A lonely woman confesses her crime to a night nurse
Marianne Philips was once a celebrated writer after whom an annual literary prize was named. Her recently republished work, The Confession, is a virtuoso naturalist novel about an ambitious woman with a fallible moral sense. After uprooting herself from her poor, religious family, she climbs her way up from the working class but never finds lasting happiness.
In a psychiatric hospital, Heleen recounts her life story to a night nurse, who listens in silence. She tells how, as the oldest in a family of ten children, she knew nothing but sleepless nights and poverty. While working in a seamstress shop as a girl, she discovers beauty: both in fabrics and in herself. When men start showing interest in her, she seduces them to escape poverty, only to be cursed by her father for her licentious behaviour.
Eventually, she becomes a buyer at a luxury department store. Although her life appears successful on the outside, on the inside she feels empty. She recognizes herself in a painting by Botticelli: ‘beautiful, pale, smooth, but missing something necessary to live.’ Her marriage to a wealthy man ends in fiasco. After her mother dies, she takes in her youngest sister, Lientje, and soon meets the handsome gym teacher, Hannes. The two end up marrying, and, for a while, Hannes, Heleen and Lientje live happily together under one roof.
However, Heleen feels insecure and guilty about the fact that she is five years older than her young husband and unable to give him a child. As her beauty fades, her sister’s blossoms. Heleen’s jealousy degenerates into paranoia, which ultimately ruins her marriage. After Hannes dies in an accident, she learns from a spiritual entity that her husband was actually in love with her sister. In a fury, she beats her sister to death.
In 1930, The Confession was marked by its candid description of the female psyche. Moreover, it was a departure from the typical ‘lady’s novel’ of the time. The book’s themes - identity, morality and madness - are still highly relevant today. This engrossing tale of a woman living in her own personal hell is sure to strike at the hearts of contemporary readers.