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Max Havelaar of De koffieveilingen der Nederlandsche Handelmaatschappy
publisher: , 1860

translated as:
Max Havelaar or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1987
translation: R.P. Meijer

refered to by:
The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

Chapel Road
Louis Paul Boon

The Tea Lords
Hella S. Haasse

The Dark Room of Damokles
Willem Frederik Hermans

[Terug naar Oegstgeest]
Jan Wolkers

Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe

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In 1860, the novel Max Havelaar by Multatuli, pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887), gave voice to Holland’s uneasy conscience about its colonial enterprise in the East Indies. The book shocked the nation, provoked questions in parliament and eventually led to a new ‘ethical’ colonial policy at the end of the century. For the Indonesian author Pramudya Ananta Tur, writing in the International Herald Tribune (18 April 1999), Max Havelaar ‘killed colonialism.’ Today, the novel is as vigorously alive as when it first appeared and the case of its hero, the idealistic colonial civil servant Max Havelaar (the alter ego of Douwes Dekker, who resigned in disgust from the colonial administration because he took his duty to protect the natives too seriously) continues to be the subject of polemic and public debate in Dutch society. Max Havelaar is at once the most famous and the most controversial work of Dutch literature.

First translated into English in 1868, the novel was much acclaimed by the British Fabian Socialists and was read by Joseph Conrad, whose narrator Marlow in his novel Lord Jim is of the same moral fibre as Multatuli’s hero. In 1927, in his preface to the second English translation, D.H. Lawrence observed that, although its structure was 'a mess, Max Havelaar had to be recognized as both a literary masterpiece
and one of the great works of political and social satire'.

Written, incredibly, in the space of just six weeks in a cheap hotel room in Brussels, the novel is a literary experiment of the first order. Multatuli applies a range of styles and narrative forms, and includes in his narrative not only dialogues, letters and stories, but also contracts, documents and lists together with sermons, poetry and all kinds of notes and digressions. Another literary innovation is his use of multiple narrators, as in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (1860), a technique he employs with devastating effect against his first narrator, Batavus Droogstoppel, the archetype of everything that is smug and narrow-minded in Dutch society. With his dogged clinging to facts and common sense and his self-serving commercial truths about the coffee trade, this well-to-do, manipulative monster of an Amsterdam broker represents one face of the central conflict about truth. Max Havelaar, the selfless, poetic and compassionate civil servant who bangs his head against the wall of an indifferent but guilty bureaucratic system of colonial oppression in the Dutch East Indies, is in every respect Droogstoppel’s opposite. Between these two extremes of Droogstoppel’s complicit hypocrisy and Havelaar’s moral rectitude Multatuli weaves an intriguing and extraordinarily complex web of narratives and angles of vision that capture the reader’s attention from the first page to the last.



The Sorrows of Young Werther
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1774
Werther, a sensitive young man, falls in love with Lotte, knowing she is to marry another. Unable to subdue his passion, Werther's infatuation torments him to the point of despair.

[Camera Obscura]
Nicolaas Beets (Hildebrand), 1839-1854
Stories about the petit bourgeosis in the second quarter of the 19th century in Holland.

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
This novel has earned the title of not only bestseller, but also the first protest novel to have a direct impact on political events. The story follows the life and vissitudes of Uncle Tom, a noble negro, and portrays the humanity of an enslaved black people and the moral evil of their enslavement.

A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy
Laurence Sterne, 1768
'I have laid a plan for something new, quite out of the beaten track'. The result, A Sentimental Journey is as far from the conventional travel book as Tristram Shandy is from other novels.

Paul and Virginia
Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, 1777
This tragic love story of two young people, against the background of the tropical nature of Mauritius served as the inspiration for Multatuli's 'Saïdyah and Adinda'.

A Short Account of a Remarkable Aerial Voyage and Discovery of a New Planet
Willem Bilderdijk, 1813
The stories and poems of the Dutch writer Willem Bilderdijk (1756-1831), on the border of romanticism and realism (A Short Account of a Remarkable Aerial Voyage, 1813: a demonstration of the principles of the hot air balloon goes awry and results in the discovery of a strange new planet, hidden from the Earth by the moon).

The Mysteries of Paris
Eugène Sue, 1843
The novels of Eugène Sue, including The Mysteries of Paris (1834: the Parisienne underworld in the early 1800's).


Max Havelaar or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company
Sending shockwaves through the Dutch nation when it was published in 1860, this damning expose of the terrible conditions in the colonies led to welfare reforms in Java and continues to inspire the fairtrade movement today.

Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol, 1842
In this quintessentially Russian novel, the reader follows Chichikov, a dismissed civil servant turned con-man, through the countryside in pursuit of his shady enterprise.

[Tien vrolijke verhalen]
Gerard Reve, 1961
Ten black-romantic stories.

The Pickwick Papers
Charles Dickens, published in monthly installments March 1836 - Oct 1837
'The Pickwick Papers' began as a literary spoof centred around sketches by caricaturist Robert Seymour. Charles Dickens was recruited to compose the words to accompany the illustrations. This tale is a journey from innocence to experience by the portly middle aged hero and his guide and mentor.

Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1605 / 1615
A comic study of delusion and its consequences; Don Quixote, the old gentleman of La Mancha, takes to the road in search of adventure and remains undaunted in the face of repeated disaster.

[Publieke werken]
Thomas Rosenboom,
A provincial apothcary and a violin maker have the best intentions for saving humanity - but things don't go as planned.

Sentimental Education
Gustave Flaubert, 1869
This novel begins with the hero - Frederic Moreau - leaving Paris and returning to the provinces and his mother. Part love story, part historical novel and satire it tells of how Moreau is driven by passion for an unattainable older woman.

[De uitvreter / Titaantjes / Dichtertje]
Nescio, 1911/ 1915/ 1918
Ironic sketches about failed idealists.

Blue Mondays
Arnon Grunberg, 1994
The New York Times Book Review, on Arnon Grunberg’s debut novel, Blue Mondays, warns that 'readers seeking a heartwarming book about growing up should look elsewhere.'

No Holds Barred
Remco Campert, 1963
Slice of life: a group of young Dutch men and women in the big city in the early sixties.

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck, 1939
Set against the background of Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, this novel tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land.

Émile Zola, 1885
Written to draw attention to the misery prevailing among the poor in France during the Second Empire, this novel depicts the grim struggle between capital and labour in a coalfield in northern France. Yet, through the blackness of this picture, humanity is constantly apparent.

[Pieter Daens]
Louis Paul Boon, 1971
Textile factory workers in Aalst, Belgium fight poverty and injustice.

7 volumes, containing essays, short stories, aphorisms, a play, and a novel of the author's childhood, Woutertje Pieterse.
[De eerloze]
A play.
Mordant, unsparing satires.

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