The Adulterous Grass
Vicious portrait of landed gentry
In The Adulterous Grass Louis Ferron traces the tarnished history of the Van Lookerens, a family of ‘textile barons’ in the Achterhoek, a splendid, ancient, country area on the border between the Netherlands and Germany. Ferron begins his story around 1910, and continues it to the present day, when the youngest scion of the noble dynasty, called Eduard like his father and grandfather before him, is left in penury. Unlike his ancestors he does not live in the castle of Enghuizen itself, but in the hayloft of the coachhouse. His parents’ house has meanwhile - o tempora o mores - been transformed into an appalling conference centre.
Eduard van Lookeren is plagued by melancholy. As a young man he had high-flown ideas about his future status as master of Enghuizen. He wanted to remain loyal to the ‘granite-hewn tradition’ of his family. But soon he was forced to ask himself: loyal to what? There was some mystery about his family, some deep secret in the past that he could not unravel, until, during the Second World War, the Germans occupied the area, and the Prussian junker Von Trescow appeared on the scene.
This Trescow was made of different stuff from the tin-pot textile barons. He belong not to the minor landed gentry, but embodied ‘the aristocracy of the mind’. He introduced Eduard to poets like Trakl, Hölderlin and Rilke and enchanting painters like Mantegna, Piero della Francesca and Nicholas Poussin, and he held a mirror up to Eduard, through Poussin’s painting ‘Narcissus and Echo’. He showed him who he really was: a homosexual, whose origins were based on lies, deceit and adultery. Eduard was branded once and for all as the ‘barren heir of a doomed dynasty’.
In The Adulterous Grass Ferron again shows himself a full-blown Romantic. Tresckow is a true hero, with a love of things military. And in the novel art serves as a ‘dam against decay’. But what applied to Tresckow’s favourite poets, also applies to Ferron. Though his language may sometimes sparkle and seduce, and sometimes be gruff and recalcitrant - one must always be on one’s guard. Nothing is what it seems to be , the grass is always adulterous. Ferrons’ vicious and ingenious portrait of the landed gentry of the Achterhoek reveals both love and fury, and in the plot of his gripping narrative the two merge, swirling around each other till the fateful end.