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literature

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Dutch and Flemish Literature  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  

His novel Noodlot (1890) was admired by Oscar Wilde, who read the English translation (Footsteps of Fate [1891]). Noodlot, which sets a platonic friendship in a naturalistic context, tells the story of the androgynous dandy Bertie, who sponges on his stronger, well-built, and earthy friend Frank. When Bertie learns that Frank is going to marry Eve, he succeeds in destroying their plans.

To explain his action, he expresses passionate love for Frank. In a fit of anger, Frank kills Bertie, but many years later concludes that Bertie could not help himself. Eve agrees, and the story ends with the couple taking their own lives.

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Although many critics complained that Bertie's emotions were "unhealthy," the severest criticism was directed against the fatalistic philosophy that Couperus expressed in this novel.

Couperus, like many homosexuals in his day, was very drawn to the Mediterranean and to classic antiquity. His most outspoken "homosexual" novel is the three-volume De berg van licht (Mountain of Light [1905-1906]). In this complex work, Couperus experimented with the gender and sexual identity of the main character, the young priest-emperor Heliogabalus.

In his psychological portrait of the third-century historical figure, Couperus not only used historical and literary sources, but also contemporary ideas about androgyny and theosophy. When the fourteen-year-old Heliogabalus becomes emperor, he fails in bringing together the eastern and western religions and customs.

Neither does he succeed in developing both sides of his androgynous nature equally. His female side gets stronger and stronger, especially after marrying the muscular gladiator Hierocles. De berg van licht now is considered a high point in European fin-de-siècle decadent literature.

Another of Couperus's historical novels, De komedianten ([1917]; trans. as The Comedians), is set in Rome in the first century C.E. and tells the story of the adolescent twins Cecilius and Cecilianus. They are members of a traveling theater company, famous for its obscene plays and dances.

The twins, portrayed as young rascals, are part of a motley crowd of actors, gladiators, whores, and gypsies, who all enjoy a playful and physical--often homoerotic--association. "This is finally," Couperus told a friend, "a story that I wrote only for my own pleasure and I think it is very charming."

Jacob Israël de Haan

The decadent classical context of Couperous's historical novels offered him an opportunity to describe homoeroticism more explicitly than was possible in a contemporary Dutch context. The reception of the novels of Jacob Israël de Haan (1881-1924) illustrates how furiously people could react to overtly homosexual characters in a contemporary, realistic setting.

De Haan was familiar with the new concepts of the inborn homosexual nature as described in Germany by Magnus Hirschfeld and in Holland by De Haan's friend, the writer and physician Arnold Aletrino. It is to Aletrino that De Haan dedicated his first novel, called Pijpelijntjes (Scenes from "De Pijp," a gray working-class district in Amsterdam).

In this work, published in 1904, De Haan presents a homosexual relation as something that needs no explanation or apology. The two protagonists, Sam and Joop, with the nicknames and appearances of Aletrino and De Haan, live together as poor students. Sometimes they have sex together, sometimes Joop picks up a street boy for a one-night stand.

The publication of Pijpelijntjes cost De Haan his friendship with Aletrino, who, together with De Haan's fiancée, bought almost the entire edition and destroyed it. De Haan lost his job as an editor and later also his teaching job. Nevertheless, the same year he published a rewritten version of his Pijpelijntjes, which was largely ignored, receiving only a few, negative reviews.

De Haan's second novel Pathologieën; de ondergangen van Johan van Vere de With (Pathologies: The Destructions of Johan van Vere de With [1908]) is a remarkable work of art in gay literary history. The protagonist of Pathologieën is a boy who realizes that he is attracted to other boys, comes to accept his feelings by reading unspecified scientific studies of homosexuality, and finds both happiness and disaster in a relationship with a sadistic artist.

By means of a foreword by the Belgian writer Georges Eekhoud and several dedications (to the Danish writer Herman Bang, Wilde, and Eekhoud), De Haan expressly relates Pathologieën to a homosexual literary canon.

He presents an image of homosexuality not yet common in the socio-historical or even the scientific literature. De Haan's hero experiences a process of consciousness-raising, rejection, acceptance, integration, and coming out. The process culminates in a modern homosexual identity, one not based on a male-female dichotomy or "third sex."

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