In memoriam

Doeschka Meijsing (1947-2012)

8 February 2012

With a cigarette in one hand and a glass in the other, Doeschka Meijsing was a well-known figure in the Amsterdam literary world. Her aim in life was to write ‘as if every morning is sparkling new and the remains of last night’s party need to be swept together in language,’ as she puts it in her novel 100% chemie (100% Chemistry). The last thing she wanted was to make things easy for herself. She wrung life out until it hurt.

On 30 January 2012, as a result of complications following major surgery, Doeschka Meijsing died in her home city of Amsterdam. She was sixty-four. Meijsing was the author of admired and much-read novels including 100% chemie and Over de liefde (About Love), in which she dug deep into her own soul. Her upbringing, the wild Amsterdam years, her excessive drinking: no autobiographical element was spared in her novelistic universe. In Over de liefde (2008) she trained her microscope on a turbulent love life that ended in deception. Her marriage to Xandra Schutte, now editor-in-chief at the Dutch weekly news magazine De Groene Amsterdammer, was suddenly cast in a harsh light when Schutte, at the time still editor-in-chief of the weekly Vrij Nederland, turned out to be pregnant by her then boss. In mid-January 2012, Schutte once again explained what happened in a candid interview for De Volkskrant. Meijsing felt so betrayed, as a woman, mistress and lover, that in her book she desperately fights her corner from beginning to end. She could snarl and snap, endear and move - in real time, but above all in her literature, where human emotions are never hidden or veiled.

Meijsing was a woman of contradictions. Life made her euphoric - about her foster son Samuel, for instance. ‘Creation has the very best of plans for us,’ she would say at such moments. But after winning the AKO Literature Prize for Over de liefde, she descended into a deep depression, not for the first time in her life. She was made of velvet: soft and sensitive, but vitriolic and bitter if you rubbed her up the wrong way. Above all else, her bitterness concerned her relationship with her mother, which she portrays in 100% chemie.

Meijsing’s mother was a German Catholic from a family of garment makers. She gave Doeschka, her brother Geerten, who also became a famous writer, and her other son and daughter an old-fashioned upbringing. Doeschka in particular suffered as a result. Her rebelliousness and recalcitrance did not go down well, and her sexual orientation was bound to meet with disapproval. Not without irony, given that her mother was her ultimate enemy, Meijsing called her ‘the source of my authorship’ and the songs she used to sing in their house in Haarlem ‘the keynote to everything I would write’.

Meijsing studied Dutch literature and linguistics at the University of Amsterdam in the turbulent 1960s. After graduating she became a schoolteacher, then worked at her old university before moving into journalism. She did not become a full-time author until she reached fifty, although she made her debut in 1974 with the story collection De hanen (The Cockerels). She belonged to a group of writers centred around literary magazine De Revisor, which included Nicolaas Matsier, Tom van Deel, Frans Kellendonk and Anthony Mertens. They were more concerned about imagination and form than a realistic portrayal of reality. In her later work she allowed herself to write far more autobiographically, but even so she always concentrated on associative storytelling and a ‘flowing’ passage of time. She never wanted to take up writing non-fiction. The reality within the novel must convince the reader, not the reality behind it. That was indeed the result; after the publication of her book De tweede man (The Second Man) in 2000, Meijsing gained a broad readership. In that novel she finds exceptional ways to combine her ideas about love, relationships, classical antiquity, the ‘Greek principles’ and Italy, the country she visited on holiday every summer as a child and where her brother lives, always making it the subject of his books. In 2005 she and her brother wrote the double novel Moord en doodslag (Murder and Manslaughter) together. It includes family stories that are not quite true to life, some even completely made up.

Meijsing’s work has not been widely translated. In the 1980s four titles appeared in German and De weg naar Caviano (The Road to Caviano) was translated in 1999. Beer en jager (Bear and Hunter) and 100% chemie have appeared in French, and in 2003 De tweede man was published in Greek.

Doeschka Meijsing could be abrasive or as soft as velvet, in both word and deed. She could stick up for herself ferociously in intellectual discussions and be sentimental when it came to love and literature, but her writing was always of an outstanding quality. Lovers of Dutch literature will miss both her and the work she still wanted to write

By Maria Vlaar

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