A Child With A Majestic Voice

P.F. Thomése on Louis Couperus

“No fighters but breakaways”…that’s what Couperus’ characters are in the eyes of P.F. Thomése. The gentleman who never let people overcome their weakness was, however, a naughty child dep inside who opposed dull, dull citizens. Playful and empathetic, he woke everyone alive, from perverse Romans to stiff Hague ladies.

The introduction of Thomése to Couperus’ work took place when his mother’s mother was taken to an elderly home and her books were delivered in large wooden crates at Thomése’s. There he found all sorts of writing, many unreadable for him, but what he dug out with pleasure were some old editions of Eline Vere, excerps from the books of little souls and, he believes, Psyche.

“My parents did quite scared about the first two books so they ended up in their bookcase. Frankly, I found the book covers more interesting than the contents because that caused some difficulty – I was sixteen.”

It wasn’t until years later that he became appreciative of Couperus’ work. He wasn’t that much impressed by these “The Hague novels”; he more thought of them as “old wives’ books”, pretty decadent novels.

The Mountain of Light, The Comedians, and Iskander, however, caught his special interest. “I loved them; I was a schoolboy and this book showed me another Rome, Persia, and a totally different world than we were presented at school. The classical world was very vividly presented to us by Couperus. His writing is very sensual, making the reading experience more intense. His style is artificial without being wrought, and therefore comes about naturally. See also this page about the Louis Couperus Museum in The Hague.

Couperus is a typical and real Dutch author. In the end, Holland is not really a land of great thinkers. “He is a true impressionist, who can strongly evoke a figure with a quick sketch. His chiseled, yet careless spelling is just one great quality that, in particular, emerges in his historical novels. For example, in the historical novels of Yourcenar, this shows clearly. Couperus writes much looser. His stories are not of marble but of flesh and blood.

Couperus built his characters on his own experiences. He watched people carefully and this shows in his books. Through his keen perception, he could even portray an ancient Roman very lifelike.

Frontrunner

According to Thomése, Couperus was one of the first Dutch professional writers who thought of his public image. His readers must have realized that he did not write for dignitaries, but that despite his lineage was one of them. That made him innovative. “He was also someone who the audience awarded something, which in turn has the disadvantage, at least to some extent, that by your popularity, you are a slave to your readers. Couperus was nevertheless an example of someone who wrote good books and at the same time, knew how to reach an audience.”

With his dedication to his work, he was a pioneer; he was not a minister who just picked up the pen in the evening. He was also the first Dutch novelist. People like Multatuli and Van Lennep were it not quite novelists. “Couperus was a writer, not a minister nor a lawyer. With his sensibility, his liveliness and his unorthodox life he wanted to show the real life. He pulled the curtains down. He was not a modernist, but certainly not a nineteenth-century man. He was someone who wanted to expose, wanted to protest.”

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