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Louis Couperus

One of the greatest, much loved and most read Dutch authors.

He was born in The Hague in 1863 and named after his three dead sisters Louis, Marie and Anne.

This year, 2023, it is 100 years since Louis Couperus died in 1923, commemorated in the Netherlands with a Couperus Jaar and twitter account.

From 1872 to 1878 he lived with his parents in Batavia, in the former Dutch Indies now known as Indonesia. This left a lasting impression on him and the Dutch Indies were used as the backdrop for some of his most famous books.

Couperus and school life did not go well together and he left secondary school before taking his exams. However he did qualify for his teaching certificate in literature.

He published his first poems in 1883 and experienced his first unfavourable reviews, especially from critics based in Amsterdam. This may well have reflected the old rivalry between Amsterdam, the capital and The Hague, the seat of parliament.

Annoyed, in 1887 Couperus wrote the novel that he hoped would show them that he could write: Eline Vere. It was serialised in Het Vaderland, one of the main papers based in The Hague.

It made his name and was so popular that the last instalment was the topic for discussion everywhere in the city: Have you heard what happened to Eline? When he was pressed to reveal on whom Eline was modelled, he simply said: ‘Eline, that’s me’.

Couperus went on to write several famous novels and he was so successful that many were translated into English during his lifetime.

The first, Footsteps of Fate, was published in 1891 and Eline Vere in JT Grein’s original translation appeared in 1892. Couperus had to wait for his real breakthrough in the English language until 1914 when the four volumes that make up Books of Small Souls were published.

They were followed by Of Old People and the Things That PassThe Hidden Force and The Law Inevitable earning Couperus glowing reviews in the Spectator, the Atheneum and Saturday Review.

One of the most recent new translations of a Couperus’ work was Inevitable, a new translation by Paul Vincent of Langs Lijnen van geleidelijkheid.

Such was his fame that when he visited London he was invited for a meeting with the then Prime Minister Asquith and the Opposition Leader.

Yet, Couperus was not a traditional Dutchman. A bit of a dandy and quite extravagant, he mostly lived abroad in Southern Europe. He considered The Hague terribly provincial and could never stay there for more than a few months at a time.

He neatly avoided having to make a difficult decision himself by having what seemed to be a marriage of convenience with his niece Elisabeth Baud. She was a fellow lover of literature and translator of novels, including Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

10 June 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the birthday of Louis Couperus. To celebrate this, the Louis Couperus Society organised a year of festivities: Couperus Year.

More information

Louis Couperus Society
Louis Couperus Museum