Netherlands Literature – From Expressionism to the 1960s

Expressionism had been introduced in Netherlands by the avant-garde magazine Het getij (“La marea”, 1916-24), which was replaced by De vrije bladen (“The free sheets”, 1924-32) which continued the address of openness to vitalism and the exaltation of a cosmic feeling. In these magazines initially expressed themselves C. van Wessem, H. De Vries, JJ Slauerhoff, and above all H. van der Bergh, who was the spokesperson, animator and theorist of ‘vitalistic’ poetry, and H. Marsman who di that poem was the greatest exponent. The Catholic Expressionist poets, who gathered around the magazines Roeping (“Vocazione”, 1922-63) and De Gemeenschap, mainly oriented towards a humanitarian orientation.(“The community”, 1925-41). Authoritative spokesman for this current was the critic and essayist A. van Duinkerken and the most representative authors were the poet J. Engelman and the novelist A. Coolen.

Other magazines welcomed different spiritual directions, such as that of the young Protestant authors, among which the poet W. de Merode emerged, or the ethical-humanistic one of which D. Coster was the animator. Among the authors of a socialist and communist orientation we should mention AM de Jong, J. Last, A. den Doolaard, A. Helman and above all T. de Vries. Around the 1930s the avant-garde magazine of visual arts De Stijl became the spokesperson for the concept of ‘new objectivity’, which indicated a trend in architecture that favored functionality and rejected any superfluous element. In literature this tendency was expressed in a dry form, of which common language, phrasing and irony were essential elements, and was adopted by the magazine Forum (1932-35), founded together with CE Du Perron by M. ter Braak, polemicist and moralist independent and brilliant essayist. Among the collaborators of Forum, which took a leading role in the cultural life of the time, there were many prestigious names, including Bordewijk, Marsman, Slauerhoff, J. Geshoff, and especially S. Vestdijk, versatile genius and writer of European format, whose numerous novels are characterized by a penetrating psychological investigation. Criterium magazine (1940-42; 1945-48), which proposed itself as an ‘open’ magazine, welcomed various authors with a tendency towards romantic realism. The most important editor and critical leader was E. Hoornik, and among the most important collaborators are the writers I. Gerhardt and M. Vasalis, G. Achterberg, A. Morriën and B. Aafjes. The cessation of Forum, the tragic and almost simultaneous disappearance of Du Perron, ter Braak and Marsman, constituted a great loss for Dutch literature and, finally, with the establishment of a Cultuurkamer Pro-Nazi in 1942, many writers were forced into silence or underground.

According to indexdotcom, the poetry of the Resistance found its most significant expressions in Het lied der achttien dooden (“The song of the eighteen dead”) by J. Campert and in Het vrij Nederlandsh liedboek (“The free Dutch songbook”, 1944), which collects poems by various authors. One of the best known testimonies of the horrors of war is Het achterhuis (“La retrocasa”, 1947; trans. It. The diary, 1956) by A. Frank, while the valuable work of E. Hillesum, killed in Auschwitz, is a recent discovery: Het verstoorde leven (“The troubled life”, 1981; trans. It. Diary 1941-43, 1985) and Brieven 1942-1943 (1986; trans. It. Letters 1942-43, 1990). The theme of war and the memories related to it will recur in the work of various authors, from the novel De nacht der girondijnen (1957; trans. It. The night of the Girondists, 1976) by E. Presser, to the collections Het bittere kruid (” L’erba amara “, 1957) and De val (1982; it. The fall, 1992) by the writer M. Minco, to the novel De aanslag (1982; it. The attack, 1986) by H. Mulisch.

With the acquisition of independence by Indonesia (1949), memories of the colonial past inspired various authors in the 1950s, including the writer M. Dermoût with De tienduizend dingen (1955; trans. It. The ten thousand things, 1959) and E. Breton de Nijs with Vergeelde portretten (“Yellowed portraits”, 1954).

In the early post-war years, Dutch literature followed the path already traced by Forum and revived by Libertinage (1948-54), the magazine founded by H. Gomperts. However, among the younger generations there was a deep sense of uneasiness and dissatisfaction which manifested themselves with intolerance towards the established system and with the rejection of the values ​​and principles consolidated by the bourgeois tradition. In the name of the spontaneous creativity and freedom of the artist, advocated by the international group COBRA and from the magazine of the same name, some young poets got together to experiment a new anti-intellectual, irrational poetry, in which the subconscious emerges in the random sequence of words, thoughts and images in free associative play. Among them, JG Elburg, G. Kouwenaar and above all Lucebert (pseudonym of the poet LJ Swaanswijk), whose poem Verdediging van de 50-ers (“Defense of the Fifties”) is an attack on the literary establishment and at the same time the programmatic formulation of the Beweging van Vijftig (“Movement of the Fifties”), with which Dadaism and Surrealism burst into Dutch literature. Some magazines became spokespersons of the movement, such as Blurb (1950-51), founded by S. Vinkenoog, and Braak (1950-51), whose editorial staff included, in addition to the founders R. Campert and R. Kousbroek, also Lucebert, Kouwenaar and B. Schierbeek, the first author of experimental prose. Also important was the role played in the configuration of experimentalism by some anthologies, such as Atonaal (“Atonale”, 1951) by Vinkenoog, and Nieuwe griffels, schone leien (“New chalk, clean chalkboards”, 1954) by the movement theorist Netherlands Rodenko.

At the beginning of the 1960s, new stimuli came from pop art and the nouveaux réalistes movement: the artist diverts attention from his own inner world and turns his interest to reality, seen above all in its more concrete and banal aspects. Another strong stimulus came from the movement of the beat generation, which is linked to that of provo (reduction of the provocateur friar), a youth protest movement that developed in Amsterdam (1964-66). Magazines represent the dominant trends in literary circles. As part of the combative Gard Civik («Guardia civica», 1955-64) are the experimental authors Armando (pseudonym of the writer HD van Dodeweerd), CB Vaandrager and H. Verhagen, who provocatively favor themes such as violence, sex, madness; around Barbarber (1958-71) another experimental group gathers to search for the artistic aspects of the most banal subjects. Dominant figures of this current are K. Schippers, author of Een klok en profiel (“A watch in profile”, 1965) and Een vis zwemt uit zijn taalgebied (“A fish swims out of its linguistic area”, 1976), and J Bernlef. Merlijn continues along the path taken by the experimentalists(“Merlino”, 1962-66), who from the beginning gave ample space to non-fiction, especially that of a structuralist nature, and Raster (“Rastrello”, 1967-72; new series from 1977), which moves in a wider and more varied cultural sphere and includes among its collaborators the prestigious poet HC ten Berge, as well as R. Bloem, H. Faverey, A. Zuiverent, Netherlands Nijmeijer. A rather heterogeneous group of clearly individualistic tendencies is gathered around the magazines Tirade (“Tirata”, from 1957) and Hollands maandblad (“Dutch monthly”, from 1959). The work of these authors has as common elements the formal freedom and concreteness of images, inherited from the fiftieth movement, and a tendency to reflection of personalistic or more generally humanitarian inspiration. Among them, R. Kopland, a very popular author, whose technically refined poetry is often tinged with irony; J. Herzberg, who provides a new order to reality and events, observed from a very personal female perspective; also D. Hillenius, KL Poll and T. van Deel.

In the second half of the 1960s, a new romantic-inspired trend emerged, which will assert itself in the following decade. Among the first neo-romantic poets we remember FH van Beek, J. Hamelink and K. Ouwens, while G. Komrij stands out for the skill with which he recovers the sonnet, a form also adopted by J. Kuijper, J. Kal and L. Weemoedt. The new formal and content orientations also affect the narrative, produced by most of the poets cited. ● Since the immediate postwar period, notable changes have been taking place in prose both in terms of content and form, particularly in the structure of the novel, following the example of authors such as J. Joyce, M. Proust and F. Kafka. Three novels, published shortly after, De avonden (“The evenings”, 1947) by G. Reve, Eenzaam avontuur (“Solitary adventure”, 1948) by the writer A. Blaman, and De tranen der acacia’s (“The tears of the acacias”, 1949) by WF Hermans can be considered the starting point of the new prose, which until the early 1960s remained strongly rooted in the disenchanted neorealism of these works.

Netherlands Literature - From Expressionism to the 1960s