Belgian Literature in the Dutch Language

With the creation of the Kingdom of Belgium, Flemish literature developed rapidly, hand in hand with the linguistic, social and political action of the Flemish Nationalist Movement (De Vlaamse Beweging), of romantic inspiration. The term ‘Flemish’ also accentuated in literature the patriotic sentiment of the Dutch-speaking Belgians in the face of the preponderance of the French language in the official life of the new state. Among the romantic poets we should mention P. van Duyse, KL Ledeganck, T. van Rijswijck and JA de Laet. The vast fiction of H. Conscience, whose national historical novels (De Leeuw van Vlaanderen”The Lion of Flanders”, 1838) and rural tales of an idyllic character (De loteling “Il conscritto “, 1850) have been translated into many European languages. By A. Bergmann, who used the pseudonym Tony, is a book of autobiographical sketches of amiable humor, Ernest Staes (1874). Virginie Loveling wrote poems and short stories in collaboration with her sister Rosalie and later studied the realistic novel with a topical thesis. According to indexdotcom, the poet JM Dautzenberg, a vigilant lover of form, was an isolated; J. van Beers, on the other hand, enjoyed great popularity with his realistic-idealizing poetry. But only the priest of Bruges G. Gezelle he brought Flemish literature with his lyric poetry to a level it had never reached after its medieval flourishing, expressing its finest feeling of nature in a language that musically renders the most subtle notations. H. Verriest, critic and orator, a priest like Gezelle and his disciple, spread his fame and had as a pupil the poet A. Rodenbach, ardent supporter of the Flemish Movement, author of romantic songs and of the drama Gudrun (1882).

Towards the end of the 19th century. a new spirit animates the collaborators of the magazine Van Nu en Straks (“Of today and tomorrow”, 1893-94 and 1896-1901), whose influence is to be compared to that of La Jeune Belgique (1881-97) for literature French-speaking Belgian. The dominant personality was A. Vermeylen, critic and essayist, author of the symbolic novel De Wandelende Jood (“The Wandering Jew”, 1906), who wanted to integrate the culture of Flanders into the European one. Of Van Nu en Straks were part of the poet ‘cursed’ P. van Langendonck, E. and A. de Bom Hegenscheidt. The greatest exponent of opera between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the symbolist K. van de Woestijne, a decadent poet, whose lines of baroque splendor express his incessant torment between asceticism and sensuality. The master of the prose is S. Streuvels (pseud. Of F. Lateur), who, freeing himself from the realistic regionalism of the village novels, paints the relationship between men and nature with vigorous style. C. Buysse, who later broke away from the group of Van Nu en Straks, is the greatest naturalist writer (Het recht van den sterkste ” The right of the strongest”, novel, 1883), H. Teirlinck, versatile writer and refined stylist (whose best novels date back to 1940), in the first post-war period he contributed to the renewal of the theater with avant-garde dramas (De vertraagde film «The slowed down film», 1922). F. Toussaint van Boelaere, fine stylist and critic, wrote short stories. Strangers to Van Nu en Straks’ environment are the authors of regional short stories, M. Sabbe, L. Baekelmans and R. de Clercq, a popular poet. A strong influence on young Catholics between the two wars had the priest C. Verschaeve, with a vast essay, poetic and theatrical work.

The young people of the magazine De Boomgaard (“The Orchard”, 1909-11) have in common with Van Nu en Straks the desire to be cosmopolitan, but they are more polemical against provincialism and above all they tend towards a more refined, aestheticizing art. Their leader was the critic A. de Ridder. The poet J. van Nijlen collaborated on the Boomgaard, while remaining an isolated: his lyrics later found deserved recognition. During the First World War two writers met the favor of readers with their regional short stories and novels without reference to current problems: F. Timmermans and E. Claes, the first known also abroad with his picturesque Flemish-style stories (Pallieter, 1916; Het Kindeke Jezus in Vlanderen «The Child Jesus in Flanders», 1917), the second for the good-natured humor that animates his sketches of village life (De vitte «Il Biondino», 1920).

The war and the German occupation left their mark on Flemish literature. The influence of expressionism was felt above all in the lyric that had among the most important avant-garde figures P. Van Ostaijen and W. Moens. The magazine Het Fonteintje (“La fontanella”, 1921-24) rose against expressionism, with writers of a more individualistic, simple, ironic spirit: the poets R. Minne and Raymond Herreman, the essayist U. van de Voorde and the prose writer M. Roelants. Between 1920 and 1930 the theater enjoyed a successful period with performances by Het Vlaamse Volkstoneel(“The Flemish Popular Theater”). By 1930, Expressionism had waned and an extraordinary flowering of the novel began, which abandoned the schemes of traditional country fiction. The new novelists are more refined and subtle psychologists: M. Roelants excels in introspective analysis (Komen en gaan «Short visit», 1927); G. Walschap radically transforms the way of dealing with the themes of the Flemish Catholic community, represents disconcerting characters under the apparent normality and defends the vital force of man; W. Elsschot (pseud. Of A. de Ridder) already published a novel in 1913 (Villa des Roses) in which all the qualities of his bare prose and refined irony are evident. Another keen observer of human weaknesses is R. Brulez, while M. Gilliams, prose writer and essayist, investigates the world of dreams and of his own soul. F. de Pillecijn is also more evocative of moods than narrator. Good prose writers are L. Zielens, A. van Hoogenbemt and A. Demedts.

Other writers, between 1940 and 1950, renewed the narrative. The poet and essayist M. Gijsen (pseud. Of JA Goris) from 1947 turned to prose with short novels of a veiled autobiographical nature, full of ironic allusions to current morality. J. Daisne’s prose (pseud. By Herman Thiery) has a mixed character of reality and dream or hallucination, which he defines as “magical realism” (De trap van steen en wolken “The stairway of stone and clouds”, 1942; De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen “The man who had his hair cut”, 1947). H. Lampo recalls historical events by discovering analogies with today’s time (De belofte aan Rachel «The promise to Rachel », 1952) and introduces supernatural elements into everyday life (De komst van Joachim Stiller « The arrival of JS », 1960), while P. van Aken deals with social problems (Klinkaart « The brick », novel, 1954). L.-P. Boon, also a committed writer, often shocking, emphasizes social and moral injustices, with original stylistic procedures and personal and passionate interventions (De Kapellekensbaan «La strada della cappella», 1953). Poetry, between 1930 and 1950, does not denote eccentric attitudes: P. Buckinx is keen on formal discipline; K. Jonckheere, poet and essayist, affirms himself with Spiegel der Zee (“Mirror of the sea”, 1946), Belgium Decorte proves to be an exuberant lyricist in Germinal(1937). More classic is H. Hensen (pseud. By F. Mielants), which in severe forms expresses a stoic acceptance of life.

With H. Claus, novelist, poet and playwright, we enter, after 1950, the phase of ‘experimentalism’; precocious and fruitful talent, Claus can be considered the leader of the new current, which is inspired by the great French, English and Americans of the twentieth century. Remarkable and original prose writer is also W. Ruyslinck. The poetry of the ‘experimental’ that developed around 1950 expresses the attitude of young people in the face of a radically changed and insecure world: it is characterized by an associative and irrational language and an immediate sensitive perception. To Tijd en Mens magazine(«Time and man», 1949-1954), besides Claus, the poets Belgium Cami, E. van Ruysbeek and R. van de Kerckhove collaborated. J. Walravens was the theorist of modern Dutch poetry. The group of Vijfenvijftigers (“those of 1955”) included P. Snoeck and HG Pernath, both not very sensitive to the “great miseries of our time” dear to the previous generation. The avant-garde movement continued even after 1960. Concepts such as novel, plot, character, lose all meaning in the linguistic formalism of I. Michiels, in the disintegrated structures of H. Raes, in the writing-reflection of the ‘texts’ of R. Gysen, W. Roggeman, P. de Wispelaere, D. Robberechts. In the field of poetry, linguistic experimentation has its peak in the Labris magazines(1962-75) and De Tafelronde («The round table », founded in 1956). Concrete poetry, represented by P. de Vree, passes gradually through the phases of audiovisual, ideographic and visual poetry (Poëzjen, 1971; Maskers, 1973). Finally, it should be noted J. Geeraerts, who has transferred his experience as an official in the former Belgian Congo into a series of novels (including Ik ben maar een Neger «I’m just a black», 1962).

From the experimental and neorealistic attempts of the 1970s, the Dutch fiction of Belgium has moved on to favor themes linked to introspection. P. de Wispelaere, far from traditional literary genres, is the author of novels in which he contrasts aggressive and corrupt reality with the autobiographical self that aspires to a new and pure existence. Inspired by the work of L.-P. Boon, W. van de Broek turns his attention to the problems of the individual, with a postmodern connotation that breaks the traditional structure of the novel (Aantekeningen van een stambewaarder “Notes of the heir of a strain”, 1977). In M. van Paemel, the search for the ego is intertwined with that of the recent past, investing in particular the years of the Second World War. Poets born in the early twentieth century, considered the representatives of traditional poetry, such as K. Jonckheere, A. van Wilderode (pseudon. Of CP Coupé), H. van Herreweghen, continue to exert a notable influence on young people. Non-traditional, but in agreement in distancing oneself from Claus’s poetry, are T. Lanoye (b.1958), who makes his poetry an original theatrical event in which the public takes an active part, and D. van Bastelaere (b. 1960), which is the mouthpiece of a postmodern and intellectualistic poetics, which favors linguistic experimentalism.

Belgian Literature in the Dutch Language