Subproject 2

Resistance Literature during the French Regime, 1806-1813 (Bart Verheijen)

Introduction and importance

The second project focuses on resistance literature written during the years of the French regime (1806-1813). Resistance literature provided an important means of criticizing the French authorities and propagating feelings of patriotism (Kruseman 1889, Roche 1923, Van Sas 1989, Jensen 2010a). Studying this type of literature will therefore be a crucial step in understanding the development of Dutch national thought and nationalism during this period of political transformation. The current historical consensus is that the Dutch people willingly submitted to the reign of King Louis Napoleon (1806-1810) and did not oppose annexation by the French (1810-1813) either. This view is based mainly on archival study by H.T. Colenbrander, which was published as his seminal Gedenkstukken (1905-1922) and duly confirmed by recent historical surveys (Haak 1980, Aerts 2004). However, the historian J. Joor has recently challenged this view by looking at local municipal archives. He has found convincing evidence that local groups did oppose the French regime by organising local demonstrations and revolts (Joor 2000), which implies that the conventional assessment of this period is in need of revision.

Although Joor’s research did not extend to the field of literature, literary texts should be acknowledged as a highly relevant – if not the most important – source to support the thesis that the Dutch people protested against French rule. All succesful writers of this period, including Loosjes, Kinker, Tollens, Bilderdijk and Helmers, published patriotic anti-French texts. In their attempt at dealing with the nation’s existential crisis, these writers tried to grasp the essence of the Dutch nation, its culture and its inhabitants. They often used historical subject matter as an expression of national identity and diachronic continuity (Jensen 2008, Jensen 2010b). This created an interesting paradox: at the moment when the nation formally ceased to exist, it became omnipresent in poetry, plays, and novels.

The resistance literature of this period is still mainly terra incognita. Kruseman (1889) and Roche (1923) have investigated censorship under Napoleon’s regime, while Koopmans (1913) and De Vooys (1945) provided a general impression of resistance poetry. Due to the mounting interest in issues of nationalism, national identity and cultural nationhood, resistance literature of the Napoleonic years has received more attention in recent years (Van Sas 1989, Jensen 2010a, Helmers 2009, Van den Berg & Couttenier 2009: 65-74). One author in particular has been the focus of such research: Jan Fredrik Helmers, author of the national epic De Hollandsche natie (1812). However, this project intends to demonstrate that resistance literature was, in fact, omnipresent during the years of occupation and annexation, and will subsequently attempt to analyse the contents and ideology of such texts.

Working plan

Firstly, an inventory of resistance literature will have to be compiled. For this, Kruseman (1889) and Roche (1923) can be used as a starting point. This list of titles can be expanded by searching print catalogues (Saakes 1794-1855, Nederlandse bibliografie 1801-1831), pamphlet inventories (Knuttel 1978), periodicals, collections of poetry by contemporary authors, and theatre surveys (Albach 1956, Worp 1903-1907). An initial assessment of these sources has been made by Jensen (2010a), providing a list of authors and themes that need further exploration.

Secondly, the primary literature will be analyzed (text). The objective is to map out general themes, preoccupations, and the occurrence of repetitive arguments, patterns and metaphors (intertext). On the basis of this reading, some works will be selected for further analysis of how these works served to propagate a national ideology (historical context).

Thirdly, the actual effects of resistance literature will have to be assessed (impact). This can be done in two ways. Firstly, this subproject will study the ways in which censorship was implemented by the French authorities. This requires the examination of archival records (municipal archives and the Archives Nationales in Paris) as well as a comparison of censured editions (e.g. Helmers 2009). Secondly, the PhD candidate will examine reception documents such as reviews, prefaces, personal correspondences, and autobiographical writings.

Research questions

  • How is the Dutch nation represented in resistance literature, and how do authors reflect upon issues of national identity in their works (text)?
  • Which patterns and tropes can be discerned (intertext)?
  • What is the function and place of resistance literature in the formation of nationhood during the French occupation (historical context)?
  • What (possible) effect did resistance literature actually have (impact)?

Supervisors: Prof Dr Remieg Aerts (Radboud University Nijmegen, History), Prof Dr Johan Oosterman, Dr Lotte Jensen.