A Look into Louis Couperus’ Writing Methods

Of course, scientific methods and beliefs come and go in the arts, but it remains the question if the published “full works” of Louis Couperus from about a decade ago can ever be improved. Apart from the quality of the edition, which seems to me to be difficult to surpass, probably no subsidy source would be even more abundant for such a costly edition, of which some-roughly forty of the fifty parts in principle are unsaleable.

But the project was completed: a prestigious accomplishment of the commercial world. In a sense, the silver monument for Couperus (and its readers) is itself a correction to an earlier edition which arose some fifty years ago. Already before the appearance of the twelve-part collected work, edited by Garmt Stuiveling, it became clear that that edition contained not that much quality.

Much of Couperus’ work (especially poetry, serials, and stories) was left out without clear reason; the chronology was tampered with; a good and deliberate (scientific) accountability was lacking; there was no variables research conducted and the spelling was adapted to then-prevailing rules.

The authority under whose leadership one of the most beautiful literary projects of the past years has been accomplished is H.T.M.Van Vliet. Through the years of intensive interaction with the texts and manuscripts of Couperus, which required the creation of the entire works, Van Vliet has been able to obtain a tremendous insight into the relationship between manuscripts, periodical publications, and publications in book form.

That insight provides a good overview of all variants at the end of each part. Van Vliet has bundled a number of articles in which he seeks to provide some insight into the working method of Couperus by comparing the surviving manuscripts with the printed texts. This type of research sees Van Vliet as a new phase in his studies of Couperus. His works are more relevant than ever and in recent years, Couperus’ work has been given a literary-historical framework while in the Netherlands, the importance of handwriting material for an analysis of the published work and for an understanding of the working method of the author and thereby In its poetica, it is strongly underestimated.

The image of Couperus’ working method that emerges from the bundle could be described as follows: the author almost always worked without a tight schedule. He usually had only the big line in his head. That Couperus wrote down his novels and stories without strikethrough in one go, turns out to be a fabling; His manuscripts contain many modifications, improvements, and additions that, for instance, Van Vliet demonstrates time and again, were mainly made to clarify or reinforce the story motifs or the central theme. On the other hand, Couperus almost never changed the whole scheme and only rarely brought about structural changes.

The exceptions to this rule are, for example, the novels “Langs lijnen van geleidelijkheid” (along lines of conductivity) and “De stille kracht” (the silent force), and this has inspired Van Vliet to the most fascinating reflections from the bundle. When writing the first novel, Couperus was trapped after twelve chapters and gave the story another twist, partly motivated, so suggests Van Vliet, by the social and literary topicality. The protagonist, Cornélie de Retz, changes from a girl who has broken her engagement and in Italy seeks some rest to a self-conscious young, newly divorced woman who converts herself to feminism and enters into a free relationship with a Dutch artist. Yet again, Couperus is faithful to the once-attached; He did not completely restart but edited the finished chapters so that they joined the new design.

Also, “the silent force” was not created without problems. The manuscript of the novel, one of the messiest ones handed down by Couperus, gives the impression of great haste and a laborious genesis. A remarkable aspect of the genesis of the novel is the influence Couperus ‘ wife Elisabeth’s disease had on the final result. Elisabeth was usually writing the virtually unreadable manuscripts of her husband in readable text. Since Elisabeth, after returning from India, where the novel originated, was rather ill, Couperus had to take over it every now and then.

While the portions that Elisabeth took on her account remained unchanged, Couperus made quite radical changes here and there, resulting in the novel having gained strength and essence. Lack of time, however, prevented Couperus from working on the second half of the novel so he could only make some small changes in the printing proofs. It is an equally engaging and unanswerable question to what extent “the silent force”, considered one of Couperus ‘ best novels, could still have won quality without all the rush and how the rest of his oeuvre, after all, is not always of very high quality, Without Couperus ‘ diligent and devoted wife with a clearly readable handwriting, it would have been.

Other modifications are purely stylistic in nature. It is especially true that Couperus did not delete very much when reviewing, but added words, especially adjectives and phrases that the style of Couperus gave its famous or infamous, praised or maligated, but ever as controversial as distinctive cachet. When Couperus noticed that a certain part of his novel cycle “De boeken der kleine zielen” (the books of small souls) would be somewhat too thin in terms of volume (the fee that publisher Veen promised the author was based on the expectation that all parts are the format of a Great novel), Couperus added a lot of dialogue.

It is these nice anecdotes, and the sound analyses, that make this bundle a fascinating read. Fortunately, the concept of ‘ resource research ‘ by Van Vliet is pleasantly broad and also the literary and historical sources used and processed by Couperus are covered so that the argument almost nowhere is boring. At times, Van Vliet is a polemic failure in favor of vibrancy. His side attacks on Lukkenaer and Dirikx, authors of recently published dissertations that show a deviant, not unquestionable light on the role of doom in Couperus ‘ work, deserve an extension to an independent article. Louis Couperus writes like a child with a majestic voice. This bundle of essays would at least serve every Couperus lover.

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