Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Time Travel in the Forbidden Realm: J.J. Slauerhoff's Het Verboden Rijk Viewed as a Modernist Novel

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Time Travel in the Forbidden Realm: J.J. Slauerhoff's Het Verboden Rijk Viewed as a Modernist Novel

Article excerpt

This essay on the Dutch writer J. J. Slauerhoff's novel Het verboden rijk (1931) analyses it as an experimental novel. I argue that the traditional view of Slauerhoff, which emphasizes the romanticism of his subject matter, fails to acknowledge the modernist character of the novel and its appraisal of European culture. I reveal this modernism through an analysis of the way in which Het verboden rijk negotiates the narrative shifts between the two main characters and between the two times in which it is set, the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries. The analysis highlights the narrative techniques used by Slauerhoff, as he moves away from and ultimately violates the norms of realist fiction, with his failure to deliver the historical prose promised by his prologue. The history in question is the founding of the Portuguese colony of Macao, and this, coupled with the narrative process by which the sixteenth-century character 'colonizes' the twentieth-century character, invites a reading of the novel as a criticism of European culture and identity.

In Dutch literary history of the last twenty years, Slauerhoff tends to feature most strongly as a poet: the Netherlands' own poete maudit. (1) This derives from Slauerhoff's own view of himself: he compared himself, according to Ton Anbeek (p. 120), with Baudelaire, Verlaine, Corbiere and Rimbaud. Although the work of those poets can be seen as an early manifestation of modernism, the Dutch literary histories emphasize Slauerhoff's Romanticism (Meijer) or neo-Romanticism (Chamuleau and Dautzenberg). (2) The latter history describes Slauerhoff's work as rooted in an earlier period. Ton Anbeek does give an account of the debate around Slauerhoff in the 1920s: he was seen both as harking back to the nineteenth century and as offering something new, though not necessarily modern. Anbeek himself does not take a view on this.

When it comes to Slauerhoff's prose, the picture is a similar one: Anten cites Van Vriesland: 'In Het verboden rijk is Slauerhoff "de typische romanticus, met al de van ouds daarbij behorende kenmerken van wereldverachting"' (3) (In The Forbidden Realm Slauerhoff is 'the typical romantic, with all the old, characteristic contempt for the world'). Although van Vriesland goes on to use the adjective 'zakelijk' (4) to refer to Slauerhoff's style, he links it to realism rather than modernism, while Anbeek describes Slauerhoff as 'zeker geen vertegenwoordiger van de "moderne bondigheid"' (5) (certainly no representative of the 'modern terseness') and his prose as 'allerminst "modern" in de zin van Bordewijk; (6) eerder past het in een lange romantische traditie van zwervers op zoek naar het geluk' (not at all 'modern' in the manner of Bordewijk; but rather it fits into a long romantic tradition of wanderers in search of happiness) (p. 165). (6)

Viewed against a larger literary--historical backdrop, Het verboden rijk, which was first published in serial form in the literary magazine Forum in 1931, can be seen as part of the movement away from realism, whether or not one calls it modernism, which was rather late in coming in the Netherlands. Rather than devote space here to a discussion of modernism, I would rather view this article as a footnote to the broad picture of modernism given in Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane's Modernism. A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930 (rev. edn, London: Penguin, 1991), as the Netherlands do not figure there. In designating Het verboden rijk as modernist, I have in mind the 'generalizations' David Lodge makes in his essay 'The Language of Modernist Fiction: Metaphor and Metonymy' in Bradbury and McFarlane's book. The working definition of modernist fiction which I constructed from the essay is that it is experimental, exhibits marked deviations from existing modes of discourse, is concerned with consciousness, with an ambiguous ending, and it eschews both the use of a reliable narrator and the straight chronological ordering of its material (p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.