A woman’s search for independence
Eva is a sensitive self-portrait written as a stream of consciousness. When it appeared, the heartbeat of Van Bruggen’s unique prose was compared to the exciting, sometimes bewildering, rhythms of jazz. Van Bruggen believes that the essence of personality lies in self-expression and in Eva she put her theory into practice. Van Bruggen’s main character refuses to be satisfied with compromise and modest happiness, throwing herself into an admirable struggle for a deep independently-won acceptance of life, convinced of her right to do so.
In eight chapters the main character describes her life between the ages of eighteen and forty. She seeks and finds harmony between a powerful longing to experience life and distinguish herself and a conflicting desire to be at one with others and immerse herself in the world around her.
In Carry van Bruggen’s day these were unusual themes, especially coming from a woman without an academic background. Van Bruggen was born into a Jewish family as Carolina Lea de Haan and her childhood is also one of the themes of the book. At an early age she found that the collective rituals and closed character of the Jewish community formed a barrier against approaching others. Her urge towards openness was also expressed in agitating against the literariness which then flourished in Dutch writing, and in her defence of more individualistic style. It was only after her death with the rise of such writers as E. du Perron and Menno ter Braak that such writing became part of the Dutch mainstream.
The feminists of the 1970s honoured Van Bruggen’s independence and pioneering role and this led to renewed interest in her work. Whether she herself would have been pleased by her retrospective incorporation into the feminist movement is questionable. Although she wrote a great deal about the problems of women who reject imposed values of chastity, monogamy and motherhood, she was also very clear about her reservations about the women’s movement and its accompanying radicalization.