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Dutch Gay Novels 1945-1970, An Introduction

by Gert Hekma in History & Politics , 10 november 2014

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar


Much has been written about gay novels and writers from before 1940, such as Louis Couperus and De Haan, about poets like Willem Kloos, P.C. Boutens and Willem de Mérode, and about the more mainstream works by such authors as M.J.J. Exler and J.H. François. Gerrit Komrij discussed this popular work in “NRC Handelsblad” and in his essay collection “Averechts” (1980).

I myself dedicated an article to gay novels from that period in a friends book for Ab van der Steur (1988); miserable lives without sex, and with unrequited loves that often ended in suicide. Monique van Uchelen is working on a book on that very same period. A lot has been published about the period after 1970 on the works of Gerard Reve, Gerrit Komrij, Frans Kellendonk, and so many others, but a good overview has perhaps never been published.

The names from the period between the end of World War II to the sexual revolution of 1968 have been largely forgotten. Jan Hanlo, Jaap Harten, Astère Michel Dhondt, Han Aalberse, Adriaan Venema and Steven Membrecht are perhaps still known with the older generation, but other writers and their works have disappeared from collective memory into the archives where fortunately, they are still kept. I consulted, of course the “Homo-Encyclopedie” (2005) by Thijs Bartels and Jos Verstegen, an article by Judith Schuyf on Tiemon Hofman in “Gay 2004” and Adriaan Venema’s “Homoseksualiteit in de Nederlandse literatuur” (Homosexuality in Dutch Literature, 1972).  

In future issues of Gay News, I will focus on those forgotten gay novels. They paint a picture of past times and vanished worlds in which nobody was open about their homosexuality, femininity was an essential feature of gay men, homosexuals were often sleeping with straight men (“tule”), and the bar scene was an underdeveloped subculture that was hidden behind closed doors with bells, where visitors were first tested on their gayness by the gatekeeper. I am interested in what is written about this former gay life in literature.


Less Taboo

My first search was very successful. There is a lot of literature in translation, by authors such as Jean Genet, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Mary Renault, John Rechy and lesser-known or completely unknown writers. Roger Marcel’s “Verboden liefde” (Forbidden Love; with Holland Lectura as the only reference) and Lou Delarue’s “Homo” (Amsterdam: De Waag Jabu, 1966) appear to be translations from English, but with French-sounding authors’ names. In the 1950s, France represented (gay) eroticism, and many American gay novels from that period take place in Paris or on the Riviera. Marquis de Sade, André Gide, Marcel Proust, and Jean Cocteau had given the French language and literature an exciting style that re-echoes into the present.

Here, we will discuss Dutch gay male novels of which there is an abundance. In the first place by authors who had been active before the war, like Jef Last and Jac. van Hattum, who was more into stories and poems as was J.C.P. Alberts. After World War II with Hans Lodeizen, a new generation developed that did not need to use secret language as much to have a clear voice in this literary theme, and writes about sex more explicitly. Han Aalberse, pseudonym of Johan van Keulen, started in 1955 with his series “Bob & Daphne,” which featured many pleasures, including gay, pedophile and incestuous ones. Tame for modern standards, as outspoken literature these books were prohibited by the court, but nevertheless published in print runs of tens of thousands. Van Keulen’s publisher Oisterwijk published Nabokov’s “Lolita” in a translation by one M. Coutinho (1957). In 1970, he himself wrote a truly gay novel, “Chico,” which tells the borrowed tale of a sixteen-year-old boy from New York, who moves between whoring and heroin. He must have seen a living in the literary-pornographic gay market.

In the 1960s, the gay lifestyle became less of a taboo, and the idea that was cried out on the cover of a lesbian novel “Het elfde gebod” (The Eleventh Commandment, 1960) by Peter Jaspers (a woman) - “You will be no different than all the others” - faded away. Although cautious words like “being so,” “homophile” and “different” are still frequently used, the openness in the 1960s would develop swiftly in comparison with the decades following 1911, the ominous year in which relationships of an adult with a minor under twenty-one of the same sex became illegal in article 248bis of the Dutch Criminal Code.

Still far into the 1960s, homosexuality was seen as a disease, sinful and criminal. Wijnand Sengers put a stop to the idea of homosexuality as a disorder with his educational book “Gewoon hetzelfde?” (Just the Same, 1968) and his dissertation “Homoseksualiteit als klacht” (Homosexuality as Symptom, 1969), the abolition of article 248bis in 1971 put a stop to the concept of homosexuality as a crime, and an increasing amount of people and churches ceased thinking of homosexual or lesbian love as sinful.


Hiding Your Preference

Directly after the war, gay novels appeared that dealt with the theme in a veiled way, or referred to it in passing at the most. In 1946, Ab Visser published the historical novel “Rudolf de Mepse” on the sodomy prosecutions in 1731 at Faan in the province of Groningen. In 1950, a selection from Alberts’ work appeared in “Feestelijke ondergang” (Festive Decline), compiled by Jan de Hartog, and consisting of stories, poems and plays from this member of staff of the COC. The title was a word play on his six-volume “Feestelijke ommegang” (Festive Procession, 1921-1928), which was published in house a quarter of a century earlier. Shortly thereafter came his play “Het recht” (The Law, 1951) and the brochure “Liefde is geen regeringszaak: Sexualiteit en overheid” (Love isn’t Government Business: Sexuality and the Authorities, 1952).

In 1951, Alfred Kossman’s “De moord op Arend Zwigt” (The Murder of Arend Zwigt) was published, about two adolescents who did not commit the murder. In 1954, Frank Berni – pseudonym of the then “well-known” but now completely forgotten author of books for boys Rein Valkhoff  - came with “Paul’s portret” (Paul’s Portrait) about a “homophile,” the most popular term that was also used by the COC at the time. Very classic, the main character was artistic and had a lot of problems with his father, who accepted him as a gay man, but was very critical about his behavior and style of clothing. He had to hide his preference, could not talk about it and had to deal with his sexual desires through praying and work. The twenty-year-old self-conscious gay son could not deal with the adversity and committed suicide.

That same year, Simon Vinkenoog’s “Zo lang te water” was released, with the sub-theme of a boy entering into a relationship with an older man, causing trouble with the father and the police. In “Philip en de anderen” (Philip and the Others) by Cees Nooteboom (1955), gay uncle Alexander plays an important part. Of a pedophile nature are the books Frits Bernard published with his publishing firm Enclave: two novels by himself under the pseudonym Victor Servatius, “Costa Brava,” and “Vervolgde minderheid” (Persecuted Minority, 1960), in 1962, “De jeugd van Judas” (Judas’ Youth) by the left-wing, bisexual author Jef Last, and in 1964 “De legende van Magelang” (The Legend of Magelang), a trivial and hardly erotic story by Cor Huisman about Indonesian princes. In 1965, the large publishing firm De Bezige Bij published Astère Michel Dhondt’s debut, “God in Vlaanderen” (God in Flanders), the first title in a long series of books on boy love. He also made three movies about Amsterdam boys.

1960 was the year of the Baarn murder case. Two brothers, aged fifteen and seventeen, killed a fourteen-year-old hoodlum with the help of a sixteen-year-old friend, after locking him up in the attic of their parent’s big villa for a month. Shortly after the delayed trial that took place in 1963, a journalistic report, the novel “Jongensspel” (Boys’ Play) by Johan Fabricius and the play “Jeugdproces” (Youth Trial) by Manuel of Loggem appeared, with a sequel in Thomas Rosenboom’s “Vriend van verdienste” (Friend of Merit, 1985) and the movie “Bloedbroeders” (Blood Brothers, 2007). Titles that suggest a gay erotic side of things.


Brightness in Dark Years

Novels that had a more pornographic nature were also published. Wim Heerings was an author who would start writing gay books and made gay contributions to magazines. Under the pseudonym Enrico Lamartini, he began his career with “Schandknaap van Napels” (Hustler from Naples, De Algemene Nederlandse Uitgeverij, 1961). He was an early bird with this, but did need an Italian name for a story that took place at a distant location. It is a rare book that in the public domain can only be found at the Dutch Royal Library.

In those dark years around 1960, the situation became more bright with the shock the life and work of Gerard Reve caused in Dutch society. Although his early works, such as “De avonden” (The Evenings, 1947) and “Melancholia” (1951) already contained depressing gay erotic passages, in his stories “Eric verklaart de vogeltekenen” (Eric Explains the Bird Signs) and “Eric raadpleegt het orakel” (Eric Consults the Oracle, 1957), and in “A Prison Song in Prose” (written in English in 1960, published in 1968), his works develop a more homosexual and sadomasochist nature. The big score is “Op weg naar het einde” (Towards the End, 1963), in which he deals with his own homosexuality and the theme of homosexuality point-blank. He also gives interviews in the media and on TV, in which he speaks candidly about this.

Old-fashioned and queer is the Utrecht novel “Mannen die ‘anders’ zijn” (Men Who Are ‘Different’, 1963) by Jan Brandts, a pseudonym of C.J. Edelman. Of a completely different nature were the works of three other writers, who presented their literary debut in 1964 with a fresh and open approach. The experimental writer and curator of modern art Enno Develing wrote “Alberto en ik” (Alberto and I). A modern book about the marginal lives of two men that takes the reader across the world, and in a carefree way, many gay and lesbian elements occur. Ewoud van Vugt published “Darwin en gezellen” (Darwin and Companions, revised edition “Top Jongen & Man” (Top Boy & Man), 1971). By Jaap Harten, who had been publishing poems for a decade, is the collection “Operatie Montycoat” (Operation Montycoat), with a story about a relationship between a fifteen-year-old Dutch boy and a Canadian soldier that ends in the gay scene in Paris. In 1968, his historical novel “De getatoeëerde Lorelei” (The Tattooed Lorelei) on Weimar and Hitler Germany appears, with ample room for homosexuals and transvestites. In 1965, Jac. van Hattum publishes the beautiful story “Ketchupcancer” with gay-friendly publishing firm De Beuk. In his “Mannen en katten” (Men and Cats, 1947, with a cruel title story) and “Wolfsklauw” (Wolf’s Claw, 1962), the gay stories are more veiled.


Cosy Sexual Variety

In 1965 or shortly thereafter, the pulp novels by Tiemon Hofman appeared, who published three gay books under the pseudonym of Paul Monty: “De nichten I” (The Queens I), “De nichten II,” and “Zo waren zij geschapen” (Thus They Were Created; the sexual adventures of a sailor), a lesbian book and a sex study. The translated books by Marcel and Delarue also date from this period. Hofman was trendsetting, as in similar settings, many books on the tearful lives of homosexuals were published for this particular target group: the Flemish “Zij kregen niet eens een nummer: Een schokkend verhaal over homoseksuelen naar waarheid geschreven” (They Didn’t Even Get a Number: A Shocking Story about Homosexuals Written Truthfully, 1969) by Robert Van Maroey, Willem de Vuyst’s “Mijn vrienden: De martelgang van een homofiel” (My Friends: The Agony of a Homophile, 1969) and by Harry Thomas, then famous in small circles for founding a Homophile Party, and already suggesting gay marriage, “Herman: De liefde van een homofiel” (Herman: A Homophile’s Love) and “Een homofiel wordt geslagen” (A Homophile Gets Beaten), both published in 1969. My second edition of the last mentioned book draws up all known variations in red letters: boy love, hustlers, clubs, sadomasochism, hatred, blackmail and murder, but above all the desire for gay friendship. Hofman was also active in the new market of gay magazines, which did not only see serious publications such as “Dialoog” (Dialogue, 1965-1968), but also “De nichten” (The Queens).

Those were the final years of difficult times for homosexuals. As mentioned before, the old triad of sin, crime and madness was a thing of the past, and Amsterdam became the gay capital of the world. Gay men were coming out of the closet, such as fashion designer Max Heymans in his “Knal” (1966) and Mario the hip hairdresser in “De avonturen van Prins Mario” (The Adventures of Prince Mario, 1969, chronicled by Belle Bruyns). The 1960s saw a boom of new bars, saunas, organizations, etc. In “Lagor Waard, Amen” (1967), a fictionalized account of the renowned DOK dancing as an enormous underground cave can be found, whereas gays were coming out of the closet and on the surface. The life and works of Gerard Reve offered lessons on male love, multiple relationships, SM, religion and eroticism, but mostly on unsuppressed homosexuality. “Just the same,” Sengers said, while others called in “just different.” The gay books by Gerard Reve set a new trend of shameless openness about sexuality: no sin, sickness or crime, but more a cosy sexual variety.


(to be continued)



 







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In the New Issue of Gay News, 316, December 2017

















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