Modern novelist of world-wide reputation
Louis Couperus herdacht in Britse kranten
De dood van Louis Couperus op maandag 16 juli 1923 bleef in Engeland niet onopgemerkt. Hieronder volgen een paar reacties in Britse kranten.
Death of Dutch Novelist
(From our own correspondent)
the hague, July 16. The great Dutch novelist, Louis Couperus, died this afternoon from blood poisoning. He was 60 years old.
Couperus will be sincerely regretted by all lovers of good literature both in England and in America, where his work had become well known in the masterly translations of the late Mr. Teixeira de Mattos. Few foreign writers have had the good fortune to be translated into English by one who himself possessed literary gifts of a higher order; de Mattos was, indeed, more than a mere translator – he was an interpreter who presented to an entirely new audience the genius of his original much as a fine actor interprets the genius of a great dramatist.
Born at The Hague on June 10, 1863, the fourth son of John Ricus Couperus and Jonkvrouwe Geertruida Johanna Reynst, Louis Couperus was educated in Batavia and The Hague. He wrote nearly as many books as Balzac, but the comparatively few that have been translated into English are enough to show the strength and originality of his genius. Probably most people would agree in placing first his ‘Old People and the Things that Pass’. Mr. de Mattos’s version, which appeared in 1919, was a revelation to all who had never before read anything by Couperus. It is a story full of passion, dread, and pity. The old people, almost all of one family and ranging from 97 downwards, are protagonists in a tragedy which began in a murder, the fruit of a passionate love, committed in Java some sixty years before. Gradually the thing spreads its heavy clouds of horror and suspense over the whole family. Within this isolated circle Couperus creates a variety of characters, each a finished masterpiece, each with its own individuality clothing the family likeness. His observation and presentation of senility, old age, middle age, and youth are conducted without a trace of satire, but with artistically restrained pity. The whole theme, which might have been a mere tract on the text, ‘Be sure your sin will find you out’, is raised to the dignity of tragedy.
In ‘Small Souls’, ‘The Twilight of the Souls’, and ‘Dr. Adriaan’, in which we meet some of the same family again, Couperus partly yielded to the temptation of piling on the cruel strokes of fate beyond the limits of reasonable probability. But they show the same masterly characterization, and, perhaps, an even greater measure of pity. ‘The
Hidden Force’, which was, we believe, the last to be translated by de Mattos, exhibits, like the other books, the close link between Couperus’s characters in Holland and the colonial life in the Dutch Indies. He is profoundly impressed by the corrupting, disintegrating force exercised by the East on European settlers, and the whole story suggests both comparison and contrast with some famous novels of Anglo-Indian life.
It must be admitted that Couperus was not always happily inspired. In ‘The Tour’ he attempted a presentation of the gorgeous life of antiquity which has attracted so many novelists from Flaubert downwards, and the result can only be described as dreary. ‘The Law Inevitable’,Ga naar eindnoot5 too, though much better, is stil below the level of his great books. It is an unpleasant study of female psychology, which seems to convey the moral that the love of the body is more powerful than the love of the soul.
In 1896 Couperus was decorated with the Order of Orange Nassau. He visited London in June, 1921, and was entertained at dinner at the House of Commons and also by the Anglo-Batavian Society. He married in 1891 Elizabeth Johanna Wilhelmina, daughter of Ricus Baud.
(The Times, 17 juli 1923)
M. Louis Couperus
The death is announced from the Hague of M. Louis Couperus, the author, at the age of sixty. He was of Dutch parentage, and he spent his early years in Java, but returned to Holland while still a young man to complete his studies. He was, however, a cosmopolitan both by temperament and practice. He travelled widely, and his work had an international rather than a merely Dutch acceptance. He found an admirable translator in M. Teixeira de Mattos, who made his fiction well known in the English tongue. His first tale, ‘Eline Vere’, written in 1889, gave him an international reputation. It was followed by ‘Footsteps of Fate’,Ga naar eindnoot1 ‘Ecstasy’, ‘Majesty’, and ‘Psyche’; and in a different vein by his ‘Book of Small Souls’ and his ‘Old People and Things that Pass’. These both deal at length and minutely with characters of Dutch-Indo-society, the former tracing the growth of a family through several generations somewhat in the manner of Mr. Galsworthy’s ‘The Forsytes’; and the latter involving them in tragedy.
Like M. France,Ga naar eindnoot2 he tried, too, the reconstruction of antiquity in fiction, and, of this vein his ‘The Tour’Ga naar eindnoot3 is the best known example. For a full consideration of his versatility we still lack an English translation of his ‘Korte Arabesken’.
M. Couperus had something of Meredith in his fondness for chiselling a subtle phrase; something of D’Annunzio in the richness and warmth of his style.
He was the guest at a public dinner in this country two years ago, when the chairman, Mr. Stephen McKenna,Ga naar eindnoot4 paid him a high tribute as one who could notably ‘project his own spirit into the bodies of his creatures’.
(The Manchester Guardian, 19 juli 1923)
Couperus’s Last Novel
The death of Louis Couperus last July robbed Holland not of only her most distinguished writer, but of her only modern novelist of world-wide reputation. There have been English and French versions of several of Couperus’s novels, both at the beginning of his writing career and in the past four or
five years: but those readers who do not know Dutch or German – most of Couperus’s work can be had in the latter tongue – will hardly realize the extraordinary versatility which characterized his collected writings, fiction, essays, impressionist sketches. The attention given more recently to what may be called the ‘realistic social novels’- such as the ‘Book of the Small Souls’ and ‘Old People and the Things that Pass’ – may lead to the neglect of the other side of Couperus’s genius – what one may call the archeological, mythological, pagan, romantic.
This novel (Het zwevende Schaakbord (The Hovering Chessboard); Amsterdam: Maatschappij voor Goede en Goedkoope Lectuur) is distinctly in the second category: in that class which, one cannot help feeling, the novelist enjoyed writing, although it would be impossible to assert that he was invariably better in this vein than in his delineations of modern Dutch life. It is enough that we have here a very good illustration of the learned and academic trait in Couperus’s literary character. The story is inspired by a Middle Dutch Arthurian poem, the ‘Roman van Walewein’, which two Dutch poets, Penninc and Pieter Vostaert, wrote in the first half of the thirteenth century. Couperus first read it in the course of his language studies, and later realized the possibilities of a narrative which, in the original – the suppositions French source is lost – ranks high among the episodic Arthurian romances. Its subject is the appearance of a magic chessboard one day at Arthur’s Court and the King’s desire to possess it. Walewein (Gawain) undertakes the search. The chessboard is in the possession of King Wonder, who promises it in exchange for the beautiful Isabel. But, of course, Isabel and Gawain, when they meet, fall in love with each other; and after various adventures Gawain succeeds in taking back the chessboard and in making Isabel his bride.
Couperus has made his story begin with a second search for the chessboard ten years later. In many essentials he has repeated the romance of Penninc and Vostaert, in particular in the emphasis placed on the magical element. Where he differs from his model is chiefly in the less episodic construction. The adventures are brought into relation with the Round Table in general; and the portraits of the knights, realistic in some cases almost to the point of farce, and the accounts of Merlin’s wonderworking and Morgan le Fay’s sorcery, are very attractive. A second difference lies in the way in which a dramatic element has been introduced in the rivalry between Gawain and Gwinebant for Isabel’s love, a struggle which ends with Gawain’s death. The novelist has thus much amplified his original, successfully re-creating a little-known Gawain story. As in other of Couperus’s reconstructions of the past, the learning and careful study is obvious, but the characters are never remote. In making the romantic past – whether it be ancient Rome, as in the ‘Komedianten’, classical mythology, as in ‘Dionyzos’, or Arthurian England, as here – into something intimate, tangible, vital, Couperus can have had few equals in modern European literature.
(The Times Literary Supplement, 27 december 1923)
The Dutch Indies
Eastward. By Louis Couperus. 18s. net. London: Hurst & Blackett.Ga naar eindnoot6
The novels of the late Louis Couperus contain some remarkable pictures of life in the Dutch Indies, and a translation of this travel book, the product of a tour in the Far East in 1921, should be welcomed by all who know the works of the great Dutch novelist. The book embodies material originally contributed to the Haagsche Post in the form of letters. As written amid the constant stir and bustle of travel, the chapters are necessarily light and sketchy. In addition, Couperus went out to the East as a distinguished Dutchman, to be treated ceremoniously by the Colonial officials, and to preserve something of a like ceremonious character in what he wrote. There may be, therefore, perhaps be some disappointment at the absence of that peculiar, brooding observation which distinguishes his novels. A novelist, however, is at liberty to ‘compose’ his pictures. Couperus is dealing here with facts, although the more familiar Couperus of the novels does peep out occasionally. In his opening chapter the writer tells of his family connection with the East, of the great grandfather who was Governor-General; of his father who was also in the Colonial service, and of the blood of officialdom which seemed to flow in the veins of his brothers, directing their thoughts, even as boys, to advancement in the Colonial service: – ‘I myself was a dreamy child, and the gold lace of officialdom had no attraction for me… I spent five years at school in Java.’
Couperus travelled through Sumatra and Java and Bali, everywhere delighted with a land which appears, in his pages, to reflect a peace which is the joint product of Oriental and Dutch influences. The general impression is of sunshiny afternoons. In the midst of the general placidity, however, change is making itself manifest, and Couperus warns the traveller who would see the Far East in its full romance to lose no time. The old manners are changing, the picturesque native dwellings are decaying, and where once there was carved wood, galvanised iron is making its appearance as a substitute. The people, high and low, are becoming better educated. Inevitably the role of the Colonial official will become increasingly restricted to a general supervision as the fitness of the native population for selfgovernment develops. It is a process of change which is so far following an undisturbed course, but while the writer welcomes it for its own sake, it is not without a sigh for the old times. The translation, by J. Menzies-Wilson and C.C. Crispin, reads smoothly, and there are a number of illustrations.
(The Scotsman, 14 februari 1925)
Met dank aan Lewis Scroggie, Edinburgh.