Manon Uphoff

The Bastard Son

Inescapable and moving

The Bastard Son is situated in the second half of the nineteenth century, a time that Uphoff evokes in glorious multicolour. The writer sets the conflict of biological and cultural rights against the background of an aristocratic milieu in decline, with the bastard son of a landowner fighting for the right of the firstborn, pitted against his younger half-brother.

The bastard of Uphoff’s novel is Bastiaan, son of landowner Maurice and conceived on the daughter of the blacksmith who lives in the carriage house on the estate, the estate belongs to Arinde, Maurice’s wife. Later, the couple have a descendant of their own, Thomas. He is angelically beautiful but also a tyrannical child that is spoiled and adored by everybody. Even though Bastiaan is initially refused entry into the mansion, a friendship develops between him and Thomas, although it is overshadowed by future rivalry. Which of them will inherit the stately house and the land? Arinde fights for Thomas’ rights but Maurice thinks him much too frivolous and would rather appoint Bastiaan as his heir. The reader already knows who inherits as at the beginning we see Bastiaan taking care of the – now elderly – Arinde.

Even though the tragic ending comes as no surprise, the pure joy in reading The Bastard Son comes from the carefully proportioned, fateful twists in the story, the subtle characterisation, the descriptions of the aristocratic milieu and the way in which Uphoff gradually shifts relationships.

The Bastard Son has the allure of a classic tragedy, written very poignantly – as inevitable as it is touching. With this book Uphoff more than lives up to her status as one of the most talented Dutch writers.

Uphoff displays an irresistible narrative style in stories demanding the life blood of a true writer. The behaviour of the people she creates is authentic, not because they are so recognizable but because the writer prescribes the conventions so authoritatively, which is the only way to make literature convincing.

De Volkskrant

She is simply not capable of writing a page of dull, listless common prose.

Eindhovens Dagblad

Maurice had been handsome. His face was soft, masked by thick black hair that gave shade and depth to his features. His body was compact, yet he was slim; he dressed tastefully, without being a tailor’s dummy, and his behaviour had nothing of the exaggerated and therefore patronizing gallantry of his contemporaries. He said little, and what he said he formulated slowly and thoughtfully, as if, while talking, he was still searching calmly for the right words or a better description. He had recently returned from abroad. He had just heard about the death of her parents and had come to offer her his condolences. Even though it had all been a long time ago, he did his best to remember an evening he had spent at their home years ago, and he said as many kind things as possible about her father and mother. The breaks in his speech were pleasant, as was the languor of his movements. They gave her a sense of his attention. As if with him nothing simply happened, as if something constantly had to be swung into motion. She didn’t find out exactly what he had done those years abroad, nor did he give up much about his family or his personal life. In fact, he really only told her what she already knew and remembered, that he was the oldest son in a family of three children and that there had been financial problems. After some prodding she learned that his noble family had been impoverished by some third party, and now she understood better the remarks her parents used to make in passing. But she didn’t find out what had been done to improve the position of the family, because he managed to very subtly give her the feeling that she was hurting him by digging too deeply. She imagined that his father had done something that eventually made the whole family suffer. That idea fitted like a key in a lock and seemed to solve the mystery of his extraordinary combination of pride, modesty, and shame so well that she no longer knew if he had told her this, or if she had filled in his history all by herself. He showed an interest in architecture and visual arts. (He pointed out to her the strength of Impressionism and predicted which artists would be important in the future.) Like her father, he turned out to be interested in shipping, the military, and archaeology, and he was obsessed by insects, especially scarabs, which he compared to gemstones.

Manon Uphoff

Manon Uphoff (1962) is widely praised for her terse style and the condensed form in which she tells her stories. Even though the short story and novella are the forms at which she excels, Uphoff has also written a fine novel, Gemis (Loss, 1997) which, said the weekly journal Vrij Nederland

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De bastaard (2004). Fiction, 90 pages.



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