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Word of the day: gevoelig (sensitive)

The last couple of days were very emotional, full of GEVOELENS (feelings). I started with HUILEN (weeping), moved on to GEWELD (violence) and WOEDE (anger) and finally exulted in VREUGDE (joy). Today’s word is GEVOELIG (sensitive) which derives from GEVOEL (feeling).


The noun GEVOEL (a ‘het-word’ as all nouns with one syllable after the prefix ‘GE-‘: GEWELD, GEZIN, GELUK…) goes back to the verb VOELEN (to feel), written in Middle Dutch as ‘geuolen’ and in Old English ‘gefēlan’. This verb not only meant to experience with the tactile sense (or more simply said ‘to touch’), but also to perceive in a wider sense. In the Middle Ages the true believer could ‘feel salvation or bliss’. This broader meaning evolved to experiencing inner feelings. And today we live in a complex world dominated by these feelings and passions. A world that we try to understand and control with the feeble instrument of the rational mind. In vain! There is no way we can free ourselves from bondage by these passions that are fed by our imagination.

An author who understood this existential situation was the Dutchman Louis Couperus. Do you have a susceptible heart, EEN GEVOELIG HART, and a sensitive nature (EEN GEVOELIGE AARD)? Then it’s time for you to get acquainted with Louis Couperus. This famous author was born 150 years ago in The Hague 10 June 1863 and he died 16 July 1923 (ninety years ago). If you want to know more about his life read this item on Wikipedia.

His most famous novel is called ‘Eline Vere’ published in a Hague newspaper in 1888. This novel in which a woman plays the main character stirred the hearts of everyone who read it. It had an impact that could be compared to Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ (1856), Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ (1877) or George Moore’s Esther Waters (1894). Couperus wrote ‘Eline Vere’ in the house at Surinamestraat 20, The Hague. Go and have a look at the house and the area and you’ll get a feeling for the atmosphere and the period in which the main character lived. On the Javastraat is the Louis Couperusmuseum which will give you even more information.

Okay, so you are this sensitive reader and now you are yearning to climb this Mount Everest of Dutch Literature, but I hear you sigh in the humblest of whispers: ‘My mastery of Duch will fail me…’ Do not worry, and be excused for even for Dutch people Couperus’ style is far from easy going. But you as an expat have a great advantage for there is a recent translation available. This ‘Novel of The Hague’ (HAAGSE ROMAN was rendered in a very accessible English style by award winning translator Ina Rilke and published by Archipelago Books (isbn 9780981955742, price € 19,99 available at American Book Centre in The Hague).

Here is the very first sentence of ‘Eline Vere’

‘Men verdrong zich in de, tot kleedkamer ingerichte, eetzaal. Voor een psyché stond Frédérique van Erlevoort, met los hangende haren zeer bleek onder een dunne laag poudre-de-riz, de wenkbrauwen als door een enkele penseelstreek zwarter getint.’

In Rilke’s translation:

‘The dining-room, doing service as a dressing-room, was a hive of activity. Before a cheval-glass stood Frédérique van Erlevoort, her hair loose and flowing, looking very pale under a light dusting of rice-powder, her eyebrows darkened with a single brushstroke of black.’

If you want to get a true feeling (ECHT GEVOEL) for the real identity of The Hague behind its veils, you should read ‘Eline Vere’.

The Hague is so proud of Couperus and his famous novel that the city has two statues of Eline Vere. The ecstatic lady in the photo can be found in de Grote Marktstraat (opposite the central library). This sculpture was recently made by the English sculptor Thom Puckey. The other statue was created by Theo van der Nahmer. Do you know where it is?