and with a notebook under his arm. Hoyer becomes a trade-union boss. Bavink, the artist, wants to put the sun in a hat box and ends up in a lunatic asylum.
Nescio's novellas are a kind of tragi-comedies: the non-events in his characters' lives are observed humorously but the stories always have a sad ending. The romantic Little Poet goes insane after a comfortable bourgeois life and an uncomfortable love-affair. Japi, the amiable sponger of the first story, who is happiest doing nothing, decides to call it a day after his girl friend has left him for a rich man. He steps from a bridge into the river:
The watchman saw him too late. ‘Don't get excited, old man’, Japi said, and then he stepped from the bridge. You couldn't call it jumping, said the man, he just stepped off.
And like Japi and the poet, the Little Titans are also defeated by their own inefficacy or by society.
The fascination of Nescio's writing lies in his gentle iconoclasm, his humorous irreverence, his melancholy disillusionment, his sense of relativity, all of which were unseasonable in the second and third decades of this century. At that time his style of writing seemed, even to Ter Braak, to hark back to the naturalist mannerisms of the Eighties. Now, at a greater distance, it is clear that the similarities with the prose of the Eighties are no more than superficial and that Nescio's colloquial, unemphatic and yet highly sensitive style makes him stand out with Elsschot as far and away the most
original prose-writer of his generation. Nescio's only new publications after 1918 were two volumes of short stories, Mene Tekel in 1946 and Boven het Dal (Above the Valley) in the year of his death. Style, subject matter and approach were very close to those of the first volume. ‘Life’, said Nescio on the last page of Mene Tekel, ‘has taught me hardly anything, thank God’. His work constitutes the greatest small oeuvre in Dutch literature.
On the Belgian side, the main novelists of the years between the wars were Willem Elsschot (pseudonym of Alfons de Ridder), Gerard Walschap and Maurice Roelants, who were all connected with Forum. Roelants was a founding editor, and Walschap joined in 1934 when a separate editorial board for Belgium was set up. In spite of his early interest in the journal, Roelants was the least typical Forum writer of the three. In novels such as Komen en Gaan (Coming and Going, 1927), Het Leven dat Wij Droomden (The Life We Dreamed, 1931), Alles Komt Terecht (Everything Will Come Right, 1937), and Gebed om een Goed Einde (Prayer for a Good Ending, 1944), he was above all a psychologist who calmly, thoughtfully and sometimes rather longwindedly analysed the lives of his characters. He is not cynical and down-to-earth like Elsschot nor passionate and rebellious like Walschap, but patient and contented. As a strict Roman Catholic he was never quite at home in the a-religious Forum group, and when in 1935 a conflict developed between the Dutch and Belgian editors about a contribution that was unacceptable to the Catholic Flemings, he found himself in direct opposition to the Dutch editors. As a result of this conflict, Forum ceased publication.
Willem Elsschot, though never an editor of Forum, was much closer to its spirit than Roelants. He also owed a considerable debt to the Forum writers, and in particular to Jan Greshoff, for it was their enthusiasm that rescued him from a long period of silence. Born in 1882 in Antwerp, Elsschot was a businessman who ran an advertising agency and wrote only in his spare time. In his early years he wrote some po-
etry, which remained unknown for over twenty years until Forum published it in its first volume. It linked up remarkably well with the poetry written by the much younger Forum writers and suddenly met with response. In 1913 he published his first novel, Villa des Roses , inspired by a run-down boarding-house in Paris where he had lived some years before. It was written in Elsschot's characteristic spare style, strictly narrative and without any embellishments, cool, dry, cynical and humorous, with a lack of rhetoric that was to appeal greatly to the later Forum generation. Elsschot did not go in for character analysis in the way Roelants did. He was first and foremost a narrator who let his figures characterize themselves by what they said and did. At the time of publication, Villa des Roses attracted little attention, probably because it did not fit easily into what was then the mainstream of novel-writing: Streuvels and Teirlinck in Belgium, Couperus and Van Schendel in the Netherlands. After two short novels and a longer one, Lijmen (Soft Soap, 1924), Elsschot was so depressed by the lack of response that he decided to give up writing. Greshoff, who knew him well, wrote of this decision: ‘If the indifference towards Lijmen discouraged him, it was not out of hurt vanity, but only because he had evidently not succeeded in realizing his artistry so convincingly that it gave meaning to his commercial career while at the same time relegating it to second place’.
Lack of success of an autobiographical book probably hits an author harder than the failure of a work of pure fiction, and there was a great deal of autobiographical material in Lijmen. It was a bitter but humorous satire on advertising, that is on Elsschot's own work which he both hated and loved. The main character of the book, Boorman, edits an advertising magazine which has no circulation at all but is sold in thousands of copies to one customer at a time. Boorman, the con-man who successfully trains himself to be hard, was invested with a considerable amount of Elsschot's own business experience - only toned down a little, as he said to Greshoff, otherwise no-one would have believed him - and
so was Frans Laarmans, the timid but willing associate, who in the later novels more and more developed into a self-portrait of Elsschot. When Lijmen, a first-rate and highly original novel, failed to score, Elsschot stopped writing for nine years. Roused by Greshoff in 1932, he tried again and within two weeks wrote a short novel Kaas (Cheese), which was first published in Forum's second volume of 1933 and which became his most widely-read book. Like Lijmen, it is a novel of business-life and also to a certain extent autobiographical. This time Laarmans is the central character, but the tables are turned: Laarmans finds himself the victim of a hardsell and is landed with hundreds of crates of cheese which he cannot get rid of. A few years later, Elsschot also turned the tables on Boorman in Het Been (The Leg), a short novel which shows Boorman repairing the damage that one of his shady deals in Lijmen had caused. In later novels such as Tsjip (Chirp), De Leeuwentemmer (The Lion-tamer) and Het Dwaallicht (Will-o'-the-Wisp), he turned away from the world of business without abandoning his business-like, astringent style. Het Dwaallicht (1946), a story or novella rather than a novel, is perhaps his masterpiece. With Laarmans as the narrator, it describes a rainy evening in Antwerp during which three Afghan sailors make a futile search for a Flemish girl. There is no plot, hardly any characterization, no purple passages, and yet the melancholy search of the sailors and their guide is set down with such evocative power that the book must be regarded as one of the very best stories in Dutch. It was to be Elsschot's last work; he died in 1960.
Novels about the business-world were rare both in the Netherlands and in Belgium. In Belgium most novels written between the two wars were regional novels which had a rural setting and dealt with life in the village or on the farm. Popular though this genre was, it did not often produce great literature. A writer like Felix Timmermans, for instance, simply does not belong in the same class as Elsschot or Roelants, even though his novel Pallieter (1916) was a tremendous national and international success. Stijn Streuvels was an excep-
tion to the rule, and Gerard Walschap, born in 1898, was another. Actually, Walschap can only be termed a regional novelist in a very general sense, for he was really closer to Elsschot and Roelants than to any of the regionalists proper. In the common run of regional novels the characters are often types, whose every thought or action is determined by their being farmer, land-owner, priest, loyal hard-working son or profligate son who has an eye on the city. Walschap's novels are totally devoid of these stereotypes. They are also entirely free of the sentimentality that is often associated with the regional novel, neither is there any trace of the blood-and-soil mystique. Walschap is as matter-of-fact as Elsschot, though more of a moralist. Elsschot did not leave much doubt about what he thought of Boorman, but he did not write against him. Indeed, one could easily imagine him having an amiable conversation with Boorman. Walschap is angrier. One of the main themes of his earlier novels - Adelaide, Eric, Carla, Trouwen (Marriage), Celibaat (Celibacy), Sybille, all published between 1929 and 1939 - is the interaction of sexual and religious problems. Walschap was a Roman Catholic when he wrote these books, but his attitude was critical and he blamed the Church for much of the mental illnesses that he had come across. His characters are often pathological cases, tormented by fear and guilt-ridden, on the brink of insanity like Adelaide, physically and psychologically maimed like André d'Hertenfeldt in Celibaat, or haunted by religious doubts like Sybille. With the exception of Trouwen, they are deeply pessimistic books, dealing, like the work of Couperus and Van Oudshoorn, with people and situations in a state of decay. Elsschot was a pessimist, too, but his pessimism was always tempered by humour, something which is absent in most of Walschap's novels. Equally absent is Elsschot's cynicism, his acceptance of the world as a place of corruption. Instead of cynicism, the basis of Walschap's work is moralism. This does not imply that his novels are tedious moralizations; it only means that in contrast to Elsschot he is concerned with the clash between good and evil in his charac-
ters, and with the good and evil influences that work on them. The Flemish poet and critic Karel Jonckheere rightly called him a ‘conscience-builder’.
In 1939, with the publication of Houtekiet , Walschap made a change of front. The book might be called a regional novel, but then a regional novel with a difference, for Jan Houtekiet is so many times larger than life that one could almost read the book as a parody of the regional novel. Houtekiet is a force of nature, a man completely outside the conventions of society who resists every rule that restrains his freedom and who takes whatever he needs: food, land, women. He is nature's protest against civilization and sophistication. Involuntarily he becomes the founder of a small prospering community and the progenitor of a tribe of which each family includes at least one little Houtekiet. Gradually he begins to realize that every community, however free, places limitations on the freedom of its members. For a long time he ignores these limitations, but in the end he gives in and allows himself to be domesticated to a certain extent. Houtekiet is Walschap's most cheerful novel, though in spite of its lightheartedness, it has some harsh things to say of the Roman Catholic Church. In the following year Walschap took the consequences of his criticism and broke openly with the Church. In Vaarwel Dan (Farewell Then, 1940), he stated his reasons and also gave a bitter account of the agitation that the Church had carried on against him. In his later novels such as Ons Geluk (Our Happiness, 1946), Zwart en Wit (Black and White. 1948), Zuster Virgilia (Sister Virgilia, 1951), De Ongelooflijke Avonturen van Tilman Armenaas , (The Incredible Adventures of Tilman Armenaas, 1960), and many others, the religious problem was relegated to the background or entirely eliminated. With it, unfortunately, went the passion and the personal tone of the earlier books, and however well the later novels are written, none of them carries the conviction of the early work.
In the years between the two wars, when Willem Elsschot, Maurice Roelants and Gerard Walschap were the prominent
novelists in Belgium, the ‘big three’ in the Netherlands were Arthur van Schendel, Ferdinand Bordewijk and Simon Vestdijk. One should not pass over J. Van Oudshoorn (pseudonym of J.K. Feylbrief), though, who during his lifetime was never given the same acclaim as the other three, but whose work nevertheless is of considerable importance. As a writer Van Oudshoorn had the misfortune of sitting uneasily between two generations. He was born in 1876 which made him technically a contemporary of Van Schendel and Van Moerkerken, but when in 1914 he finally began to publish, his work had nothing in common with that of his contemporaries. On the one hand he continued the naturalism of Emants, which was then regarded as rather old-fashioned, on the other hand his books were so modern that almost forty years were to pass before they were given proper recognition. His first novel was Willem Mertens' Levensspiegel (Mirror of Willem Merten's Life, 1914), an intensely sombre book that records the self-analysis of a man whose life is warped by loneliness, frustration and feelings of guilt, mainly of a sexual kind. Willem Mertens is an anti-hero of the type of Willem Termeer in Emants's Een Nagelaten Bekentenis, a man who feels himself an outcast of society, who dreams of love and purity, but only succeeds in aggravating the sordidness in which he lives. All his life he suffers from the memories of his first sexual experiences, and from the self-disgust in which they resulted. Like Van Eeden in Van de Koele Meren des Doods, Van Oudshoorn drew attention to sexual frustration as a cause of mental disorders, but his book was more personal, less theoretical, better written and therefore more impressive than Van Eeden's. His later books - Louteringen (Purifications, 1916), Tobias en de Dood (Tobias and Death, 1925), and his many stories - were all deeply pessimistic and often concerned with psychopathic characters. Though he sometimes lays it on rather thick, Van Oudshoorn was basically a realist writer. His work constitutes a link between the naturalism and realism of the eighties and nineties, and the new realism of the post-war novelists such as Willem Hermans. Van Ouds-
hoorn's touches of surrealism, especially in his occasional dream-like imagery, also seem to anticipate certain surrealist aspects of the work of Hermans. Bordewijk, whose early work also shows some surrealist traits, was perhaps thinking of this element of Van Oudshoorn's work when he mentioned him as one of his early influences, for otherwise there is little common ground between the two.
What one calls Bordewijk's ‘early work’ - the three volumes Fantastische Vertellingen (Fantastic Tales), the novels Blokken (Blocks), Knorrende Beesten (Grunting Animals), Bint and Rood Paleis (Red Palace) - was not really so early, for like Van Oudshoorn, Bordewijk began to publish comparatively late. Born in 1884, he was 35 when his first volume of short stories appeared, and 50 when Bint was published in 1934, the novel with which he made his name. These early books of Bordewijk's are the best representatives in Dutch literature of the ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ as practised by the architects and painters of the German ‘Bauhaus’ and the Dutch group of ‘De Stijl’. Bordewijk's style of writing in these short novels is terse, fast, functional, the sentence structure is simple, the descriptions are reduced to a minimum. Bint is the story of a headmaster who demands an iron discipline from his pupils. He scorns the effeminacy of modern education and derides the notion that the teacher must try to understand the pupil. In Bint's view the teacher must never descend to the level of the child, but the child must reach for the level of the teacher. After the suicide of a ‘weakling’, the school revolts against Bint, but the uprising is put down with the energetic help of a class nicknamed ‘the hell’ and consisting of monstrous creatures who are generally described in terms of animals. ‘Bint's most perfect creation’, one of the teachers says of ‘the hell’. Bint's system seems to work, but Bint himself is weaker than his system and shortly after the revolt he resigns. Then it is clear that the system will collapse for want of executors. The book is not a glorification of inhuman discipline, nor is it a satire on modern education. It is essentially a realistic picture, but so much enlarged that it is
sometimes hard to recognize it as such. Though Bordewijk at times comes close to surrealism - for instance in his descriptions of ‘the hell’, or of the freaks that occur in Rood Paleis and some of his short stories - he never entirely severs his contact with reality. He achieves his effects by enlarging certain aspects of reality, without distorting the enlargements to caricatures. Some of the characters are very much larger than life, they are more awesome, more menacing, more brutal than their life-size equivalents could have been. Yet if they had become caricatures, i.e. if one or more details had been emphasized at the expense of others, one would not have been forced to take them seriously, one could have laughed them away. It is Bordewijk's achievement that one cannot. Bint, then, is not an amusing caricature, but the enlarged portrait of a strict headmaster whose theories and actions one either applauds or abhors, but whom one cannot dismiss as a preposterous invention. Bint and his pupils are not demons from another world; when allowances are made for the blown-up dimensions, they are easily recognizable as inhabitants of our own planet. In the course of his later work, Bordewijk scaled down his enlargements. In Karakter (Character, 1938), his best-known novel, he described a relation between father and son. The father tries to build up his son's character by obstructing him as much as he can. It is a relation not unlike the relation between Bint and his pupils, but the characters are not enlarged to quite the same proportions, and on the whole Karakter is closer to everyday reality than Bint. After this novel, Bordewijk drew closer and closer to reality. The freaks, the monsters and the enlarged characters disappeared from the later novels such as Eiken van Dodona (Oaks of Dodona, 1946), Noorderlicht (Aurora Borealis, 1948), De Doopvont (The Baptismal Font, 1952), Tijding van Ver (Tidings from Afar, 1961). They are good, competent psychological novels, but they lack the strange fascination of the earlier books.
Without doing injustice to anyone, one may say that all writers of the first half of the twentieth century, in the Neth-
erlands as well as in Belgium, have been overshadowed by the genius of Simon Vestdijk, who was born in 1898 and died in 1971. He was a unique phenomenon in Dutch literature, and it is unlikely that there are many other literatures that can boast a writer of his calibre and versatility. His production was staggering; nothing in literature went out of date quite so quickly as his bibliography. This inspired Adriaan Roland Holst to a quatrain in which he addressed Vestdijk as the man ‘who writes faster than God can read’. Prolificness and high quality rarely go together for very long, but in the work of Vestdijk they went hand in hand for many years. One of the most astonishing aspects of Vestdijk's work is the range of his interest and knowledge. Not only has he published about fifty novels, seven volumes of short stories, twenty-two volumes of poetry, eighteen collections of essays and criticism, and many translations, he has also ventured outside the field of literature with books on the theory of music, on religion, on psychology, on the relation between astrology and science, and on the philosophy of time. What is more, in none of these books is he a mere dabbler or amateur; on the contrary, in everything he undertakes he proves himself a serious scholar who combines original ideas with sound knowledge. Menno ter Braak gave his book on Vestdijk the title of De Duivelskunstenaar , the man who has made a pact with the devil and who has received from him supernatural powers.
Like Slauerhoff, with whom he went to school in Leeuwarden, Vestdijk studied medicine in Amsterdam and made some voyages as a ship's doctor. Since 1929 he devoted himself entirely to writing. In 1932 he made his debut with a volume of poetry, Verzen (Poems). In this as in all his later volumes he shows himself to be an intellectual poet akin to the group of Verwey, Dèr Mouw, Van Eyck and to a certain extent also to Nijhoff. As to form, he is a traditionalist, never a modernist like Van Ostaijen or the early Marsman. His poetry is cerebral, cool and reserved. In his early years he wrote in the parlando style favoured by Forum , often with irony in the manner of Du Perron. Later he became more lyrical, though
his lyricism is never of an effusive kind; it is always cool and intellectual, basically descriptive. To Vestdijk, poetry is ‘a trinity of sound-image-thought, the image being the middle slice, which is the tastiest part of the fish’. This certainly holds for his own poetry, the main element of which is always the imagery. Though a firm friend of Ter Braak's and Du Perron's and an editor of Forum in 1934 and 1935, the reservedness of his poetry and his reluctance to lay himself open, made him a slightly uneasy member of the Forum group. As a critic he was even more of an outsider. In 1934 he wrote to Marsman: ‘I have one-sidedly and for good and all opted for talent, if need be even with a completely inferior personality’. A heresy, so far as Forum was concerned. Vestdijk, on his part, later pronounced the whole problem of ‘form or fellow’, of talent or personality, to be a pseudo-problem: ‘talent without personality is not worth talking about, and neither is personality without talent’. In his own criticism he was always concerned in the first place with the work itself, and not with the man behind it. By temperament he was less polemic than Ter Braak and Du Perron, and a great deal more objective. His critiques, especially his long essays on Rilke, Valéry, Kafka, Joyce and Emily Dickinson, are not in the first place professions of friendship or declarations of war, but scholarly introductions to the work under review. He was more sceptical than Ter Braak and Du Perron, and saw more readily the relativity of the various points of view.
Notwithstanding the high value of his poetry and criticism, Vestdijk is known in the first place as a novelist. When an author has written as many novels as Vestdijk has, there is always a strong temptation to divide them into neat categories, either chronologically in an early, middle and late period, or according to subject matter or setting. Vestdijk's novels could be divided into autobiographical novels, historical novels and novels of fantasy, while the remaining ones could be classed, a trifle lamely, as psychological novels. Having gone so far, one might then refine the system and divide the first category into strictly autibiographical novels, such as the series of eight
Anton Wachter novels, and novels that are only partially autobiographical such as De Koperen Tuin (The Garden Where the Brass Band Played) or Het Glinsterend Pantser (The Glittering Armour). According to their setting, the historical novels could be divided further into Irish novels such as Ierse Nachten (Irish Nights) and De Vijf Roeiers (The Five Oarsmen), and novels with a Greek or Roman setting such as Aktaion onder de Sterren (Actaeon among the Stars), De Verminkte Apollo (The Mutilated Apollo), De Nadagen van Pilatus (The Latter Days of Pilate). A classification of this kind facilitates the discussion, but one cannot demand much more from it, especially in the case of Vestdijk. In all his novels, whether autobiographical, historical or otherwise, his approach to his characters always remains the same. His main interest is to find an answer to the questions: Who are they? What are they? Why are they what they are? This applies as much to his own alter ego Anton Wachter as to Pontius Pilate and Mary Magdalen in De Nadagen van Pilatus, to El Greco in Het Vijfde Zegel (The Fifth Seal) and to the female pirate Anne Bonney in Rumeiland (Rum Island). The autobiographical novels centre just as much on these questions as the historical novels. It is typical of Vestdijk that he mostly chose historical figures of whom important aspects are unknown. El Greco has always been a puzzle, and it has often been wondered what lay behind his style of painting: symbolism, a religious theory, astigmatism? He is a mysterious and problematical figure like Pilate, of whom little is known after his encounter with Christ: Was it just an incident in the life of a Roman official, or did it leave a mark? Anne Bonney, the pirate from Jamaica, is also a riddle. It is known that she existed, there are references to her in historical sources, but what kind of girl she was or what made her take up piracy are questions to which there are no ready answers. Vestdijk's historical novels, then, are not so much concerned with re-creating the past, but rather with discovering the driving-forces behind these mysterious characters. His historical novels are really psychological novels in a historical setting. Though
his approach to the characters never varied, he allowed himself a great deal of variation in his approach to the setting. In Het Vijfde Zegel , for instance, the reader is given an elaborate picture of seventeenth-century Spain, down to the last detail of dress, food, class distinctions and the philosophical hairsplitting that was the order of the day. In fact, there was so much historical detail that a critic like Ter Braak complained about it and considered it overdone. In De Nadagen van Pilatus , published in 1938, that is one year after Het Vijfde Zegel, the historical details are reduced to the bare minimum. One has the impression that there is a certain playfulness in Vestdijk's attitude to historical detail: it seems that he wants to show that he can write a historical novel with or without it. After abandoning the abundance of historical detail in the novel about Pilate, he came back to it with a vengeance in Puriteinen en Piraten (Puritans and Pirates, 1947), which apart from being a gripping adventure story and a convincing psychological novel, also comes close to being a handbook on sailing vessels in the eighteenth century.
In his very first novel, Meneer Visser's Hellevaart (Mr. Visser's Journey to Hell, 1936), Vestdijk probed for the inner life of an insignificant little man, using the technique of ‘interior monologue’ that Joyce had so spectacularly employed in Ulysses. Mr. Visser is an ordinary man, but he lives a secret life in which he is a great and cruel tyrant who models himself on Robespierre. Why is Mr. Visser what he is? Why does he only think in terms of revenge and punishment? Why is he deliberately ruining the life of his wife? Vestdijk follows Visser for twenty-four hours and records all his actions, thoughts and dreams, including half-finished sentences and embryonic notions. Visser is, as it were, baring his subconscious to an imaginary psychiatrist.
Meneer Visser's Hellevaart was the first novel Vestdijk wrote, but not the one that he published first. When it was finished he was asked by his publisher to submit another novel first, as the innermost thoughts of Mr. Visser were often nasty and bound to shock a good many readers. Vestdijk then
went back to a large manuscript which he had written in 1933 under the title of Kind Tussen Vier Vrouwen (Child Between Four Women), but which had been rejected because of its bulk: it consisted of 940 closely written pages. He rewrote part of it and published this in 1934 as Terug Tot Ina Damman (Back To Ina Damman). Though published first, the book was to be the third volume of the series of eight autobiographical novels known as the Anton Wachter novels. It is generally considered the best of the series and more than one critic regards it as Vestdijk's best novel. The book describes the love of Anton Wachter, who is then in his second year in high school, for Ina Damman, who is in first form. One could hardly call it a love story, for Ina Damman has little idea of what is going on inside Anton. The main subject of the book is an analysis of Anton's feeling for the girl, and one would be hard-pressed to find another novel in which a relationship between schoolchildren is given such a razor-sharp analysis. It is a relationship in which little is said and less done, but at the same time it is so powerful that Anton will never be able to rid himself of it. The image of Ina Damman is going to pursue him throughout his life, every new girl he meets is measured against the memories that he retains of Ina, and although she is absent from the later books, they too are dominated by the indelible impression she has made on Anton. In De Rimpels van Esther Ornstein (The Wrinkles of Esther Ornstein, 1959), the seventh volume of the series, Vestdijk says of Anton: ‘He was not afraid of Nel Blanken, but of Ina Damman he was. Very much so; if one should cut him up, dissect his heart, burn what was left, dissolve the ashes, vaporize the solution, then the residue would be fear of Ina Damman, - or love - and that was the quintessence of Anton Wachter’. Any writer can make a statement of this kind, but Vestdijk is one of the few who can make it ring true. After reading Terug Tot Ina Damman one is convinced that this was Anton's one and only great love, that it was an experience never to be repeated during his lifetime and certainly never to be surpassed. Vestdijk achieves this effect
firstly by taking the ‘affair’ as seriously as it is taken by children of that age. Then, with an extraordinary memory for mood and atmosphere he succeeds in giving it complete verisimilitude. Furthermore, he places the relationship absolutely central in the book. Everything Anton does or thinks is related to it and every detail has a function in the building up of the situation. The other characters exist only in so far as they are connected with Anton. Nol Gregoor in his book on the autobiographical background of the Anton Wachter novels, remarks that we have no idea of what the other characters do, say or think when Anton is not there to see or hear them. He also makes the observation, and it is a very true one, that when on one occasion we listen in to a conversation between Ina and a friend of hers without Anton being present, we register this as a flaw in the presentation: ‘as if’, Gregoor says, ‘a member of a choir suddenly begins to sing a solo’.
Although the Anton Wachter novels are Vestdijk's most strictly autobiographical novels, they are all written from the same objective point of view that is so characteristic of Vestdijk's work, whether it is poetry, criticism or a novel. Anton is seen as through a telelens: the details are sharp, but the distance is long enough to prevent the author from becoming emotionally involved with his subject. The need of distance is an essential trait in Vestdijk, so essential and personal that one also finds it as a trait in Anton. A good example of this is to be found in Sint Sebastiaan (St. Sebastian), the first volume of the Anton Wachter novels. Anton is going to play with a little girl of whom he has dreamt for a long time. The afternoon is a failure, however, ‘because she was much too close’. Love can only exist at a distance, nearness destroys the illusion. This theme of the distant unattainable woman occurs in a great many of Vestdijk's novels, from the early Anton Wachter novels to the novels written in the last decade. In the last novel of the series, De Laatste kans (The Last Chance, I960), it seemed for a moment that Vestdijk was going to objectify his own writing: Anton Wachter who has almost finished his medical course, decides to write a book
about his own life, and even quotes by anticipation the opening sentence of Sint Sebastiaan. Vestdijk must have thought better of it, though, for no further sequels have appeared. Yet a few books earlier, in Het Glinsterend Pantser (1956) he had done something similar by introducing one of the main characters as S. who lives in D. - Vestdijk lived in Doorn for many years - and who is a writer. This novel, with its two sequels Open Boek (Open Book, 1957) and De Arme Heinrich (Poor Heinrich, 1958), marks the culminating point of Vestdijk's post-war production. Together these three books describe the life of Victor Slingeland, a conductor, who because of a skin disease is constantly frustrated in his relations with others, especially women. Through his friendship with S., it gradually becomes clear that it is his art as much as his skin that creates a distance between him and the others. The initials of Victor Slingeland and S. almost inevitably force the reader to an identification of the musician and the writer with Simon Vestdijk, but Vestdijk does not take the last step and keeps the reader guessing as to the autobiographical basis of the books. These three novels, now known under the collective title of Symphonie van Victor Slingeland (Victor Slingeland Symphony) can be regarded as the synthesis of Vestdijk's main themes and motives. As he did in so many other novels, Vestdijk continually probes for the mystery surrounding the life of Slingeland. Why does he sometimes act in such a strange way? Why his sudden, almost hysterical outbursts? Why his apparent cruelty to women? When towards the end of the first volume the disease is revealed, the reader still feels that he has been given only part of the truth. There is rarely one single key to Vestdijk's mysteries, and the following two books show Slingeland to be even more complex than one had been led to believe in the first volume. The theme of the unattainable woman also plays an important part, as do two other favourite themes of Vestdijk: the isolation of the artist, and friendship. The Slingeland novels again show that Vestdijk is at his best when he combines intense personal involvement with cool observation. In the novels that
followed he seems less directly involved in the situations and the characters he is exploring. Yet even if these books do not show the same inner necessity, and suffer from a certain gratuitousness, Vestdijk must still be regarded as the greatest craftsman of the modern Dutch novel.
The continuity of Dutch literature was interrupted by the war years. Ter Braak, Du Perron and Marsman died in 1940, while Slauerhoff had died four years earlier. Consequently, when the war was over, two of the most prominent poets and two of the most influential critics had gone. During the German occupation from 1940 until 1945, the Nazis attempted to take control of literature and to steer it on a national-socialist course by setting up in 1942 a ‘Kultuurkamer’ (Chamber of Culture) of which all writers who wanted to publish were required to be members. The result was that nothing of importance was published between 1942 and 1946. When freedom of publication was restored, it became clear that the generation of post-war novelists distinguished itself in several respects from the pre-war generation. The pre-war writers, especially those who were connected with the Forum group, were basically moralists. Their moralism did not always correspond with the norms prescribed by the society in which they lived, but they were concerned with these norms: they accepted or rejected them, they formulated new ones or redefined the old, but in all their work they were constantly preoccupied with their relation to society. They may have appeared at the time to be pessimistic or destructive - in the thirties Ter Braak and Du Perron were not infrequently decried as negativists and immoralists - yet their so-called negative qualities were effectively contradicted by their impassioned defence of the values they cared for. The postwar writers are different. Their starting-point is a realization that life is hopeless and absurd. Moralizing to them has become pointless. They are not interested in psychological analysis but only in representation.
The first post-war writer to demonstrate this was Gerard Kornelis van het Reve, (born in 1923), who in 1947 publish-
ed his novel De Avonden (The Evenings). The book caused a great stir when it was first published because of the frankness with which it depicted the post-war gloom and the despairing attitude to life of the main character. It is a novel entirely without plot. In ten chapters it describes ten evenings in the life of Frits van Egters, a young man who vaguely works in an office but who regards only his evenings as ‘life’. Yet life in the evenings is hardly less disconsolate than life at the office. He visits his friends, tries to make conversation by telling sick jokes and gruesome newspaper stories, or he stays at home and is irritated by his parents. He has no real contact with anyone, he takes no interest in anything, but drifts along aimlessly from day to day in a mood of dissatisfaction and frustration. The dreariness of the subject matter recalls the work of the nineteenth-century naturalists of whom Van het Reve may be regarded as a descendant. Yet there is an important difference between him and the naturalists, and that is the directness of his presentation, the lack of elaboration on the development of his character. A naturalist like Emants devoted quite a few pages of Een Nagelaten Bekentenis to the youth of Willem Termeer, to the hereditary factors that were responsible for his personality, and to the circumstances under which he grew up. There is nothing of the kind in De Avonden. Van het Reve offers no explanations, no comments, no psychological key. He presents Frits van Egters in what he does and what he says, and in the reactions to him of other people. The only information we are given about his ‘past’ is that he did not finish high school; for the rest, Frits van Egters is. Another quality which sets Van het Reve apart from the naturalist writers is his sense of humour. De Avonden is a harrowing book, but at times it is terribly funny. Frits van Egters marks the distance that separates him from those around him by using an oddly high-flown style of speaking which also serves as a cover for his own vulnerabilities. The solemnity of his speech provides a wry, ironical, and often very humorous contrast to the ordinariness of his surroundings and the sober functionalism of Van het Reve's de-
scriptive style. After a masterly autobiographical novella Werther Nieland (1949), and two volumes of stories, Tien Vrolijke Verhalen (Ten Cheerful Stories, 1961) and Vier Wintervertellingen (Four Winter Tales, first published in English as The Acrobat and Other Stories in 1956), Van het Reve concentrated on a curious form of his own invention, an intermediate form between story and letter. He has published two such volumes, Op Weg naar het Einde (On the Way to the End, 1963) and Nader tot U (Nearer to Thee, 1966), brilliantly written and highly entertaining literature, undoubtedly, but having much less to say than De Avonden or Werther Nieland.
Then in 1972 Van het Reve changed course again with the publication of De Taal der Liefde (The Language of Love), a book that signalled his return to the novel, though it still combined straight fiction with letter-writing. The book consists of three parts: the first and third sections present the main novel in which a narrator describes his homosexual experiences, often with sadistic overtones, while the central part is made up of a large number of letters addressed to a friend, a contemporary Dutch writer. The function of these letters is to provide a commentary on the novel proper, to explain how it came into being and to throw light on the circumstances under which it was written. The book was a phenomenal success, partly because of its form, its new and effective blending of fact and fiction and its stylistic brilliance, partly also because of its unusually frank treatment of homosexual love. Its success must have spurred on Van het Reve to give more of the same, for within three years he wrote another four novels in the same vein, all dealing with homosexuality and sadism and with what he calls ‘Revism’: the keenest pleasure is derived vicariously from someone else's enjoyment. Of these four - Lieve Jongens (Dear Boys, 1973), Het Lieve Leven (Sweet Life, 1974), Ik Had Hem Lief (I Loved Him, 1975) and Een Circusjongen (A Circus Boy, 1975) - the first is the best, perhaps even better than De Taal der Liefde, whereas the others do little more than repeat what had been said in the
earlier books. Lieve Jongens stands out because of its firm structure and its skilful way of preserving a precarious balance between reality and the fairy-tale elements which Van het Reve - his name now simplified to Gerard Reve - introduced in his later novels. The narrator of Lieve Jongens is a latterday male Scheherezade who by telling a tensely drawn-out story tries to arous his friend's sexual emotions because of his own desperate fear of loneliness and lack of love, which in various guises have always been Van het Reve's main themes. Lieve Jongens is one of Van het Reve's most melancholy books and has not been equalled by its successors.
Two years after De Avonden , Willem Frederik Hermans (born in 1921) published a novel De Tranen der Acacia's (The Tears of the Acacias) which met with the same mixture of horror and enthusiasm as De Avonden. Needless to say, the horror subsided and before long Hermans was rightly recognized as the most important post-war novelist. The outlook on life of Arthur Muttah, the main character of De Tranen der Acacia's, is strikingly similar to that of Frits van Egters. Muttah is just as lost and just as isolated. ‘Why doesn't anybody want to have anything to do with me?’ he wonders, though without the slightest trace of self-pity. The book is set in Amsterdam during the last months of the war, and Muttah is so much an outsider that he is never sure which side his best friends are on: are they working for the Resistance or for the Germans? Yet although the mentality of Muttah and Egters is very similar, there are basic differences between the two books. In the first place Hermans's novel is much more dynamic than Van het Reve's. In De Avonden there is no development, no causal progression of events. All episodes are more or less independent and the chapters could be shuffled around considerably without upsetting the structure of the book. De Tranen der Acacia's, on the contrary, is full of intrigues and complications that are dependent on one another. The same difference can be seen in the representation of the characters. Whereas Frits van Egters remains what he is throughout the book, Muttah undergoes changes and is much
closer to total defeat at the end of the novel than at the beginning. Another difference between the two novels is to be found in the information which the authors give about their main characters. Van het Reve gives hardly any, whereas Hermans provides several clues: Muttah is an illegitimate child who has never known his mother, is neglected by his father, is brought up by a malicious grandmother etc. Hermans, in other words, is closer to the traditional novel than Van het Reve. He not only gave Muttah more background than Van het Reve gave to Egters, but also more depth. The only positive ambition Frits van Egters had was not to waste the present day as completely as he had done the previous one. Muttah tries hard to establish a certain order in the chaos of his existence, to find a solution to the absurdity. He thinks that the solution may lie in Brussels where his father lives: reunion with his father may give meaning to his life. His urge to go to Brussels and to find shelter in his father's house is not just an incident in the book, but a characteristic theme in the work of Hermans. He often uses a house as a symbol of meaningfulness, as something that might neutralize the chaos. Yet Hermans's houses never provide shelter for very long; they are either pulled down, blown up or being rebuilt, and they always betray those that seek shelter in them. The stories Het Behouden Huis (The House of Refuge) and Paranoia , two of the best stories in modern Dutch and both published in Hermans's collection of stories Paranoia (1953), illustrate this clearly. In the work of Hermans chaos always wins, there is never a lasting solution to the absurdity of life.
Hermans once declared in an interview that he belonged to the category of authors who always write the same book. It is certainly true that his novels and stories often focus on the absurdity of life as their central theme. In 1958 he elaborated this theme in a long and very successful novel, De Donkere Kamer van Damocles (The Dark Room of Damocles). Set in war time again, it deals with a rather insignificant man, Henri Osewoudt, who becomes involved in Resistance work through a mysterious figure named Dorbeck, a man who is Ose-
woudt's very image, only more virile. Osewoudt is arrested and beaten up by the Germans, he is freed by Resistance workers, and arrested again. He manages to escape and to make his way to the liberated southern provinces where he is immediately arrested by the Dutch who regard him as one of the most dangerous German agents. The only man able to vouch for him would be Dorbeck, but Dorbeck is nowhere to be found. Osewoudt pins his hopes on a roll of film which should contain photographs of Dorbeck, but when the film is developed, it only shows Germans. In a daze Osewoudt walks out of the prison camp and is shot dead by the guards. Reality and hallucination are interwoven in this novel in a way that recalls Kafka. Hermans himself made light of the connection with Kafka and instead pointed out a resemblance between Osewoudt and Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas. The plot of the novel was suggested by the so-called ‘Englandspiel’, a series of espionage and counter-espionage events during the war in which it was also difficult to determine the dividing line between hallucination and reality. All Osewoudt's actions seem perfectly meaningful to himself, but in a larger context they prove to be utterly meaningless. Everything he does is given a different interpretation by the people he comes in contact with - the Germans, the Dutch, the English - until in the end he cannot extricate himself. Compared to Arthur Muttah, Osewoudt makes a more forceful effort to give meaning to his life: ‘He was going to take hold of everything that might still happen with this passion, as if life were an enormous woman whose sweaty smell caused nothing but an invincible ecstasy in a really virile man. Not just once, but always, without taking rest. Never sleep again’. These last three words, Nooit Meer Slapen , became the title of a new novel, published in 1966 and dealing with an even more determined character than Osewoudt. In this novel, Hermans - who until 1973 was a Reader in Physical Geography in the University of Groningen - describes a geologist on an expedition to Finmarken where he hopes to find evidence for a hypothesis that certain craters were caused by meteorites. But in the world of Hermans the impor-
tant things can never be found: Osewoudt cannot find Dorbeck, Muttah cannot find shelter in his father's house, and the geologist Alfred Issendorf does not succeed in finding the proof he is looking for. Having come to the end of the search, there is nothing but chaos. ‘Mankind thinks in terms of an order which does not really exist, and is blind to the original chaos. There is only one real word: chaos’. Hermans wrote this in 1953 in the Preambule (Preamble) to Paranoia , and he has consistently made this notion the focal point of his work. No other writer in the Netherlands or Belgium has given expression to his view of life with so much persistence, intelligence and skill as Hermans has. There is no doubt that on the basis of these books he is the major novelist of the post-war years.
Hermans and Van het Reve have sometimes been likened to the ‘angry young men’ of the post-war English novel, but it is a comparison that is quite false. No-one could deny that they were young and angry when they wrote their first books, but that is about the only similarity between their work and that of, say, Kingsley Amis or John Wain. Hermans and Van het Reve present themselves and their views on society in a much more direct manner than Amis and Wain do, and never hide behind the mask of a comic hero. The picaresque element is absent from their work, as are the gratuitous happy endings. Though they do not lack humour, it is not of the whimsical kind of the English writers, but sardonic, grim and often black. Their anger is considerable, expecially Hermans's, and especially in his novel Ik Heb Altijd Gelijk (I Am Always Right, 1951), and in his collection of polemic criticism Mandarijnen op Zwavelzuur (Mandarins in Sulphuric Acid, 1964). In the equally corrosive Boze Brieven van Bijkaart (Bijkaart's Angry Letters, 1977) Hermans made scathing attacks on a large assortment of writers, politicians and academics. His polemics recall those of Multatuli and Du Perron: they display the same virtuosity and the same doggedness in the pursuit of his victims.
The polemical element also entered his novels, first De God Denkbaar Denkbaar de God (The God Denkbaar
Denkbaar the God, 1956), a hallucinatory surrealist book, and later its sequel Het Evangelie van O. Dapper Dapper (The Gospel according to O. Dapper Dapper, 1973). In these novels the polemics are incidental and fairly light-hearted; they poke fun at their targets without trying to demolish them. But in his latest two novels, Herinneringen van een Engelbewaarder (Memoirs of a Guardian Angel, 1971) and Onder Professoren (Among Professors, 1975), the approach is quite different, especially when compared with that of the novels he wrote in the forties, fifties and sixties. In his early books Hermans had portrayed life as an absurdity and his central characters as victims: Arthur Muttah, Henri Osewoudt and Alfred Issendorf put up a fight against the chaos in which they found themselves, but however hard they tried to win, ended as losers. Hermans did not laugh at them or attack them - if anything, he showed compassion for their plight. All these characters gained the reader's sympathy. In the two last-mentioned novels, however, it is difficult to feel such sympathy for any of the protagonists: they are scheming, self-righteous, dishonest, mediocre, pompous, stuffy or phoney. The tragic qualities of the earlier novels has been reduced to irony. The geologist Alfred Issendorf lost his compass, broke his pencils, searched for elusive aerial photographs which turned out to be useless when they were eventually located, but emerged from the debâcle with the dignity of despair, accepting, as he said, that life has to be lived ‘blind’, without landmarks. There are echoes of this in the latest novels, but they are no more than echoes. In Herinneringen van een Engelbewaarder the pompous publisher ceremoniously closes the gates of his firm: ‘Until Hitler has been hanged from the highest tree, Erik Losekaat will not publish another book. Damn, the lock doesn't work’. The irony of the situation makes Losekaat into a figure of fun, but it does not give him the stature of a tragic hero. There is more humour in these books, but their dramatic impact is weaker.
A third post-war writer, Harry Mulisch (born in 1927),
started off more good-humouredly than Hermans and Van het Reve. His first novel, Archibald Strohalm (1952), playfully and rather baroquely describes an ineffectual artist in his struggle with his art and with the world around him. The book contains a good deal of social criticism, but at the same time it shows a much more optimistic view of life than the novels of Van het Reve and Hermans do. After two more novels, De Diamant The Diamond, 1954) and Het Zwarte Licht (the Black Light, 1956), and some volumes of short stories, Mulisch published Het Stenen Bruidsbed (The Stone Bridal Bed, 1959) which so far is his most ambitious novel. It is the story of an American dentist, Norman Corinth, who attends a congress in Desden, the city that he bombed when he was a pilot during the war. He has a brief love-affair with a German girl, Hella, who has lived through the bombing and now, as a member of the organizing committee of the congress, shows Corinth around the town. Their relationship is doomed from the beginning, love and friendship are killed by the memories of the war. Corinth tries to find a meaning in the bombing of the town, but he cannot find any. He tries to regard it as part of history - the meaningful past -, but it remains what Mulisch calls ‘anti-history’, a meaningless episode in the past that has no connection with the present. The optimism of Hella, who is dedicated to rebuilding the city and reforming society, is pointless to Corinth, but Mulisch gives as much weight to her belief in the future as he does to Corinth's feeling of futility.
In later years Mulisch gave an account of his childhood in Voer voor Psychologen (Fodder for Psychologists, 1961), wrote a reportage of the Eichmann trial in De Zaak 40/61 (The Affair 40/61, 1962), gave an analysis of the Dutch Provo Movement and the disturbances in Amsterdam during 1965 and 1966 in Bericht aan de Rattenkoning (Report to the King Rat, 1966), collected a number of autobiographical, political and satirical pieces in Wenken voor de Jongste Dag (Hints for Doomsday, 1967) and gave his sympathetic view of the Cuban revolution in Het Woord bij de Daad (The Word to the Deed, 1968). Having begun as a good-natured and playful
critic of society, Mulisch became much angrier in these later books and developed into one of the most vocal opponents of the Establishment.
The sixties were lean years for Mulisch as a novelist and it was not until 1970 when his next novel, De Verteller (The Narrator), was published. It was a novel with a vengeance, and it soon became known as one of the most cryptic ever written in Dutch. Basically it is the story of a man who at the age of forty-three looks back at his youth, but the narrative is constantly interrupted by seemingly unconnected fragments of text, such as a long cut-up letter, parodies of a Dutch children's book, of Karl May, Ian Fleming and science fiction, while it is complicated further by frequent name-changes and time-shifts, not to mention a surfeit of mysterious allusions, puns and other word-games. Confusion among readers and critics was profound and Mulisch felt compelled to write an explanatory book, De Verteller Verteld (The Narrator Explained, 1971), in which he put his cards on the table, disclosed his sources and elaborated on what he had been trying to achieve. In the same year he stated in an interview: ‘If you ask me why the book has this fragmented form, then the answer is because the world is fragmented. De Verteller reflects this. The chronological form of (Hermans's) De Engelbewaarder is not acceptable to me: in my own life I see no evidence of this either’.
Yet Mulisch did not continue in this manner: the structure of his next novel, Twee Vrouwen (Two Women, 1975), was so orderly and clear-cut that it provided a striking contrast with that of the previous novel. It is one of the few fictional treatments in Dutch of a lesbian relationship. Mulisch presents it as a tender love story which at first seems to hold great promise for the partners until it founders on the desire of the older woman to have a child, primarily in order to become independent of her mother: ‘When you have always felt a daughter, there is only one way of freeing yourself of your mother, and that is by becoming one yourself’. This is a variation on the oedipal theme of mother, son and father
which recurs throughout the work of Mulisch, from his early books to the title story of Oude Lucht (Old Air), published in 1977.
Though much of the work of Jan Wolkers, born in 1925, is concerned with opposing the dominant father, it lacks the oedipal overtones which are present in Mulisch. Wolkers's opposition was mainly directed at his Calvinist upbringing, at the repression of sexuality, and in general at the established values of the older generation. One finds this fiercely expressed in his first stories, Serpentina's Petticoat (1960), in his first novel, Kort Amerikaans (Crew Cut, 1961), which also reflects his training as a sculptor, in a further volume of short stories, Gesponnen Suiker (Candy Floss, 1963), and at its best in Terug naar Oegstgeest (Oegstgeest Revisited, 1965), in which a man of forty revisits his parental home. The book is written as a search for the self: the narrator is uneasy about his blurred sense of indentity and tries to give it sharper definition by confronting the memories of his youth with his present-day appreciation of the situation at home. The tension of the book, and the conviction it carries, are in the first place due to its composition, which in a very skilful way alternates chapters on the past with those on the present, but also to a spare style which avoids the shock-tactics of the earlier books and the boisterous tone of the later ones. Four years after this Wolkers scored a spectacular popular success with Turks Fruit (Turkish Delight, 1969), a full-blooded account of a tragic love story, the writing of which was marred by exhibitionism and sentimentality. In his later novels, De Walgvogel (The Dodo, 1974) and De Kus (The Kiss, 1977), Wolkers went further along the road of melodrama and gave free rein to his ever-present inclination to overstate and overwrite.
The first important post-war novelist to emerge on the Belgian side was Louis Paul Boon who, born in 1912, is considerably older than the Van het Reve-Hermans-Mulisch generation. He published his first books during the war - De Voorstad Groeit (The Suburb Grows, 1943) and Abel Gholearts (1944) -, but his three main works were published in
the fifties: De Kapellekensbaan (Little Chapel Road, 1953), its sequel Zomer te Ter-Muren (Summer at Ter-Muren, 1956), and Wapenbroeders (Brothers in Arms, 1955). Together these three books constitute the most successful attempt in the Low Countries to find a new form for the novel. In the first two novels, Boon experimented with a simultaneous representation of various layers of time. The main story, that of Ondine, Oscar and Valeer, runs from the end of the nineteenth century to the outbreak of the Second World War, and is constantly evaluated and commented upon from the situation of the time of writing, while a continuous counterpoint is provided by the medieval tale of Reynard the Fox. At the same time, Boon filled out the story of Ondine with a large slice of the history of socialism in Flanders. Both novels are teeming with characters and chock-full of events. Boon is not a cool observer, but a deeply involved commentator who exposes the evils of society without pulling his punches. He can be bitter and angry and cynical, but also compassionate, gentle and enthusiastic. At heart he is an idealist, ‘searching’, as he says at the beginning of De Kapellekensbaan ‘for the values that really count’. In Wapenbroeders he developed the counterpoint story of Reynard the Fox into a novel in its own right, mixing past and present, deliberately obscuring the boundaries between the world of the animals and the world of man, and cleverly weaving in his own comments. His next novel, De Bende van Jan de Lichte (The Gang of Jan de Lichte, 1957), was presented in a more orthodox and objective form. In a way it is a historical novel, centering on a Flemish robber-chief who in the middle of the eighteenth century tried to organize an uprising of paupers. In the course of the novel, the emphasis shifts slightly away from the exploits of Jan de Lichte and it becomes clear that Boon wanted to do more than just write an entertaining picaresque novel. The book develops into a subtly allegorical representation of revolution in general, from its idealistic beginnings to its corruption by human greed. It is Boon's achievement that he managed to bring this off without depriving the book of its
narrative power. Although Boon rejects most aspects of contemporary society and has consequently been condemned as a nihilist, he is in the last analysis a moralist, an unconventional one, to be sure, yet a man who stands up for what he believes to be right and who attacks what he detests. This was also apparent from his Pieter Daens (1971), one of the few successful examples of what Truman Capote in 1966 termed the ‘non-fiction novel’. It relates the life of a Flemish journalist who at the end of the nineteenth century played an important part in the organised labour movement in Belgium. In this book, Boon's social consciousness, his anger at the inequalities of society and his compassion for the underdog combined in a most felicitous way with his gifts as a storyteller to produce the most impressive non-fiction novel to date. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest narrative talents the Low Countries have yet produced.
Moralism and narration are more conventionally combined in the work of Marnix Gijsen (pseudonym of J.A. Goris). He was born in Antwerp in 1899, which makes him a contemporary of Vestdijk and Walschap, of Marsman and Van Ostaijen, rather than of Boon or Hermans or Mulisch. In 1925 Gijsen published a volume of expressionist poetry, Het Huis (The House), then wrote literary criticism and travel books, and after the war suddenly developed into a prolific novelist. His first novel, Joachim van Babylon (1947), struck a new note in Dutch literature, yet was close enough to tradition to become an immediate success. It is an ironic account of the story of the chaste Susanna, who is accused of adultery by two old men but saved in the nick of time by Daniel. The story is told by her husband Joachim who has suffered a great deal from her beauty, chastity and virtue: ‘For thirty years I was married to Virtue. - It was not funny at all’. The book may not be an autobiographical novel in the strict sense of the word, yet there is no doubt that the opinions and judgments of Joachim frequently coincide with Gijsen's own. Quotations from contemporary writers, thinly disguised under distorted names, provide a link with the present and are as it
were an invitation to look for the author behind the portrait of Joachim. Through Joachim, Gijsen settles accounts with a good many things: beauty, philosophy, religion, and society in general. He does so almost as devastatingly as Boon does, but in a deceptively mild and ironical tone of voice, and without any apparent anger. Gijsen is a moralist, but, like Boon, a moralist without any dogma. In each new novel he gropes for moral certainties, for norms that might take the place of the religious values that he discarded when he broke with Roman Catholicism. In Goed en Kwaad (Good and Evil, 1950) he went furthest in his rejection of the traditional moral code: the main character murders his friend and justifies the act to himself as a necessary act of self-liberation. The book is set in New York where Gijsen lived for many years as Director of the Belgian Government Information Center. It was the first of a series of novels which are set in America and which are perhaps his best work. The most entertaining one of the series is De Vleespotten van Egypte (The Flesh Pots of Egypt, 1952). Here, too, the main character is a Flemish immigrant whose view of America is nostalgically coloured by his memories of Europe. He is an emigrant of the type that is ‘very happy aber nicht glücklich’, until he comes to terms with the country through his marriage to an American girl. Whereas Gijsen's American novels often deal with the ambivalent feelings of the European towards the New World, his Flemish novels often centre on childhood experiences, as in Telemachus in het Dorp (Telemachus in the Village, 1948). Basically there is no difference between the two categories of novels: they are all concerned with the search for essential moral values and at the same time show the hand of a master narrator.
Apart from Louis Paul Boon, it was Hugo Claus who steered the post-war Flemish novel in a new direction. Born in Bruges in 1929 he is much younger than Boon, and is closest in age, though not in literary approach, to Harry Mulisch. His first novel, De Metsiers (1950), was a derivative work with Faulkner written all over it, from the choice of characters to
the mode of narration, each character in turn telling his side of the story. Claus was not yet twenty when he wrote this book and he soon shook off Faulkner's influence. In later novels such as De Hondsdagen (The Dog Days, 1952), De Koele Minnaar (The Cool Lover, 1956), De Verwondering (Wonderment, 1962) and Omtrent Deedee (About Deedee, 1963), he established himself, in fact, as one of the most original novelists in the Low Countries. His novels are as far removed from the traditional psychological novel as Van het Reve's De Avonden or Boon's De Kapellekensbaan . Yet Claus does not dispense with plot as Van het Reve and Boon do. On the contrary, his novels are highly organized structures with subtle, often cryptic, and sometimes over-elaborate ramifications of plot and intrigue. The break with the traditional novel manifests itself primarily in the point of view of the author. In Omtrent Deedee, for instance, he employed a narrative technique similar to that in his first novel by presenting the tensions that are developing at a family reunion as seen through the eyes of the various members of the family. It is a technique that aims at a greater measure of objectivity in the presentation of the situation than the conventional narrative does, and objectivity, dispassionateness and coolness are the best words to characterize the novels of Claus, even if his prose is often more poetic than that of his contemporaries. Claus is in fact, as much a poet as a novelist. Coolness is also one of the main characteristics of his personages, who are often ‘indifferents’, adolescents who look at the world of the adults as something absurd and corrupt. His coolness precludes any expression of the anger to be found in Hermans and Boon. It only shows through in the situations which he presents, in his ‘world’, which is no less chaotic and absurd than that of Hermans. Claus does not argue against the chaos, he only observes, registers, represents: his characters make no attempt to find a solution.
Some of Claus's novels, especially the later ones, show evidence of a tendency, found generally in the modern novel, to give greater emphasis to the exploration of a situation than
to analysis of character. What Claus places before his readers is the complexity of events rather than that of the human mind, somewhat in the manner of the practitioners of the ‘nouveau roman’ in France. In Omtrent Deedee he had already considerably moved in this direction, and in Schaamte (Shame, 1972) and Jessica! (1977) he went further. Schaamte is the more important of the two and describes a Belgian television unit which is filming a passion play on a tropical island. The members of the group are shallow, if not empty-headed people, who have no understanding at all of the surroundings they are working in. Claus deliberately refrained from making them into what E.M. Forster used to call ‘round characters’: he pared down characterization to the bare minimum and made analysis of the situation the focal point of the novel.
Claus is certainly the most versatile writer of his generation. He is not only a poet, a novelist and a short-story writer, but also a painter, a writer of film scenarios - Het Mes (The Knife) and De Vijanden (The Enemies) - and a very successful playwright. It is noteworthy and gratifying that after a long barren period prominent writers in Belgium and the Netherlands are showing a renewed interest in writing for the theatre. True, in the pre-war years Ter Braak had written a play, as had Slauerhoff, Walschap and Bordewijk, while Nijhoff had produced a series of three religious verse dramas, published together under the title of Het Heilige Hout (The Sacred Wood, 1950). But these were exceptions and none of these works can be regarded as a major contribution to the theatre. Neither in Belgium, nor in the Netherlands can one speak of a significant dramatic tradition after the death of Herman Heijermans. The post-war writers made a more persistent effort. Van het Reve has as yet only one play to his name, Commissaris Fennedy , but Hermans has published Drie Drama's (Three Dramas), a screenplay, De Woeste Wandeling (The Wild Hike), and two television plays, King Kong and Periander , while Mulisch has written De Knop (The Button), Tanchelijn and Oidipous, Oidipous . Claus is the most prolific
playwright of this group with an oeuvre of many plays of which Een Bruid in de Morgen (A Bride in the Morning), Suiker (Sugar), De Dans van de Reiger (The Dance of the Heron), Vrijdag (Friday), De Spaanse Hoer (The Spanish Whore) and Pas de deux are the most important.
The novel of situation, pioneered by Claus in Belgium, was also practised in the Netherlands, though with a difference. In some novels by Gerrit Krol (born in 1934), characterization is explicitly presented as problematic. In Het Gemillimeterde Hoofd (The Closely Cropped Head, 1967), he wrote: ‘Time: 19.30. Question: would I be able to describe Marie, her face, in such a way that the reader would recognize her in the street?’, and in De Chauffeur Verveelt Zich (The Driver is Bored, 1973) the narrator comments: ‘Everything about Peggy is exterior, just as in my own case’. This recalls Hugo von Hofmannsthal's thesis: ‘Die Tiefe musz man verstecken. Wo? An die Oberfläche’, a quotation which recurs frequently in modern criticism and which might have been the starting-point of Een Avond in Amsterdam (An Evening in Amsterdam, 1971) by K. Schippers (pseudonym of G. Stigter, born in 1936). The book consists of ten conversations between the author and a friend who works in an Amsterdam office. It is a book that cannot be categorized easily: it is not a novel in the accepted sense, nor a volume of short stories, nor a collection of conventional interviews. It is a particularly obstinate attempt to reconstruct a small segment of reality: the reality of a man who leaves his office at ten to six and then walks home, performing a large number of habitual and automatic actions about which he is remorselessly questioned by his interviewer. It is an extreme, but at the same time very successful example of ‘profundity hidden on the surface’, as the book manages to give as full a portrait of the protagonist as a traditional psychological novel could have hoped to do.
In the work of Gerrit Krol and several others of his generation one also finds evidence of essayistic and documentary elements penetrating the novel. As in other literatures there is a notable shift from fiction to non-fiction for which
the term defictionalization has been used. The process is not entirely new and non-fiction elements have been present in the novel for quite some time. In the middle of the nineteenth century Multatuli blended fact and fiction in Minnebrieven and Ideën as well as in Max Havelaar, and more recently it can be seen in the novels of the neo-realist writers of the thirties such as Jef Last (Zuiderzee, 1934) and M. Revis ( 8.100.000 m 3 Zand , 1931), and during the last decades in the work of Norman Mailer, Michel Butor, John Berger and many others abroad and in the Low Countries.
Krol used non-fiction elements - mainly mathematical formulae and proofs - not in order to defictionalize the novel, but, on the contrary, to place fiction in a new perspective. Others have lost their belief in the possibility or desirability of writing within the traditional forms. Jacques Firmin Vogelaar regards traditional language and literature as an obstacle to social reform and therefore set out to dismantle both in Kaleidiafragmenten (1970), a collage of narrative fragments, quotations, illegible typescript and unconnected sentences, served by an index that is symbolically useless as the pages of the book are not numbered. Not all experimenters attacked the novel in such a hostile manner, even though they may greatly distrust the validity of traditional form. Bert Schierbeek, in De Derde Persoon (The Third Person, 1955), tried to blur the distinction between prose and poetry; Jef Geeraerts used the form of a diary for his fierce outbursts about his years in the Congo (Zaïre) in Gangreen 1 (Gangrene 1, 1968) and Gangreen 2 (1972), and the epistolary form in Tien Brieven Rondom Liefde en Dood (Ten Letters About Love and Death, 1971); Ivo Michiels ‘depersonalized’ the novel and substituted types and ‘masks’ for traditional character in Het Boek Alfa (The Book Alpha, 1963), while Daniel Robberechts went even further in eliminating character in Tegen het Personage (Against Character, 1968) and Aankomen in Avignon (Arriving in Avignon, 1970).
Such radical experimenters are, however, a minority and most writers still stay away from defictionalization, de-
personalization and the destruction of tradtion, witness the work of A. Alberts, J.M.A. Biesheuvel, Willem Brakman, Andreas Burnier, Maarten't Hart, F.B. Hotz, Frans Kellendonk, Mensje van Keulen, Hannes Meinkema, Henk Romijn Meijer, Doeschka Meijsing, A. Koolhaas, Ward Ruyslinck, Jan Siebelink, Jos Vandeloo, to mention only a few very diverse contemporary writers.
In poetry, the war arrested the development of the literature of the thirties as dramatically as it broke the continuity of prose. After the death of Slauerhoff and Marsman, and as a result of the near-silence of Nijhoff and Bloem, Adriaan Roland Holst provided one of the few links with pre-war poetry. Another link was formed by the poets beloning to the group of Criterium (Criterion), a journal that was established in 1940, only a few months before the German invasion. Criterium did not represent any particular view of life or literature as, for instance, De Beweging and Forum did, but served as a meeting place for poets of diverse creeds. With the advent of the ‘Kultuurkamer’ in 1942, Criterium ceased publication. When it was resurrected in 1945, most of its original contributors - Eduard Hoornik, M. Vasalis, Adriaan Morriën, Bertus Aafjes - returned to it, thus providing a certain continuity with what Hoornik called their ‘romantic-rationalist poetry’. In the early years after the war it became clear, though, that the greatest talent of the group and one of the greatest talents of modern Dutch poetry in general, was Gerrit Achterberg.
Few poets have devoted themselves so exclusively to poetry as Achterberg did. He never wrote any prose, no novels, stories or criticism, he did not belong to any movement and never took part in the politics of literature. Born in 1905, he published his first volume, Afvaart (Departure) in 1931, and from that date until his death in 1962, he gave all his creative energy to one of the most extraordinary experiments in poetry: the creation of a world in which the death of the beloved would be negated. In poem upon poem and volume upon volume he expressed his hopes and fears, his belief that his po-
etry might bring her back to him, and also his disbelief and his disappointment in the power of ‘the word’. In his second volume, Eiland der Ziel (Island of the Soul, 1939), the tone is positive and optimistic, and a great number of poems give evidence of his conviction that the power of his poetry will make a reunion possible. In the next volume, Dead End (1940), the optimism breaks, and gives way to a feeling of inadequacy. In the course of Achterberg's poetry, collected in four volumes under the general title of Cryptogamen (Cryptogamia, 1946-1961), the notion of ‘the beloved’ gradually expanded, and the ‘you’ and ‘thou’ to whom the poems were addressed with such great frequency, were no longer related only to the beloved who had died, but also to love, to death or to God, or even to the poem itself. Achterberg's poetry, in fact, is addressed to a complex notion of which the beloved, love, death, God, poetry, Beauty and the Absolute are all aspects. Sometimes it is a romantically tinted, absolute, unattainable ideal, at other times it takes on an aspect of mysticism through the poet's aspiration to identify himself with it. Only a great poet can pursue the one theme for thirty years and throughout twenty-five volumes without becoming a bore, and Achterberg must be counted among the great. In creating his private world he called upon all natural - and according to some: unnatural - resources of the language. His attempt to define the complexity of ‘the beloved’ made heavy demands upon the language and led to unusual syntactical constructions and many neologisms, some of which do not even fit into the normal categories of parts of speech, such as ‘gingend’, a present participle derived from a past tense. Equally heavy demands were made upon imagery, and one field after another was systematically explored in the search for images with which to approach ‘the beloved’. In the first volume the imagery was chiefly taken from nature, but after that various fields of science and scholarship were mined to provide new images: mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, technology, photography, archaeology, philology, philosophy, religion, economics, and the list is not complete. Some critics
have protested against Achterberg's use of scientific terms and have condemned them as non-poetic, much in the same way as some nineteenth-century critics complained of the non-poetic imagery of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley. It would be more to the point to state that Achterberg has proved once and for all that there is no such thing as a non-poetic image. If one of the tasks of the poet is ‘to hold the language to ransom’, as Adriaan Roland Holst said, then Achterberg certainly exacted the highest price. Though his poetry is not entirely isolated from the pre-war tradition - one can point to influences from Leopold, Roland Holst and Marsman - it was new enough to be regarded as the beginning of a new period, especially in its use of imagery and in its emphasis on the act and function of poetry. In the early fifties when a number of young poets grouped themselves under the banner of Experimentalism and turned against the poetry of their predecessors, they singled out Achterberg as the only one of the previous generation whose work had opened up new perspectives.
In between Achterberg and the Experimentalists, by age and by work, stands Leo Vroman, born in 1915. In the heat of the Experimentalist revolution he seems at first to have been rather overlooked. In Simon Vinkenoog's anthology Atonaal (Atonal), which appeared in 1951 and may be regarded as the first manifestation of the Experimentalists as a group, Vroman's name was absent, whereas Gerrit Achterberg, Paul van Ostaijen, Pierre Kemp and Herman Gorter were all given a mention as poets who had left the beaten track. Yet Vroman is as experimental as the best of them and one of the most original phenomena in modern poetry. What distinguishes him immediately from all his contemporaries is the curiously personal tone of his work: he uses ‘I’ as frequently as Achterberg uses ‘you’. He creates a very intimate relationship between himself and the reader, whom he invites into his private life, and tells about his wife Tineke and his two daughters, about what he thinks of America where he works as a biologist, and what of the Netherlands which he left at the
outbreak of the war. Vroman often gives the impression of stripping himself bare in front of his readers, but he never gives away the last secret and does not reveal to what extent the ‘I’ of the poem is identical with the Leo Vroman who wrote it.
There are several sides to Vroman's poetry. It can be cheerful, humorous and funny, but also macabre, cynical or full of fear. Vroman appears to keep open house in his poetry, radiating sweetness and light, showering the reader with love and compassion, sometimes to the point of sentimentality. Yet on other occasions he will slam the door in your face and look at you with the eyes of a very unsentimental biologist who sees man as a pathetic being, ineffectual and oddly put together. Linguistically, Vroman is the most inventive of the post-war poets, at times devising his own syntax and coining neologisms that are even more difficult to decode than Achterberg's. Yet the basis of his poetry is, like Achterberg's, rational, and that is what sets him apart from the Experimentalists proper who began to publish in the early fifties.
The poetry of the Experimentalists is characterized in the first place by the dominant place taken by imagery. What the poets of this group had in common was impatience with the poetry of the thirties and forties, especially the rational poetry of Forum and after. Against the poetry of reason they placed a poetry of spontaneity and intuition, a poetry that would circumvent logic and reason with the force of imagery. Their poetry does not argue or explain, it does not narrate or describe, but it progresses by leaps and bounds from image to image. A poem, one of their spokesmen has said, should be a gathering of images. The Experimentalists were no longer interested in the ‘confessional’ poetry of the older generation in which the poet confided to the reader his private opinions, his joys and his miseries. Neither did they want to be thinkers or teachers or moralists. Their aim was to represent ‘the reality of this time’, distorted as little as possible by the interpretation of the poet. They went back to a certain extent to the in-
tuitive writing of the Dadaists, and when they started off they invoked quite a number of names in support of their ideas: Ezra Pound, Hans Arp, Paul Eluard, René Char, Henri Michaux, Antonin Artaud. They had the feeling that Dutch poetry was lagging behind and they wanted to bring it in line with developments abroad. Yet the group preserved a typically Dutch character and in their technical achievements, especially their exploration of the function and the potentialities of imagery, they owed a larger debt to Achterberg and Vroman, and at a further remove to Van Ostaijen and Gezelle, than to any of their foreign godfathers.
When the group made its first appearance, it gave the impression of forming a solid front, just as the poets of the Eighties had done. The newness of their work obscured the individual differences. In the years that have since passed, however, the group proved to be no more homogeneous than most other literary groups. As a group, said one sceptical critic, they were just a number of poets who had given up capital letters, full stops and commas. It subsequently became clear that Lucebert (pseudonym of L.J. Swaanswijk, born in 1924), a painter as well as a poet, was far and away the greatest talent of the group and one of the most versatile poets of the last decade. He can be a cool observer of the world around him, as well as a tender lyricist or a devastating satirist; he can be passionately involved with society or sublimely detached; he can be mocking, or angry, or humorous. In his poems the images flash past or accumulate slowly. More than in any other poet of the Experimentalist group, the images are the essence of his poetry, and have become entirely autonomous. The one calls forth the other, and they are bound together by subtle sound-effects and by the repetition of rhythmical patterns. The tone of his poetry ranges from a shout to a whisper. Much of his poetry, as he has said himself, should be read aloud in order to achieve an effect. His torrents of words sometimes recall Dylan Thomas, but he has also written poems that are as economical as a Japanese haiku. He is a man of extremes, a poet of grand gestures. The demands that
he makes upon the associative faculties of his readers are great, particularly in his early volumes Triangel in de Jungle (Triangle in the Jungle, 1951) and Apocrief (Apocryphal, 1952). In later volumes such as Van de Afgrond en de Luchtmens (About the Abyss and the Air Man, 1953) and Amulet (1957) his diction became simpler and his imagery more transparent. On the whole, the poems became quieter, even more traditional, without, however, losing their satirical bite, their irony and their humour.
After the first united assault on tradition, every one of the Experimentalists - Simon Vinkenoog, Jan Elburg, Jan Hanlo, Hans Andreus, Remco Campert, Bert Schierbeek, Sybren Polet, Gerrit Kouwenaar, Hugo Claus, Paul Snoek - has gone his own way. Some, like Jan Elburg, have remained true to the original ideas; others, like Hans Andreus, have returned to a more traditional form, others again, like Gerrit Kouwenaar, developed a more intellectual poetry.
Besides the imagist and associative poetry of the Experimentalists, the fifties also saw the emergence of a strongly realist movement in poetry, represented in the first instance by the journals Gard-Sivik (Civic Guard) in Belgium and Barbarber in the Netherlands. The poets connected with these journals opted for a poetry that was, in the words of Armando (born in 1929) ‘the result of a personal selection from reality’. They regarded isolating a section of reality as a means of intensifying it and thereby making it into poetry. Armando gave a good illustration of this approach in his volume September in de Trein (September in the Train, 1963) in which he reproduced a number of conversations overheard in a train, without any comment or interpretation. The theory underlying this kind of poetry is that selecting has the same value as making. Poetry, in this view, no longer has anything to do with self-expression, but should only draw attention to the reality around us. In its pure form this poetry of ‘ready-mades’ has a tendency to wear out rather quickly, and therefore the poets soon began to add another dimension to their samples of isolated reality. Armando's cycle September in de
Trein ends with the lines:
- wat slingert dit rijtuig, hè.
It is a very simple dialogue, humorous perhaps because of its very banality, but it assumes an extra dimension of meaning because of its end position in the volume and its built-in exhortation not to look for anything behind it. Poets such as C. Buddingh' (born in 1918) and J. Bernlef (pseudonym of H.J. Marsman, born in 1937) have achieved impressive results with this technique of giving ready-made elements a specific function within the poem.
In their attitude to reality, the poets of Gard-Sivik and Barbarber were rebelling against the imagist bias of the experimentalist poetry of the fifties. In their own work there was a marked return to narration and description, to logic and reason. Barbarber resisted the Expermentalists from its inception in 1958, while Gard-Sivik in 1964 demonstrated its farewell to the Movement of the Fifties by depicting on its cover a traffic sign with the number 50 cancelled by a bold stroke.
The poets of these journals were not the only ones to oppose the Experimentalists, for in 1957 the new periodical Tirade had attracted another group of poets who, without aggressive manifestos, quietly pursued a line of direct and unembellished poetry, not as radically realist as that of Gard-Sivik and Barbarber, more rational and at the same time more lyrical than that of the Experimentalists. The Tirade poets - of whom Jan Emmens (1924-1971), Hanny Michaelis (born in 1922),
Judith Herzberg (born in 1934) and Rutger Kopland (pseudonym of R.H. van den Hoofdakker, born in 1934) are the most prominent - rarely use ready-mades, but they do observe everyday reality closely and avoid all grandiloquence or poetic intoxication. In a sense they can be regarded as heirs to the legacy of Forum , after the journal Libertinage , which had been its trustee since 1948, ceased publication in 1953.
In the sixties the Forum tradition was vigorously opposed by a new journal, Merlyn , which between 1962 and 1966 sought to replace the personalist attitude to criticism by an ergocentric approach in the manner of Paul van Ostaijen, the American New Critics and the Russian Formalists. It scored a considerable success: after four years the editors - Kees Fens, H.U. Jessurun d'Oliveira and J.J. Oversteegen - considered their task as finished and called it a day. One of its regular contributors, the poet H.C. ten Berge, in 1967 established Raster (Grid) which ran until 1973 and then started a new series in 1977. In the first issue Ten Berge (born in 1938) set out his views on the direction poetry ought to take. He turned against all ‘emotional poetry’ and advocated ‘logopoeia’ which he defined as ‘poetry of which the intellect is a permanent and impelling force, and in which it is given a clear-cut task, as in Pound's Cantos’. He did not reject the poetry of the Movement of the Fifties, but suggested that its achievements and the possibilities which it had created were to be underpinned by Pound's credo that the new poetry should be ‘harder and saner’, that it should be ‘as much like granite as it can be’, and that ‘its force will lie in its truth, its interpretative power’.
In his own poetry Ten Berge practised what he preached. He stripped his poetry of all direct personal emotion and gave the intellect pride of place. In the five volumes published to date - Poolsneeuw (Polar Snow, 1964), Swartkrans (1965), Personages (1967), de witte sjamaan (The White Shaman, 1973) and Va-banque (1977) - he borrowed extensively from other cultures and literatures, from the Aztecs and Eskimos, from Japanese Noh plays, legends from North American
Indians and sacred hymns from Central Mexico. These borrowings, in addition to the many allusions to western poetry, are used for their contrastive effect and for their ability to translate personal emotion to a more general level. Needless to say, this technique makes his poetry cryptic, if not hermetic, and the reader needs considerable erudition and a well-developed skill in decoding before he can make his way to the inner sanctum of Ten Berge's poetry.
In the seventies several different approaches to poetry exist side by side. There is the intellectualist stream, there is the personal lyricism of Tirade, there are still echoes of the realism of Barbarber and Gard-Sivik , there is even a neo-neo-romanticism harking back to the nineteenth century. New groups are being formed and new theories are being put forward, and where the present tense asserts itself, History bows out.