Arthur van Schendel Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Arthur van Schendel 1874-1946

Dutch novelist and short story writer.

Considered the greatest Dutch prose writer of his day, Schendel is best known for a series of works set in nineteenth-century Holland and the Dutch colonies in Indonesia. Conveying a sense of nostalgia, Schendel's novels are well-regarded for their minutely detailed settings and romantic characters.

Biographical Information

Schendel was born in Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where his father served as an officer in the army and his mother's family had lived for several generations. In 1879 his family moved to Holland, where Schendel's father died in 1880. Schendel attended a variety of schools, including an acting school, and became qualified to teach French and English. His earliest novels were love stories set in medieval Italy. The first of these works, Drogon, was published in 1896, the same year that he left Holland to study and teach in Tuxford, England. By 1905 he had returned to Holland. During the 1920s and 1930s, Schendel lived in Italy, where he produced the majority of his works. Schendel returned to Amsterdam in the 1940s and suffered a fatal heart attack in 1946.

Major Works

Schendel's novels are distinguished by vivid characterizations, a simple prose style, and engaging plots. The first of his series of Dutch novels, Het fregatschip Johanna Maria (The Johanna Maria), for example, is the tale of a sailmaker's love for the ship on which he serves. The narrative relates the protagonist's sense of helplessness when the sailing vessel is rendered obsolete in the emerging era of steamships. The Johanna Maria is typical of Schendel's novels in its focus on a character who struggles unsuccessfully against a rapidly changing world. According to Frans van Rosevelt, "What shines forth in Van Schendel's work is essentially the detached tone of his prose that is suddenly disrupted by a character's insights and emotions."