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History Note: Two 18th century Dutch Female Authors

January 4th, 2016

I recently started reading a Dutch newspaper on line (in English). The other day I read an article about how leading Dutch authors are rarely translated into other languages. It made me  wonder what sorts of books the Dutch write and read. Why are most of these stories considered unsuitable for translation? What sort of stories am I never going to be able to read? I couldn’t think of a single Dutch author so I Googled Dutch authors. I didn’t recognise a single name. However, I did discover two 18th century female authors that many Regency era readers would have enjoyed. 

Betje Wolff

Betje Wolff born (Flushing/Netherlands) 1738 – 1804

She was apparently writing from an early age, but her aspirations weren’t considered important (if Google translation was working correctly). At 21 (1759) she married a pastor, Adrian Wolff (about ten years her senior). Whatever the basis of their marriage, he encouraged her writing and even had a special room created for her to write in. The house they lived in is now a small museum named after her (and which has a collection of all her writings). Her first book was published in 1763, ‘Reflections on Pleasure’ which is a collection of writings. When her husband died in 1777 her friend, Aagje Deken, came to live with her and they started writing epistolary romance novels. After adventures in France, the two women returned to the Netherlands and Betje died age 66. I’m still trying to find an English translation of her work. The next author is a different story!

Dutch author Isabelle de Charriere

Isabelle de Charriere 1740 – 1805

Born in Utrecht, Netherlands to a noble family, her parents had both their sons and daughters well educated. Isabelle’s curiosity, interests in mathematics and philosophy were encouraged along with her writing. She decided she wanted to marry for love. As I haven’t yet read any of her letters or stories, I can only assume that she did love the man she married (her brother’s French-Swiss tutor – I also assume she had a very good dowry). She went on to study and correspond with some of the famous thinkers and writers of her day. When she wasn’t writing letters, she wrote pamphlets, librettos, plays and novels. Choosing to write in French, the de facto second language of the day for Europe’s elite, she was a well read author in her day. She has not been forgotten. Penguin has published an English translation of her novel “The Nobleman and other Romances”. Charriere The Nobleman and Other RomancesAs a collection of short stories it sounds really interesting. She was a non-conformist thinker and extreme individual so her stories are atypical in subject and plot. I shall soon be able to say I’ve read at least one Dutch author!

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