Willem Elsschot, unique in Dutch literature
Poet, novelist with a cast-iron expressive ability, brilliant stylist, humourist and businessman. His uniqueness lies in the remarkable content of his work, his own vision and personal style.
Willem Elsschot, pseudonym of Alfons De Ridder, cannot be classified in a group. He does not belong to a particular generation, but different generations and magazines find an example and a representative in his personality. In short novels, he wrote down the barely disguised reality of his own childhood, family, circle of friends and working environment. They enthral through their accurate perception and sense of solidarity. He expressed the point of view of the bourgeois man who observes and acts with irony, but usually with a tender and vulnerable cynicism. Elsschot also adopted a brushed-off style, in which all excessive, literary and sensitive words are thrown overboard.
Willem Elsschot made his debut as a poet. Intimate poems, especially about the mother figure, such as Aan mijn moeder ('To my mother', 1904) and Moeder ('Mother', 1907). The moving picture he paints of her is unique, as is the way he portrays her as a caring, devoted and loving woman. She was never out of his thoughts when she died. The loss of such a precious being was too powerful for him. Verzen van vroeger (' Early Verse', 1934) and the extensive and reprinted Verzen ('Verses', 1943) bring together his domestic, social and political poetry, with 22 poems in total.
In 1904, he graduated in Commercial and Consular Sciences and then worked at trading offices in Antwerp, Paris and Rotterdam. His debut novel Villa des Roses (1913), filmed in 2001, evokes his stay at the boarding house of the same name in the Rue d'Armaillé, when he was employed by a South American businessman in Paris. In 1911, he founded the Revue Continentale Illustrée in Brussels with two friends. This experience inspired him to write his business novel and embodiment of the advertising profession, Lijmen (' Soft Soap', 1924), according to many critics his masterpiece. Here, the magazine is called Het Algemeen Wereldtijdschrift ('The General World Journal'). For the first time, there are two figures who also appear in later work: the timid idealist and poetic sentimentalist Frans Laarmans, the counterpart of the shrewd money-grabber and genius imposter Boorman. The famous Kaas ('Cheese', 1933) also takes place in that atmosphere. Also worth mentioning are Tsjip (‘Cheep’, 1934), a hymn of praise for grandfatherhood and a lyrical prose poem on family unity and blood relations, and Het dwaallicht ('Will o' the Wisp', 1946), a sample of changing feelings and thoughts such as compassion, irony, criticism, expectation, human knowledge, eroticism, self-mockery, misunderstanding, disappointment, hope, bitterness, wisdom, idealism, resignation and above all melancholy. One of his best creations.
Willem Elsschot has been translated into Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, English, Esperanto, French, German, Frisian, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Malay, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Czech.