Anneloes Timmerije

De mannen van Maria

How a girl from humble beginnings worked her way up and became an extremely wealthy woman

The protagonist of this novel, Maria van Aelst, really existed. We don’t know much about her, other than that she was married to Antonio van Diemen, Governor-General of the former Dutch East Indies between 1637 and 1645, that their marriage remained childless and that she died an extremely rich woman. Timmerije has largely filled in the details of Maria’s life herself and made her into a smart, headstrong woman.

In 1625, Maria van Aelst leaves for Batavia (present-day Jakarta) on a Dutch East India Company ship. She and six other girls are being sent to give birth to Dutch progeny: ‘We went to bear children, shipped at the request of the gentlemen over there, seven girls, most of whom had never even been kissed.’ After a hazardous, nine-month journey, Batavia turns out to be in the middle of a dangerous, swampy plain. Maria is cho- sen by an older, upper-class gentleman, who soon afterwards dies. Her second husband, too, passes away within a year – at just 22 years old, she has already been widowed twice.

Because Maria marries increasingly powerful men, she ends up privy to a lot of information – for example about the decisions made by the Seventeen Gentlemen, the Dutch East India Company’s board of directors. She climbs the social ladder, can’t seem to get pregnant and is bored out of her mind. As much as was possible for a woman in those days, she takes risks and breaks with convention. She helps her third husband maintain the clove monopoly and rules the roost in Batavia’s social circles.

Flouting all the rules, she starts trading in diamonds. Over time, she grows to be the ‘queen of Batavia.’ When she finally moves back to Amsterdam in 1646, she is among the one hundred richest people in the Republic.

In her fifth work of fiction, Timmerije – a journalist who herself has Indonesian roots – vividly describes the 17th century world of scurvy, swamp fever, slavery and pirates, and takes us inside the colonial, patriarchal mindset that existed back then. Maria’s Men is a gripping story about a self-made woman who seizes life by the horns.

A lively portrait of a 17th-century businesswoman, and a fantastic portrait of the era. Timmerije describes it all equally vividly: the hardships of life at sea, the thriving East India Company, the extreme boredom of women in the upper classes. She doesn’t allow the novel’s world to be too colored by her 21st-century perspective: no one is fazed by corporal punishment, slavery is a fact of life.

de Volkskrant

Timmerije has good taste and a skilled pen, and she did thorough research.

AD Magazine

Anneloes Timmerije

Anneloes Timmerije (b. 1955) is a journalist and author of literary and historical non-fiction. In 2005 she made her fiction debut with the short-story collection Zwartzuur (Black and Sour), which received the 2006 Vrouw & Kultuur Debuutprijs (Woman & Culture Debut Prize). This initial…

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De mannen van Maria (2019). Fictie, 344 pagina's.
Aantal woorden: 86.107
Oplage: 5.000


English (PDF document)



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