Willem Frederik Hermans

Willem Frederik Hermans (September 1, 1921April 27, 1995) was a Dutch author. He is considered one of the three most important authors in the Netherlands in the postwar period, along with Harry Mulisch and Gerard Reve.

His oeuvre includes novels, short stories, plays, poetry, essays, and philosophical and scientific works.

His style is existentialist and generally quite bleak, and his writing style is unique in Dutch literature with its short and pointed sentences. There is no doubt that he was influenced by World War II and the German occupation of the Netherlands between 1940 and 1945, and his longer novels (De tranen der acacia's and De donkere kamer van Damokles) are set during the war. Even his more upbeat writings (Onder professoren and Au pair) can have a strange, existentialist twist to them.

In 1958 W.F. Hermans was appointed as a reader in physical geography at the Groningen University. In 1972, after accusations, of among others the calvinist Member of Parliament, and later minister, Jan de Koning, that Hermans was using his time writing instead of lecturing, a parliamentary committee was set up to investigate this matter. The committee found that Hermans' main misconduct was his using university stationery for writing his notes. In 1973 he resigned and settled as a full-time writer in Paris. In Onder professoren (Among professors) (1975) he described the university life in Groningen in a bitter and satirical way. It can be read as a roman à clef and was entirely written on the empty sides of university letters, according to Hermans's alter ego Zomerplaag: 'to do something useful with this expensive paper that would normally disappear unread in the garbage bin polluting the environment'. Afterwards the university obliged staff members to use both sides of papers. Hermans was notorious for his polemics, as was demonstrated in particular in the 'Weinreb affair', when he played a key role in the unmasking of a Jewish imposter who claimed to have been a resistance fighter, helping other Jews during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. In 1986 the Mayor and City Council of Amsterdam officially declared Hermans persona non grata in Amsterdam as he visited South Africa in 1983, in defiance of a cultural boycott that was declared on that country because of its Apartheid policy. Being married to a non-white woman, he remained totally unrepentant. Hermans did not visit his birthplace again until 1993 for a book presentation, after the City Council had ended that status on his insistence.

The best example of Hermans' notoriety was the minor issue of the first volume of the memoirs of the minor writer C. Buddingh', which Hermans savagely and condescendingly criticised in a review in 1979. The next volume was published only in 1995, ten years after the death of Buddingh', but only months after Hermans' death. He received honorary doctorates from the University of Liège (Luik) in 1990 and the University of Pretoria in 1993.

Bibliography (selection)

  • Moedwil en misverstand/Intention and misunderstanding (short stories, 1948)
  • De tranen der acacia's/The tears of the acacias (novel, 1949)
  • Ik heb altijd gelijk/I am always right (novel, 1951)
  • Paranoia (short stories, 1953)
  • Description et genèse des dépôts meubles de surface et du relief de l'Oesling (dissertation, 1955)
  • De God Denkbaar Denkbaar De God/The God Thinkable Thinkable the God (novel, 1956)
  • Drie melodrama's/Three pieces of melodrama (novel/short stories, 1957)
  • Een landingspoging op Newfoundland/An attemptive landing on Newfoundland (short stories, 1957)
  • De donkere kamer van Damokles/The Darkroom of Damocles (novel, 1958)
  • Nooit meer slapen/Beyond Sleep (novel, 1966)
  • Een wonderkind of een total loss/A child prodigy or a total loss (stories, 1967)
  • Herinneringen van een engelbewaarder/Memories of a guardian angel (novel, 1971)
  • Het evangelie van O. Dapper Dapper/The gospel of O. Dapper Dapper (novel, 1973)
  • Onder professoren/Amongst professors (novel, 1975)
  • Filip's sonatine (short story, 1980)
  • Uit talloos veel miljoenen/From innumerable millions (novel, 1981)
  • Geijerstein's dynamiek/Geijerstein's dynamic (short story, 1982)
  • De zegelring/The signet ring (short story, 1984)
  • Een heilige van de horlogerie/The saint of the clockmakers (novel, 1987)
  • Au pair (novel, 1989)
  • De laatste roker/The last smoker (short stories, 1991)
  • In de mist van het schimmenrijk/In the mist of the shadow empire (short story, 1993; boekenweekgeschenk (Dutch Book Week Gift), later published as Madelon in de mist van het schimmenrijk/Madelon in the mist of the shadow empire)
  • Ruisend gruis/Rustling grit (novel, published after his death in 1995)

External links

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