Death of author Willem G. van Maanen

21 August 2012

Writer Willem G. van Maanen passed away last Friday at the age of ninety-one, his publisher De Bezige Bij announced today. Van Maanen (1920-2012) was the author of a varied and highly respected body of work in which music, theatre, fine art and architecture played an important part. In 2004 he was awarded the Constantijn Huygens Prize for his work as a whole.

Willem Gustaaf van Maanen, known as Pim, was born in Kampen on 30 September 1920 to ‘a literary family’ as he called it. His father, Willem van Maanen, was a professor of English language and literature, and when he died in 1989 the author published an obituary in which he paints a loving portrait of an enthusiastic teacher and lover of literature. ‘If there really is such a thing [as the spirit of the age] then it is a spirit that appears in many and varied guises, an “elusive something”, which is what Willem van Maanen, with all his expertise, searched after tirelessly in literature.’

The same could be said of Willem G. van Maanen’s own work. From his debut with Droom is ’t leven (Dream is Life, 1953) he set about disentangling true and apparent reality. His second novel De onrustzaaier (The Troublemaker) won him the Van der Hoogt Prize in 1955; the jury saw in his work ‘extraordinary powers of composition’, and ‘a critique of a society as hypocritical as it is complacent – successful in every sense as a result of the author’s talent, with its wealth of humour and irony’. It was followed in 1961 by the Novel Prize from the Amsterdam City Council for De dierenhater (The Animal Hater), in 1983 by the F. Bordewijk Prize for Het nichtje van Mozart (Mozart’s Niece) and in 1998 by the Charlotte Köhler Prize for Vrouw met Dobermann (Woman with Dobermann).

In 2007 he published the novel Heb lief en zie niet om (Love and Don’t Look Back), set during the Second World War. In an interview for de Volkskrant he said it was the last book he would write about that period, which amounted to a ‘decisive experience’ for him, ‘above all because you could look at people and see what they were worth. […] That differentiation determined my image of humanity to a great degree, and my authorship.’ During the Second World War, Van Maanen was in the resistance and he also provided Jews with a place to hide. After the war he worked as a journalist for the Amersfoortse Courant and later for Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Heb lief en zie niet om was extremely favourably received and considered for both the Libris Literature Prize and the AKO Literature Prize. A year later his three best novellas were published under the title Een onderscheiding en andere novellen (A Distinction and Other Novellas). With Bagatellen (Triflings) Willem G. van Maanen returned in 2010 to the short story. ‘I had good reasons for choosing that title,’ he said in an interview on ‘It’s intended to create the impression that it was all done with a light touch. I’m not someone who entrenches himself in profundities.’

The work of Van Maanen was supported almost from the start from the Foundation with grants and supplementary honoraria. He was also active as a committee member, advising the Foundation on both original and translated work.

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