Dutch Literature

Dutch Literature, literature written in the Dutch language. In the late 12th century the oldest known forms of Dutch poetry came into being. The earliest surviving example is the "Eneit" ( "Aeneid"), an epic poem by Heinrich von Veldeke about the romance between Dido and Aeneas. The work was based on a French version of the "Aeneid" "," a masterpiece originally written in Latin by Roman poet Virgil. Veldeke, the first poet of the Lowlands known by name, also wrote a life of Saint Servatius based on a Latin source and various love songs.

A significant literature began to appear

A significant literature began to appear after 1250 with the work of Jacob van Maerlant. Called the father of Dutch literature, he wrote didactic poetry, romances of chivalry, and treatises on history and government. The new literature declined during the Burgundian domination of The Netherlands (1363-1477), when French words and literary forms became assimilated into Dutch.

During the first half of the 16th century

During the first half of the 16th century the work of Dutch scholar and humanist Desiderius Erasmus led to an intensification of literary activity in The Netherlands and throughout Europe. Like most of the educated elite of that time, Erasmus wrote in Latin. His aim was to reclaim the classics of ancient Greek and Latin literature that had been largely forgotten during the Middle Ages. His book "The" "Praise of Folie," a biting satire on many of the abuses of his age, was printed in Paris in 1511 and quickly brought him European fame.

Two later writers

Two later writers, Dirk Volkertszoon Coornhert and Philip van Marnix, directly influenced the so-called Golden Age of Dutch literature by writing in the Dutch language. Coornhert wrote poetry, drama, and prose, including a manual of ethics called "Zedekunst" (1586). Marnix is the author of one of the most acrimonious satires ever written against the Roman Catholic Church, "Biencorf der heiligher Roomscher kercke" (1569; "The Beehive of the Romish Church, "1578?).

The Golden Age

The Golden Age of Dutch literature

The Golden Age of Dutch literature, which lasted most of the 17th century, was coexistent with the establishment of the Dutch Republic and a period of great commercial prosperity. It is characterized by intellectual independence, an emphasis on humanist values ( "see "Humanism), and the suppression of foreign terms and idioms in the language.

Jacob Cats

Jacob Cats, known as Father Cats, enjoyed wide popularity as a poet. His simple moral precepts and workaday philosophy, expounded in such works as "Houwelijck" (Marriage, 1625) and "Trou-ringh" (The Wedding Ring, 1637), exercised great influence on the middle class. Constantijn Huygens, a diplomat, poet, and musician, produced verse of a far more intellectual but also moralizing nature.


Poet, dramatist, and historian Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft reflects the spirit of the European Renaissance in his use of classical models. His works, like those of Huygens, are culturally and intellectually sophisticated. Hooft`s tragic dramas "Geeraerd van Velsen" (first produced in 1612) and "Baeto" (1616) were modeled after the dramas of Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca. In these plays Hooft embodied his views on the duties of the citizen in an ideal state. Hooft was the Dutch poet most influenced by Italian writers; his songs and sonnets are notable for their phrasing and sense of form. Later in his career Hooft turned to writing history.

Dutch poets of the Golden Age generally

Dutch poets of the Golden Age generally stand out for their gifts for visual description. Poet and playwright Gerbrand Bredero displayed his pictorial instincts in songs, farces, and comedies. He drew a fascinating picture of Amsterdam street life in his comedies "Moortje" (The Little Moorish Girl, 1615) and "De Spaansche Brabander" (The Spaniard from Brabant, 1617). One of the founders of the Amsterdam Theater, he first wrote romantic plays but achieved his greatest success in low-comedy farces.

Joost van den Vondel was the greatest and

Joost van den Vondel was the greatest and most prolific of the poets and playwrights of the Golden Age, surpassing Hooft and Bredero in the breadth of his vision, the fire of his intellectual and moral passion, and his apparently effortless command of almost all poetic forms, from the biting lampoon to the ambitious ode and biblical tragedy. A deeply religious man, he converted to Roman Catholicism and expressed his earthly and heavenly visions in the symbolic forms of Catholic Christianity. In terms of dramatic form, Vondel owes a great deal to Hooft, the pioneer of Dutch Renaissance drama, but he outdid Hooft poetically and dramatically in his biblical tragedies. Vondel`s characters are subtly modeled variations of essentially one protagonistthe striving, erring, sinful human being in an eternal struggle to achieve integrity. Of his 24 poetic dramas in the classical form, the masterpiece was "Lucifer" (1654), concerning the revolt of the angels against God. Some critics believe that "Lucifer" served as the model and source for the epic poem "Paradise Lost," by English writer John Milton.

In the latter part of the 17th century

In the latter part of the 17th century there was a gradual slackening of this literary activity, and little literature of importance was produced in The Netherlands during much of the 18th century. In poetry the work of nature poet and mystic Jan Lyken stands out, but Dutch prose was hampered by a tendency of Dutch intellectuals to write in French. Playwright Pieter Langendijk wrote comedies that are still performed in The Netherlands. His best-known work, "De spiegel der vaderlandsche kooplieden" (The Mirror of Dutch Merchants, 1760), was finished after his death by two unknown writers. Another noteworthy writer of this period was Justus van Effen, who imitated contemporary English periodicals with his "Hollandsche Spectator" (1731-1735).

The "Verlichting"

The last quarter of the 18th century is

The last quarter of the 18th century is marked by a movement known as the "Verlichting" (enlightenment), which was characterized by an opposition to the rules and forms of classicism. Among the distinguished contributors to this movement were Betje Wolff-Bekker and her friend Aagje Deken, whose collaboration produced a number of novels in letter form, among them "Sara Burgerhart" (1782) and "Willem Leevend" (1784-1785). These novels demonstrate the authors` lively interest in theology, education, and the position of women, and they provide a panoramic view of middle-class society in 18th-century Holland. Poet Willem Bilderdijk became the hero of a political and religious movement called the "Reveil" (revival). His most ambitious work was an epic poem "De ondergang der eerste wereld" (The Destruction of the First World, 1820), which he left unfinished. A believer in monarchy, he wrote an "Ode van Napoleon" (Ode to Napoleon, 1806), celebrating the 1806 creation of the Kingdom of Holland under French rule by French emperor Napoleon I.


The 19th century opened inauspiciously

The 19th century opened inauspiciously with writing marked by conventionality, lack of originality, and an emphasis on form. The history of Dutch literature from about 1770 to 1880 can be seen in retrospect as a slow and even laborious liberation of the imagination from the bonds of rigid thought and classical form. Romantic sentiment, whether religious or patriotic or both, remained largely tied to past ideas and continued to express itself in forms of the past. An uneasy marriage of romantic sentiment and classicist style produced the historical novels of the period, in which the influence of Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott is paramount. The novels of Jacob van Lennep, a born storyteller, fall into this category. In these works overly simple characters enact highly elaborate plots. "See also "Romanticism.

Through his literary criticism essayist

Through his literary criticism essayist Jacob Geel developed a plainer style in Dutch prose than classicism had permitted. Another writer who contributed to Dutch prose style was Everhardus Johannes Potgieter. In addition to his own creative writing, Potgieter founded the review "De Gids" (The Guide) in 1837, which served as an organ for the romantic movement in Dutch literature. Potgieter was a patriot who held up an idealized Dutch Republic as a pattern for emulation by other countries. His masterpiece is "Florence" (1868), a study of medieval Italy and a glorification of Italian poet Dante Alighieri.

Nicolaas Beets

Nicolaas Beets, one of the most famous writers of this period, owes his reputation to a single collection of essays and stories, "Camera Obscura" (1839). It provides a gently humorous reflection of the life and manners of middle-class society. Anna Louise Geertruida Bosboom-Toussaint, also associated with the review "De Gids," was a writer of deep psychological penetration who wrote masterly evocations of history. Her works include a cycle, published from 1845 to 1855 on the adventures of English soldier Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in The Netherlands.

Eduard Douwes Dekker was an outspoken intellectual

Eduard Douwes Dekker was an outspoken intellectual who challenged tradition. Writing under the pseudonym Multatuli, he gave the decisive push to a liberation of Dutch thought and feeling that took place in the years between 1860 and 1900. His prose was essentially the inspired speech of an emotional nature capable of fiery eloquence and withering sarcasm. In the novel "Max Havelaar" (1860), a satire on Dutch colonialism, his style was simple and free from the formalism that had become a literary standard of the language. Essentially a political tract against Dutch exploitation of the Javanese in the Dutch East Indies, the novel achieved the same dramatic impact in The Netherlands as "Uncle Tom`s Cabin "(1852), an attack on slavery by American writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, had in the United States.

Dutch Literature 1 | Dutch Literature 2 |

Recommended for you

Read more about the full history of the world

Balcones Escarpment

Balcones Escarpment, prominent geological feature of south central Texas. An escarpment is a steep cliff or slope formed by a fault or erosion. Bal...


Alfredo Baldomir

Alfredo Baldomir (1884-1948), Uruguayan soldier and engineer, president of Uruguay from 1938 to 1943. Baldomir was born in Montevideo, Uruguay. He ...


Baldwin James Mark

James Mark Baldwin (1861-1934), American psychologist and educator, and a founder of the American Psychological Association. Baldwin was born in Co...