Page 1


Classics are books that do not know when to give up; they have never ceased conveying their story or their meaning.

Why Publish the Classics? Thirty years ago, the answer to this enticing question could be found in the outstanding essay by the great, sadly-missed Italian master Italo Calvino. Under the title, Why Read the Classics?, he fired our imagination with some of the following thoughts. The classics are books about which you hear people saying, ‘I’m re-reading x’, and never, ‘I’m reading x’. After all, these are books with a history and reading a good book for the first time as an adult gives extraordinary pleasure, quite different from the pleasure of reading it as an adolescent. Young people add a special flavour and a particular feeling of importance to reading. Adults are far more appreciative of the unsightly details, the linguistic strata and the nuances. The classics are therefore venerated by those who have read and cherished them. The classics are books with a striking impact; they refuse to be banished from our thoughts, slumbering in the folds of our memory, camouflaged as the collective or individual subconscious. Each new reading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first. Classics are books that do not know when to give up; they have never ceased conveying their story or their meaning. They bear the marks of their previous readers and, in that wake, also carry the traces they have left on the culture through which they passed. Classics do not necessarily teach us anything we did not already know. In the classics, we discover things we always knew, or thought we knew. Classics provide us with origin, kinship and affinity. In that way, they are timeless and equal to the entire universe. One might think that reading the classics would be irreconcilable with our hectic rhythm of life, in which we cannot afford any longer periods of extended time, space or reflection. Yet they provide the clue or the contradiction to the eclecticism of our culture, which is barely able to scrape together a catalogue of essential values to meet our needs. The classics are therefore published to provide a fitting answer for all readers in search of one. The amazing renaissance of John Williams, who, decades after his passing, has Europe at his feet with Stoner and Augustus, is one of the most remarkable stories from the publishing world over the past few years. This brochure contains the cream of the Flemish classics. Each and every book comes from the collective Flemish memory, controversial in its time, and, to this day, still alive and kicking and astonishingly contemporary. And even if the authors are no longer with us or have completed their works, they span a bridge between then and now, formulating the most complex things with ease, in a way that enthrals us still today. We wish you a wonderful voyage through the treasure houses of Flemish literature. Koen Van Bockstal Director Flemish Literature Fund


Table of Contents 1



Hugo Claus De verwondering (Wonder) Het verdriet van België (The Sorrow of Belgium) De geruchten (The Rumours)


Louis Paul Boon De kapellekensbaan (Chapel Road) Mijn kleine oorlog (My Little War) Menuet (Minuet)


Willem Elsschot Lijmen/Het been (Soft Soap/The Leg) Kaas (Cheese) Het dwaallicht (Will o’ the Wisp)


Felix Timmermans Pallieter


Cyriel Buysse


Stijn Streuvels


Tantes (The Aunts) Het leven en de dood in de ast (Life and Death in the Drying Kiln)

Paul van Ostaijen Grotesken (Grotesques)


Maurice Gilliams Elias of het gevecht met de nachtegalen (Elias or the Struggle with the Nightingales)


Gerard Walschap Houtekiet


Johan Daisne De trein der traagheid (The Train of Inertia)


Marnix Gijsen Klaaglied om Agnes (Lament for Agnes)


Herman Teirlinck Het gevecht met de engel (The Battle with the Angel)


Hubert Lampo De komst van Joachim Stiller (The Coming of Joachim Stiller)


Ivo Michiels Het boek Alfa (Book Alpha)


Jef Geeraerts Gangreen 1 (Gangrene 1): Black Venus


Daniël Robberechts Aankomen in Avignon (Arriving in Avignon)




In his novels, Hugo Claus lays bare the haunted underbelly of twentiethcentury Flanders with portraits of a shattered society and warped psyches rising to a mythic pitch. (Archipelago Books)

One of the landmark European novels of the post-war era. (J.M. Coetzee on The Sorrow of Belgium)

Hugo Claus ©Stephan Vanfleteren

A Stirring Eclectic and Master of Genres Hugo Claus (1929-2008) is the most famous and probably the most important Flemish writer of modern literature. The internationally acclaimed author of dozens of plays, novels and collections of poetry was also a successful painter and cinematographer. In his Faulknerian novels, Claus mixes expertly crafted stories of post-war Flanders with poignant character portraits and telltale allusions to Greek and Christian mythology. His panoramic depiction of ‘la Flandre profonde’ in Het verdriet van België (The Sorrow of Belgium, 1983) testifies to the literary grandeur of Flanders’ most protean scribe.

6  HUGO CLAUS A Stirring Eclectic and Master of Genres

How many Hugo Clauses are hiding inside Hugo Claus, a critic asked himself once in reviewing one of Claus’ collections of poems. Not only was Claus multi-faceted as a poet; with the publication of his debut novel, De Metsiers (The Metsiers), this multi-faceted talent was described as a wunderkind. That seems to have been well justified: the mature Claus went on to make his name as a novelist and short story writer, poet, theatre and film director, translator, dramatist and screenplay writer, and painter. Although Claus is a stirring eclectic who displays a masterful variety of genre and style in all his activities, the basic theme of his work is clearly the urge for freedom, which must be fought for in family, church and society. Claus’ work addresses not only the malaise in society, but also inner unease. In his eyes, it exists as an absurd joke of fate. Fortunately that does not restrain him from creating work that is exuberant in subject matter, eloquence, form and language. (Dutch critic Jeroen Vullings)

De verwondering (Wonder, 1962) Victor-Denijs De Rijckel, a self-aware but sexually insecure teacher, becomes fascinated by a woman but loses sight of her on the beach in Ostend. The next morning, a pupil invites him for a trip to the village of Hekegem, with the promise of further glimpses of the object of his desire. In what follows, Victor loses his grip on events and has to fend off encroaching insanity. The dramatic events are told in various ways, which as well as enriching sometimes contradict each other: a linear narrative, a secret diary and another notebook each reveal parts of the story about the characters who are pushing Victor towards madness. Wonder is undoubtedly one of the milestones of twentieth-century Flemish literature.

267 pages Published by De Bezige Bij Rights: Liepman AG Pen Translation Award 2010 Translations: see list p. 23

Het Verdriet van België (The Sorrow of Belgium, 1983)

776 pages Published by De Bezige Bij Rights: Liepman AG Translations: see list p. 23

The monumental novel The Sorrow of Belgium is set in the late 1930s and World War II. It focuses on the young Louis Seynaeve, who tries to escape from a Flemish petit-bourgeois environment in which morality is bent to suit self-interest and in which the father has no qualms about working for the Germans as a printer. This Bildungsroman is also a social document about political and social misfortune in Flanders before, during, and after World War II. In particular, it is a look from within at the man-in-the-street in wartime and at the circumstances that gave rise to collaboration. Louis avoids the lure of fascism through his innate anarchism and intellectual insight; in this, he is a typical Claus protagonist. The novel has continued to be a bestseller for many years and has been translated into numerous languages.

De Geruchten (The Rumours, 1996) When René Catrijsse, a man in his twenties who has fought in the Belgian Congo, deserts and returns to his native village of Alegem, no one is genuinely pleased. When deaths in the village increase in number, it’s not hard to guess who will be made the scapegoat. The Rumours evokes a panoramic image of 'la Flandre profonde', delving beneath the shiny veneer into the depths of its corruption and violence. Comprehension of the central storyline is hampered by the permanent tension between truth and lie. The seemingly endless chaotic shifts in perspectives perfectly illustrate how the mechanism of rumours works: they start leading a life of their own and can even, in their most absurd cohesion, reach a disastrous conclusion. All this is presented by Claus in a playful style, as if we were reading not a dramatic allegory but a juicy village chronicle.

224 pages Published by De Bezige Bij Rights: Liepman AG Translations: see list p. 23

A Stirring Eclectic and Master of Genres HUGO CLAUS  7

De Kapellekensbaan and Zomer te Ter-Muren together comprise the most powerful epic to come out of Flanders this century. (Dutch magazine Elsevier)

Louis Paul Boon ©Letterenhuis Antwerpen

A Gentle Anarchist

Louis Paul Boon (1912-1979) started out as a house painter but went on to become the author of a large and rich oeuvre spanning several genres: from the compelling historical epics he composed later in life to his sharp, witty work as a newspaper columnist and his tongue-incheek, scabrous novels. Boon certainly competes with Claus for the title of most important writer of Flemish literature in the twentieth century. Like Claus, Boon is a keen observer of society, the individual and the interplay between them, which he renders beautifully by perfecting various narrative techniques.


Boon’s work demonstrates a passionate affection for the ordinary common man. It is characterised by a powerful awareness of form and the creative use of dialogue, both of which are placed at the service of a critical examination of Western society. His hostile attitude towards political systems and great empathy for the working class led to Boon being described as a ‘gentle anarchist’. Until his untimely death, he was expected to become the first Dutch-language author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Boon’s literary legacy is a varied one, ranging from journalistic pieces on Belgian politics and society to erotic novellas. Nearly all his work is infused with a profound commitment to socialism. As a historical novelist, in Daens, for example, he depicts the oppression of the working class in 19th-century Flanders. And in experimental, modernistic works, such as Vergeten straat (Forgotten Street), Boon projects an ideal society, but at the same time shares his doubts as to whether human nature could achieve Utopia.

De Kapellekensbaan (Chapel Road, 1953) Chapel Road is a showcase for all Boon’s writing qualities. Its dazzling construction combines several narrative threads, including a postmodern one where the writer and his friends discuss how the story should develop further. The novel tells the story of Ondine, who was born in a poverty-stricken house in Chapel Road at the turn of the century. Despite her origins, she has set her sights on a rich existence but ends up marrying Oscar, who is poor but idealistic. Inevitably both become disillusioned by life. Boon interweaves the comments and experiences of a number of 'modern' people in a postwar era, when socialist concepts have faded in favour of a middle-class mentality of pampering wealth. Boon’s inimitably skilful style gives the book a contemporary feel. His editing techniques move the reader effortlessly back and forth through time and his very personal mixture of literary and popular language adds variety and humour to the story.

404 pages Published by De Arbeiderspers Rights: Ruby Whitmore Translations: see list p. 23

Mijn kleine oorlog (My Little War, 1947)

144 pages Published by De Arbeiderspers Rights: Ruby Whitmore Translations: see list p. 23


My Little War is based on Boon's own war experiences during World War II. It is a collection of thirty loosely interrelated chapters, each containing a story that can be read independently. Most stories describe the difficult circumstances of life under the occupation; others deal with the deteriorating sexual mores or direct war experiences. The term ‘enemy’ by no means signifies Germans exclusively in the book. People are just as likely, if not more, to be robbed of food, money, or even their spouse's fidelity, by their neighbours as by the Germans. My Little War is to Flemish literature what Voyage au bout de la nuit by Louis-Ferdinand Céline is to French literature: a slap in the face to bourgeois literature, a radical experiment that thoroughly shook up the traditional novel. In a fragmented and unsettling style, Boon cries out in disgust at a world that has lost all sense and meaning.

(Minuet, 1955) In Minuet, a man works eight hours a day in a factory. At home, he withdraws to his collection of newspaper clippings about brutal rapes and gruesome murders. His wife is his complete opposite, being optimistic in nature and eager to climb the social ladder. Her marriage is thrown off balance however, when she falls pregnant by a travelling salesman, and a 12-year-old pubescent girl, reminiscent of Nabokov’s Lolita, comes to help in the household. As the characters come to life in the triangular relationship, Boon masterfully depicts them as an isolated man, a shameless girl and a materialistic woman, acting in a somewhat strange allegory of our world. The neurotic protagonist poses critical questions about religion, monarchy and the State and a generational conflict is staged between the hard-working middle-class woman and the rebellious child-temptress. The story’s claim to realism is accented by authentic newspaper reports of murders and rapes, printed at the top of the pages, exposing the perversity of modern man.

144 pages Published by De Arbeiderspers Rights: Ruby Whitmore Translations: see list p. 23


Elsschot possesses the rare knack of making a reader laugh, squirm and sob, all at the same time. (New York Times)

Laarmans’s ordeal makes for nailbiting reading and Elsschot’s class commentary is astute. (Publishers Weekly)

©Letterenhuis Antwerpen

Willem Elsschot A Literary Businessman

The novels of Willem Elsschot (1882– 1960) have become classics of Dutch literature. His masterpiece Kaas (Cheese, 1933) established him as a sophisticated stylist, and unique in Flemish realism. For the majority of his life, Elsschot was primarily an advertising man. His successful advertising agency in Antwerp provided him with direct inspiration for his best-known works, which often let fly at the publishing world. Just before his death, Elsschot admitted that he had never really liked advertising: ‘I had to work in advertising; I couldn't live from my pen alone.’


Not surprisingly, many of Elsschot’s novellas are inspired by his trade, their usual setting being a tough business world with various good and bad-natured characters becoming disillusioned with what life eventually has in store for them. His style is concise and to the point and therefore highly appealing to the modern reader. A dry sharp humour, often turning to cynicism, runs through all his books, but never at the expense of a generous compassion for his characters. Elsschot’s first novel, Villa des Roses (1913), was an immediate success, while Kaas (Cheese, 1933) marked his definitive breakthrough as a novelist. Since 1943, Lijmen/Het Been (Soft Soap/The Leg), which appeared before and after Cheese, have always been published together in a single volume, in accordance with the explicit wish of the author, who regarded The Leg as a chapter of Soft Soap. In both novellas everything revolves around the tragicomic Chaplinesque character of Frans Laarmans, a small man reaching for the stars. Laarmans was also to appear (for the last time) in the novella Het Dwaallicht (Will o’ the Wisp, 1946).

Lijmen / Het been (Soft Soap/The Leg, 1924/1938) In Soft Soap, the desillusioned Laarmans falls under the spell of the charismatic business guru Boorman. Their collaboration gives him a new identity and the promise of riches, but at what cost? Laarmans helps edit the grand-sounding General World Review, actually a glossy compilation of cliché articles pasted together and sold in vast numbers to gullible businesspeople such as the disabled Mrs. Lauwereyssen. As she orders thousands of copies of the worthless magazine and is led into financial ruin, the inexperienced Laarmans feels immediate remorse, but the seasoned Boorman has no mercy. In the later sequel, The Leg, the tables are turned. Some years later, Boorman accidentally knocks Mrs. Lauwereyssen over in the market and discovers she has lost a leg. His conscience begins to prick and, in a sudden bout of humanity, the con man stakes everything to pay back his victim. Soft Soap/The Leg were made into a film in 2000.

239 pages Published by Athenaeum Polak & Van Gennep Rights: Patricia de Groot Translations: see p. 23

Kaas (Cheese, 1933)

120 pages Published by Athenaeum Polak & Van Gennep Rights: Patricia de Groot Translations: see p. 23

Since its publication in English in 2002, Cheese has conquered the world with translations in more than 30 languages. The novella deals with an episode in the life of Frans Laarmans, a clerk who is suddenly made chief representative in Belgium and Luxembourg of a Dutch cheese company. Laarmans is saddled with a consignment of 370 cases containing 10,000 full-cream Edam cheeses. He stores the cheese in his cellar, sets up an office and waits. But nothing happens. Ultimately disillusioned, Laarmans ends up back in his job as clerk. Cheese is a satire of the hard business world and the perfect vehicle for Elsschot’s dry humorous style. In a brilliant evocation of the thirties, it depicts a world full of smart operators and failed businessmen.

Het dwaallicht (Will o’ the Wisp, 1946) Will o' The Wisp is the last of Elsschot's novellas. Older but not wiser, Laarmans tries to help three Afghans find the kind-hearted Maria Van Dam in the backstreets of Antwerp – and with as little success as in his earlier adventures with Boorman. The simple plot of a fruitless search in an urban setting contains undertones of a wider parable of the quest, thus making a concentrated summary of the themes that run through all Elsschot’s novels. The mixture of longing and disillusionment that characterises Elsschot's earlier works is here crystallised into near perfection: with deceptive simplicity, Elsschot depicts human endeavours as amounting to no more than chasing phantom lights in the distance.

78 pages Published by Athenaeum Polak & Van Gennep Rights: Patricia de Groot Translations: see p. 24


Felix Timmermans A Miniaturist of the Rural Life Felix Timmermans (1886-1947) initially worked as a pattern drawer in his father’s lace business. After World War I, he moved to the Netherlands, where he stayed until 1920, earning his living as a writer, poet, painter and artist. Although he also published poetry, plays and adaptations of medieval texts, Timmermans primarily wrote novels, fictionalised biographies and stories. He also illustrated his own books. His works won him innumerable awards and have been translated many times. In 1922, he was awarded the Belgian State Prize for Literature.


Alongside Stijn Streuvels (p. 12), Felix Timmermans is one of the representatives of the Flemish ‘rural novel'. While Streuvels cultivates the farmer and countryside into an almost mythical fact, Timmermans continues to work within a kind of mini-realism or miniaturism. The main themes are always an unshakeable faith, resignation to providence and allegiance to one’s own region and traditions. The sombre novellas with which Timmermans debuted around 1910 contrast sharply, however, with the lively novel Pallieter (1916), a true ode to la joie de vivre. In this book, Timmermans portrays an atmosphere, carpe diem – folkloricly translated by Timmermans as ‘milk the day!’ – rather than a story that weighs up the sense and nonsense of life. In addition to many novels and short stories, Timmermans also wrote romanticised biographies of Pieter Bruegel (1928) and St. Francis of Assisi (1932), as well as travel tales, autobiographical works and plays. In 1935, he published his well-known work, Boerenpsalm (A Peasant’s Psalm), a novel that reveals a deep knowledge of suffering, in which praise of nature gives way to praise of humanity.

Timmermans had an innate talent for viewing the external world as if seeing it for the first time, and describing things as if they had not yet been named. His vision was that of a poet, his language poetically charged.

(1916) An ‘ode to life’ written after a moral and physical crisis, Pallieter (1916) was warmly received as an antidote to the misery of World War I in occupied Belgium. The miller Pallieter marries his Marieke, fathers triplets and heads off into the world on a hay cart with the whole family. All their neighbours drink heartily and sing at the top of their voices as they celebrate festivals and merrily bring in the hay, slapping each other on the shoulder and exchanging smacking great kisses. Pallieter is an Adamic figure, an uncomplicated vitalistic hero who enjoys the simple, natural life to the full. Timmermans drew on the people of his native town to create characters with an abundance of affectionate humour, a wealth of anecdote and keen observational skills. He also illustrated the book himself with drawings inspired by Pieter Bruegel, the 16th-century bucolic painter. Pallieter is a picture book, a portrait of Flemish rural life in which there is never a cheerless moment.

12  FELIX TIMMERMANS A Miniaturist of the Rural Life

(Flemish critic José de Ceulaer)

262 pages Originally published by P.N. Van Kampen & Zoon Rights: Gommaar Timmermans Translations: see list p. 24

Cyriel Buysse A True Naturalist and a Pioneer of the Modern Novel Cyriel Buysse (1859-1932) became known as a naturalist writer and playwright in the tradition of Émile Zola. At the suggestion of his aunt and well-known author Virginie Loveling, he started writing at the age of 26. Although he had been educated in French, he wrote in Dutch, promoting the revival and originality of Flemish literature. After his marriage, he spent more time in the Netherlands and collaborated with Louis Couperus, amongst others. He also maintained close relationships with Flemish painter Emile Claus and BelgianFrench playwright, poet and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck.

As a liberal humanist with socialist sympathies, but also as a fierce opponent of the Flemish-French gap, Cyriel Buysse was at odds with just about any taboo that existed in Flemish society at that time. In the naturalist tradition, his novels and plays are infused with a deep sympathy for the common man and his fate, which he describes vividly and realistically. His best-known play, Het gezin van Paemel (The Van Paemel Family), which was screened in 1986, is most representative of his bleak depiction of the world. Other naturalistic works include Het recht van de sterkste (The Law of the Jungle, 1896) and De biezenstekker (The Bastard, 1894). His later work, which includes Tantes (The Aunts, 1925), demonstrates a more refined, ironic tone of voice, beyond the naivety of his early work. The development from naturalism to post-romantic irony is the essence of Buysse’s writing. The negative criticism on his earlier work, which shocked the Flemish upper class with its grim style, is in sharp contrast to the recognition of his literary output in 1921, when he received the Belgian State Prize for Narrative Prose for his entire oeuvre. Much to the astonishment of his early critics, he evolved from a naturalistic narrator par excellence to a true pioneer of the modern Flemish novel.

A wonderful book, in my opinion. All real people, larger than life. (Flemish writer Willem Elsschot)

Tantes (The Aunts, 1925) The Aunts is a classic novel about the tragedy of a petit-bourgeois family in the early 20th century. In the Dufour family, everything revolves around the suffocating influence of aunt Clemence, aunt Estelle and aunt Victoire. They dominate the household with their wealth and their sanctimonious morals. Father and son Max are constantly on their guard and daughters Clara, Adrienne and Esmée are well on the way to becoming nasty bitches, too. The literary tale is, above all, an indictment against the oppressive class-ridden society of the time, but the melodramatic climaxes (which are occasionally reminiscent of a well-written soap or serial) and the cynical tone in which the narrator portrays his characters will effortlessly fascinate today’s reader.

136 pages Latest edition published by Atlas Rights: public domain Translations: see list p. 24

A True Naturalist and a Pioneer of the Modern Novel CYRIEL BUYSSE  13

Stijn Streuvels An Epic and Visionary Narrator Stijn Streuvels (1871-1969) worked as a baker before becoming a writer. He was self-educated and read and spoke several languages, including French, English, German, Danish and Russian. He was also the nephew of the famous Flemish priestpoet Guido Gezelle. In 1905, he gave up his baker’s life to concentrate fully on writing. He moved with his wife and children to the villa Lijsternest (Trush’s Nest), still today a unique spot in Flanders where writers can create literature in peace and quiet.

Along with Cyriel Buysse (p. 11) and Felix Timmermans (p. 10), Stijn Streuvels is one of Flanders’ naturalistic novelists. He wrote many regional novels set against a backdrop of farming life that, more than a century later, still fascinate modern readers with their lyrical descriptions of nature, the recognisable rural characters and the fateful life events. In classics such as Langs de wegen (The Long Road, 1902) and the well-known story De Vlaschaard (The Flax Field, 1907) Streuvels portrays a hard agricultural society that no longer exists but which, permeated with nature and the survival instinct, still never fails to catch the imagination. His peer Albert Verwey spoke highly enthusiastically of him: ‘If the sun could write, it would write like Streuvels.’ Streuvels was able to rise above the naturalism of the time, by embodying the universal idea in an almost symbolic writing style. His visionary literary strength has been compared with Van Gogh’s expressive energy. At his best, Streuvels was a master of characterisation, especially in his portrayal of farmers obstinately struggling against the land and against destiny. His epic but lyrical prose style, perfectly suited to his subject, is among the best of its period. Streuvels' work has won innumerable awards and has been translated many times.

Het leven en de dood in de ast (Life and Death in the Drying Kiln, 1926) In Life and Death in the Drying Kiln, Streuvels describes one night in which three labourers are carrying out their work in a chicorydrying kiln. In that one night, their lives are turned upside down and they realise that the many dreams they still cherish will no longer be possible to achieve. During breaks by the open hearth they ponder over death, temptation and the fatality of their lives. The stories and conversations flow into dreams; past and future merge. In the morning, they awake, not only from their slumber but also from the illusion that the future still has something to offer: banal, inevitable life awaits. Streuvels was awarded the triennial Belgian State Prize for Prose for this short novel. The story gives an inimitable description of the monotony and finiteness of life against the backdrop of a drunken, nocturnal atmosphere in which dream and reality are masterfully interwoven.

14  Stijn Streuvels An Epic and Visionary Narrator

Streuvels is the Tolstoy of the Lowlands. The way in which he plucks universal stories from the Flemish countryside is magisterial. (Flemish author David Van Reybrouck)

85 pages Latest edition published by Manteau Rights: Isa Lateur Translations: see list p. 24

Paul van Ostaijen A Genre Innovator and Writer of the Grotesque In his short life, Paul van Ostaijen (18961928) touched on an immense variety of literary genres, which he imbued with the impetus of the new. He was a great innovator and experimenter in the Dutch language, not only representing the contemporary trends of modern poetry, such as French cubism and German expressionism, but also contributing to the development of these schools through his work. This lyric poet and intrepid form experimenter also engaged in theatrical criticism, pondered art and politics and was a poignant essayist.

Van Ostaijen introduced expressionism into Flemish literature. He was a confirmed Flemish Radical and fled to Berlin after World War I. There, he came into contact with writers and artists involved in the Dadaist and Expressionist movements. Van Ostaijen debuted in 1916 with the collection of poems Music-Hall, and in 1918 Het Sienjaal (The Signal) was published. A great deal of typographical form experiment and highly sonorous poetry, with the poem Boem Paukeslag (Boom Drumbeat) as the climax, ultimately followed in Bezette Stad (Occupied City, 1921) and De Feesten van Angst en Pijn (The Feasts of Fear and Pain, 1921), published posthumously in 1928. His later prose work is also diverse: His writings vary from brief descriptions to a ‘self biography’ and grotesques, in which he evolves towards nihilistic Dadaism. The enormous diversity in his literary production makes Paul van Ostaijen an elusive figure in Dutch literature. Partly under the influence of Dadaism, the typographical execution in Van Ostaijen’s work is extremely important. He endeavoured to achieve as great a harmony as possible between graphic form and content, thus influencing the work of many later poets.

Every avant-garde movement since the interwar years has drawn inspiration from [Van Ostaijen’s] work, and yet at the same time he has developed into the most enduringly popular modern Flemish poet. (Flemish author Geert Buelens)

Grotesken (Grotesques, 1926-1932) ‘Novellas that attempt to make a fool of people,’ is how Paul van Ostaijen once described his grotesques. In these astonishing texts full of absurd blow-ups, he lashed out against the wrongs of his time, mercilessly unsettling all logic. The city and eroticism are the primary themes in these grotesques. Like in the infamous story, Het bordeel van Ika Loch (Ika Loch’s Brothel), in which a madame rules her clients with an iron hand. Or in De stad der opbouwers (The City of Builders), where the inhabitants of Creixcroll fill their city with so many buildings that an inhabitant who ventures to demolish something cannot be executed because there is no room left for a scaffold. The pieces are hilarious, but always highly critical of society and its unbridled progress.

The grotesques have never been published in one separate volume, but were included in various prose anthologies, such as Grotesken (Grotesques) (1926-1932, collected in Verzameld Werk vol. 3 (Collected Works vol. 3), 1954) Rights: public domain Translations: see list p. 24

A Genre Innovator and Writer of the Grotesque Paul Van Ostaijen  15

Maurice Gilliams ©Paule Pia

A Precise Analyst of the Individual Mind The sizeable body of works by Maurice Gilliams (1900-1982) includes both prose and poetry. The son of an Antwerp printer, he spent most of his youth surrounded by older family members on a country estate in the vicinity of Antwerp, which later inspired him as a setting for his novels. Although Gilliams is familiar with the naturalism of his time, he demonstrates a greater affinity with romantic and symbolic authors, such as Rilke, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. The solitude cult, in particular, with fixed themes such as the dream, imagination and the inner experience (through art) is prominent in his work. Gilliams wrote from a largely autobiographical viewpoint too.

When Maurice Gilliams won the Grand Prize for Literature in 1980, many a newspaper journalist was at a loss: as far as the press was concerned Gilliams had always been ‘the Great Unknown’ of Flemish literature. But in the literary world itself, Gilliams’s work was considered not only an inside tip but also a milestone in the development of the novelist’s art. In 1936, Gilliams’s Elias of het gevecht met de nachtegalen (Elias or the Struggle with the Nightingales) had ushered in a new, strongly-evocative way of writing and a novelistic structure based on the sonata. The critics called the book a ‘melting pot of genres’: Gilliams’s prose is close to poetry and driven by what he himself called ‘an essayistic motivation’. In his work, description has been supplanted by analysis and that analysis extends to the process of remembering, sensory perception and writing itself. His diaries, which were published in his lifetime, also reveal that Gilliams was one of the first writers in Flanders to obsessively address the question ‘what is writing?’. The strong link with poetry stems from the beginning of Gilliams's writing career, when he published small volumes of poetry (1920) which later appeared in the anthology Het verleden van Columbus (Columbus’ Past, 1933). As a poet, he combines an introverted and oversensitive individualism with a pure writing style, traditional and sober, far from any experiment.

Elias of het gevecht met de nachtegalen (Elias or the Struggle with the Nightingales, 1936) Elias can be read as an account of the months a twelve-year-old boy spends on a country estate with his parents, uncles, aunts and cousins. For the eponymous hero, the house in which they are gathered, called ‘the chateau’ throughout Gilliams’s book, is similar to the aquarium in which his eccentric aunt Henriette has imprisoned an ant colony: a closer examination of that little world reveals a universe in which each and every one is after each others’ blood. At the same time, however, this house seems like a bastion against the destruction and alienation of personal identity. In a series of fascinating scenes, Gilliams evokes the vulnerable position of a boy growing up amongst older people in a world shaped by nostalgia and the fear of life. Elias perceives that world ‘in the lucidity of a dream’. The precision of observation and narrative evocation is what makes Elias such a masterpiece.

16  MAURICE GILLIAMS A Precise Analyst of the Individual Mind

Gilliams’s work deserves a place on the literary Olympus. Not only because every single line sparkles and shines, but also because of the coherent structure of his work. (Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant)

115 pages Published by Meulenhoff Rights: Stichting Vita Brevis Translations: see list p. 24

©Veerle Daelman

Gerard Walschap An Idealist in search of Freedom and Truth Gerard Walschap (1898-1989) turned to literature after abandoning his studies for the priesthood. In his controversial books, he agitated against the sometimes dubiously idealised regional Flemish literature of the first half of the 20th century. Walschap’s novels are levelheaded and call a spade a spade. Contentually, he created a new type of novel, in a fresh style, with authentic characters eager to rid themselves of the straitjacket of God and the Church. Walschap became the Godfather of a generation of writers opposing the Catholic Church, such as Louis Paul Boon, Marnix Gijsen and Hugo Claus.

In Walschap’s earlier work, his turbulent relationship with the Catholic Church was already evident. He had his characters pondering on desire and conjugal ethics in his successful novel Adelaide (1929), for example. Walschap then began a long struggle against narrow-mindedness, as 'art (has) no meaning (…) unless it seeks the meaning of life’. Walschap wanted to make the novel a platform for debating all mankind’s major problems. He turned steadily more blatantly away from religion towards the vitalistic power of instinct and man in his natural state, who was cursed with a great impetuosity. The novel Houtekiet (1939) was the climax of this evolution and is far removed from the romantic poetry and moralising plays he wrote at the beginning of his career. In other books, Walschap describes society in all its forms and extremes, as in Volk (People, 1930) and De dood in het dorp (Death in the Village, 1930). His novel Zwart en wit (Black and White, 1948) deals with collaboration, Nazism and repression after World War II. And Oproer in Kongo (Revolt in Congo, 1953) attempts to grasp colonisation and the clash between black and white civilisation. Walschap received several literary prizes including, in 1968, the prestigious Dutch Literature Prize.

Houtekiet is an enthralling creation myth with almost biblical appeal and ambition.


(Flemish newspaper De Morgen)

(Houtekiet, 1939) Jan Houtekiet is a tramp, who lives on the moor. When he makes farmer’s daughter Lien pregnant, he decides to build a little house there. Others follow his example and soon, a new village, Deps, arises, which rejects the rules of the outside world. No one blinks an eye at the fact that there are children fathered by Houtekiet running round all over the place. Absolute freedom reigns in Deps. When the spirit wanes in Deps, however, Houtekiet takes to his heels again. On his return, he is torn between his wife Lien and the quiet love of Iphigénie. Iphigénie’s death brings him to his senses and he actually finds a metaphysical peace in the church tower that the village now boasts. In Houtekiet, Walschap gives a concise, powerful portrayal of his own ideal of the individual and society. ‘Houtekiet, that’s me,’ admitted Walschap. Walschap’s inspiration for Houtekiet came from the novel Growth of the Soil (1920) by the Norwegian Nobel Prize winner Knut Hamsun.

Originally published by Nijgh & Van Ditmar Rights: Carla Walschap, Veerle Daelman Translations: see list p. 24

An Idealist in search of Freedom and Truth GERARD WALSCHAP  17

©Letterenhuis Antwerpen

Johan Daisne Philosopher of the Unexpected Johan Daisne was the pseudonym of Flemish author Herman Thiery (19121978). He was born in Ghent and studied Economics and Slavic languages at Ghent University, receiving his doctorate in 1936. In 1945 he was appointed chief librarian of the city of Ghent. Daisne was a member of the Belgian Communist Party for a while, before and during World War II, but his Marxist sympathies waned after the war. His life and work were emphatically marked by the unexpected event of the loss of his first child in 1946 and the loss of his father in 1951.

Daisne began writing poetry in 1935, with the publication of a collection entitled Verzen (Verses). This was followed by other poetical works including Ikonakind (Ikona Child, 1946), inspired by the death of his daughter. Together with Hubert Lampo (p. 19), Daisne was one of the pioneers of magical realism in Dutch-language literature. His stories combine dream and reality and are often a string of unexpected and astonishing events, resulting in a philosophical view of life. Like Lampo, Daisne extensively described in essays what it meant to write in a magic-realistic style. His vision is based on a world image with two poles that constitute reality: on one side the sober, rational reality and, on the other, the fantastic, irrational dream. Magic realism is generated by the tension between those poles, between which a spark occasionally jumps, according to Daisne. Daisne’s best-known novels are De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen (The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short, 1947) and De trein der traagheid (The Train of Inertia, 1953). Both novels were also screened by the Belgian cinematographer André Delvaux, who honours the surreal atmosphere and the subtlety of narration, the use of multi-layered metaphors and the beautiful intertwining of dreams and reality.

De trein der traagheid (The Train of Inertia, 1953) After a mysterious journey in a train populated with sleeping passengers, three train travellers find themselves in a strange, shadowy land, a timeless transition area, to which each responds in his own way. They wander somewhere between life and death, not knowing where their journey will end. One of them ultimately returns to this world, where he later discovers that he has been involved in a train crash. Although set in an increasing strange and unreal environment, the surreal is viewed with a sober, businesslike approach. The narrative pace is slow, but that does not detract from the tension or the reader’s involvement in the story. In this book, Daisne attains a level of thought that can be found in few other authors. Dostoyevsky, for example. The book is therefore highly recommended to anyone who would like to glimpse deeper into the human soul. The German translation of this book was released in 1968, together with the film. In 1973, a French translation of the story was produced under the same title as the film, Un soir, un train.

18  Johan Daisne Philosopher of the Unexpected

Imagination and reality are interlinked in this deftly written, thrilling tale.

118 pages Published by Manteau Rights: Evert Thiery Translations: see list p. 24

©Letterenhuis Antwerpen

Marnix Gijsen A Great Storyteller in search of Moral Truth Marnix Gijsen (1899-1984), a pseudonym for Jan Albert Goris, was born in Antwerp. He obtained a PhD in history and moral sciences at the Catholic University of Leuven and went on to study at the Universities of Freiburg, Paris (Sorbonne) and London (London School of Economics). He started his literary career as a poet in the expressionist group Ruimte (Space), publishing his poems in their magazine. He also came into contact with the well-known expressionist poet Paul van Ostaijen (p. 13).

Marnix Gijsen’s most important poem was Loflitanie van de Heilige Franciscus van Assisië (Praise of Saint Francis of Assisi, 1920). During World War II, he broke with his Roman Catholic faith and adopted an attitude to life based on stoicism. This became apparent in his first novel, Het boek van Joachim van Babylon (The Book of Joachim Of Babylon, 1947). Thereafter, he published a series of novels, including Goed en kwaad (Good and Evil, 1951), Klaaglied om Agnes (Lament for Agnes, 1951), De diaspora (The Diaspora, 1961) and Zelfportret gevleid natuurlijk (Self-portrait, flattered of course, 1965). Gijsen was a kind of moralist, who nonetheless went entirely his own way, but constantly juxtapositioned and dissected good and evil. He won several awards for his literary work, not least the Belgian State Prize for Narrative Prose in 1959 and the Dutch Literature Prize in 1974. In 1975 he was made a baron.

A wonderfully-written variation on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Klaaglied om Agnes (Lament for Agnes, 1951) The story takes place at the end of World War I and a few years afterwards. The main character is an introvert scholar, a bookworm, who slowly discovers the outside world. His relationship with his mother is poor and – isolated – he has little sense of reality. His work environment (a boring office), the compulsory military service and, above all, the encounter with the sober Agnes and her impoverished surroundings allow him to taste the ‘real’ world. With Agnes (Greek for pure, chaste), the namesake of his dead sister, he enters into an ardent platonic love affair. It is short-lived, though, as Agnes is suffering from TB and, despite being nursed in sanatoria, she dies. Coming of age and a predilection for the pure are the primary themes of this book that also recur in other of Gijsen's books. Meanwhile, in an almost pragmatic, but ironic manner, Gijsen also criticises bureaucracy, church and military service in his story.

214 pages Published by Nijgh & Van Ditmar Rights: Patricia de Groot Translations: see list p. 24

A Great Storyteller in search of Moral Truth Marnix Gijsen  19

Herman Teirlinck A Literary Chameleon

Herman Teirlinck (1879-1967) was born in Brussels. He studied medicine for a year, then pursued his interests in languages and writing. Throughout his life, he was a multi-faceted artist and played a prominent role in Flemish cultural life. He worked as a civil servant and as a Dutch teacher, during the highlight of this part of career as a teacher and art and literature advisor to the Belgian court of Albert I, Leopold III and Boudewijn I. He was also a poet, essayist and playwright, founder of literary magazines, drawer, painter, furniture designer, actor and director.

During his lifetime, Herman Teirlinck was an undisputed king of literature in Flanders. As a novelist he wrote, amongst others, the metropolitan novel, Het Ivoren Aapje (The Ivory Monkey, 1909), the baroque epic, Het gevecht met de Engel (The Battle With the Angel, 1952) and his swan song, Zelfportret of het galgemaal (The Man in the Mirror, 1955). Teirlinck’s writing style was initially strongly influenced by the artistic movements of symbolism and impressionism, as in his collection of poems, Zon (Sun, 1906). He was friends with various naturalistic painters and Karel van de Woestijne, the best-known symbolist poet in Flanders. Teirlinck also became increasingly interested in theatre as the ideal literary form. He wrote many plays and experimented with narrative techniques for involving the public more in the action on stage. He also founded the ‘Nationaal Toneel in Antwerp’, which would later become the famous Studio Herman Teirlinck, an actor’s studio promoting a renewal of theatre education in the Low Countries. He set out the school’s educational programme in his Dramatisch Peripatetikon (Dramatic Peripateticon, 1959).

Het gevecht met de engel (The Battle with the Angel, 1952) The Battle with the Angel tells of the life of a community, spread over several generations, but primarily between the world wars. The centuries-long prehistory of Welriekende, a country estate in Brussels' imposing Sonian Forest, is recounted in chronicle style prior to the story. The dynamics of the book are generated by the trichotemy of castle-village-forest, but also by the mutual bickering of (powerful) families and their individual members. The most important families are the Jeroens and the Caloens, who often stand opposed, as representatives of nature and culture. The Battle with the Angel is a vitalistic chronicle novel that begins in 1343 and ends in the 1940s; each event is described in detail and the topography of the work is also important as a hand-hold for the reader, which is reflected in the maps and family trees that Teirlinck later published to accompany his novel. The work bears witness to an unbridled creative force masterfully endeavouring to portray the contrast between primeval nature and decadence. Teirlinck never moralises or lectures, but is majestic and full of compassion for his characters.

20  Herman Teirlinck A Literary Chameleon

The al fresco style with which his work is constructed and the inimitable language use of this magnum opus make it familiar and a pleasure to read.

523 pages Published by Manteau Rights: Marie Maes, Herman Maes, Johanna Maes

©Letterenhuis Antwerpen

Hubert Lampo Writer of the Uncanny and the Magical Hubert Lampo (1920-2006) was born in Antwerp and, up until 1944, was a teacher. After his national service, he decided to become a journalist. He also worked as an editor and national inspector for the public library service and played an active role in the Flemish literary sector. In 1973, he became president of the Flemish Literary Association and, in 1989, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Stendhal University in Grenoble for the outstanding quality of his literary work.

Lampo’s vast body of work includes 23 novels, 15 essays, short stories, translations from French and German and numerous articles on art and literature. De komst van Joachim Stiller (The Coming of Joachim Stiller, 1960) is Lampo’s best known novel, by dint of which he can claim the title of founder of magic realism in Flemish literature. Strongly influenced by experiences in World War II, humanism, democracy and social engagement are central notions in his writings. Lampo combines these aspects with a remarkable sensitivity to the supernatural and a fascination for the uncanny, thus creating a distinctive and personal style. The blend of fact and fiction in his novels produces a magical realism, a new psychological reality in which he employs elements from parapsychology and psychoanalysis. Unsurprisingly, his novels have been associated with the theories of the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. Lampo himself put it as follows: ‘I see magic realism as the phenomenon through which archetypes dormant in the writing are actualised'.

De komst van Joachim Stiller

Nothing is what it seems – basically this is a New Age novel avant la lettre, where synchronicity, or serendipity, strikes relentlessly.

(The Coming of Joachim Stiller, 1960) Journalist Freek Groenevelt’s life is thoroughly shaken up by a series of surprising events that seem to all revolve around the individual Joachim Stiller. Along the way, Groenevelt discovers who Stiller is (a soldier he saw killed in the war), but even then he can still make neither head nor tail of all the mysterious twists and turns. Stiller approaches as a kind of Messiah, but Groenevelt is never to have confirmation of his existence. The novel is a textbook example of the magic realist style in which reality is interwoven with surreal elements: Nothing is exactly as it seems. The classical theme of the quest follows logical steps towards a goal (to find and meet Stiller). Yet, in confrontation with inexplicable events, the story is elevated to another level, resulting in a rebirth of the main character. The hero’s spiritual path parallels an awakening reader’s experience. The novel has won numerous awards and has been translated into 15 languages. The story was also adapted for the screen in 1976.

143 pages Latest edition published by Meulenhoff Rights: Anita Verweij Translations: see list p. 24

Writer of the Uncanny and the Magical Hubert Lampo  21

©Gerard Dauphin

Ivo Michiels Master of the Flemish Experimental Novel Ivo Michiels (1923-2012) rose during the post-war years as one of the most talented of a group of Flemish writers, including Louis Paul Boon and Hugo Claus. Michiels began as a filmmaker before turning to fiction with Het afscheid (The Leavetaking) in 1957 and, the following year, with the beginning of his Journal brut. But it was only in his 1963 fiction Het boek Alfa (Book Alpha) that he drew major attention. Michiels also worked as an editor for various newspapers and magazines, together with Hugo Claus, Harry Mulisch and Simon Vinkenoog.

The writing career of Ivo Michiels stretches back half a century. He made his debut shortly after World War II with a number of traditional novels and film scenarios. In 1963, however, he made a totally fresh start with Het boek Alfa (Book Alpha). Inspired by the French nouveau roman, this work in effect introduced the experimental novel into Flemish literature. Along with the second of what came to be called ‘The Alpha Cycle’, Orchis Militaris (1968), Michiels gained an international reputation that compared him with his fellow countryman Hugo Claus as well as Samuel Beckett. The Alpha Cycle continues to influence several younger generations of Flemish writers, and has stood up as major innovative writing over the years since, in effect introducing postmodern fiction into Flemish literature. In 1979, Michiels retired to a village in France to devote himself to another ambitious new endeavour, the ten-volume series Journal brut. His last novel Maya Maya was posthumously published in 2013, one year after his death.

Het boek Alfa (Book Alpha, 1963) Book Alpha is the book of doubt, in which Michiels assimilates his war experiences in the character of the soldier who, under threat of imminent war, expresses the existential uncertainty. The war is used primarily as a concept reflecting the protagonist’s own precarious situation. Guilt feelings and the search for an individual identity are central themes in the book. In a style and composition based on repetition, Michiels gives shape to uncertainty. The soldier is torn between conflicting feelings and desires: civilian life or the barracks, discipline or freedom, intuition or duty? During this chaos of opposites he reflects on his past life, which unearths a jumble of childhood and adolescent memories. From these snippets and snapshots in time emerges a mental portrait of someone who, thrown back and forth between indecision and resistance, must continue to live on in uncertainty. The author’s crystal-clear, almost primitive language in the Alpha Cycle has been a source of inspiration for many a young writer. The first two parts in particular, Book Alpha (1963) and Orchis Militaris (1968), have lost nothing of their punch more than 30 years after publication.

22  Ivo Michiels Master of the Flemish Experimental Novel

He bursts from every page and every line is brimming with the zest for life. That is what makes [Michiels] so modern. He is, without doubt, one of the most important writers in Dutch-language literature. It was through reading him that I began to write. (Flemish writer Peter Verhelst)

143 pages Published by De Bezige Bij Rights: Marijke Nagtegaal, Uta Matten America Award 2012 Translations: see list p. 24

Jef Geeraerts Writer of Taboo and Suspense Jef Geeraerts (1930) was born in Antwerp. The bourgeois environment from which he originated and his experience as a civil servant in the Belgian Congo have left their mark on his literary work. After Congo’s independence in 1960, he returned, desperate, to Belgium and began to write. Since his debut, he has built up an impressive body of works. His Gangrene Cycle, based on his experiences as a former colonial, caused quite a stir in Flanders. His latest novel was published in 2009.

Jef Geeraerts gained international acclaim with his Gangrene Cycle, a controversial series of four novels, inspired by the author's experiences as a civil servant in the Belgian Congo. These books have been through dozens of printings and translated into numerous languages. Gangrene – Black Venus is one of the most talked-about novels from postwar Flanders. The controversy surrounding the publication was astounding. Applauded as brilliant, then decried for ‘extolling racism and pornography’; however shocked conformist Belgium might have been, no-one could really deny that it was seldom that a writer had approached such a sensitive subject with such monumental daring. Since the 1980s, Geeraerts has devoted himself to writing crime novels. Typically, while his writing style in his Congo books is racy, without fullstops or commas, in his crime novels he works methodically, paying great attention to detail. In addition to novels, Jef Geeraerts has also written travel stories, journalistic pieces and stage and radio plays. Nature, hunting, foreign cultures and eroticism are recurring elements in his work.

Gangreen 1 - Black Venus (Gangrene 1 – Black Venus, 1968) Gangrene – Black Venus is set in the Belgian Congo at the end of the 1950s, the years before independence, when the colony experienced its finest hour. Against this backdrop, Geeraerts portrays a white colonial civil servant who wants to free himself from the oppression of Western bourgeois mentality. As the protagonist puts it: ‘I am at once a heathen and God. God does not exist. I am God.’ In a fluent, evocative style, Geeraerts describes the protagonist’s obsession for a black woman, leaving western civilisation behind and descending into an orgiastic, quasi-mystic way of life, combining ritual and instinct, violence and eroticism. His life consists of hunting, sleeping, eating, drinking and copulating: man in his most primitive state. He writes, ‘I shed my culture gradually […] and felt myself nearing the blissful state of innocence.’ Black Venus is not just a colonial novel; it is also the story of a romantic ideal. It is about man’s longing to find paradise in nature, a place where he can experience his freedom to the full. Yet, Geeraerts also demonstrates the consequences of this freedom in a most ruthless manner.

Geeraerts’ sentences twist and twine across the pages like lightning-speed lianas, interweaving cruelty with mysticism, the gripping with the ecstatic. (Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad)

214 pages Published by Manteau Rights: Marijke Nagtegaal, Uta Matten Translations: see list p. 24

Writer of Taboo and Suspense JEF GEERAERTS  23

Daniël Robberechts An Experimental Perfectionist Daniël Robberechts (1937-1992) was born in Brussels. For a while, he was an army officer candidate and he obtained a BSc in mathematics from the University of Brussels. By the time his first novel, De labiele stilte (The Unstable Silence) was published in 1968, he was already an award-winning, committed writer for prominent Flemish literary magazines. He wrote primarily novels, diaries and essays and is known for his experimental urge for form innovation.

Robberechts developed his own, individual style, sometimes adopting provocative standpoints that ran counter to dominant (literary) conventions. His most remarkable works from that point of view are Tegen het personage (Against the Character, 1968), De grote schaamlippen (The Labia, 1969) and Praag schrijven (Writing Prague, 1975), a book that deviated substantially from the accepted narrative prose. His last manuscript, 'TOT' or 'Totaaltekst' (which means 'Entire Text') was published posthumously as Nagelaten Werk (Posthumous Work, 1994) and exhibits a maniacal longing for perfection and the desire for absolute accuracy. By inventorising all possible forms of linguistic expression and the systematic demonstration of the rhetorical actions on which they are founded, the author is attempting to provide the reader with insight into language manipulations and, therefore, indirectly expand his social awareness. Robberechts refused to classify his books as novels, stories, or essays, according them all equal status as, simply, writing. This liberation from genre gives his work, for all its apparent simplicity, an elusive, hypnotic quality.

Aankomen in Avignon

Arriving in Avignon is its own strange and gorgeously sprightly thing. Here’s hoping that as many readers as possible will discover it. (Rain Taxi Review of Books)

(Arriving in Avignon, 1970) Arriving In Avignon records a young man's encounter with that labyrinthine city and his likewise meandering relationship with a girl from his home town – and, indeed, virtually every woman he meets. Hesitant and cautious, quite unable to enter or turn away, the young man seems to circle Avignon endlessly, attempting in the process to delay his inevitable descent into maturity and monogamy. What at first resembles a cross between a memoir and a guidebook in time proves to be the story of a young man's dogged yet futile quest to know his own mind – unless it is the ancient city of Avignon itself that is our real protagonist: a mystery that can be approached, but never wholly solved. The narrative unfolds in a stream of consciousness, drawing the reader into the protagonist’s quest for experience. The plot has been reinterpreted as an accumulation of events and places and the trips are numbered. As such, the topography brings structure to the protagonist’s ‘record’ of events and experiences.

24  Daniël Robberechts An Experimental Perfectionist

160 pages Published by Manteau Rights: Catherine Robberechts Translations: see list p. 24

TRANSLATIONS LIST Hugo Claus - De verwondering (Wonder)


Willem Elsschot - Lijmen/Het Been

ENGLISH Archipelago, 2009

ROMANIAN Univers, in preparation

(Soft Soap/The Leg)

FRENCH Complexe, 1977 / 1986

RUSSIAN Text, 2013

BULGARIAN Narodna Kultura, 1984

FRENCH Stock, 1999

SERBIAN Prometej, 2004

ENGLISH Heinemann / Maxwell, 1965

GERMAN Volk und Welt / Limes Verlag, 1979

SLOVENE Modrijan, 2009

ENGLISH New Amsterdam Books, 1991

KOREAN Moonhak Syegye, in preparation

SWEDISH Bonniers, 1997

ESTONIAN Varrak, 1995

RUSSIAN Raduga, 1991

FRENCH Le Castor Astral, 2006

SLOVAK Slovensky spisovatel, 1983

GERMAN Unionsverlag, 2005

SPANISH Anagrama, 1995

Louis Paul Boon - De Kapellekensbaan


SWEDISH Bonniers, 1985

(Chapel Road)

RUSSIAN Progress, 1972

ENGLISH Hippocrene Books / Twayne Publishers,

SERBO-CROATIAN Prometej, 1999

Hugo Claus - Het verdriet van België

1972 / 1991

SWEDISH Bokförlaget Lind, 2005

(The Sorrow of Belgium)

ENGLISH Dalkey Archive Press, 2003

UKRAINIAN Dnipro, 1963

AMHARIC Hohe, in preparation

FRENCH L'Age d'Homme, 1999

BULGARIAN PIC, in preparation

GERMAN Hanser, 1970

Willem Elsschot - Kaas (Cheese)

CHINESE (Complex) Huangguan Wenhua Chuban

GERMAN Heyne, 1979

AFRIKAANS Academica, 1969

Youxian Gongsi, 1997

GERMAN Volk und Welt, 1986

ALBANIAN Fan Noli, in preparation

CHINESE (Simplified) Yilin, 2014

GERMAN Luchterhand, 2002

ARABIC National Center for Translation, s.d.

CROATIAN Fraktura, 2012

HUNGARIAN Európa, 1983

BOSNIAN AP Neretva, 2007

DANISH Rosinante, 2000

NORWEGIAN Gyldendal, 1976

CATALAN Angle Editorial, 2003

ENGLISH Viking / Pantheon Books, 1990

POLISH Czytelnik, 1982

CHINESE (Complex) Jia-Xi Books, 2009

ENGLISH Penguin Books, 1991

SPANISH Destino, 1979

CZECH Albert, 1936

ENGLISH The Overlook Press, 2002

SWEDISH Forum, 1975

CZECH Jiskry, 1977

FINNISH Otava, 1999

TURKISH Anemon / Bizim, 2011

DANISH Husets Forlag / S.O.L., 2002

FRENCH Julliard, 1985 / 1987

ENGLISH Granta, 2002

FRENCH Seuil, 2003

Louis Paul Boon - Mijn kleine oorlog

ESTONIAN Verb, 2012

GERMAN Klett-Cotta, 1986 / 2008

(My Little War)

FINNISH Basam Books, 2003

GERMAN Volk und Welt, 1988

CZECH Votobia, in preparation

FRENCH Le Castrol Astral, 2003

GERMAN Deutscher Taschenbuch, 1991 / 1999

ENGLISH Dalkey Archive Press, 2010

FRISIAN Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep, 2007

GREEK Kastaniotis, 2002

FRENCH La Longue Vue, 1986

GERMAN Eugen Diederichs, 1952

HUNGARIAN L'Harmattan, 2011

FRENCH Le Castor Astral, 2004

GERMAN Unionsverlag, 2004

ITALIAN Feltrinelli, 1999 / 2003

GERMAN Peter Selinka, 1988

HEBREW Am Oved, 2008

NORWEGIAN Gyldendal, 1995 / 2002

GERMAN Alexander, 2012

HUNGARIAN Forum, 1987


PORTUGUESE Dom Quixote, 1979

HUNGARIAN Gondolat, 2008


RUSSIAN Progress, 1980

INDONESIAN n.n., 1948

ROMANIAN Univers, 1989

SERBO-CROATIAN Prometej, 2001

INDONESIAN Gramedia, 2010

RUSSIAN Russiko, in preparation

SWEDISH Forum, 1976

ITALIAN Iperborea, 1992

SERBIAN Heliks, 2013

TAMIL Kalachuvadu Publications, 2014

JAPANESE Wedge, 2003

SERBO-CROATIAN Prometej, 2000

KOREAN Hong-Ik Publishing, 2003

SPANISH Alfaguara, 1990

Louis Paul Boon – Menuet (Minuet)

LITHUANIAN Alma Littera, in preparation

SPANISH Debolsillo, 2011

BULGARIAN Pet Plus, 2007


SWEDISH Bonniers, 1992

CZECH Votobia, in preparation

PORTUGUESE (Brazilian) José Olympio, 2006

UKRAINIAN Tempora, in preparation

DANISH Husets Forlag, 1994

RUSSIAN Progress, 1972

ENGLISH Persea Books, 1979

SERBIAN Amatersko pozorište "Neretva", 2007

Hugo Claus - De geruchten (The Rumours)

GREEK Varrak, 1999

SERBO-CROATIAN LutErazmo, 1995


FRENCH Complexe, 1973, 2003

SLOVAK Európa, 2012

CZECH Paseka, 2005

GERMAN Aufbau, 1975

SPANISH Losada, 2004

ESTONIAN Atlantis, 2004

GERMAN Hanser, 1977

SWEDISH Malexis, 2008

FRENCH Éditions de Fallois, 1997

GERMAN Alexander, 2011

TURKISH Kanat Kitap, 2011

GERMAN Klett-Cotta, 1998

HUNGARIAN Európa, 1979

GERMAN Deutscher Taschenbuch, 2000

ITALIAN Ila Palma, 1996

GREEK Kastaniotis, 1999


HEBREW Carmel, in preparation

RUSSIAN unknown, 2007

HUNGARIAN Európa, 2000

SWEDISH Forum / Rostrum, 1976


Willem Elsschot - Het Dwaallicht

Maurice Gilliams -

Ivo Michiels - Het Boek Alfa (Book Alpha)

(Will o’ the Wisp)

Elias of het gevecht met de nachtegalen

ENGLISH Twayne Publishers, 1979

CZECH Jiskry, 1977

(Elias or the struggle with the nightingales)

ENGLISH Green Integer, 2012

DANISH Husets Forlag / S.O.L., 2002

ENGLISH Sun & Moon Press, 1995

FRENCH Gallimard, 1967

ENGLISH Delta, 1962

FRENCH Librairie des Arts, 1968

GERMAN Suhrkamp, 1965

ENGLISH Heinemann / Maxwell, 1965

GERMAN Bibliotheca Christiana, 1964


ENGLISH New Amsterdam Books, 1991

GERMAN Friedenauer Presse, 1997

SERBO CROATIAN Prometej, 1994

ENGLISH Subtropics / University of Florida, 2006


ESTONIAN Looming 7, 1994


FRENCH Maren Sell, 1992

Jef Geeraerts - Gangreen I – Black Venus

FRENCH Le Castor Astral, 2005

ENGLISH Weidenfeld & Nicolson / Futura Publica-

GERMAN Unionsverlag, 2009

Gerard Walschap - Houtekiet

tions / The Viking Press, 1975

HUNGARIAN Gondolat, 2008

FRENCH Éditions de la Toison d'Or, 1941

ENGLISH Avon Books, 1976

ITALIAN Maia, 1975

FRENCH Wellprint, 1966

FINNISH Kalisto, 1967 / 1974

ITALIAN Iperborea, 1991

GERMAN Eugen Diederichs, 1941 / 1951

FRENCH Labor, 1984


HUNGARIAN Pesti Szalon, 1996

FRENCH Actes Sud, 1995

RUSSIAN Progress, 1972


GERMAN Nymphenburger, 1971

ROMANIAN Univers, 1981

GERMAN Heyne, 1973 / 1984

SERBIAN Bratstvo-Jedinstvo, 1956

HUNGARIAN Tevan, 1991

Felix Timmermans - Pallieter

ITALIAN Feltrinelli, 1977

AFRIKAANS J.P. van der Walt & Seun, 1967

NORWEGIAN Gyldendal, 1972

CZECH Druzstevní práce, 1927 / 1940

Johan Daisne - De trein der traagheid

DANISH n.n., 1936

(The Train of Inertia)

ENGLISH Harper & Brothers, 1924

CZECH Odeon, 1974

ESPERANTO Thieme, 1933

FRENCH Complexe, 1973 / 1980 / 2003

Daniël Robberechts - Aankomen in Avignon


GERMAN Matari, 1968

(Arriving in Avignon)

FRENCH Rieder, 1923

ITALIAN Città Armoniosa, 1979

ENGLISH Dalkey Archive Press, 2010

FRENCH Complexe, 1975

ROMANIAN Humanitas, in preparation

SERBO-CROATIAN LutErazmo & ReVision, 1996

GERMAN Insel, 1921 / 1986 / 1992 ITALIAN Delta, 1929 JAPANESE Henshu Kobo Noa, 2004

Marnix Gijsen - Klaaglied om Agnes

For more information on translations of

POLISH Czytelnik, 1980

(Lament for Agnes)

Flemish and Dutch literature, check the

SERBO-CROATIAN Znanje, in preparation

ENGLISH Twayne Publishers, 1975

online Translations Database of the

SWEDISH n.n., 1925

POLISH Czytelnik, 1980

Flemish Literature Fund and the Dutch

SWEDISH Coeckelberghs Bokförlag, 1976

Foundation for Literature:

WELSH Christopher Davies, 1979

Cyriel Buysse - Tantes (The Aunts) FRENCH La Renaissance du livre, 1925 Hubert Lampo - De komst van Joachim Stiller (The Arrival of Joachim Stiller) Stijn Streuvels - Het leven en de dood in de

AFRIKAANS Human & Rousseau, 1977

ast (Life and Death in the Drying Kiln)

CZECH Odeon, 1981

FRENCH Goemaere, 1961

ENGLISH Twayne Publishers, 1974

FRENCH Aubier-Montaigne / Asedi, 1966

ESTONIAN Eesti Keele Sihtasutus, 2014

GERMAN Engelhorn, 1936 / 1941

FRENCH L’Age d’Homme, 1993 GERMAN Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 2009 ITALIAN Mursia, 1990

Paul van Ostaijen - Grotesken (Grotesques)

POLISH Pax, 1979

GERMAN Suhrkamp, 1967

PORTUGUESE (Brazilian) Cultrix/Pensamento, 1995

NORWEGIAN De man met de zwijnekop Den

ROMANIAN Univers, 1977

norske Bokklubben, 1972

RUSSIAN Kvadriga, 2007

ENGLISH Ika Loch's Brothel, New Directions 21,

RUSSIAN Azbuka, 2008



ENGLISH The University of Massachusetts Press,

SLOVAK Revue svetovej literatúry 6, 1979


SPANISH Destino, 1981

PORTUGUESE Desarrumo – Edições, 2012

SWEDISH Coeckelberghs Bokförlag, 1977


Colophon The Flemish Literature Fund, an autonomous government institution, highlights the works of Flemish authors and supports their publications by means of translation, production and travel grants. Foreign publishers can apply for a translation grant specifically for classics. All information can be found on our website. Flemish Literature Fund Generaal van Merlenstraat 30 2600 Antwerp (BELGIUM) T +32 (0)3 270 31 61 For further information Elise Vanoosthuyse – grants manager fiction T +32 3 270 31 74 E Michiel Scharpé – grants manager fiction T +32 3 270 31 70 E Editing Elise Vanoosthuyse, Michiel Scharpé, Sophie Willems, Rosalind Buck, Patrick Peeters Translation Rosalind Buck

Lay-out Katrien Claes Printing Drukkerij Debie Special thanks The heirs and publishers of the featured authors, House of Literature Antwerp, Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, Marieke Roels, Joris Gerits, Anne Marie Musschoot, Ludo Simons, Carlo Van Baelen, Leen van Dijck, Luk Van Haute, Johan Vanhecke, Evi Werkers (, and the members and former members of the FLF’s Advisory Committee for Fiction Copyright © Flemish Literature Fund – none of these texts or images can be copied nor made public by means of (digital) print, copy, internet or in any other way without prior consent from the Flemish Literature Fund. We have tried to contact all holders of copyright in assembling this publication. Should we have unrightfully incorporated any texts or images, then we urge the copyright holders to come forward and contact us at The Flemish Literature Fund, Generaal Van Merlenstraat 30, 2600 Antwerp (BELGIUM).

Flemish Literature Fund Generaal Van Merlenstraat 30 B-2600 Antwerp T +32 3 270 31 61 F +32 3 270 31 60 E

Bookshelf Essentials  

Bookshelf Essentials contains a total of 22 Flemish classic novels, written between 1916 and 1996. Naturally, such internationally renowned...