ABSTRACT

Anna Blaman's writing takes the process of self-realization which had been set in train by the first wave of women's emancipation one step further. Whereas Carry van Brüggen had fought for the recognition of the individual as a social entity, Anne Frank and Etty Hillesum had explored their individuality, and Vasalis had enacted autonomy from within the traditional family unit, Blaman questioned rigid gender boundaries and social structures from a self-confident individualistic position. Living openly as a lesbian, Blaman had no choice but to remain outside the patriarchal social structures and traditional heterosexual relationships. This de facto autonomy enabled her to question contemporary thinking on love, sex, relationships, and the human condition, which she sees as one of aloneness. Although she depicts a side of Dutch society which had largely been ignored in literature through characters who exist outside the traditional 'breadwinner' structure in the margins of society, her novels suggest that this aloneness, which is generally experienced as a terrible sense of loneliness, is an essential part of human existence. This is beautifully expressed in her last novel, De verliezers (The losers, 1960) when she evokes an image of the newly widowed Louis Kostiaan during a sleepless night as the last person alive:

Er waren beneden, in de achterkamer, nog slaaptabletten, die moest hij maar halen. In zijn pyama liep hij naar de deur en deed die open. Hij luisterde. Het huis was stil, nergens was er licht. Het leek wel alsof hij de enige overlevende was, meester in een dodenhuis.

[Downstairs, in the back room, were some sleeping tablets; he should go and get them. In his pyjamas he went to the door and opened it. He listened. The house was silent, and in complete darkness. It was as though he was the last survivor, master in a house of the dead.] (p. 73)

Surveying Anna Blaman's novels and stories, the panorama of the marginalized includes the lower middle classes who were outside the social and political establishment, leading respectable but narrow lives. When Blaman made her debut in 1941, they were hardly ever the main focus of fiction in the Netherlands. Cutting across this stratum of society was a large number of individuals who were marginalized for ideological reasons: single people living in rooms rented in lodging houses with little privacy and few if any personal belongings. Blaman's novels use a perspective which is for the most part internal to the characters and 150which switches back and forth among them, thus giving readers the opportunity to gain an awareness of the worlds of these people who tend to be invisible to mainstream society. Although in other European literatures the naturalist novel at the end of the nineteenth century had already portrayed the socially marginalized, Dutch naturalism had tended to favour middle-class women and girls as subjects. Occasionally it did look to the margins, for example, in Marcellus Emants's portrayal of vulnerable female servants forced to undergo the attentions of males in the household or of establishments where upper-class young men drink and are entertained by young women in Jong Holland (1881). However, the female characters are portrayed externally from a male perspective, and the marginal world remains tangential to the social world of the main characters. With the exception of that nineteenth-century masterpiece of Dutch literature, Woutertje Pieterse by Multatuli, Blaman is the first writer in the Netherlands to grant individuality to such marginalized characters who feel, speak, and think for themselves, sometimes with unsettling results: it is some time before the reader appreciates just how disturbed Kostiaan is by his wife's death in De verliezers, for example.