The Hidden Force

The Hidden Force

The Hidden Force

The Hidden Force

Excerpt

It is impossible to be concise about Louis Couperus's literary achievement, nor would such an attempt be warranted. Couperus (1863- 1923) is one of the great writers of Dutch literature and one of its classic novelists. He and Multatuli were major innovators of Dutch prose, and Couperus's inspiration was anything but typical of the prevailing norm. He contributed five masterpieces to the development of the Dutch novel, including The Hidden Force, which doubles as a major work of Dutch colonial literature. Hence, it seems reasonable that a consideration of the present text should be attempted with at least some indication of the larger perspective.

Couperus was of two minds about what he discerned in both himself and the world at large. He lived among and wrote about opposing forces which seldom responded to conciliation. What is important here is his experience of the dichotomy itself. While awareness of disjunction is almost a commonplace of the romantic imagination, and Couperus was most definitely a Romantic, it is also a prominent feature of Dutch colonial letters. One should be able, therefore, to illuminate the general nature of that literature by discussing the specific example of The Hidden Force.

The Couperus family had deep roots in colonial society. Louis Couperus's great-grandfather, Abraham Couperus, went to the Indies in the latter half of the eighteenth century. While the Dutch still controlled Malacca he acquired a fortune there and became its governor. He married a local woman from a respected family--Catharina Johanna Koek--whose grandmother was a native Malay. After he moved to Java, he continued his impressive career in the colonial civil service and became a friend of Raffles, who ruled Java during the British interim government from 1811 to 1816.

John Ricus Couperus, the writer's father and Abraham Couperus's grandson, was born in 1816 in the colonial capital, Batavia, and, as was customary, was sent to Holland for his secondary and graduate education. He acquired a law degree from Leyden University and returned shortly thereafter to the Indies where he embarked on a distinguished career in the colonial judiciary. While living in Batavia in 1847 he married a woman from an aristocratic family, Catharina Geertruida Reynst, whose father had been a vice president of the powerful Council of the Indies as well as an acting governor-general. The couple had eleven children. John Couperus retired officially in 1862 and went back . . .

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