A Posthumous Confession

Marcellus Emants was the Netherlands’ greatest advocate of naturalism in the style of Emile Zola. In this thrilling ‘whydunnit’, first published in 1894, he depicts his central character as a plaything of his origins and circumstances, demonstrating that free will is an illusion.

Marcellus Emants
Original title
Een nagelaten bekentenis

Willem Termeer’s confession begins with the famous line ‘My wife is dead and buried’. After an exchange of words, Termeer gave his wife Anna a few spoonfuls of sleeping draught too many, and tells the reader about his life to explain why. The story, made up of short paragraphs, keeps readers on the edge of their seats.The son of a debauchee and a lazy mother, Termeer was destined for a life of unscrupulous hedonism, which he once had the vain hope of escaping through marriage. When Anna turns her back on him and he begins a relationship with the demanding Carolien, a woman of easy virtue, murder seems a logical solution. But now that the deed is done, he no longer dares to visit his mistress. His conscience turns out to be stronger than he is, and he will never be rid of his cowardice and inertia.

The great thing about A Posthumous Confession is that Termeer commands understanding despite all his undesirable traits. Not for having committed the perfect crime but because he is so good at analyzing his own wickedness and simultaneously denouncing the hypocrisy of the supposedly respectable world. Or, as Termeer puts it: ‘Respected, honoured, decent, high-minded reader, if you think you have become so excellent by free will, why then are you not even better?’

Since the time of Rousseau we have seen the growth of the genre of the confessional novel, of which A Posthumous Confession is a singularly pure example.

J.M. Coetzee

The work of an eminent novelist who was also a first-rate psychologist. Emants is a literary god. No one should leave him unread.

Simon Vestdijk
Marcellus Emants
The son of a judge, Marcellus Emants was born near The Hague in 1848 and began his writing career with plays and epic poems.
Part ofFiction
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