15 November 2012
While listing the reviews of my Revius-biography, I noticed something remarkable. Nearly all reviewers deal with the question: Is the reformed background of the biographer getting in her way? Does she manage to keep her distance, in spite of her emphatic attitude? I’m glad to see that most of them think it’s OK with me and Revius, although in one case there remains some doubt.
Yet, a biographer feeling affinity with the protagonist seems to me something totally unremarkable, maybe even inevitable. Hermione Lee on Virginia Woolf, Elsbeth Etty on Henriette Roland Holst, Steven Nadler on Spinoza, Michel van der Plas on Godfried Bomans, etcetera. The only thing a biographer needs, is a thorough awareness of the particular risks of empathy, while consciously employing the benefits of it.
Maybe it’s because the traditional ‘reformed biography’ (aiming frankly at strengthening the religious identity of reformed protestants ) always had quite a reputation? I think I’m going to write about this, sometime.
9 May 2012
It’s still possible to find unknown poems of the great poets from the Dutch Golden Age, if you know where to look. While I was researching the life and work of Jacob Revius, I discovered (sometimes with the help of others) 19 unknown poems, 8 letters, 2 manuscripts with collected letters, poems and quotes, and a document containing some speeches Revius delivered as a student.
But new discoveries can also be made in well-known texts. Everybody knows such texts exist, but nobody takes the trouble to find and read them – because they’re written in Latin, or because they can only be consulted in foreign libraries.
That’s the reason why I decided to publish all literary texts that cannot simply be found in Revius’ verse collection Over-Ysselsche sangen en dichten on this website. But I’m never going to do the same with the theological texts – just consider the fact that he published more than 13.000 pages during his lifetime…
7 April 2011
Sometimes I’m thinking Revius would have been very happy with the internet. Just a quick browse to see how the Prince and his army were getting on in the Dutch-Spanish war… Not to mention the overwhelming richness of classical texts, available by just pressing a few buttons.
But he would have been embarrassed with facebook and twitter. He didn’t like the exhibition of personal details, even in his poems.
Which makes him a rather challenging person for a biography.
I remember Margaretha Schenkeveld saying that a writer’s biography needs to show in which way the author distilled the ‘gin of poetry’ from the ‘grain of life’.
This is much more difficult than you’d think.
But thanks to a unique letter from the seventeenth century, we’re able to exactly follow the distillation process in one of Revius’s poems.
That story is told in my article ‘De vingerafdruk van de dichter’, published in the newest issue of the literary magazine Liter.
The (Dutch) text can be read here.
12 January 2011
Johannes Maurus was the first Dutch-Moroccan Calvinist.
I came across his name in Jesus College Library, Oxford, where his five disputations on Islam are kept.
These texts made me wonder about his life.
How could it be that, somewhere between 1640 en 1643, a Moslem from Morocco settled in the Dutch Republic, got converted to Christianity and even embarked on a study in reformed theology? And why was he anxious to inform his fellow students about Islam?
The newest issue of Tijdschrift voor Nederlandse kerkgeschiedenis (december 2010) contains my account of Maurus’s life and his unsuccessful efforts. The (Dutch) text of this article, ‘Een Marokkaan in het Statencollege’, can be read here.
Maybe Maurus will be the subject of my next project.