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10 Famous Dutch Writers You Ought to Know

By Brentyn, published on 29/10/2018 Blog > Languages > Dutch > The Most Renowned Dutch Writers You Should Know About

“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”  –William Faulkner

Writing is a talent for many and a struggle for others. The idea of identifying your own thoughts and writing them down requires vulnerability, creativity and humility. The most renowned authors from the 20th century were tortured souls who put their past experiences into words to create fascinating fiction and nonfiction masterpieces that are still being read today.

The best writers are avid readers. To be skilled at their craft they have read books, articles and poems for decades in order to create their own unique voice. 

Reading many books from different genres and from distinct centuries provides writers with insight on stories and ideas that have not yet been written and need to be shared with the world. Through their investigation and constant reading, authors create fictional or non-fictional accounts that draw readers to their books.

Writing tales that have never been read inspire authors to be creative and fabricate their absolute best. Many writers have written about moments in history that have shaped the modern-day world and the Dutch are no different. Various Dutch authors have done the same by finding inspiration from specific periods of time.

There are many Dutch writers that have made an impact in the world’s literary scene and today we will discover who are the 10 most acclaimed writers from the Netherlands.

Therefore, join us on Superprof’s Dutch literary tour while sitting back and relaxing with your favourite afternoon earl grey tea!

Gerard Reve

Born in Amsterdam in 1923, Reve is one of the Netherlands greatest literary treasures and also a member of the “Great Three” or De Grote Drie, when translated into Dutch, of Dutch post-war literature. 

His works are now acclaimed but at the time they received harsh criticism for there obscenity, frank discussions of sexuality and graphic depiction of homosexual relationships that were not accepted by the politics of that time period. Reve’s main theme included sexuality, however, he also explored the theme of Western religion in his artistic texts.

His use of irony and a sardonic tone entertained readers for decades. 

His famous works include The Evenings (De Avonden) published in 1947, The Fourth Man (De Vierde Man) published in 1981 and was the inspiration for Paul Verhoeven’s 1983 film of the same name and Parents Worry (Berzorgde Ouders) in 1988.

His novels, The Evenings and Parents Worry, have been translated into English and Reve’s 1956 novel titled, The Acrobat was originally written in the English language.

Willem Frederik Hermans

Hermans was an important author born in 1921 in the city of Amsterdam. He is also a member of the “Great Three” (De Grote Drie) of Dutch post-war literature. Known for his poetry, short stories, novels and plays, Hermans was well renowned and in 1977 received the Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren which is the highest honour and prize for Dutch writers.

His writing style is existentialist and generally very bleak. His sentences were very short and to the point which is uncommon in early Dutch literature and due to the fact that he lived during the Second World War, some of his novels, The tears of the Acacias and The Darkroom of Damocles, are set in WWII under German occupation and explore the war genre.

Hermans always had the intention of supporting himself financially through his writings but this did not occur due to the fact that the Netherlands’ economy was recuperating after the Second World War. Therefore, he accepted a job an intellectual job as a lecturer of physical geography at Groningen University.

His most famous works include his novella The House of Refuge published in 1952 and his novels The Darkroom of Damocles and Beyond Sleep released in 1958 and 1966 respectively.

Harry Mulisch

reading a lot of books Mulisch’s book, The Discovery of Heaven, incited many citizens of the Netherlands to read more novels. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Born in 1927 in the Dutch city of Haarlem, Harry Mulisch is the third and possibly most famous member of the “Great Three” of Dutch post-war literature.

He was a very prolific worker during his professional career writing more than 80 novels, plays, essays, poems and philosophical reflections. Mulisch works are not only available in the Dutch language but have been translated in more than 30 international tongues.

He is acknowledged by many professionals as being “Holland’s Greatest Author” and “Holland’s most important post-war writer.” 

Mulisch’s works were greatly influenced by the horrors of WWII. His family was Jewish and they suffered much Nazi persecution during the German occupation of the Netherlands for their traditions. His maternal grandmother died in a gas chamber and his mother just barely escaped her deportation to a concentration camp.

His success came in the later years of his career when he published his novel The Assault in 1982 which was adapted into a 1986 Academy Award-winning film and his 1992 novel The Discovery of Heaven is considered his magnum opus due to the fact that it practically started a reading revolution. The latter was voted by Dutch readers in a 2007 newspaper poll as the “best Dutch-language book ever written.”

Jan Wolkers

Born in 1925 in the city of Oestegeest, Wolkers was a famous writer, sculptor and painter. His literary works were greatly celebrated and he is commonly known as being the fourth member of the “Great Four” writers of post-World War II Dutch Literature along with the three previously mentioned writers in this article (Gerard Reve, Willem Frederik Hermans and Harry Mulisch).

Many of his novels were acclaimed throughout the 1960s and were shocking for many readers due to their graphic descriptions of sexual acts. 

His most famous novel was Turks Fruit which was published in 1969 in the Dutch language and was later translated into 1o different foreign languages and is known as Turkish Delight in English. The 1972 film directed by Paul Verhoeven, that was adapted from Wolkers novel, was nominated for an Academy Award and was voted in 1999 as the best Dutch Film of the Century.

He is known for rejecting various literary awards such as the Constantijn Huygensprijs and the P.C. Hooftprijs.

Anne Frank

Although Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany she is considered to be a Dutch writer since she lived the majority of her life in Amsterdam. She was born in 1929 and died in 1945 at the age of 15. Her legacy has affected many people throughout history.

Her family originally moved from Germany to the Netherlands when the Nazis gained control over Germany. She is widely regarded as being one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

She speaks for all those whose voices were silenced during this dark period in history. 

Her international fame comes from the publishing of the diary she kept from the moment the Frank’s went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookshelf where Otto Frank, her father, worked in July 1942 until their arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944.

Her writings were saved by Miep Gies and titled The Diary of a Young Girl and they were subsequently published in the Dutch language in 1947. It was a brilliant idea to publish this diary due to the fact that it has since been translated into 60 foreign languages and remains one of the most important and moving realistic stories about war and its effect on regular people.

Dick Bruna

reading children's books Dick Bruna’s books have been beloved by children all over the world in a wide variety of languages. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Dick Bruna was born in 1927 in Utrecht and is one of the Netherlands most cherished authors. Not only is he an author but an illustrator, artist and graphic designer.

He gained prominence in 1955 when he illustrated and created the beloved rabbit called “Miffy” (Nijntje in Dutch which is a diminutive term for konijntje or “small rabbit” in English). Miffy is a cartoon rabbit that is drawn with heavy graphic lines, simple shapes and primary colours.

There have been 30 Miffy children’s books published since its debut in 1955 and they have sold more than 85 million copies worldwide. 

Not only has the Miffy character sold books but also toys and clothing. In addition, two television series and a feature film have been released to meet the demand for the international love shown for Miffy.

The last Miffy book was released in 2017, the same year that Bruna died. Bruna has published over 120 children’s books during his extensive career and featured characters such as Lottie, Farmer John and Hettie Hedgehog in his texts.

Annie M.G Schmidt

Born in 1911 in Kapelle, Netherlands, during her lifetime she was referred to as “the real queen of the Netherlands” for her contributions to literature, children’s books and her unfailing sense of humour.

She was a scholarly individual and is widely regarded as being one of the most beloved Dutch writers. She wrote poetry, songs, books, plays, musicals and television series about a variety of different subjects. Although she has accomplished much in the literary world, she is mostly remembered for her children’s books such as Jip and Janneke. 

The books series of Jip and Janneke was praised for its simplicity and wit. 

Her legacy stills lives on today as many people can continue to read and appreciate her wonderful works. In 1988, for her contribution to children’s literature, she was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal.

Her death, in 1995, that was brought on by euthanasia, sparked much debate and developed many conversations about euthanasia and the use it has in the modern world.

Hella Haase

Born in the Dutch East Indies, which is now known as Indonesia, in 1918 to a civil servant father and concert pianist mother. She is held up in high esteem to many citizens of the Netherlands.

A common nickname for Haase is, “the Grand Old Lady” of Dutch literature. Her narrative novel Oeroeg is about a boy growing up on a tea plantation in the Dutch East Indies and was a common staple for generations of schoolchildren since its first publishing in 1948.

Haase had the immense privilege in 1988 of interviewing the Queen of the Netherlands on her 50th birthday due to the fact that she was regarded as “the Queen among authors.” 

Her magnum opus is considered to be her novel titled, “Heren van de Thee”, or The Tea Lords in English, that has been translated in many languages and gained worldwide recognition. For her work, she received many awards and much recognition until her death in 2011.

A. C. Baantjer

Born in 1923 in the city of Urk, Netherlands, Baantjer is a very well-known Dutch author of detective fiction. His novels have been well received internationally resulting in the translation of his works in Spanish, French, Korean, Russian and Estonian.

There are 23 of his 60 published books available in the English language largely due to Baantjer’s publisher Speck Press. 

His detective novels revolve around the police instructor De Cock (also translated DeKok which means “cook” in the Dutch language) and his side-kick Sargeant Vledder.

Some of his notable works include Murder in Amsterdam, DeKok and the Dead Harlequin and Dekok and Murder by Melody. 

Michel Faber

the best books Michel Faber is born in the Netherlands and has written a few well-known critically acclaimed novels. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Born in 1960 in The Hague, Faber is a writer of English-language fiction. He and his parents emigrated to Australia in 1967 and underwent his schooling at the University of Melbourne.

Commonly known as a novelist, some of Faber’s most notable novels include The Crimson Petal and the White, Under the Skin and The Book of Strange New Things. Not widely known as a poet, his 2016 poetry book titled Undying is a poetry collection written about the death of his second wife to cancer.

His novel Under the Skin was well received by literary critics and was adapted into a 2013 film starring Scarlett Johansson. 

Faber’s 850-page novel The Crimson Petal and the White is viewed by many as being his magnum opus due to its Victorian themes and immense popularity.

There are many Dutch writers who have left their mark in the literary world and can be enjoyed by many readers today. The 10 aforementioned Dutch writers have created page-turners, instructed us about historical events and provided us with more insight about complex social situations.

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