Flemish Literature

Flemish Literature, literature of the historic Flanders region, written in the Dutch language (known in the region by its cultural name, the Flemish language). By the second half of the 12th century, a written language began to develop out of the various dialects existing in the Netherlands and Flanders. The earliest Flemish poet was Heinrich von Veldeke, born near Maastricht (now in the Netherlands), who wrote in the Franconian dialect. His work consisted of a translation of Virgil`s "Aeneid" ( "see "Virgil), several love lyrics, and a life of Saint Servatius. The poetry of the following century, although written in a variety of dialects, exhibits a common reaction against the popular medieval romances. A strain of didacticism came in, exemplified in the writing of Jacob van Maerlant. His popular moralizing works ranged over a wide variety of topics, including natural history, the Bible, and world history.

The Language Struggle

Although many 16th-century writers strove

Although many 16th-century writers strove to make their own dialects the basis for a standard language, attempts were also made to work out a general Netherlandic tongue. Literature, however, languished in Flanders until the late 18th century, when signs of a Flemish literary revival developedin reaction to the French language, which had become official with the 1794 French occupation. The first Flemish short story, "Jellen en Mietje," was written in 1811 by Karel Broeckaert, who also wrote dialogues patterned after those of the English essayist Joseph Addison. The poetry of Peter Joost de Borchgrave and the drama of Jan Baptist Hofman were also part of this revival.

Literary Use of Flemish

In 1818 the Flemish scholar Jan Frans Willems

In 1818 the Flemish scholar Jan Frans Willems stated the value of Flemish in his dissertation "Verhandeling over de Nederduytsche taal-en letterkunde" (Treatise on Low Dutch Philology and Literature, 2 volumes, 1819-1824). His work started a movement that was encouraged by the government, and he was commissioned to prepare a text of the 13th-century poem "Van den vos reinaerde" (Reynard the Fox). After 1839 the language revival spread rapidly, encouraged by poets such as Karel Lodewijk Ledeganck, Theodor van Rijswijck, and Prudens van Duyse and by prose writers such as Hendrik Conscience, who wrote more than a hundred novels and short stories in Flemish.

The most important early Flemish novelist

The most important early Flemish novelist was Conscience, whose historical novel "The Lion of Flanders" (1838; translated 1853-1857) significantly contributed to the revival of nationalism and pride in the language. His contemporary Jan van Beers was a romantic poet, famous for his refinement and simplification of Flemish poetry. A number of novelists after Conscience, especially Virginie Loveling, reacted against the rural idealism that Conscience displayed in some of his novels. However, with the exception of Loveling`s "Een dure eed" (A Solemn Oath, 1892), their realism is weak. The most important 19th-century Flemish poet was the priest Guido Gezelle, whose simple and direct lyrical poems of religious feeling and rural life were little appreciated until after his death.

Modern Flemish Literature

The monthly review "Van Nu en Straks"

The monthly review "Van Nu en Straks" (Of Today and Tomorrow), founded in 1893, became the center of the first literary movement to counteract regionalism. Its influence continued into the 1960s through the works of Herman Teirlinck and Stijn Streuvels (pseudonym of Frank Lateur). Teirlinck wrote novels, plays, and essays. Perhaps most influential were his plays "De vertraagde film" (The Slow-Motion Film, 1921) and "De man zonder liff" (The Bodiless Man, 1925); the novel "Zelfportret of het galgemaal" (Self-Portrait, or the Convict`s Last Meal, 1966), one of his last works; and his editorship, from 1946 to 1967, of the humanistic review "Nieuw Vlaams Tijdschrift" (New Flemish Review). Probably the best novelist of the "Van Nu en Straks" group is Streuvels, nephew of Guido Gezelle. Streuvels`s large-scale descriptive tales concern peasant life, the best known being "De vlaschaard" (The Flax Field, 1907).

The periodical "Ruimte" (Space) published

The periodical "Ruimte" (Space) published the work of a group of young expressionist poets, among them Marnix Gijsen (pseudonym of Jan-Albert Goris), probably the most distinguished Belgian expressionist poet to achieve prominence after World War I (1914-1918). A collection of his work was published in 1925. He later turned to novel writing and to literary and art criticism. Several of his largely autobiographical novels reflect the ambiguities of the European intellectual`s place in Americafor example, "De vleespot-ten van Egypte" (The Fleshpots of Egypt, 1952). He collaborated on editing "Albrecht Drer: Diary of His Journey to the Netherlands" (1971; "see "Drer, Albrecht).

The traditional type of Flemish novel

The traditional type of Flemish novel, dealing with the countryside and the small town, continued to be popular and found its strongest exponent in Felix Timmermans, particularly in his "Pallieter" (1916), whose hero stood for Flemish joie de vivre. Novelists of the same generation, such as Maurice Roelants and Gerard Walschap, broke from traditional concerns to explore the psychology and social situations of urban experience. The generation after World War II (1939-1945) produced works of varying experimental hues. "The Deadbeats" (1957; translated 1968), by Ward Ruyslinck, is a bleak novel of a man deranged by his war experiences. The early work of Hugo Claus, a poet, playwright, and novelist, takes a negative view of lifeas in "De Metsiers" (The Metsiers, 1951), an exploration of evil in a peasant family. A more humane view informs his later novels, such as "De verwondering" (Astonishment, 1962).

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