Netherlands Literature

Old Dutch literature has been lost except for some fragments of a translation of the book of Psalms. It is known that Karl the Great had written a pre-Christian quad, but the notes were annihilated under his son Louis the Pious.

The Middle Ages

Only from the High Middle Ages (11th century) is Dutch literature preserved. Only with the limber citizen Heinric van Veldeke with his St. Servatius epic (c. 1170) and some anonymous knight’s epic from the Frankish legendary circle are the hallmarks of the early medieval life feeling. However, the Dutch cultural center of the Middle Ages was located in southern Dutch (Flemish) territory, and the Middle Dutch literature was therefore dealt with under Belgium (literature).

However, the present Netherlands is not without contributions to this literature. Notably Willem van Hildegaersberch (c. 1350 – c. 1408) is notably literary in his political and social character, and Dirc Potter (c. 1370–1428). However, the Dutch literature in the didactic and religious field was of greater importance. Towards the end of the 13th century, together with the great Flemish didactist Jacob van Maerlant, Melis Stoke wrote his Rijmkroniek van Hollant. The greatest didacticist and at the same time the first great Northern Dutch prose writer was the Dominican Dirc van Delf (Delft), who approx. 1400 wrote his extensive work Tafel van den kersten ghelove. Significant mystics were Gheraert Appelmans and Geert (Gerrit) Groote, a disciple of the Flemish mystic Jan van Ruusbroec. Groote founded the movement Brothers of Common Life, which was more marked by the nominalism of the Late Middle Ages than by the scholasticism of the Middle Ages, thereby preparing humanism and the Renaissance in the Netherlands. Of the great name of the movement must be mentioned Hendrik Mande (c. 1360-1431) and Thomas a Kempis, who mostly wrote in Latin and is the alleged author of the famous Imitatio Christi(Christ’s imitation). Outside the movement, the traveling preacher Jan Brugman (c. 1400–73) was of great importance. He is also, alongside sister Bertken (Bertha) Jacobs van Utrecht (1427–1514), one of the few named Dutch poets of the Late Middle Ages’ characteristic spiritual lyric.

The oldest drama from the present Netherlands is a Limburgian mystery play, the so-called Maastrichtse Paasspel from the 1300s. Incidentally, the drama belongs to the so-called shipowners, who played a major role in literary life from the late Middle Ages to the 17th century. The most important types of the Rederijker drama were the allegorical morality, the biblical drama and the low comic farce. This drama is largely anonymous.

At the same time as the shipowners’ poetry in the vernacular, the Netherlands with Erasmus from Rotterdam became a center of humanism, and a comprehensive humanist poetry in Latin arose. Georg Macropedius and Guilielmus Gnaphaeus are considered among the greatest poets of European school drama. The school playwrights took their role in the old Latin comedy writers, but at the same time built a part on the shipping company drama. In time, humanism became applicable in shipping circles. This is evident in the socially characterized drama of Haarlemrederijkeren Lourens Jansz, and in particular of Coornhert, who followed the flamboyant ideas of the Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius, and of Hendrik Laurenszoon Spieghel (1549-1612) and Roemer Visscher (1547-1620). for his emblem book Sinnepoppen(1614). Alongside the humanist line in Dutch literature, there is also a Renaissance line that draws its inspiration from the Italian Renaissance and the French Pleiade. Dutch’s first significant poet here is Jan van Hout (1542-1609).

In the 17th century the Netherlands experienced its literary golden age. The shipping chambers still existed at the turn of the century, but soon lost their significance after several of the members under the influence of humanism and renaissance broke out of the narrow framework of the shipping company tradition and lifted the native language poetry to a high literary level. The last representatives of the Latin humanist poetry, Hugo Grotius and Daniel Heinsius, played a major role in this development. With Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft, the Dutch Renaissance reached its peak. Constantijn Huygens united the literary ideals of the Renaissance with Calvinistic faith, while Jacob Cats became the folk poets of Calvinist bourgeoisie. GA Bredero developed the shipping company farmer into great comedy. Joost van den Vondel became one of the foremost representatives of the European Baroque poetry.


After Vondel’s death (1679), Dutch literature experienced a period of decline. The French tragedy style became dominant in the tragedy poem. The comedy, on the other hand, was further developed by Thomas Asselijn (1620–1701) and Pieter Bernagie (1656–99) and reached the pinnacle of Pieter Langendijk (1683–1756) under the influence of Molière. Hubert Cornelisz Poot (1689–1733) and Willem van Zwaanenberg (1678–1728) are lyricists. Justus van Effen (1684-1735), through his journal De Hollandsche Spectator, practiced rationalist moralizing criticism. Hieronymus van Alphen initiated the aesthetic criticism of Dutch literature, and Jacobus Bellamy (1757–86) continued it in his journal De Poetische Spectator, while Rhijnvis Feith (1753-1824) was the most significant representative of the German-influenced sentimental poetry. Under the influence of the English letter novel, Betje Wolff, together with Agje Deken (1741-1804), wrote the first significant Dutch novel, Sara Burgerhart (1782).


At the turn of the 19th century stands the towering but contentious Willem Bilderdijk, who unites romance and Calvinism in an often conventional rhetorical form. Under his strong influence stands the Jew Isaac da Costa. The historical novel of romance got its most important representatives in Adriaan Loosjes (1761-1818), Aarnout Drost (1810-34), Jacob van Lennep (1802-68) and Anna Louisa Bosboom-Toussaint (1812-86). Josephus Albertus Alberdingk Thijm meant a great deal to Catholic intellectual emancipation. A characteristic bourgeois-Dutch humor is expressed by Jacob Vosmaer (1783-1834), and especially by Nicolaas Beets with his famous short story and sketch collection Camera Obscura(1839). The romance gained great importance through its inspiration for a renewed movement. The main man here was Everardus Johannes Potgieter, who in 1837, together with Reinier Bakhuizen van den Brink (1810-65), founded the critical journal De Gids, which is still a leading journal in the Netherlands. In 1862, Conrad Busken Huet became the magazine’s editor.

With Eduard Douwes Dekker (pseudonym Multatuli), in the 1860s, the Netherlands received its first large-format novelist, and his prose, together with Busken Huet’s criticism, forms the necessary basis for the great literary renewal that in 1880 set in with “the movement of 80 “, A movement that prevailed far into the 20th century. Through a number of quite young poets, Dutch literature once again emerged at European level. Foremost were the lyricists Jaques Perk, Willem Kloos, Herman Gorter, Hélène Swart and Albert Verwey, and among the novelists the novelist Frederik van Eeden and the naturalists Lodewijk van Deyssel and Louis Couperus. The movement’s journal was The New Guide. A literary beauty ideal was gathered (l’art pour l’art), the poetry should be considered exclusively from an aesthetic point of view. In the 1890s Frederik van Eeden advocated religious communism in the spirit of Tolstoy; Gorter teamed up with young Henriette Roland Holst, CS Adama van Scheltema and playwright Herman Heijermans for an idealistic Marxism, while Verwey and PC Boutens in the poetry saw the way to a deeper insight into life. With his journal De Beweging(1905) Verwey turned to poetry without philosophical and ethical grounds. From his circle, a large number of significant poets were composed, the lyricists Geerten Gossaert, JC Bloem, P. van Eyck, Adriaan Roland Holst, Dèr Mouw, JI de Haan, J. Greshoff, Martinus Nijhoff, Victor E. van Vriesland and the novelistic novelists. Arthur van Schendel, Nico van Suchtelen and Aart van der Leeuw.

Aart van der Leeuw


Characterized by expressionism, vitalism and “new realism” emerged after the First World War, a strongly European oriented group that broke with the symbolist tradition of the 1880s movement. In the 1920s, it became very prominent in the lyrics with the expressionist Herman van den Bergh, the vitalist H. Marsman and the more romantically influenced J. Slauerhoff. In the 1930s, Menno ter Braak and E. du Perron, together with Flemish lender Maurice Roelant, published the magazine Forum and collected a number of the leading names in Flanders and the Netherlands. The most important Dutch authors here are S. Vestdijk, F. Bordewijk and FC Terborgh. Outside the circle, but in agreement with this, one finds the distinctive Nescio, who for decades managed to hide his identity. By a Catholic group around the journal De Gemeenschap must be mentioned lyricists Jan Engelman and Pierre Kemp, the novelists Antoon Coolen and Herman de Man as well as the essayist Anton van Duinkerken. Socialist-oriented writers are Jef Last and Theun de Vries. Among the main characters just before and after the Second World War, mention is the surrealist and Christian imprint lyricist Gerrit Achterberg. Surrealism is also found at Ed. Hoornik, while M. Vasalis and Bertus Aafjes represent a more traditional style lyric. Among the prose writers in particular, Anna Blaman has drawn attention and contention to her problem novels, as well as Hella S. Haasse with her psychological and historical novels. Post-war veterans of the older generation are Maria Dermoût and Abel Herzberg, and only later appeared letters and diary notes of the Jewish Etty Hillesum, who died in Auschwitz 1943.

In 1950, the post-war generation began to take effect. Among the lyricists, who for their far-reaching experimental experiments draw inspiration from Achterberg and the Flemish expressionist Paul van Ostaijen, names such as Lucebert, Remco Campert, Simon Vinkenoog, Ellen Warmond, JG Elburg, Paul Rodenko and Gerrit Kouwenaar, and among the prokists GK (van het) Reve, Bert Schierbeek, Willem Frederik Hermans, Cees Nooteboom and Harry Mulisch. The 1960s brought some new names, including Jan Wolkers, Jacques Hamelink, Geert van Beek, Andreas Burnier and the lyricists Judith Herzberg and Rutger Kopland. Recent novelists are J. Bernlef (pseudonym of Hendrik Jan Marsman), Louis Ferron, AF Th. van der Heijden, Arthur Japin, Gerrit Krol, Marcel Möring, Nicolaas Matsier, Margriet de Moor, Connie Palmen, Thomas Rosenboom.

The drama is not strong in the Netherlands. The foremost playwright in contemporary Dutch-language literature, Flemish lender Hugo Claus, spent some time in Amsterdam as “house poets” for the main scene there. Eduard Hoornik is noted by his own playwrights.

Eduard Hoornik