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Amsterdam 3 March 1820 - Nieder-Ingelheim 19 Feb. 1887 • Dutch prose writer

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Eduard Douwes Dekker, better known by his pen name Multatuli, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel, Max Havelaar (1860) in which he denounced the abuses of colonialism in the former Dutch colony of Indonesia.

Dekker was born in Amsterdam. His father, a ship's captain, intended his son for trade, but this humdrum prospect disgusted him, and in 1838 he went out to Java and obtained a post in the Inland Revenue. He rose from one position to another, until, in 1851, he found himself assistant-resident at Amboyna, in the Moluccas. In 1857 he was transferred to Lebak, in the Bantam residency of Java. By this time, however, all the secrets of Dutch administration were known to him, and he had begun to protest against the abuses of the colonial system. In consequence he was threatened with dismissal from his office for his openness of speech. Thereupon quitting his appointment, Dekker returned to Holland in a state of fierce indignation.

He determined to expose in detail the scandals he had witnessed, and he began to do so in newspaper articles and pamphlets. Little notice, however, was taken of his protestations until, in 1860, he published, under the pseudonym of Multatuli, his novel Max Havelaar. Dekker's new pseudonym, which is derived from Latin, means, 'I suffered a lot', referring to himself, as well as the victims of the inustices he saw, most likely. An attempt was made to ignore this irregular (for the 1860s) book, but in vain; it was read all over Europe. The exposure of the abuse of free labor in the Dutch Indies was thorough, although colonialist apologists accused Dekker's terrible picture of being overdrawn. Multatuli now began his literary career, and published Love Letters (1861), which, in spite of their mild title, were mordant, unsparing satires.

Although the literary merit of Multatuli's work was widely criticized, he received an unexpected and most valuable ally in Carel Vosmaer. He continued to write much, and to publish his miscellanies in uniform volumes called Ideas, of which seven appeared between 1862 and 1877 and also contain his novel Woutertje Pieterse.

Douwes left Holland, and went to live
at Wiesbaden, where he made several attempts to write for the stage. One of his pieces, The School for Princes (published in 1875 in the fourth volume of Ideas), expresses his non-conformist views on politics, society and religion. It pleased him so much that he is said to have called it the greatest drama ever written. It is a fine poem, written in blank verse and stylistically resembling an English tragedy; but it lacks drama and so has not been widely performed. Douwes Dekker moved his residence to Nieder Ingelheim, on the Rhine, where he died in 1887.

Toward the end of his career he was the centre of a crowd of disciples and imitators, whose attentions have dimmed his own reputation. To understand his fame, it is necessary to remember the sensational way in which he broke into the dullness of Dutch literature of his time. He has been compared to a flame out of the Far East. He was ardent, provocative, and edgy, but he made himself heard all over Europe. He brought an exceedingly severe indictment against the egotism and brutality of the administrators of Indonesia, and he framed it in a literary form which was brilliantly original. Not satisfied with this, he attacked, in a fury that was sometimes blind, everything that seemed to him falsely conventional in Dutch religion, government, society and morals. He respected nothing, he left no institution untouched.

Now that it is possible to look back upon Multatuli without passion, we see in him, not what Dutch enthusiasm saw, the second greatest writer of Europe in the nineteenth century (Victor Hugo being presumably the first), but a great man who was a powerful and glowing author, yet hardly an artist, a reckless enthusiast, who was inspired by indignation and a burning sense of justice, who cared little for his means if only he could produce his effect. He is seen to his best and worst in Max Havelaar; his Ideas, hard, fantastic and sardonic, seldom offer any solid satisfaction to the foreign reader. But Multatuli deserves remembrance, if only on account of the unequalled effect his writing had in rousing Dutch literature from the intellectual and moral lethargy of the time.


The Sorrows of Young Werther
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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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