Dutch-language literature  

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"Ik ben een God in 't diepst van mijn gedachten"


Canon: Drs. P, Anton Constandse, Hugo Brandt Corstius, Marcellus Emants, Focquenbroch, Gust Gils, Henri Albert Gomperts, Willem Frederik Hermans, Conrad Busken Huet, Gerrit Komrij, Rudy Kousbroek, Delphine Lecompte, Hugo Matthysen, Yves Petry, K. Schippers, Toon Tellegen, Roger van de Velde, Matthijs van Boxsel, Carry van Bruggen, Lodewijk van Deyssel, Paul van Ostaijen, Simon Vestdijk, Nicolaas Jarichides Wieringa, Joost Zwagerman.


"De wereld is een schouwtoneel. Elk speelt zijn rol en krijgt zijn deel" --Joost van den Vondel


"Hebban olla vogala"


"In Holland not less than in England, after the example of Junius, a school of scholars arose, who studied the languages in their historical development and in comparison with each other. Arnold Moonen (1664-1711), William Sewel (1654-1720), Lambert ten Kate (1674-1731) and Balthazar Huydecoper (1695-1778) were the most prominent men of this school."--Holland's Influence on English Language and Literature (1916) by Tiemen de Vries


"But if someone asks me what Emblemata really are? I will reply to him, that they are mute images, and nevertheless speaking: insignificant matters, and none the less of importance: ridiculous things, and nonetheless not without wisdom [...]"--Proteus Ofte Minne-Beelden Verandert In Sinne-Beelden by Jacob Cats, preface

Collection of 21 Dutch translations of 'romans durs' by Georges Simenon, in the Zwarte Beertjes collection, cover designs by Dick Bruna. Photo © JWG
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Collection of 21 Dutch translations of 'romans durs' by Georges Simenon, in the Zwarte Beertjes collection, cover designs by Dick Bruna.
Photo © JWG
Bookshop display of Julio Cortázar books
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Bookshop display of Julio Cortázar books

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Dutch-language literature comprises all writings of literary merit written through the ages in the Dutch language, a language which currently has around 23 million native speakers. In its earliest stages, Dutch-language literature is defined as those pieces of literary merit written in one of the Dutch dialects of the Low Countries. Before the 17th century, there was no unified standard language; the dialects that are considered Dutch evolved from Old Frankish. A separate Afrikaans literature started to emerge during the 19th century, and it shares the same literary roots as contemporary Dutch, as Afrikaans evolved from 17th-century Dutch.

Until the end of the 11th century, Dutch literature, like literature elsewhere in Europe, was almost entirely oral and in the form of poetry. In the 12th and 13th century, writers starting writing chivalric romances and hagiographies for noblemen. From the 13th century, literature became more didactic and developed a proto-national character, as it was written for the bourgeoisie. With the close of the 13th century a change appeared in Dutch literature. The Flemish and Hollandic towns began to prosper and a new sort of literary expression began. Around 1440, literary guilds called rederijkerskamers ("Chambers of Rhetoric") arose which were usually middle-class in tone. Of these chambers, the earliest were almost entirely engaged in preparing mysteries and miracle plays for the people. Anna Bijns (c. 1494–1575) is an important figure who wrote in modern Dutch. The Reformation appeared in Dutch literature in a collection of Psalm translations in 1540 and in a 1566 New Testament translation in Dutch. The best-known of all Dutch writers is the Catholic playwright and poet Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679).

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the Low Countries had gone through major political upheaval. The most prominent writers were Willem Bilderdijk (1756–1831), Hiëronymus van Alphen (1746–1803), and Rhijnvis Feith (1753–1824). Piet Paaltjens (ps. of François Haverschmidt, 1835–1894) is one of the very few readable nineteenth-century poets, representing in Dutch the Romantic vein exemplified by Heine. A new movement called Tachtigers or "Movement of (Eighteen-)Eighty", after the decade in which it arose. One of the most important historical writers of the 20th century was Johan Huizinga, who is known abroad and translated in different languages and included in several great books lists. During the 1920s, a new group of writers who distanced themselves from the ornate style of the Movement of 1880 arose, led by Nescio (J.H.F. Grönloh, 1882–1961). During WW II, influential writers included Anne Frank (whose diary was published posthumously) died in a German concentration camp, as did crime fiction writer, journalist and poet Jan Campert. Writers who had lived through the atrocities of the Second World War reflected in their works on the changed perception of reality. Obviously many looked back on their experiences the way Anne Frank had done in her Diary, this was the case with Het bittere kruid (The bitter herb) of Marga Minco, and Kinderjaren (Childhood) of Jona Oberski. The renewal, which in literary history would be described as "ontluisterend realisme" (shocking realism), is mainly associated with three authors: Gerard Reve, W.F. Hermans and Anna Blaman. Reve and Hermans are often cited together with Harry Mulisch as the "Big Three" of Dutch postwar literature.

Histioriography

From Periods of European Literature: The First Half of the Seventeenth Century (1906) by H. J. C. Grierson:

"Jonckbloet's Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Letterkunde (4th ed., 1889, C. Honigh), an epoch-making work, is still the fullest history of Dutch literature. The arrangement is at times confusing, and much work has been done since. Penon's Nederlandsche Dicht-en-Proza-werken, 1886, forms a companion set of volumes to Jonckbloet's Geschiedenis, and contains carefully edited texts, but not always of the works one would most wish to have. A popular sketch is Jan ten Brink's Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Letterkunde, 1897. A very interesting sketch, from a Catholic point of view, is the late J. A. Alberdingk Thijm's De la littérature Néerlandaise à ses différentes époques, 1854. Of the earlier literature a condensed and learned sketch by Professor Te Winkel is contained in Paul's Grundriss der Deutschen Philologie, 1900. Delightfully written and indispensable works by Professor Kalff are Nederlandsche Letterkunde in de XVI de Eeuw, Brill, n.d. ; Literatuur en Toneel te Amsterdam in de zeventiende eeuw, Haarlem, 1895, — biographical and critical sketches of Hooft, Vondel, Cats, Huyghens, &c. The first volume of a history of Dutch literature in eight volumes by the same writer has appeared, Groningen, 1905. Busken-Huet's brilliant Het Land van Rembrandt and Litterarische Fantasien are well worth reading. The work of many scholars is contained in De Gids, the great literary periodical founded in 1887. Excellently annotated seventeenth -century texts — and the language presents difficulties which require elucidation — have been issued in the Nederlandsche Klassieken, general editor Dr Eelco Verwys, Versluys, Amsterdam, and the Klassiek Letterkundig Pantheon, W. J. Thieme & Co., Zutphen. An interesting and representative though small Anthology is Professor Kalffs Dichters van den Ouden Tijd, Amsterdam, n.d. English works are some essays in Gosse's Studies in the Literature of Northern Europe, Lond., 1879, and the same writer's article in the Encyclopedia Britannica ; Bowring and Van Dyk's Batavian Anthology, Lond., 1824 ; Longfellow's Poets and Poetry of Europe, Philadelphia, 1849 ; an article in the Foreign Quarterly Review, 1829."

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