Dutch and Flemish literature
Dutch and Flemish literature,literary works written in the standard language of the Low Countries since the Middle Ages. It is conventional to use the term Dutch when referring to the language spoken by the people of the modern Netherlands, and Flemish when referring to that spoken by the Belgians who use the same language. This is inaccurate and many scholars would argue that Dutch and Flemish are dialects of a single language.
Flourishing from the 12th cent. onward, the earliest literature of the Low Countries displays a strong French and somewhat weaker German influence in its vocabulary and literary style. Middle Dutch literature shows the same general characteristics as the contemporary vernacular literatures; thus the bourgeois spirit was expressed in the works of Jacob van MaerlantMaerlant, Jacob van
, c.1235–c.1300, Flemish poet, earliest important figure of Dutch literature. He wrote lyric poems and chivalric verse romances after the French as well as long didactic poems, chief of which is Spiegel historiael, an adaptation of the
..... Click the link for more information. and in the Dutch versions of Reynard the Fox. HadewijchHadewijch
, fl. early 13th cent., Dutch mystical poet, a nun. Her works, beautiful lyrics on the love of God and a number of letters in rhyme and visions in prose, are a monument both of early Dutch literature and of Roman Catholic mysticism.
..... Click the link for more information. , John RuysbroeckRuysbroeck, John,
Dutch Jan van Ruusbroec , 1293–1381, Roman Catholic mystic, b. Brabant (now in Belgium and the Netherlands). He was an Augustinian canon. In middle age he retired to a hermitage at Groenendael (near Brussels), where he was prior of a small
..... Click the link for more information. , and Gerard GrooteGroote, Gerard or Geert
, 1340–84, Dutch Roman Catholic reformer. He studied at Paris and elsewhere and because of his learning in theology, philosophy, jurisprudence, and medicine, he was appointed professor at
..... Click the link for more information. spoke the language of mysticismmysticism
[Gr.,=the practice of those who are initiated into the mysteries], the practice of putting oneself into, and remaining in, direct relation with God, the Absolute, or any unifying principle of life. Mysticism is inseparably linked with religion.
..... Click the link for more information. . By the 14th cent., chivalrychivalry
, system of ethical ideals that arose from feudalism and had its highest development in the 12th and 13th cent.
Chivalric ethics originated chiefly in France and Spain and spread rapidly to the rest of the Continent and to England.
..... Click the link for more information. and scholasticismscholasticism
, philosophy and theology of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages. Virtually all medieval philosophers of any significance were theologians, and their philosophy is generally embodied in their theological writings.
..... Click the link for more information. had waned, and by the 15th cent. mysticism was transformed as moral piety. Among the best-known of Dutch medieval dramas are Mary of Nimmegen and the morality play Elckerlijk, closely related to EverymanEveryman,
late-15th-century English morality play. It is the counterpart of the Dutch play Elckerlijk; which of these anonymous plays is the original has been the subject of controversy.
..... Click the link for more information. .
The greatest Dutch figure of the Renaissance, ErasmusErasmus
or Desiderius Erasmus
[Gr. Erasmus, his given name, and Lat., Desiderius=beloved; both are regarded as the equivalent of Dutch Gerard, Erasmus' father's name], 1466?–1536, Dutch humanist, b. Rotterdam.
..... Click the link for more information. , wrote in Latin, but other humanists—Jan van der NootNoot, Jan van der
, b. 1539 or 1540, d. 1595?, Flemish poet. He wrote sonnets, odes, and other pieces in imitation of Petrarch and especially of Ronsard.
..... Click the link for more information. , Dirck CoornhertCoornhert, Dirck Volckertszoon
, 1522–90, Dutch humanist. His translation (1561) of the first 12 books of the Odyssey is considered the first major poetic work of the Dutch Renaissance. Coornhert also translated Cicero, Boccaccio, Seneca, and Boethius.
..... Click the link for more information. , Hendrick SpieghelSpieghel, Hendrick Laurenszoon
, 1549–1612, Dutch poet. In his cycle of spiritual songs Lieden Op't Vader Ons (modern ed. 1957), he was among the first to successfully adapt the iambic rhythms of French Renaissance verse and melody to Dutch usage.
..... Click the link for more information. , and the painter and poet Karel van ManderMander, Karel van
, 1548–1606, Flemish painter and humanist. He wrote plays on biblical themes and translated from the classics. He is known primarily for his biography of painters, Het Schilder-Boeck (1604; tr.
..... Click the link for more information. —used vernacular. Reformation polemics were represented by the Catholic Anna BijnsBijns, Anna
, 1494?–1575?, Flemish poet of Antwerp. Her three volumes (1528, 1548, 1567) of lyric verse place her among the foremost Dutch poets of her age. She excelled in robust satires passionately inveighing against the social evils of the day and deploring the
..... Click the link for more information. , and the Protestant Philip van MarnixMarnix, Philip van
, 1540–98, Flemish patriot, lord of Sainte-Aldegonde. He became a Calvinist in his youth and was the chief author of the Compromise of Breda (1566; see Gueux).
..... Click the link for more information. . With the establishment of the republic and the subsequent commercial prosperity, came the Golden Age of Dutch literature; this is the period of the masters Pieter Corneliszoon HooftHooft, Pieter Corneliszoon
, 1581–1647, Dutch historian, poet, and dramatist. His great work was a history of the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain, Nederlandsche Historien (1628–47).
..... Click the link for more information. and Joost van den VondelVondel, Joost van den
, 1587–1679, Dutch poet and dramatist, b. Cologne. He is generally considered the greatest Dutch writer. During the emergence of the Dutch nation Vondel was the national poet; his occasional verse celebrated the triumphs of the United Provinces in a
..... Click the link for more information. , of the homely verse of Jacob Cats, of the comedies of Gerbrand BrederoBredero, Gerbrand Adriaenszoon
, 1585–1618, Dutch dramatist and poet. He is considered the major Dutch poet of his generation, particularly for his spontaneous love sonnets.
..... Click the link for more information. , and of the works of Constantijn HuygensHuygens, Constantijn
, 1596–1687, Dutch humanist and poet, b. The Hague; father of Christiaan Huygens. He was broadly educated in languages, law, and social protocol to follow a public career.
..... Click the link for more information. .
After the 17th cent. Flemish and Dutch literature declined. Pieter Langendijk and Joseph Addison's imitator Justus van Effen, the novelists Elisabeth Wolff and Agatha Deken, were the chief Dutch writers in the 18th cent. In the 19th cent. Dutch and Flemish literature expanded on European lines, with the novelists Jacob van Lennep, Anna Bosboom-Toussaint, Eduard Dekker, and the Belgian Hendrik Conscience, and the poets Isaäc Da CostaCosta, Isaäc da
, 1798–1860, Dutch poet and historian, b. Amsterdam, of an aristocratic Sephardic Jewish family. Deeply influenced by Bilderdijk, he entered (1822) the Reformed Church, and much of his poetry is fervently Christian.
..... Click the link for more information. , Hendrik TollensTollens, Hendrik Franciscus
, 1780–1856, Dutch poet. Among the leading Dutch romantics, he was popular for his homely and sincere patriotic verse. His principal work (1819) was an account of the Barentz expedition (1596–97), translated into English as
..... Click the link for more information. , Everhardus PotgieterPotgieter, Everhardus Johannes
, 1808–75, Dutch critic, essayist, and poet. He was the first editor (1837–65) of and a major contributor to De Gids, the most influential Dutch literary periodical of its era.
..... Click the link for more information. , and the Belgians Guido GezelleGezelle, Guido
, 1830–99, Flemish poet, b. Bruges, a Roman Catholic priest. A forerunner of the Flemish literary revival, he was the leading poet of the Flemings. In six volumes of lyrics, especially Rijmsnoer
..... Click the link for more information. , Albrecht Rodenbach, Pol de Mont, and Nicolaas BeetsBeets, Nicolaas
, 1814–1903, Dutch author. He translated Byron into Dutch and was fairly well known as a poet when his Camera Obscura (1839), published under the pseudonym Hildebrand, won great popularity.
..... Click the link for more information. .
The 1880s saw a reorientation of Dutch letters under foreign influence, especially under that of French naturalismnaturalism,
in literature, an approach that proceeds from an analysis of reality in terms of natural forces, e.g., heredity, environment, physical drives. The chief literary theorist on naturalism was Émile Zola, who said in his essay Le Roman expérimental
..... Click the link for more information. and the English poets Keats and Shelley. By 1900, impressionistic themes were emerging in poetry. The new forces were seen in novelists and short-story writers, such as Louis CouperusCouperus, Louis Marie Anne
, 1863–1923, Dutch novelist. In his early works he emphasized with graceful irony the determining forces of human history and environment; this fatalism characterizes all his novels.
..... Click the link for more information. , and in the Belgians Stijn StreuvelsStreuvels, Stijn
, pseud. of Frank Lateur
, 1871–1969, Flemish novelist and short-story writer; nephew of Guido Gezelle. Streuvels's works are realistic, moving portrayals of everyday life.
..... Click the link for more information. and Felix TimmermansTimmermans, Felix
, 1886–1947, Flemish novelist. Among his most successful works are Pallieter (1916, tr. 1924), the story of a lusty Fleming of gigantic appetites, and Pieter Brueghel (1928, tr. Droll Peter, 1930), a novel about the elder Pieter Bruegel.
..... Click the link for more information. . Among the better-known poets are Roland Holst, Pieter Boutens, and Herman Gorter in the Netherlands, and Karel van de Woestijne in Belgium. The successful dramatist Herman Heijermans has a significant place in 20th-century Dutch literature.
After the 1940s, the psychological novel came to typify Flemish literature. The physician Simon VestdijkVestdijk, Simon
, 1898–1971, Dutch writer. His nearly 100 books include 38 novels, over 20 volumes of poetry, and works on astrology, religion, and music. One of his best-known works, The Garden Where the Brass Band Played (1950, tr.
..... Click the link for more information. , perhaps the greatest Dutch writer of the 20th cent., wrote psychological novels that revealed the influence of existentialismexistentialism
, any of several philosophic systems, all centered on the individual and his relationship to the universe or to God. Important existentialists of varying and conflicting thought are Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel, and Jean-Paul
..... Click the link for more information. . His contemporary Gerrit Achterberg explored similar themes of life and death in his powerful poems. The diary of Anne FrankFrank, Anne,
1929–45, German diarist, b. Frankfurt as Anneliese Marie Frank. In order to escape Nazi persecution, her family emigrated (1933) to Amsterdam, where her father Otto became a business owner.
..... Click the link for more information. is only the best known of a vast number of works that concern the Dutch experience during World War II. The character of Dutch poetry was altered after the war when Lucebert (Lubertus Swaanswijk), whose work was related to the internationalist CoBrA group, rejected rhyme and meter and introduced surrealist elements into his verse. In fiction, the works of postwar Dutch writers such as Anna Blaman, Alfred Kossman, and Adriaan Van der Veen reveal the influence of both the Nazi occupation and existentialism. Indeed, the existentialist influence is found even in fictional works of the 1960s in which writers such as Willem F. Hermans, Jan Wolkers, and Harry Mulisch express their overpowering sense of absurdity and despair.
See J. A. Russell, Romance and Realism (1959); T. Weevers, Poetry of the Netherlands in Its European Context (1960); R. P. Meijer, Literature of the Low Countries (1978).