Eduard Douwes Dekker

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Eduard Douwes Dekker, who used the pseudonym Multatuli (muhl-tuh-TEW-lee), was for many years a colonial administrator in the Dutch East Indies, principally in Java. Born in Amsterdam on March 2, 1820, he went to Java in 1838, and by 1857 he was the official resident at Bantam. In 1846 he married Everdine van Wijnbergen. After her death he married, in 1875, Mimi Hamminck Schepel, who as his widow and literary executor published her husband’s collected works in 1892.{$S[A]Douwes Dekker, Eduard;Multatuli}{$S[A]Dekker, Eduard Douwes;Multatuli}

During his years as a colonial administrator in the Dutch East Indies Dekker observed incidents and situations he regarded as scandalous. Because he spoke out against the abuses, he alienated many of his fellow administrators. It is not clear whether he was dismissed or forced to resign from his post, but after his return to Holland he published details of the situation in the Dutch East Indies in a series of articles in periodicals and a number of pamphlets. He also wrote a novel, Max Havelaar, in which he depicted the abuses of the Dutch colonial system, especially the abuse of free labor by the administrators. The novel was published under the pseudonym Multatuli in 1860. Minnebrieven, ostensibly a collection of love letters, was a satire on the abuses of the colonial system. Vorstenschool (the school for princes), a drama based on the same need for reforms, had limited contemporary success on the stage. During the years from 1862 to 1877 Dekker assembled his miscellaneous works and published them as a series of volumes entitled Ideën, translated into English in 1904. Dekker died at Nieder-Ingelheim on February 19, 1887.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Multatuli (muhl-tuh-TEW-lee) was the pseudonym of Eduard Douwes Dekker, who was born to modest circumstances in Amsterdam on March 2, 1820. His father, a sea captain, had spent his life on the open seas, but he wanted his son to pursue a less adventurous career as an accountant. Young Eduard, however, thought being an accountant would be a dull job; before he completed the equivalent of a high school education, he went to work as a clerk in a textile factory. After three years, however, he was bored and sailed with his father for the East Indies, where the Dutch maintained a significant colonial presence.

Over the next several years, Dekker maintained a number of posts until in1842 he was awarded an administrative appointment in Sumatra in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where he was virtually the entire civic government for the lonely jungle outpost. Initially Dekker was appalled at the conditions under which the local natives were managed and further incensed over evidence of colonial corruption and bureaucratic insensitivity.

It was there that he made his first writing efforts, an unpublished novel “Losse bladen uit het dagboek van een oude man” (loose pages from an old man’s diary), which relates the tragic story of a young boy whose earnest altruism ends up costing him his life, when he dies trying to save his brother from drowning. Importantly, the work tells the story of the doomed young boy from the perspective of an older man who is unable to understand entirely the impetus for the boy’s courageous generosity, a frame narrative that anticipates Dekker’s later formal experiments.

After a brief suspension from his job from 1843 to 1844, when his bookkeeping irregularities were exposed, Dekker was reinstated and in 1857 was given a plum appointment as deputy commissioner at Lebak on Java, where the sugar and coffee plantations made it one of the most important trading posts in the Dutch East Indies archipelago. Within six weeks of his appointment, however, Dekker raised a public outrage over the exploitation of the Javanese people who lived in abject poverty and were subjected to the cruel practices of vicious tribal regents, whose power was assured by the Dutch occupational government. Indeed, Dekker went public with his indictment when he feared his...

(The entire section is 1,266 words.)