Recently I have picked up a few Dutch language books that trace a particular part of Dutch history: that of the Calvinist church and its effect on families and communities just prior to the second world war, during the war and its aftermath in the fifties and sixties. That probably does not sound exactly exciting but I think it is actually if you approach the material from a particular angle, that of the female, in all of this.
Dutch literature is full of male authors who have rebelled against their father, god and church, who have expounded the awfulness of it all, the suppression and the unreal holiness where preparation for death and the afterlife take priority over everything else and where sex is rarely mentioned, except in some unreal terms of having one baby after another as a gift of god, thus denying one quite essential part of human beings.
Female authors on the whole have written quite soppy love stories, which ultimately confirm the particular belief and where couples inevitably get married after some unholy period in which one or both have lost the way. Why is that? Why have male authors been so vociferous in their hatred of having been brought up in the claustrophobia of this environment whereas, apart from a few, excellent I must say, general/history book written by females, there are no female novelists writing stories about the impact all this had on them?
I’m beginning to form a theory that this is because the religion itself did its utmost to prevent this, with its view of females as subservient to the male, a kindly creature that would lead offspring on the true path, executing god’s commands. Moreover, females probably drew back from the often coarse language used, the swearing and misogynist approach to sex, so often encountered in the rebellious novels. In the church it was the vicar and the elderlings, all males, who interpreted the bible and the catechisms and expounded in learned journals or even simple daily newspapers.
What I am really pondering though is the notion of translation, and of writing books in one language rather than another. The books I am reading (Geert Mak: De Eeuw van mijn Vader (My father’s Century) and Agnes Amelink: De Gereformeerden (The Calvinists) have not been translated into English (although there is a German translation of the former), at least I have been unable to find them. Some of the novels by Jan Wolkers and others have been translated into English, but I’m not sure what impact, if any, they had. I suspect that this is so because it is almost impossible to transfer the underlying thought processes and culture from one steeped in this religious phenomenon to another in which most of the concepts are absent, not a way of life.
Question: have I set myself an impossible task, writing a novel, from the female perspective, on a peculiarly Dutch phenomenon, set in the Netherlands (ok, with some links to England), in the English language? I’m getting on with it though…