Willem Frederik Hermans

Willem Frederik Hermans

Willem Frederik Hermans (1921-1995) is one of the greatest post-war Dutch authors. Before devoting his life to writing, Hermans taught Physical Geography at the University of Groningen for many years. He had already started writing and publishing in magazines at a young age. His polemic and provocative style led to a court case as early as 1952. His caustic pieces were compiled in 'Mandarijnen op zwavelzuur' (Mandarines in Sulphuric Acid, 1963), which was reprinted with additions a number of times.

Photo: Jutka Rona

It is Hermans’s belief that in order to survive people have to create own reality. It is inevitable that all these experiences of reality will collide. Language is essential to create order out of chaos and plays an important role in this process. In his essays on Wittgenstein, Hermans studied this problem in depth.

In his novels and stories Hermans places his characters in a world of certainty for themselves but equivocal for the reader. It is in this field of tension that the intrigue in De tranen der acacia’s (Acacia’s Tears, 1949) and in De donkere kamer van Damocles (The Darkroom of Damocles, 1958) develops. Although stories such as Moedwil en misverstand (Malice and Misunderstanding) and Paranoia have a surrealistic tendency, Hermans’ novels The Darkroom Of Damocles, Nooit meer slapen (Beyond Sleep), Uit talloos veel miljoenen (From Countless Millions) are more realistic or satirical and everything in his rich oeuvre is subordinate to the author’s pessimistic philosophy.

His work has been translated into many languages. In 2018, the first English publication of his classic novella An Untouched House received excellent reviews and was a Spectator and Sunday Times Book of the Year.

More Willem Frederik Hermans

Willem Frederik Hermans

Beyond Sleep

'Beyond Sleep' is the oppressive story, of young geologist Alfred Issendorf. Like all scientists, he dreams of fame and immortality. Along with a young geologist called Arne and two assistants, he sets off for the North Cape on a research trip, intending to prove that the region’s lakes were created by meteorites.

Willem Frederik Hermans

Au Pair

Pauline, a Dutch student, wishes to study in Paris and gets a job as an au pair. At the first family she works for, she lives in a miserable little attic room and they make her pay for her breakfasts. In the second family there is an old general, his wife, sons, a grandson and a number of servants. There she is living on Easy Street: she has a beautiful room, clothes, shoes, whatever she desires. She really does not have to lift a finger for anything. Every so often she listens to the general’s stories about the war and about the artist Guys, who has also worked in her home town of Vlissingen.

Willem Frederik Hermans

The Darkroom of Damocles

Willem Frederik Hermans was an adolescent in Amsterdam during the Second World War, a period that made an indelible impression on him, compounded by his older sister and cousin committing suicide soon after the German invasion in 1940. Hermans often chooses the war as backdrop for his novels, since it is an environment in which malice and misunderstanding, and the pointlessness of our existence can best be brought to the surface. 'The Darkroom of Damocles' is no exception.

Willem Frederik Hermans

Tears of the Acacias

This may be the most contrarian war novel ever. It is the masterpiece of a young author who came out of the war with a vision of human nature as dark as the night and a determination to turn that vision into literature. The book opens with the unlikely friendship between Oskar Ossegal, a forty-year-old chemist, and Arthur Muttah, a chemistry student. The latter is practically an orphan and regards Oskar as a surrogate father.

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