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“Because I had something to say”: Amsterdam

Some of the authors presented in each of the five Atria showcases:

1. The early 19th century: commenting upon each other

Petronella Moens, who often explicitly addressed women readers, wrote also poems in praise of contemporary women authors. In a poem entitled Aan de vaderlandse vrouwen (To the women of our country; 1819) she described the merits, for instance, of Fenna Mastenbroek: “Uw schrijfpen hecht paarlen aan der vrouwen kroon” (your writing pen is attaching pearls to women’s crown). And in the periodical press she took the defense of 17th-century colleagues, the poets-sisters Anna and Maria Tesselschade Roemersdr. Visscher; she considered they were underestimated in comments written about an edition recently published.

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2. Links between women authors: an interesting source

The French novelist George Sand was much read during the second half of the century. One of her readers was Geertruida Kapteyn-Muysken, who copied parts of Sand’s Histoire de ma vie in her copy books. She knew Sand’s works thanks to her friend social worker and writer Helene Mercier, who herself translated Sand and wrote about her. Kapteyn-Muysken’s copy books in which she wrote also about other readings (Louisa Alcott for instance, but also works by men) are kept in the Atria archives.


3. Johanna Naber: a woman historian about women authors

Johanna Naber was one of the first Dutch women historians and women’s historians. She wrote about queens, but also about women authors – books about contemporary foreign writers, such as Swedish Fredrika Bremer, and also about the most famous 18th-century novelists Betje Wolff and Aagje Deken. Naber is proud of these really Dutch writers, and clearly prefers them to their contemporary Belle van Zuylen, who born Dutch, left the country when marrying a Swiss husband. The biography published by Philippe Godet in Neuchâtel made impression in the Netherlands, but was not much appreciated by Naber: she did not approve Belle van Zuylen’s behavior nor her engaging in a correspondence with a married man.


4. How to behave, as a woman?

Women’s behavior is also discussed in books by other female authors – not always in the same way. Johanna van Woude, following the example provided by French Blanche Soyer (who wrote under the pseudonym of Baronne Staffe), provides a set of rules in her Vormen. Handboek voor Dames (Forms. Hand book for Ladies, 1897). And she illustrates them in novels with particularly telling titles such as Een Hollandsch binnenhuisje (A Dutch household, 1888) and Tom en ik (Tom and I, 1889), where the female characters are nicely corresponding to norms for behavior. But other women authors, when referring to these same norms, use irony in order to show their disagreement: Elise van Calcar considers “women’s duties” to be derived from male egoism and female vanity.


5. “That is what I wanted to write about, in order to be read by many”

These authors did find, in quite some cases, an important audience. In Haarlem reading societies for instance, which are well documented and studied, women like Geertruida Bosboom-Toussaint and A.S.C. Wallis, both authors of historical novels, and Melati van Java, who wrote novels set in the East-Indies, were immensely popular. The readers of the periodical Nederlandsche Spectator were asked, in 1892, to mention their preferences: here again the same three, together with Johanna van Woude and Helene Mercier, were listed next to male authors, canonized since then, Hildebrand, Multatuli, Couperus.

The role of men as critics needs to be documented and studied in some detail: not all women authors had much confidence. Geertruida Bosboom-Toussaint, best known now of the women novelists of the period, and Catharina van Rees, well connected to German women authors, both asked Elise van Calcar to publish review articles about their recently published novels: “I want to be reviewed now by a woman; those men usually do not understand what we mean”.

SvD, April 20165.

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