louis couperus

On this day in Dutch history

On the 10th of June 1863 Louis Couperus was born in The Hague. Couperus was a wellknown Dutch author of poetry and prose, and was also a travel-writer.

His family moved to the East Indies in 1872, where Couperus’ father worked for the Dutch government, returning in 1878 to The Hague. In the early 1880s, Couperus’ first poems were published. He also travelled to Italy, in 1883, but his mother’s death in February of that year cut his travels short. He went back to Italy in September, and wrote about his experience.

In 1886 he got his teaching degree, allowing him to teach Dutch at secondary schools, and he worked on his first novel, Eline Vere, which was published in 1889. A year later he married Elisabeth Baud, who was his second cousin. By then, Couperus was successful enough for his writing to be translated into English. By 1892, he even received compliments on Footsteps of Fate from Oscar Wilde.

In the 1890s, Couperus also travelled frequently, back to Italy, but also to France, Germany and Britain, and even to the East Indies. Apart from writing about his travels, he also kept working on his novels, including De Stille Kracht. The theme of that book is the conflict between the people of Java and the Dutch colonisers, and the way the opposition and local culture (the silent force from the title) will eventually wear down the colonisers.

Couperus returned to the Netherlands in 1900, but didn’t stay long, once again travelling around Europe and living in France for a few years. He also wrote serials for magazines, and won several awards for his writing. By 1917, his wife Elisabeth had adapted his debut novel Eline Vere for the stage.

He spent his final years as he did most of his life: travelling. As a special newspaper correspondent, Couperus travelled to Sumatra, Java and Bali, where he also stayed with the Dutch governor. He suffered a serious illness during his trip through Japan and returned to the Netherlands after a hospital stay in March 1923. His 60th birthday is celebrated in The Hague, and Couperus becomes a Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion for his literary work. He spent his final weeks in a house in De Steeg in Gelderland. The house was bought by money collected from his admirers.

Couperus died on the 16th of July 1923 from a lung disease.

(Above: Louis Couperus in 1917.)

Beneath me flows the sea of the past, above me drifts the ether of the future, and I stand midway upon the one speck of reality; so small that I must press my feet firmly together not to lose my hold. And from the speck of my present my sorrow looks down upon the sea, and my longing up to the sky.
—  Louis Couperus, Ecstasy