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The Wolff and Deken correspondence

These two women, who often published their novels and other works together, are generally considered to be the only 18th-century women permitted entry to “official” Dutch literary historiography. Elisabeth Wolff-Bekker (1738-1804) and Agatha Deken (1741-1804) are said to have inaugurated the history of the Dutch novel by publishing in 1782 their epistolary novel De historie van Sara Burgerhart.

Both ladies, living together after the death of husband Rev. Wolff, found themselves the center of an important network of friends – literary and other – with whom letters were exchanged. P.J. Buijnsters, who also wrote their biography, published this correspondence in 1987. Much, of course, has been lost: Buijnsters suggests that the two women destroyed letters at different phases of their life (Buijnsters, 49). For that reason possibly, the 253 letters do not really illustrate the supposed, and much discussed, preference for other women. Letters were sent to or by 63 different correspondents. Two thirds of the correspondence consists of letters to or from someone for whom no more than this only letter has been found.

The presence of colleagues-authors as correspondents is limited, male as well as female (Buijnsters, 50). In the whole of the correspondence we found seventeen women writers (cf. discussed or mentioned). They concern twelve women, five of them compatriots. Relations with them were of varying nature: Van Merken was admired; Epinay translated by Wolff, but not mentioned more than once; but to Genlis - also translated ánd admired - Wolff even wrote a letter (in Dutch....): it did not provoke any surviving answer, and possibly was never sent.


  • P.J. Buynsters (ed.), Briefwisseling van Betje Wolff en Aagje Deken. Utrecht, HES, 1987, 2 vols.

SvD, September 2007

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  • Sources > Dutch sources > Egodocuments > Correspondence of Dutch novelists Betje Wolff and Aagje Deken

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