Jacob Israel de Haan
One of the first novels ever to describe a gay relationship openly and shockingly
At the start of the 20th century, Jacob Israel de Haan led an eventful life as a poet, journalist, teacher and lawyer. His autobiographical novella Pijpelijntjes (Pipelines, 1904) caused a storm of controversy with its portrayal of a subject that was considered scandalous at the time – a romantic relationship between two young men. He lost his teaching job and the entire print run was pulped. In his 1908 novel Pathologies, he once again openly and radically tackled the topic of homosexuality.
The adolescent Johan lives a secluded life with his father and their elderly housekeeper in a large house. His mother has died a few years earlier. For a number of years Johan has been plagued by erotic fantasies and dreams about classmates, which he finds deeply worrying. When, to make matters worse, he finds himself feeling sexually attracted to his own father – first in a dream, and then in real life – he grows desperate. He has a deep bond with his father, and finally he confesses his feelings, to his father’s great shock.
They decide to live in separate parts of the large house, but Johan finds it unbearable being constantly in his beloved father’s proximity without being able to interact with him. He asks to move out, and finds room and board with an older married couple in Haarlem. This is where he meets René, a young, confident artist. Johan falls head-over-heels in love and the two men enter into a sadomasochistic relationship.
Pathologies is a landmark novel in the history of LGBT writing. Johan is one of world literature’s tragic, troubled young heroes, on a par with Goethe’s Werther and Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov. In a time when Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for his homosexuality and there were virtually no novels in which this subject was discussed so candidly, this book was as shocking as it was unique.
De Haan’s precise, lyrical prose and his protagonist’s struggle to come to terms with his fantasies and desires – rife with taboos that still continue to resonate today – form the beating heart of this novel.