Van de koele meren des doods
The development of a sensitive soul
Although Frederik van Eeden wrote poetry, plays, scientific studies and essays on literature and painting, he is chiefly remembered as a novelist. Among his voluminous epic work it is specifically Van de koelen meren des doods (‘The Deeps of Deliverance’) on which his reputation rests. He himself considered it a synthesis of all his main themes, and stated that the work described: ‘the simple, classical movements of a woman’s life, tested to the utmost by melancholy, sin, sensuality, and yet with the triumph of death over death.’
The preface to this psychological novel opens: ‘Quite erroneously this work has been regarded as the psychological study of a more or less pathological case.’ With this, Frederik van Eeden wants to be perfectly clear: his novel is the product of an artist’s brain, not that of a scientist.
Van Eeden was a psychiatrist, man of letters, spiritualist, mystic, moralist and social reformer and in The Deeps of Deliverance, all these facets come into play. He describes the detailed history of a woman, while at the same time using the novel as a vehicle for his ideas about ethics and about the social conditions of his time.
The Deeps of Deliverance is still today an eminently readable thanks to the author’s empathy with his character, Hedwig Marga de Fontayne, a sensitive soul, who is disgusted by the banality of life and yearns for physical and spiritual contact; she finally finds salvation in death.
Although the novel had a mixed reception in the Netherlands when it was published, it went through several printings in England and Germany.