Hugo Claus, the giant of Flemish literature
Hugo Claus is seen as one of the greatest Flemish writers from the post-Second World War period. In 1986, he was awarded the Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren (Dutch Literature Prize) for his extensive work, covering a range of disciplines: prose, poetry, plays and visual arts.
Claus was born to the lower middle class in Bruges on 5 April 1929. Much of his youth was spent in Catholic boarding schools. He was anything but happy. His negative feelings towards the Catholic faith and his parents continued throughout his life. In his autobiographically-inspired work The Sorrow of Belgium (1983), he describes the boarding school as a place of sentiment and traumas from which the young main character, Louis Seynaeve, can only escape through fantasy.
When Claus was 11 years old, the Second World War broke out and he suddenly found himself in an occupied city. This experience also made its mark. His Magnum Opus The Sorrow of Belgium (1983), along with The Dog Days (1952), The Cool Lover (1956) and Wonder (1962), are all dotted with memories of war, collaboration and Jewish persecution.
In 1949, Claus co-founded the journal Tijd en mens (Time and Man), featuring avant-garde poems from different authors. He also began writing his own poetry and, in 1955, he published his first compilation Oostakker Poems. His poetry is both experimental and irrational. He is therefore often considered to be part of the group known as ‘De Vijftigers’ (Those of the fifties), a literary force rebelling against aesthetic conventions and rationality, and focused on 'vitality'.
Besides being a poet, Claus was also a theatre director (Sugar (1958), A bride in the morning (1955) and Friday (1969)), a visual artist, scriptwriter and film director. He wrote scenarios for his friend Fons Rademakers, among others, as well as turning a few of his own books into films, which he then directed himself. The most famous of these is his adaptation of The Lion of Flanders (1983).
At the end of his life, Claus suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Not wanting to lose himself, he opted for euthanasia. This was carried out on 19 March 2008. Claus left a legacy of over 150 works. There are more than one hundred translations of his work into twenty different languages. His extensive work earned him many literary prizes both in Belgium and abroad, including the State Prize for Theatre (several times), Poetry and Prose, as well as the Premio Nonino.