J. Slauerhoff  

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

Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, who published as J. Slauerhoff, was a Dutch poet and novelist. He is considered one of the most important Dutch language writers.


Biography and career

Slauerhoff was born fifth in a family of six children and raised in a moderately orthodox-protestant middle class environment in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. He suffered from bouts of asthma, especially during his childhood years; to alleviate his condition, Jan stayed on the island of Vlieland a couple of times during the summer months with relatives of his mother's.

Slauerhoff attended HBS (secondary school) in Harlingen, where he first met future fellow writer Simon Vestdijk. In 1916, Slauerhoff moved to Amsterdam to study medicine. While at university, he wrote his first poems, some of which were published in the Amsterdam student magazine Propria Cures. In 1919, Slauerhoff became engaged to a Dutch language student, Truus de Ruyter. He took no active part in conventional student life, preferring to take a more aloof and bohemian stance modelled on his French symbolist poet heroes Baudelaire, Verlaine, Corbière, and Rimbaud.

Starting in 1921, Slauerhoff published his first 'serious' poems in the literary magazine Het Getij ("The Tide"). His first collection of verse, Archipel ("Archipelago"), was published in 1923, by which time he had broken off his engagement to De Ruyter because he felt he was not ready for long-time commitment. That same year, 1923, Slauerhoff graduated from university. Having made few friends and quite a number of enemies while at university, he found it hard to get a proper medical position in the Netherlands and so decided to sign up as a ship's surgeon for a Dutch East Indies shipping company. His weak constitution immediately started to trouble him. On his first voyage, he suffered from gastric bleeding and asthma attacks. Slauerhoff returned to the Netherlands and apprenticed for a while in a number of doctor's practices, including one in the Frisian village of Beetsterzwaag. After co-running a practice for a few months with a dentist in Haarlem, he signed up with another shipping company, the Java-China-Japan Lijn, and sailed for the Far East again. Until the end of his contract, in 1927, he made many voyages to China, Hong Kong, and Japan.

In 1928, Slauerhoff switched to the Koninklijke Hollandsche Lloyd and made a number of voyages to Latin America. His health improved somewhat and his literary production increased to match: by 1930, six collections of verse and two short story collections had been published. Literary critic and friend of Slauerhoff, Eddy du Perron, is to be thanked for this steady production of publications. During 1929, when Slauerhoff stayed at the Du Perron Belgian family mansion for some months, Du Perron helped him to sort, correct, and edit many of his poems and stories.

From 1929 on, Slauerhoff stayed in the Netherlands more frequently. He was an assistant in the Utrecht University clinic for Dermatology and Venereal Diseases from 1929–1930. In September 1930, he married dancer and ballet teacher Darja Collin, the start of a short happy period in his life. By 1931, however, Slauerhoff had fallen ill again (influenza and pneumonia) and left for the Italian health resort of Merano to recuperate. His wife followed him in 1932, so that they might experience the birth of their first child together. The child, however, was stillborn, prompting a serious depression in Slauerhoff, yet another disillusion on top of his physical ailments. Later in 1932, Slauerhoff went to sea again, signing up with the Holland-West-Afrikalijn. His general bad health continued to worry him, however, and he considered moving to Northern Africa, as this would benefit his health. In March 1934, he set up a doctor's practice in Tangier (then an international protectorate), but by October he had left again. His periods of illness grew longer, the symptoms grew more serious, and his relationship with Darja deteriorated.

His fame as a writer, meanwhile, spread. In 1932 he published Het verboden rijk ("The Forbidden Realm," 1932), a partly historical, partly magical realist novel combining the life of a twentieth-century European with that of Luís de Camões, the sixteenth-century Portuguese poet (author of sonnets and the epic The Lusiads) who spent part of his life in the Orient. Despite never having been translated in English, it still attracts attention from scholars publishing in English, Jane Fenoulhet for instance referring to it as an important modernist novel as recently as 2001. Both Het verboden rijk en the follow-up novel Het leven op aarde ("Life on Earth," 1934) were widely praised, and his 1933 verse collection Soleares was awarded the Van der Hoogt Prize.

The year 1935 saw yet more sea voyages, but also his divorce from Darja Collin. In this period of his life, Slauerhoff fell out with many of his literary friends, among which Du Perron and Vestdijk. During his last voyage, to South Africa, he fell severely ill with malaria on top of his neglected tuberculosis and returned to Merano for yet more recuperation. But by this time, it was too late. Still ill, he returned to the Netherlands in 1936 to take up residence in a nursing home in Hilversum, where he died on October 5, just after his 38th birthday and one month after the publication of his last collection of verse, Een eerlijk zeemansgraf ("An Honourable Seaman's Grave").

Posthumous editions

Two works in progress that were nearly finished at the time of Slauerhoff's death, the original novel De opstand van Guadalajara ("The Guadalajara Uprising") and the translation of Martín Luis Guzmán's novel In de schaduw van den leider ("In the Shadow of the Leader"), were published posthumously in 1937.

A Committee for the Preparation of Slauerhoff's Complete Works was put together and convened to compile his Complete Works. This Committee, which consisted of leading literary figures, among which a number of friends of Slauerhoff, included D.A.M. Binnendijk, Menno ter Braak, N.A. Donkersloot, J. Greshoff, K. Lekkerkerker, Hendrik Marsman, Adriaan Roland Holst, and Constant van Wessem. Du Perron contributed a general outline for the ordering and grouping of the contents, but declined to participate further. Work progressed slowly and was further slowed down by the events of World War Two. The first volume appeared in 1941, one year behind schedule, and the series of eight volumes was not completed until 1958. Two of the Committee's members, Ter Braak and Marsman, died at the start of the war and the publisher, Nijgh en Van Ditmar, lost faith halfway through the project, which resulted in the intended separate volume of critical apparatus being scrapped and the last volume, containing Slauerhoff's essays, being published independently by Lekkerkerker.

Lekkerkerker, ever the dedicated text researcher and caretaker of Slauerhoff's literary heritage, continued over the years to unearth and study Slauerhoff's manuscripts and uncollected publications, resulting in ever better and more complete versions of the Complete Poems and Complete Prose volumes, culminating in the Eighties in the publication of the definitive editions of Slauerhoff's prose.



  1. Archipel ("Archipelago", 1923)
  2. Clair-obscur (1927)
  3. Oost-Azië ("East Asia", 1928, under ps. John Ravenswood)
  4. Eldorado (1928)
  5. Fleurs de marécage ("Marsh Flowers", 1929, in French)
  6. Saturnus ("Saturn", 1930, revised and enlarged re-issue of Clair-obscur)
  7. Yoeng Poe Tsjoeng ("Of Little Use", translations from the Chinese and original poems, 1930)
  8. Serenade (1930)
  9. Soleares (1933)
  10. Een eerlijk zeemansgraf ("An Honourable Seaman's Grave", 1936)
  11. Verzamelde gedichten ("Collected Verse", 1947)
  12. Al dwalend ("Wandering About", previously uncollected poems, 1947)
  13. Alleen in mijn gedichten kan ik wonen ("Only in My Poems Can I Dwell", anthology, 1978)
  14. Op aarde niet en niet op zee ("Not on earth, and not at sea"), poems selected by Henny Vrienten (Amsterdam: Nijgh & Van Ditmar, 2000. ISBN 9038870396)
  15. In memoriam mijzelf ("In Memory of Myself", anthology, 2006)


Original prose

  1. Het Lente-eiland en andere verhalen ("The Isle of Spring and Other Stories", 1930, short stories)
  2. Schuim en asch ("Foam and Ashes", 1930, short stories)
  3. Het verboden rijk ("The Forbidden Realm", 1932, novel)
  4. Het leven op aarde ("Life on Earth", 1934, novel)
  5. De opstand van Guadalajara ("The Rising of Guadalajara", 1937, posthumously published novel)
  6. Verzameld proza ("Collected Prose", 1961)
  7. Verwonderd saam te zijn ("Strange Bedfellows", 1987, short stories and a one act play [1928-1935])
  8. Alleen de havens zijn ons trouw ("Only the Ports Are Loyal to Us", 1992, travelogue short stories [1927-1932])

Translated prose

  1. Ricardo GüiraldesDon Segundo Sombra (1930, 1948²; from Spanish with R. Schreuder)
  2. José Maria de Eça de QueirozDe misdaad van Pater Amaro ("Father Amaro's Crime", 1932; from Portuguese with R. Schreuder)
  3. G.H. MirDe hof der oranjeboomen ("The Court with the Orange Trees", 1932; from Spanish with R. Schreuder)
  4. Paulo SetúbalJohan Maurits van Nassau ("John Maurice of Nassau", 1933; from Portuguese by R. Schreuder with J. Slauerhoff)
  5. Ramón Gómez de la SernaDokter hoe is het mogelijk ("Doctor, How Can It Be?", 1935; from Spanish)
  6. Martín Luis GuzmánIn de schaduw van den leider ("In the Shadow of the Leader", 1937; from Spanish with G.J. Geers, published posthumously)
  7. Jules LaforgueHamlet, of De gevolgen der kinderliefde ("Hamlet, or The Consequences of Filial Love", 1962, 1970²; from French [1928])
  8. Thomas RaucatTwee verhalen ("Two Short Stories", 1974; from French [1929])


  1. Jan Pietersz. Coen (1931, tragedy)


  1. Verzamelde werken ("Complete Works", 8 vols., 1941–1958)
  2. Brieven van Slauerhoff ("Letters from Slauerhoff", ed. by Arthur Lehning, 1955)
  3. Dagboek ("Diary", ed. by K. Lekkerkerker, 1957)
  4. Verzameld Proza ("Collected Prose"), 2 vols. (The Hague: Nijgh & Van Ditmar, 1975. ISBN 9023655699 (vol. 1) and ISBN 9023655702 (vol. 2))
  5. Slauerhoff student auteur ("Slauerhoff Student Writer", prose and poetry from Slauerhoff's student days ed. by Eep Francken et al., 1983)
  6. Brieven aan Hans Feriz ("Letters to Hans Feriz", ed. Herman Vernout, 1984)
  7. Het China van Slauerhoff: aantekeningen en ontwerpen voor de Cameron-romans ("Slauerhoff's China – Notes and Outlines for the Cameron Novels", ed. W. Blok et al., 1985)
  8. Hij droeg de zee en de verte aan zich mee ("He Carried the Sea and the Distance with Him", letters ed. by J.J. van Herpen, 1985)
  9. Van een liefde die vriendschap bleef ("Of a Love that Remained Friendship", letters ed. by Wim Hazeu, 2007)

None of Slauerhoff's works have been translated into English, but there are a number of German, French, Italian, and Portuguese translations of his prose works and Russian translations of his poetry.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "J. Slauerhoff" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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