Author: Simon Vestdijk (1898 – 1971) Novelist, essayist and poet Simon Vestdijk was born in 1898 in Harlingen (Friesland), The Netherlands. He studied medicine in Amsterdam and worked as a ship’s doctor. In 1932 he published his poems and then devoted himself entirely to writing. Simon Vestdijk was the most important Dutch writer in the 1950-60’s. He wrote 52 novels.
Genre: Psychological novel, WW II in The Netherlands
Title: Pastorale 1943 The title should be interpreted ironically. Pastoral means artistic work that portrays or evokes rural life, usually in an idealized way. Although the book takes place in the countryside, the events and atmosphere are far from idyllic! The word ‘pastorale’ is mentioned just once in the book, pg 55.
Table of Contents: 30 chapters (not numbered) but each have a title. It will be a puzzle to understand the connection between the title and the text!
Book/Printing/Cover: Published by Penta Pockets: I purchased the book in a 2nd hand bookshop for a few cents! There is no prologue or epilogue. The cover is a foto taken by Mayleen de Hoog . On the cover we see a pair of broken reading glasses. I found a reference (pg 20) to the broken reading glasses belonging to of the character Van Dale who has just been released from prision by the Germans: “….it is the beginning of a series of tortures; they start the abuse on the periphery, where the body is still untouched.”
Motto/Dedication: There is no motto and only a dedication to Ilse Wertheim and Ro Sanders-Mansfled. .
Timeline: the novel is set in 1943. There are no flashbacks all the chapters are in chronological order of events.
Setting: The Betuwe is a region in the Dutch province of Gelderland, located between the rivers Waal in the south and the Lower Rhine and Lek in the north. Other important sites were:
- Rented room by Mrs Scholvink where Schults lives
- HBS school ( high school) where Schults teaches German
- the Bovenkamp farm where jews are hiding from the Nazi’s
- the prison in Scheveningen called the “Orange Hotel“
- Loyalty vs betrayal
- Dutch Resistance WW II ( het Verzet)
Characters: Main character is Schults, German who teaches the language at the local. HBS (high school). He has modified his name so it will seem more “Dutch” Schults not Schultz. He has sided with the Dutch and is a member of the resistance.
Portrait Margaretha van Hertogin von Karinthie: (1st chapter)
The reference to this portrait in the first sentence of chapter one intrigued me. It was such a strange and unique choice by Vestdijk. I had to read further to find out what this poster of the duchess meant to Schults and Vestdijk.
“I will not touch a woman as long as The Netherlands is occupied by the Germans.
As long as this war goes on, she is my duty, my obligation: “thou shalt not love”. ( pg 282)
Schults is spying for the Allies. Some locals villagers still harbor feelings of revenge against certain people. The NSB is tipped off and they report Schults, the resistance group and people hiding in Bovenkamp’s farmhouse to the Germans.
Razzia’s, arrests and liquidations follow. What will happen to Schults?
Trivia: There is an expression in Dutch: “Mijn naam is haas” which means I know nothing about an incident. It is repeated in the book 9 times. You hear it in conversation all the time. Where did this saying come from?
The saying probably stems from an incident in 1855. A German student shot someone dead in a duel. He wanted to flee to France. In order to cross the border on, however, he needed ID card. A fellow student named Victor von Hase (1834-1860) gave the duellist his card. Von Hase subsequently reported that he had lost his card. Later, his card was accidentally found in France, where the duellist had lost the card.
The man who really was Von Hase was called to appear in court in Germany. He said “Mein Name ist Hase, ich weiß von nichts. (“My name is Hase … I know nothing.“)
The name Hase in Dutch degenerated into hare, and has nothing to do with the hare as an animal
Trivia: Slang used as a term for a persons of German birth or descent is ‘moffen’ ( used 110 x in the book)
Trivia: It is important to understand what the NSB was and how much anyone connected to it during WW II in the Netherlands was hated. Vestdijk semi-active in the resistance and was also brought in for questioning by the NSB. When I first came to live in Holland I heard NSB in conversations usually about people whose family members were “ wrong” during the war. It is not a subject easily spoken about even to this day. I will include this link to Wikipedia for more information.
H. Feldmijer (NSB) (Assen, 30 November 1910 – Raalte, 22 February 1945) was asked by Heinrich Himmler to establish a Dutch SS.
Real life opinions of Simon Vestdijk:
On 4 mei 1942 Simon Vestdijk (prominent writer) was taken as a hostage and in the famous ‘Orange Hotel’ in Scheveningen imprisoned. This was as a reaction to the arrest of Germans in The Dutch East Indies. Vestdijk eventually was freed after he agreed to become a member of a cultural institute in The Netherlands that the Germans organized. He sufferd from depression due to his agreement to join this cultural program. After 1944 Vestdijk started to write again. One of the first books was Pastorale 1943. He wanted to “ set the record straight’. He was not a collaborator with the Germans. Pastorale 1943 was the first book about the resistance written in The Netherlands.
Voice of Vestdijk:
- VOICE OF VESTDIJK : The only thing I will not tolerate is betrayal, in any shape or form.
- VOICE OF VESTDIJK : We intellectuals have only a few weapons, but we will be more successful than the Resistance.
- VOICE OF VESTDIJK: One step forward, two steps back,…yield, give way and win some time: Follow all the enemy’s moves, as in Jujutsu.
- VOICE OF VESTDIJK It ( a rainbow) was like victory,…it is set off against dark clouds but in truth it is so close, you could almost touch it and you vaguely saw the laughing land of Holland glimmer through.
- VOICE OF VESTDIJK: And if you get caught by them (Germans) , just stare at them. I stared at them as if they were not Germans.
- VOICE OF VESTDIJK: What in peace time is considered inferior, and even treason, can in times of war be a great act of heroism.
- Strong points: The story is enhanced with hidden gems, expressions and references to an array of subjects which shows Vestdijk’s broad range of knowledge. I found that I had to enjoy Simon Vestdijk ‘s writing as I would a good wine….in small sips, inhaling the aroma’s and tasting how he was a master of words and expressions! On page 32 I would have just skipped over this “ “Even tijd voor een Caravellis” (…time for a Caravellis) . It refers to a brand of cigars in the 1940’s – 1950’s. This expression means it is time to relax and take a break!
- Strong point: Direct characterization. Simon Vestdijk has a “treasure box” filled with words to comment on the character’s physical qualities, behaviors, virtues, and vices. I was surprised to read how the character Schults describes an unknown woman while they both sit in a café: “He saw that her eyebrows were normal, ash blond, not shaved off and penciled in. This seemed illogical, sleek, glossy red fingernails and ordinary eyebrows.” (pg 143)
- Strong point: Dramatic irony: This type of irony is the device of giving the spectator an item of information that at least one of the characters in the narrative is unaware of. The reader is a step ahead of at least one of the characters. We all know who the ‘real snitch’ is…..but the characters in the book are still unaware. Tension is building….…( pg 204)
Vestdijk has succeeded in giving the reader an impression of life in the Dutch countryside in 1943. The Resistance was not a popular movement. Many Dutch citizens would rather survive the war, doing whatever they could to make sure that happened
That meant oftern collaboration with the NSB or passivity. The willingness to collaborate with the ‘moffen’ far outweighed the willingness to resist.
In Pastorale 1943 we meet some brave, ordinary people who risked their lives while gathering intelligence, doing espionage work, organising sabotage and sheltering jews in their homes from deportation.
I did not know what to expect from this book. Vestdijk is a great storyteller and combined with the sense of place here in The Netherlands and the familiar language and local expressions, I was swept away by the story. There were twists and turns in the narrative that kept me guessing!
Unfortunately this book is not available in English. I realize now how important it is to be able to read in other languages. I discover books in Dutch and French that I would never have found. I’m always reminded of a great book quote:
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading you can only think what everyone else is thinking” (Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood)
After living so many years in The Netherlands you can’t spend so much time in a place and not carry a bit of it inside you.
I received this foto from the Hannemahuis. In this museum in Harlingen, Vestdijk’s birthplace, is a wonderful collection of this writers books and memorabilia, ‘t Vestdijk Kamer.