Georges Eekhoud  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Georges Eekhoud (born May 27, 1854, Antwerp; died May 29 1927, Schaerbeek) was a Belgian novelist of Flemish descent, but writing in French, best-known for his homoerotic novel Escal-Vigor.

Eekhoud was a regionalist best known for his ability to represent scenes from rural and urban daily life. He tended to portray the dark side of human desire and write about social outcasts and the working classes.


Early life and works

A member of a fairly well-off family, he lost his parents as a young boy. When he came into his own he started working for a journal. First as a corrector, later he contributed a serial. In 1877, the generosity of his grandmother permitted young Eekhoud to publish his first two books, Myrtes et Cyprès and Zigzags poétiques, both volumes of poetry. In the beginning of the 1880's Eekhoud took part in several of the modern French-Belgian artist movements, like Les XX (=The Twenty) and La jeune Belgique (=Young Belgium). Kees Doorik, his first novel was published in 1883, about the wild life of a tough young farmhand who committed a murder. The renowned free-thinking publisher Henri Kistemaeckers brought out a second edition three years later. Eekhoud received some guarded praise by famous authors like Edmond de Goncourt and Joris-Karl Huysmans who both sent Eekhoud a personal letter. For his second prose book, Kermesses (= Fairs, 1884), not only Goncourt and Huysmans praised him, but also Émile Zola, about whom Eekhoud had written an essay in 1879.

In 1886 his novel Les milices de Saint-François (= The Soldiers of Saint Francis Xavier) was published. By now Eekhoud's established subject was the rural Campine, a poor farmers' district east of Antwerp. He had a distinct style permeated with enthusiasm for the roguish young farm labourers and their rough-and-tumble lives. His most famous novel, La nouvelle Carthage (= New Carthago) was published in its definitive form in 1893, and many times reprinted. It has also been translated in English, German, Dutch, Russian and Romanian. The rustic Campine was in this book replaced with the brutal life of love and death in the Antwerp dockland metropolis and its dirty industry.


Eekhoud's later years

Later novels and stories, like L'Autre Vue (1904) and Les Libertins d'Anvers (= Antwerp libertines, 1912) also contain notions of homosexuality or sometimes only hints of admiration for masculinity, e.g. Dernières Kermesses (1920). Eekhoud corresponded with Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen and contributed to his sumptuous literary monthly Akademos (1909). Also, he influenced young Jacob Israël de Haan, who authored several poems on themes of his older Belgian colleague, especially La Nouvelle Carthage and Les Libertines d'Anvers. Eekhoud for his part wrote the preface of De Haan's sadomasochistical novel Pathologieën (= Pathologies, 1908).

Eekhoud continued to be a well-respected author until he put on a firmly pacifistic stance in the Great War that ravaged Belgium, after which his star declined. In the twenties his books started to be reprinted again.

Eekhoud left a voluminous diary (1895-1927) of some 5000 pages, that has been bought by the Royal Library of Brussels in 1982. Various Belgian libraries contain extensive collections of correspondence.

Modern interest

Nowadays, especially the homosexual aspect of his works has enjoyed attention. Escal-Vigor has been reprinted in 1982, and Eekhoud's partly homoerotic correspondence with the journalist Sander Pierron was published ten years later. This book, a full-scale biography and a choice of his works were edited by Mirande Lucien.


Eekhoud, Georges: Mon bien aimé petit Sander, suivies de six lettres de Sander Pierron à Georges Eekhoud. Lettres de Georges Eekhoud à Sander Pierron (= My much beloved little Sander). Lille, GKC, 1993. Lucien, Mirande: Eekhoud le rauque (= Eekhoud the hoarse). Villeneuve d'Ascq, Septentrion, 1999.

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