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Eduard Douwes Dekker
BirthplaceAmsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands

Dekker, Eduard Douwes

Dekker, Eduard Douwes (āˈdüärt douˈəs dĕkˈər), pseud. Multatuli (məltätüˈlē), 1820–87, Dutch novelist. His experiences in the Dutch colonial service in Java (1838–57) made him an ardent advocate of reform in colonial administration and were the inspiration of Max Havelaar (1860, tr. 1868, 1927), which satirized the grasping spirit, the religion, morals, and government of the Dutch bourgeoisie. His unsparing criticism had tremendous effect in a Holland that had grown intellectually lethargic.


See D. H. Lawrence's introduction to Siebenhaar's translation of Max Havelaar (1927).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(pseudonym of Edward Douwes Dekker; the pseudonym was taken from the Latin multa tuli, “I have endured much”). Born Mar. 2, 1820, in Amsterdam; died Feb. 19, 1887, in Nieder-Ingelheim, now Ingelheim, Federal Republic of Germany. Dutch writer.

The son of a barge skipper, Multatuli studied commerce. In 1838 he went to the Netherlands East Indies, where he served in the colonial government. In 1856 he became assistent-resident (assistant commissioner) of Lebak, Java, in which capacity he sought to alleviate the oppression of the Indonesians. Encountering the resistance of colonial officials and local feudal lords, he was compelled to resign.

For many years, Multatuli lived in poverty, wandering through cities of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. He began his literary career in the 1840’s. Multatuli gained recognition for his autobiographical novel Max Havelaar (1859, published 1860; Russian translation, 1959), in which he denounced colonialism and spoke out in defense of the oppressed. Autobiographical in content and imbued with public-spirited fervor, the novel resembles a political satire.

In his autobiographical epistolary novel Love Letters (1861; Russian translation, 1911) and the publicistic pamphlet “On Free Labor in the Netherlands East Indies” (1862), Multatuli criticized capitalist society as a whole. He condemned bourgeois morality, government, and religion in A Conversation With Japanese (1862), in Discussions (1869, published 1870) and, especially, in his monumental work Ideas (vols. 1–7, 1862–77). Ideas most fully reveals Multatuli’s views on literature and art, which he considered all-important in the moral education of a people. Multatuli’s drama School of Princes (1872) was written in the spirit of Enlightenment ideals. Multatuli’s world view was influenced by the enlighteners and Utopian socialism; however, the impossibility of realizing democratic ideals in the 19th-century Netherlands led to contradictions in his sociopolitical views.

Multatuli’s prose is characterized by aphorism, a fragmentary style (unified, however, by a single idea), and unadorned, direct language. His critical realism influenced H. Heijermans and H. Gorter. Multatuli’s works played a significant role in the exposure of the colonial system; they influenced European public opinion and helped form the world view of the first Indonesian enlighteners and leaders of the national movement.


Volledige werken [vols.] 1–10. Amsterdam, 1950–60.
Brieven [vols.] 1–10. Amsterdam, 1890–96.
In Russian translation:
Povesti, skazki, legendy. St. Petersburg, 1907.
Prikliucheniia Val’tera Petersena. St. Petersburg, 1908.
Izbr. proizv. Moscow, 1949.


M. G. K. [anon.] Mul’tatuli i ego proizvedeniia. St. Petersburg, 1903.
Oshis, V. V. Mul’tatuli: Biobibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Moscow, 1971.
Oshis, V. V. “Obshchestvenno-politicheskie vzgliady Mul’tatuli.” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1974, no. 3.
De Mare, A. Lijst der geschriften van en over E. D. Dekker. Leiden, 1948. Maatstaf, March, 1970, no. 11.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
It bears mentioning that despite the tone-deaf cultural oppression of the VOC and thereafter the Dutch government in Indonesia, an important anti-colonial novel emerged penned by Eduard Douwes Dekker under the pseudonym "Multatuli." Called Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, the work served as a thinly veiled critical expose of the widespread abuse of power in the Dutch East Indies and a call to action for the European nation.
The horrors of coffee production in West Java were first revealed to an unknowing world beyond colonial insiders by Multatuli, the nom de plume of Eduard Douwes Dekker, a former Dutch colonial officer in the so-called coffee districts, who published a tell-all novel entitled Max Havelaar in 1860.
Curiously--but understandable in the context of a continuing irony--one of the most tragic yet influential pieces of Dutch/Indonesian literature was a novel, Max Havelar, written under the pen-name "Multatuli." The actual author was Eduard Douwes Dekker who in 1856, as a member of the East Indian Civil Service, became Assistant Resident of the Lebak District in western Java.