Literature

Dutch Literature

The first Dutch novel about male lovers was Pijpelijntjes (1904) by Jacob Israël de Haan. Two young men, Sam and Joop, live in Amsterdam and have a relationship. Sam has a sadistic disposition while Joop picks up young boys and brings them to his room: the landlady doesn’t suspect a thing! For the author, the book turned out to be a disaster: he lost his job as a teacher and journalist. But one of his lines is engraved in the gay monument “Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen” (an unlimited desire to friendship).

The most famous Dutch gay writer is Gerard Reve (1923), who has been openly gay since the 1960’s. From his novels and letters (he published quite a few books with literary and real letters) it becomes clear that he loves boys of, let’s say, 20 years old, although his present friend is in his early fifties! A few of Reve’s books were published in English: A Prison Song in Prose, The Acrobat and Other Stories and Worried Parents. There’s a Reve museum in the public library on the 2nd floor.

Other Dutch gay fiction which has been translated into English:

Rudi van Dantzig, For a Lost Soldier (Gay Men’s Press, London). A love story situated in World War II, between a young boy and a Canadian soldier. Dola de Jong, The Tree and the Vine (The Feminist Press, City of the University of New York). A book about the love between two women in Amsterdam during the 1950’s.

In general, a good place to find gay literature – not necessarily the books mentioned above – is The American Book Center (Spui) and Vrolijk (Dam, near Royal Palace).

Foreign Gay Writers in Amsterdam

For decades, Amsterdam has attracted gay writers. Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) came to Amsterdam to see his lovers, the young ex-boxer Bubi and the slender young Heinz from Berlin. Heinz lived in a room in the present hotel Casa Cara (24 Emmastraat) and Isherwood was with him during the summer of 1935. Isherwood also liked the boys of Indonesian descent in Holland. In his memoirs Christopher and His Kind you can read about all this.

For a few years, Klaus Mann (1906-1949) lived in Amsterdam. This gay, melancholy, drug using son of Thomas Mann published his famous novel Mephisto in Holland. In Amsterdam, Klaus Mann was constantly seeking for boys, and he found them in streets and parks. His bisexual sister Erika Mann (1906-1969), who founded a famous literary-political cabaret, Die Pfeffermühle, performed in the Amsterdam Leidseplein Theater (which is still there, in the heart of the city, at the Leidseplein) and stayed in the luxury Amstel Hotel, which is also still going strong.

Many other gay and lesbian writers visited Amsterdam. Jean Genet was here to see his lover, a tightrope walker. Marguerite Yourcenar took a walk through the Red Light District, Mary Wings fell in love with the city and lived there for years, and James Purdy first gained recognition in Holland and especially in Amsterdam: his books were translated and published by the locally famous Dutch publisher Johan Polak.