Pastorale 1943

23 Jan


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


  • Revenge
  • Loyalty  vs  betrayal
  • Treason
  • 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 cardLater, 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 HaseI 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 VESTDIJKOne 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 VESTDIJKWhat  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.  

Vestdijk met catimages

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.



Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


5 responses to “Pastorale 1943

  1. Amy

    February 6, 2014 at 19:24

    I loved hearing about the origin of “Mijn naam is Haas.” Languages are endlessly fascinating–I wish I had had the opportunity to start learning more of them when I was young.

  2. N@ncy

    February 6, 2014 at 20:41

    …never to old to teach a dog new tricks! Languages just are my passion! One moment reading Zola is so easy and as soon as I switch to a new writer ( Albert Londres), I feel like I’m starting all over. Language is a wonderful game I play with my brain!

  3. Mrs P.

    November 8, 2014 at 18:40

    This sounds like a fascinating text, N@ncy. A pity there’s no translation available in English, but your post has given me a great insight into the novel. Many thanks!

    • N@ncy

      November 8, 2014 at 18:54

      I just re-read it myself….it was a great book. There is a new book De Velser Affaire written by Bas von Benda-Beckmann (2013) that was short-listed for the best history book in Holland 2014. I’m sure it will be translated soon. I still have to read it, but it concerns the resistance in Velzen The Netherlands. Rumor has it that the members of this ‘cell’ were liquidated… orders of Allied London!! why? Definitely ….’something is rotten in Denmark’!


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