The novel in the Netherlands: A comparative study  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

"In the growth of the novel, as has been already shown, one form springs from another. By the end of the seventeenth century the pseudo-pastoral and pseudo-chivalric romances of La Calprenède, Mlle. de Scudéry, and Mme. de la Fayette had had their day, and periodicals like ‘The Tatler’ and ‘The Spectator’ were being designed partly to take their place with the reading world, which was steadily increasing. As they stand, of course, the character-sketches of Addison and Steele cannot be called a novel, even on a loose conception and construction of the term, but it is incontrovertible that they contain many of its essentials, in their dialogue and description, and above all in their characterization. What they lack, however, is a paramount element, that of plot, the sustained evolution of character; nor did they ‘minister to the inextinguishable interest in affairs of the heart. Neither did Defoe gratify this interest, though meeting the supreme requirement of story interest and making use of every device at his command to invest his narrative with a sense of actuality."--The novel in the Netherlands: A comparative study (1928) by James Anderson Russell

Related e



The novel in the Netherlands: A comparative study by James Anderson Russell, m a., Ph. D., University of Glasgow.

I. The foundation in romance.

The term ‘Netherland’ is one that is applicable now only to Holland. Outside of Holland the official title of ‘Nederland’ has gained little currency; one never speaks of ‘un Pays-Bas’, always of ‘les Pays-Bas’; a Londoner who makes a tour of Holland and Belgium no longer goes to the Netherlands, as his countrymen Goldsmith, Boswell, Southey, did. The term, in fact, has no standing outside of our history, geography and economic text-books. In this study, however, I make use of the title in the older, historic concept of both Low Countries, and in this literary sense there are many sanctions for it. On the surface, literature in Holland and Belgium, following on so much in which the two peoples make common cause, should be mutual and interchangeable. The apparent anomaly that there is nothing like literary homogeneity proceeds from the existence in Belgium of two main languages. Are we then to allow to Flemish the right to speak for the whole Belgian people? The inclusion right up to the present time of the same names in the text-books of both Dutch and Flemish literary historians would imply this, and would seem to oust French from possesing any national status in Belgium. Until we have ‘Belgium-a Nation’ French may, indeed, be regarded as a foreign importation. Froissart, a native of an erstwhile part of Hainault, is rightly claimed for France, like all other ‘Belgians’ writing French with no Belgian national bias,

[p. 72] and writers even subsequent to 1830 may be similarly released if they do not reflect something of the new national spirit. Otherwise ‘Belgium-a Nation’ is a meaningless formula. A double significance, however, is acquired by it when what is basically Belgian - or better Netherlandish - can be as fully conveyed in French as the acquired medium as in Flemish. The fact that modern Belgian literature has realized its present extensive vogue chiefly through the work of the French-writing Belgian patriots, Lemonnier, de Coster, Georges Eekhoud, shows how little language in itself matters. It is on this view of literature as a growth of the soil that I have sought to coalesce the ramifications of one literary form throughout both North and South Netherlands.

English neglect of the literature of their Dutch and Flemish half-sisters applies with special force to the novel, though of all branches it is the one which in recent times has received most critical consideration in that language. To Professor Saintsbury we owe an excellent account of its workings in France1); while as early as 1825 there was an English work on the novel in Italy2). Even so up-to-date a development as the work of the Russian novelists affords has been rendered into English3), and of the Scandinavian peoples the leading exponent of the form, Björnstjerne Björnsen, has long been inscribed in English library catalogues. Practically alone, then, among the novelistic developments of the chief European nations has the novel of the Netherlands not been noted - even in Dutch itself there exists no co-ordinated study or any attempt at a complete comparative evaluation (though there are many studies of individual novelists and of particular national developments). My purpose, therefore, is to present its growth within the Netherlands, and by licence of the deliberately-chosen ‘in’ (instead of ‘of’) to try to suggest its importance in Pan-European literature.

Professor Saintsbury attacks the position that romance and the novel are widely separated from each other, and that the historian of the novel is straying out of his ground in meddling with romance4). It is assuredly in romance, ‘the story of incident’,

1) ‘The French Novel’, 2 vols. 2) Thomas Roscoe, ‘The Italian Novelists’. 3) Vicomte Voguë, ‘The Russian Novel’. 4) ‘The English Novel’, p. 7. [p. 73] that the novel, ‘the story of character and motive’, has its beginning. We must get back to something that is not yet the novel, that is, on the modern conception of it as the interpretation, by means of fictitious narrative, of episodes or aspects of real life. Yet, it is no fantastic process; it is, as Dr. E.A. Baker well says, ‘what we would expect to find in a study of the antecedents of any form of art’1).

Every West-European country had at an early date in its literary history numerous writers helping the advance of romance, writers who took from the raw material of romance and manufactured tales, in prose or in verse, to the requirements of the genre. Never were the poets of a continent so dependent upon a single source of supply, and never did they produce to such strict pattern. ‘Nothing’, says Professor Brunetière, ‘is so similar to a Chanson de geste as another Chanson de geste’2). So related, indeed, are the mediaeval romance-writers, so similar in style, so uniform in subject-matter, so denationalised in their application of it, that in romance is the history of the novel for every European country. This may account for the fact that, in the eighteenth century, when the novel - taking it in its exclusive modern definition - could no longer be retarded, its appearance in the chief literatures concurred, through the impressive weight, doubtless, of the common heritage. Yet, through the superb development of these first novels of Marivaux, Richardson and Fielding shows how ripe Europe was to receive the amended form, particular credit must be given, I think, to the accepted claimants for priority, whether of France or England; for, despite the rapidity with which the novel was everywhere taken over, other countries but imitated these. If to these two we add the classical countries, we can say that these were likewise the pioneers in the forming of a romantic tradition for the whole of Europe, for we must regard the Carolingian cycle of France, the Arthuriad of Britain, and the cycles of Troy, of Alexander, and of all antiquity, as the most important portions of the common stock of romance, while not forgetting the subsidiary Teutonic and Eastern traditions. Of these great divisions of romance - with

1) ‘A History of the English Novel’, p. 12. 2) ‘Manual of the History of the French Literature’, p. 2. [p. 74] their immense fringes of miscellaneous épopées - it is hardly possible to say which gave most to the making of the novel; and only where outstanding names like Chrestien de Troyes or Sir Thomas Malory attest to national superiority is it possible to trace anything like the direct line in the development of fiction within a particular literature.

The Netherlands, though they shared to the full in the diffusion of romance and returned proportionate offers, must be included among those countries which were largely carried along in the main stream of romance without distinctively affecting that stream. Early literature there was almost entirely a literature of translation from and imitation of the French; it would be idle to mark out points of contact between the second-hand hagiology of this period and the modern novel, as it is possible to do - on somewhat slender deduction admittedly - with the great stories of Arthurian legend and Chaucer's ‘Troïlus and Cressida’, for example, as premises. The most that can be said for Hendrik van Veldeke, the founder of the court-epic ‘in tiutescher zungen’, and Jacob van Maerlant1), the best-known of all these early adapters, is that, thus early, they were faithful to the Northern spirit in deepening the character-study of the mediaeval chivalric tales - the introduction of this somewhat sombre tone has held to Holland more than to neighbouring countries, as if inevitably impressed by her configuration. Until the fourteenth century the writers of the Netherlands may be said to stand in direct line of descent from the French contributors to the Bestiary of Reynard, and the only link discernible with the novel as we know it is in the suggestion of realism, through the quality of ‘slimness’, imparted to the fabulous matter. Nor can the Rederijkers, the nuclei of literature in the two succeeding centuries, be said to have accomplished much - their poetry was formal and unoriginal, and of prose they were quite guiltless. Yet, this was the inaugural period for the age of Vondel, Hooft, Huygens, Cats, the golden age of Dutch literature, despite the fact that Spinoza, Grotius and Daniel Heinsius, like Erasmus before them, made their contributions to the belles-lettres of humanism.

1) All his work was in verse, but according to Mr. Laurie Magnus (‘A Dictionary of European Literature’, p. 314) ‘had Maerlant chosen prose as his medium, Holland too would have had her Villehardouin’. [p. 75] It was an age of poetry, in England the age of Shakespeare and Milton. But Elizabethan England inherited also much that was best in mediaeval prose-fiction, including the Italian novella, and with feverish creative energy now welcomed a fresh impetus from Southern Europe, especially from Spain, the result being a group of prose-romances standing in immediate relationship to the great efflorescence of the Amadis-romances. But the spread of romancing and story-telling left sixteenth century Holland untouched, just as they departed from English literature when England in turn became involved in war. Even had there been a demand for fiction, there would have been no Lyly, no Sidney, no Nashe, to supply it. The nearer influence of the long line of French romances and the ‘Argenis’ of the Franco-Scot, John Barclay, translated into Dutch, seemed also about to pass by without effect, but in 1647 Holland was at last stirred into activity and interest by the appearance of Johan van Heemskerk's ‘Batavische Arcadia’, the first original prose-romance. This fugitive work, then, marks the commencement of prose-fiction in the Netherlands, and it had to do for Holland what the work of Lyly, Sydney and Nashe had done for England. But though most allied to Sir Philip Sidney's ‘Arcadia’ its inspiration did not arise from Zutphen field, but from the heroic-pastoral romance of Honoré d'Urfé, ‘Astrée’. This recital of the polite discourse indulged in by a party of romantic youths and maidens of the time ranks Van Heemskerk among the Euphuists, but though language is first and matter secondary it satisfies one or two of the usual terms in the modern definition of the novel in being at least of reasonable length and possesing a structure of a kind. Its vogue was naturally extensive, but the subsequent ‘Arcadians’1) failed to impart to their work the brightness and variety of Van Heemskerk. The writing of prose-romance in this pastoral form continued right down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, but for the moment the important thing was that a start, however belated, had been made in the realm of prose-fiction.

In direct antithesis to its Arcadias, Elizabethan England made hasty studies of robbers and highwaymen; this was another form of fiction taken over from Spain, and from the translation of

1) Of Zaanland, Dordrecht, Rotterdam. [p. 76] ‘Lazarillo de Tormes’, ‘the Pickwick of the sixteenth century’, in 1586 it was turned to good account, notably, of course, in ‘Jack Wilton’. The first of the Spanish picaresque novels, translated into all the literary languages of Europe, was imitated right down to Fielding and Smollet, but despite the close relationship between Holland and Spain in those days, it was not until 1695 that the Netherlands saw fit to acquire for a schelmenroman themselves. This, of course, was ‘Mirandor’ by Heinsius, a book that recounts the life-adventures of a Dutch picaro in most entertaining fashion. Like ‘De Batavische Arcadia’, ‘Mirandor’ appeared in fugitive fashion - there is nothing in Netherlandish literature to put alongside it, for de Coster's masterpiece is more than a picaresque novel. The literature of the Netherlands owes a deep debt to it. In the first place, it marks the first departure from the purely romantic ‘Batavische Arcadia’, touching at many points the real in its reflections of Flemish scenes. It is not yet in the manner of a realistic history, but by drawing characters from the bourgeoisie and by placing the romantic world in the real world, it takes an appreciable step towards a portrayal of the actual world, Heinsius also showed he had some artistic sense of what a novel should be by giving his plot a degree of definiteness.

For the class of story to which ‘Mirandor’ belongs it is perhaps a defect that the central vogue is much less of an anti-hero than usual; or it may be that for the best results in this literary vagabondage the southern sun and the easy-going southern temperament are required. Heinsius has probably less to thank the Spanish for, as Professor ten Brink suggests1), than either Scarron or Lesage, but his work has not the all-round realism - even as realism was then understood - of the great French master's. It is, however, important to note that this rogue literature is one of the main avenues through which that licence in speech which characterized the Renaissance in its first stages entered the modern novel. Yet, coupled with this low humour there has to be noted a more serious motive in fiction, for the extravagance of romance has considerably abated. But until the irresponsible cynicism of the picaresque novel has been displaced we must hover yet on the border-land of romance and reality.

1) ‘Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Letterkunde’, p. 505. [p. 77] II. Richardson's influence in Holland.

In the growth of the novel, as has been already shown, one form springs from another. By the end of the seventeenth century the pseudo-pastoral and pseudo-chivalric romances of La Calprenède, Mlle. de Scudéry, and Mme. de la Fayette had had their day, and periodicals like ‘The Tatler’ and ‘The Spectator’ were being designed partly to take their place with the reading world, which was steadily increasing. As they stand, of course, the character-sketches of Addison and Steele cannot be called a novel, even on a loose conception and construction of the term, but it is incontrovertible that they contain many of its essentials, in their dialogue and description, and above all in their characterization. What they lack, however, is a paramount element, that of plot, the sustained evolution of character; nor did they ‘minister to the inextinguishable interest in affairs of the heart’1). Neither did Defoe gratify this interest, though meeting the supreme requirement of story interest and making use of every device at his command to invest his narrative with a sense of actuality.

But the novel in every strict sense still lingered, for though the process was there, the Augustan writers had obviously no definite idea of what a novel should be as an independent literary species. The further intervention of Samuel Richardson was necessary to provide the first complete novel, and, appearing under such circumstances, ‘Pamela’ was exactly suited to take Europe by storm; Richardsonism grew to immense vogue, and, with the exceptions of Byron and Scott, it can be said that the work of no other English writer even swept the continent with such tempestuous force. It may be that the long-winded novels which followed ‘Pamela’ - ‘Clarissa’ and ‘Sir Charles Grandison’ - were only a reversion of the romance de longue haleine of the preceding century in a soil that happened to suit them, but it can also be urged that they grafted on the sentimental interest of the heroic tale accurate delineation of familiar characters and episodes and revealed the latent romance in outwardly commonplace lives. Henceforward the novel counts as a distinct kind in literature - the material and moral conditions have at length been fulfilled for the social historian.

1) F. Boas in ‘Essays and Studies’, Vol. 11, p. 47. [p. 78] In the Netherlands, as has been shown, the writing of prose-fiction had made a start at least, but the work of Van Heemskerk and Heinsius was little sustained, and the eighteenth century - elsewhere the century of beginnings - dawned blank and dull. So, at least, it might have appeared to the undiscerning, but all the time much unspectacular yet profitable, experimental labour was proceeding; Holland, her independence secured, only required the period of leavening that France and England had enjoyed in the seventeenth century. The first effort to redeem Dutch literary life from virtual desolation, in comparison with that of England or of France, was still of an imitative nature - even in this respect Holland had a great lee-way to make up; and it is noteworthy that throughout this entire century every fresh development in the history of the novel found a full reflection there. Though the Spanish and French writers were the models for Van Heemskerk and Heinsius, their work paralleled what had taken place in England; and English literary forms now began to play a direct part in Holland. First, there was the influence of ‘The Spectator’, which Justus van Effen carried from London's coffee-houses to his own country by publishing a ‘Hollandsche Spectator’, which, on its own scale, did exactly for Holland what ‘The Tatler’ and ‘The Spectator’ did for England. It proved a much-needed renovation of Dutch prose and created a Spectatoriale literature, which is perhaps still revealed in the partiality of the Dutch author for the sketch. Defoe's classic, translated by the Dutch Spectator, also became known about this time, and resulted in a ‘Robinsonaden’ phase corresponding to that in Germany1); but Richardson, who was to exert the greatest influence of all, was not reproduced until 1782. After ‘Mirandor’, therefore, almost a century passed without a fresh start in novel-writing being made.

The Dutch equivalent of ‘Pamela’ was, of course, the famous ‘Sara Burgerhart’, to the cultured authoresses of which the novel of the Netherlands, in its beginning, owes most. Yet, Elisabeth Wolf and Agatha Deken were first and foremost the disciples of Richardson. From him they took over the somewhat repellant epistolary form, from him they gave the Dutch novel ideals of

1) W.H. Staverman, ‘Robinson Crusoe in Nederland’. [p. 79] character that it has never lost, from him they brushed aside much of the paraphernalia of pure romance and attained an even greater verisimilitude than Van Effen and the reisjournalen through unvarnished detail and the unadorned language of everyday life; from him they fixed commonsense in Dutch fiction, a genially humorous conception of even the serious side of life - a trait, admittedly, that lies as near the Dutch nature as the English, and merely showing the easy assimilation of the same ideals on the part of both peoples. In their three novels, too, there are complete characters to correspond to Richardson's and the bases of scenes that feature his scenes. The contention of J.W.A. Naber1) may be allowed - that with them the letter-form is improved, the letters occurring in more logical sequence - but it in no way alters the fact that they have nothing that he has not got. At the same time, while it is in itself no small praise that they are worthy to find a high place in his school - in which, be it remembered, are such celebrated works as ‘La Nouvelle Héloïse’ and ‘Sophiens Reise von Memel nach Sachsen’ - their work can claim real originality by reason of the unmistakably Dutch scenes and portraits with which it presents us.

Wolff and Deken, of course, shared in the current etiolated sentimentalism, but because they tended to laugh at the little rather than at the great, commonsense was never beyond call; and in creating pathetic scenes for their own sake and in degrading tears and hysterics into a manner they were certainly more restrained than most of their contemporaries. They were fortunate in taking Richardson, of all English writers, amid the contending influences of Thomson, Young and Ossian, for their perceptor-in-chief, but he did not claim their entire allegiance. According to Professor Prinsen2) there was deliberate imitation of Rousseau in their second novel, ‘Willem Leevend’. Yet even here the Rousseauism of the ‘Confessions’ is tempered at all points by the Richardsonism of ‘Clarissa’, a novel which Jean-Jacques himself declared was not equalled or even approached in any language; like ‘Sara Burgerhart’ and ‘Cornelia Wildschut’, it is impregnated with moral and religious instruction, and little manifests the latent

1) ‘Betje Wolff en Aagje Deken’. 2) ‘De Gids’. Maart. 1915. [p. 80] force that lay hidden in Rousseau's emotionalism, when cut loose from moral and religious restraints; Wolff and Deken were assuredly too much the servants of commonsense - perhaps also of its frequent ally, convention - to discard the rational framework of religion and society.

The pleasant, gossiping novels of Wolff and Deken served their own generation well, and they have easily kept their place in the forefront of Dutch literature. Nor is it difficult to estimate their historical importance therein, despite their contingency upon Richardson. They appeared in the most opportune fashion imaginable, for until their entrance into eighteenth century Dutch letters, says Dr. Inklaar1), ‘Jamais imitation des modèles laissées par un grand siècle n'a été plus faible et plus incolore.’ Richardson or Marivaux or even Defoe may have given the novel to Europe; it is not too much to say that they brought it to Holland, and if it did not lead off with a series of immortal masterpieces like ‘Pamela’, ‘Marianne’, ‘Tom Jones’, there was no gradual development from erudity, for as high a degree of perfection was at once attained as has ever obtained in its pogress in the Netherlands. The letter form was a handicap that their successors have not had to contend with; in their case it meant artificially satisfying the demand that the novel should possess an orderly structure, instead of concentrating on objective story-telling. But they made it a careful study of some phase of real life, not, indeed, historically true, but which might easily be so; and it is this realistic art - of which alone of their predecessors Van Effen gave any inkling - that has predominated ever since.

Richardson had other disciples in Holland, though none so constant as Wolff and Deken, but sometimes his influence was almost vitiated by the counter-forces of French and German romanticism. Professor Phelps is guilty of some exaggeration when he says2) ‘Richardson had got all Europe into tears.’ Those were certainly golden days for the sentimentalists, but Richardson's was not all the blame - Goethe, Klopstock, Miller, Wieland, Rousseau, must shoulder part of it. There was also a

1) ‘François-Thomas de Baculard d'Arnaud, ses imitateurs en Hollande et dans d'autres pays’, p. 177. 2) ‘The Advance of the English Novel’, p. 75. [p. 81] Dutch apostle of this weeping cult, Rhijnvis Feith, and on his work Richardson exerted but a very oblique influence. Feith pushed the sentiment of the century to the point of extreme sensibility, filling his compositions with a weltschmerz more lachrymose than ‘Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers’ and ‘Siegwart’ It has been customary to account for the intensity of the melancholy under which Feith's characters affect to labour by accepting a Richardson-cum-German influence, but this does not wholly account for the unrelieved blackness; Richardson and the German writers may have imparted the heavy didactic flavour in Feith, but neither in their work nor in other Dutch writings of the time are the sheer morbidity and artificiality of Feith to be found. Dr. Inklaar's recent researches prove that the French model of Baculard d'Arnaud was always present in his early works and that Feith servilely copied the superficial romances of this writer in both of his novels. It is known, of course, that d'Arnaud exploited Richardson in France; and the echolalious Feith is simply the Dutch d'Arnaud, a writer almost wholly outside the Dutch spirit of energy and robustness.1)

For the real advance of the novel in the Netherlands Feith cannot be said to have done anything. As has been said of the German novelists of this time, he ‘wrote like a poet deprived of the discipline of verse’2); and certainly his themes seem far better suited to treatment by pastoral poetry than by the more robust canons demanded by the novel. Fortunately, their sickly sentimentality and their utter detachment from reality of themselves limited the d'Arnaudian to a mere phase in Dutch literature. The healthier form given to Richardsonism by Wolff and Deken triumphed, and, until sentimentalism was virtually absorbed in the Romantic Revival, it was adapted with spirit by a novelist of the next generation, Adriaan Loosjes.

Loosjes' novels, of the long ‘life-story’ pattern, have the pronounced ethical and didactic qualities of the Richardsonians. In the march of the Netherlands' novel his chief credit must be that, sensing something more than the atrabilious moodiness of Feith was needed, something at once more true and more localised,

1) ‘François-Thomas de Baculard d'Arnaud’, 's-Gravenhage, 1925. 2) ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’, vol. XIX, p. 838. [p. 82] he had the notion to try to depict the past glories of his fatherland, and that for Holland this was the embryo of the historical novel. Loosjes himself lacked the original genius to be the herald of romanticism in Holland, and it required the operation of the genius of Scott to develop the real possibilities in basing the novel upon national history. Yet, though we have but the faintest of shadows cast forward on his works by the Waverley novels, Loosjes deserves recognition for his plan of the past and for steadily maintaining the aims of Wolff and Deken.

With Loosjes the direct influence of Richardson comes to an end. His concerted influence upon the literature of the eighteenth century is far more worthy of note than the merits or defects of his art. His novels were translated into French, German, Dutch, Italian; and in France and Germany his imitators may be counted by the score. Even in so small a country as Holland it was far from negligible; there, indeed, the sensibility of the century, conveyed primarily by him, gave rise to works which command a high place in Dutch literature for their intrinsic worth. Literature, which hitherto had followed the external form, was invested by them with that art of love, homely sympathy and quiet humour which, despite vicissitudes, the Dutch novel has continued to incorporate.

If novelistic preferences counted for anything, a good deal could already be told of Holland. Even in the brief history of the novel to this date she had remained outside some of the most powerful movements and had been but lightly touched by others; she had found little use for picaresquerie, had displayed only a moderate interest in the long line of French romances which passed down most of the seventeenth century, had remained aloof from the workings of the Schauer-romantik, and had regarded even Fielding, Smollett and Sterne somewhat coldly. But since selection was inevitable - where there was so much to embrace - the wisdom that prompted the choice of Richardson was probably the best thing that could have happened to Holland. To him she owes the novel-in-letters - and hence the novel of psychology - and this quiet-moving form was one well-suited to the display of the unostentatious Dutch genius.

See also

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

Personal tools