Stijn Streuvels: a literary heritage to (re)discover
It was from the famous window of his workroom in "Lijsternest" (the name of his home, which translates as "Thrush's nest"), that the talented, praised and acclaimed writer depicted life. It was here that he found the right balance between isolation and affinity with his universal themes, which were rooted in the soil of southern West Flanders.
Frank Lateur was born on 3 October 1871 in the village of Heule, near Courtrai. His years of study, first with nuns and then at the local school, did not bring much to this mischievous rascal. At the instigation of his uncle, the famous priest and poet Guido Gezelle, he went to Sint-Jan-Berchmans College in Avelgem in 1883. His literary talent was already bubbling up at the time. Before becoming an intern, he briefly lived with two unmarried uncles, who were village bakers. This was an important stage of his life, as it allowed him to discover the work of bakers. But it was not until later that he learned the tricks of the trade from Jantje Verdure in Heule. This character lent his name to a short story published in his novel Dorpsgeheimen I (Village Secrets I), in 1904.
At the age of 14, he dropped out of school and took over his uncles' workshop in Avelgem. From 1887 to 1905, he combined writing, bread baking and pastry making.
He turned out to be a self-taught traveller, who learned foreign languages, read and translated French, German, English, Norwegian and Russian literature, wrote sketches, poems and plays, directed plays, became a gifted photographer and even organised parties and parades. After his marriage in 1905, Stijn Streuvels, the pseudonym of Frank Lateur, moved to Het Lijsternest, his newly built house in Ingooigem, where he lived exclusively from his writing until his death on 15 August 1969. This house is now a museum and a writers' residence.
Streuvels left a considerable body of work, mainly naturalist and later realist collections of short stories and novels about common people struggling against fate. His vision of humans evolved from the exterior to the interior, where he successively entered into conflict with nature, his fellow beings, himself and his passions. At first, he used very emotive language tinged with dialect, although his writing slowly evolved towards a more sober form of Dutch. Among his masterpieces and classics are: Lente (Spring) (1899), De oogst (The Harvest) (1901), Langs de wegen (Along the Roads) (1902), Jantje Verdure (1904), De vlaschaard (The Flax Field) (1907), Het leven en den dood in den ast (Life and Death in the Chicory Kiln) (1926), De teleurgang van de Waterhoek (The Decline of Waterhoek) (1927) and his autobiography In levende lijve (In Life) (1966). His work has been translated mainly into French, German, Russian, other Slavic languages and English.
In the course of his long career, Stijn Streuvels received numerous awards and decorations for his contribution to Dutch literature.