Hella S. Haasse

Hella S. Haasse (1918 - 2011) was born in Batavia, modern-day Jakarta. She moved to the Netherlands after secondary school. In 1945 she debuted with a collection of poems, entitled 'Stroomversnelling' (Momentum). She made her name three years later with the novella given out to mark the Dutch Book Week, 'Oeroeg'. As with much of her work, this tale of the friendship between a Dutch and an Indonesian boy has gained the status of a classic in the Netherlands.


Titles such as Het woud der verwachting (In a Dark Wood Wandering, 1949), Een nieuwer testament (Threshold of Fire, 1966) and Mevrouw Bentinck of Onverenigbaarheid van karakter (Mrs Bentinck or Irreconcilable in Character, 1978) have been greatly enjoyed by several generations. In 1992 she published another novel about her home country, the Dutch East Indies: the highly acclaimed Heren van de thee (The Tea Merchants).

Her work is characterised by an adequate and well thought out vocabulary and a flexible sentence structure. Her non-historical novels and stories are often about ordinary people who are intensely confronted by their choices and circumstances: De ingewijden (The Insiders, 1957), Huurders en onderhuurders (Tenants and Sub-tenants, 1971), Berichten van het blauwe huis (Messages from the Blue House, 1986), Fenrir (2000) and Sleuteloog (Eye of the Key, 2002). Haasse also published various collections of essays, including Uitgesproken, opgeschreven (Recited, Recorded, 1996) and Zwanen schieten (Shooting Swans, 1998).
In 2006 her short stories were brought together in Het tuinhuis (The Garden House). Haasse has received several prestigious literary awards, among which the P.C. Hooft Prize (1983) and the Dutch Literature Prize (Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren, 2004), and her work has been translated into many languages.

More Hella S. Haasse

Hella S. Haasse

In a Dark Wood Wandering

In this biography of the 15th-century poet-statesman Charles d’Orléans Haasse blends historical facts with psychological and social interpretation. Behind the family quarrels between the houses of Burgundy and Orleans are people and emotions and she attempts to expose the human motives for murder and intrigue.

Hella S. Haasse

The Scarlet City

Much of Haasse’s work consists of historical novels, a genre eminently suited to her erudition and her subtle, penetrating mind. By opting for historical fiction she is not fleeing the present, but rather voicing her deep conviction that history is what determines the present. In the labyrinthine essay 'The Gardens of Bomarzo', she says: ‘Nothing is ever entirely past.’ In 1952 Hella Haasse surprised her readers with 'The Scarlet City', an ingenious novel based around the figure of Giovanni Borgia, shortly before the plundering of the papal city by Charles V ’s troops in 1527.

Hella S. Haasse

The Gardens of Bomarzo

'The Gardens of Bomarzo' can be read both as a personal essay and as a study in cultural history, but above all it is a historical whodunit. Intrigued by the mysteries surrounding the Parco dei Mostri (Park of the Monsters) in the ancient Italian town of Bomarzo, Hella S. Haasse follows a trail that leads back to a nobleman of the sixteenth century who ordered twenty monsters to be sculpted in stone in his castle garden.

Hella S. Haasse

The Tea Merchants

Hella Haasse is the ‘grande dame’ of Dutch letters. She made her name with lengthy, excellently documented, fast paced historical novels on subjects ranging from the life of Charles d’Orleans in early fifteenthcentury France to the Papal court in Rome (the ‘scarlet city’) a century later. The most successful of all her novels with historical settings is 'Heren van de thee' (The Tea Merchants), which continues to sell.

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