In Belgian literature two specific literatures must be distinguished according to the language in which they are written: French and Dutch, the literate, written and spoken language of the Netherlands (Nederland). The term Vlaams (“Flemish”), which is still often used to denote the present-day language of northern Belgium, is less appropriate, as it properly refers only to the group of Flanders dialects.
According to ehotelat, Belgian French-language literature began to spread around 1880, thanks to the cultural action promoted by the review Jeune Belgique, which supported the concept of the theoretical nature of art and its autonomy from the sphere of politics and religion, the foundation of literary development twentieth century. La Wallonie (1886-92) was instead the magazine of symbolism, a movement that spread in Belgium precisely because it found a culture free from conditioning due to a long literary tradition. Among the best known poets were M. Maeterlinck, E. Verhaeren, M. Elskamp. There were also numerous narrators who felt the influence of naturalism and decadence, such as G. Virrès and E. Delmoder. After the First World War there was an opening towards foreign literary currents, especially French; in particular they penetrated surrealism, Marxism, expressionism and existentialism. In this regard, the work of A. Baillon, F. Hellens, C. Plisnier, R. Vivier and C. Burniaux is significant.
Two of the major authors born in Belgium died in the late 1980s: M. Yourcenar, the first writer to be welcomed at the Académie française, and G. Simenon, whose writings have continued to garner a growing critical and public, confirmed by the publication of the complete work (Tout Simenon, 27 vol., 1989-93). Both expatriates early, they are the most illustrious exponents of a large group of writers of Belgian origin or citizenship who find their natural place in French literature. On the other hand, the independence concerns towards mother literature, noticeable up to the 1960s, affected the expression of Belgian French-speaking writers less and less, whose role within a national culture with a dual linguistic and cultural tradition, the Walloon and the Flemish ones, is in fact strengthened by the public and critical recognition obtained in France. However, awareness of one’s origins and roots remains alive, as shown by Simenon’s autobiographical books (Je me souviens, 1945;Lettre à ma mère, 1974) or Yourcenar’s research in Souvenirs pieux (1974) and Archives du Nord (1977). Even more radical is the research conducted in the novels of advanced maturity by D. Rolin (L’infini chez soi, 1980; Deux femmes un soir, 1996; Rénovation, 1998), constructed according to the techniques of the nouveau roman, to whose influence J.-G. Linze is also sensitive. After the first successful tests, no evocation of the country of origin emerges in the work of F. Mallet-Joris (pseud. Of F. Lilar), marked by a progressive ease of writing; on the other hand, C. Detrez’s novels abound in literary devices, inspired by his life experiences, from the seminary to the revolution in Latin America, to the choice of homosexuality. Among the most committed writers P. Mertens stands out, interpreter of the events of contemporary history. In the wake of the fantastic narrative, which had its initiator at the beginning of the twentieth century in J. Ray, the writers of the generation of the 1920s move J. Sternberg, J. Muno and G. Compère. Exponent of the avant-garde movement born in the wake of May 1968 is J.-P. Verheggen, who breaks down ideological models and formal stereotypes in novels of inexhaustible verbal inventiveness and overbearing comedy. Among the most significant authors of the last twenty years of the twentieth century we can still distinguish R. Swennen, P. Emond and J.-P. Otte. A separate place is occupied by H. Bauchau, narrator, poet and playwright, for the suggestive power and intellectual subtlety of his work. In poetry, despite the lack of schools and movements, the search for authors such as J. Izoard, animator of the Atelier de l’agneau in Liège, should be noted; J. Crickillon, author of refined Baroque verses, as well as short stories. And again C. Hubin, whose poetry is tinged with intimate nuances, and W. Lambersy, close to the experiments of R. Queneau.
Theatrical activity demonstrated a notable vitality in Belgium It is due to the initiative of numerous directors and playwrights: H. Ronse, founder of the Nouveau théâtre de Belgique; M. Liebens, creator, after the failure of the Théâtre du parvis, of the Ensemble théâtral mobile; A. Delcampe, director of the Atelier théâtral de Louvain-la-Neuve; the brothers Charles (better known with the pseud. of Frédéric Baal) and Frédéric Flamand, founders of the Théâtre laboratoire vicinal. In dramaturgy, authors such as J. Louvet, interpreter of the concerns of the Walloon proletariat, J.-M. Piemme, M. Fabien, Belgium De Coster emerge. Significant, in the context of the Jeune Théâtre in Brussels, the presence of M. Delval, M. Dezoteux, P. Sireuil. A special mention deserves the short and intense career of R. Kalisky, Jewish of Polish origin, whose theater, aimed at bringing out the violence and contradictions of history, escapes the most consolidated conventions in the use of space and time.