Herman Heijermans was born in Rotterdam in 1864, the eldest son in a family of eleven children. His father, Herman Heijermans, Sr., was a well-known and highly respected journalist, whose talents and professional career had a considerable influence on the life of his famous son. His mother, née Mathilde Spiers, was well educated and, unlike her husband, came from a wealthy family. Heijermans’s formal schooling ended with his graduation from the Hogere Burgerschool, a secondary school equivalent to the European lycée or gymnasium and thus more advanced than the American high school. He was a good student, but although his father would have liked to send him to the university, it was all he could do to provide a solid basic education for each of his many children.
Heijermans had early shown an interest in writing, and before he was twenty, he had finished his first play, “Don Gables,” a tragedy in blank verse. His father knew from his own experience, however, how difficult it was to earn a living as a journalist, and because he knew someone at an important Dutch bank, a position was soon found for his son. Not long afterward, young Heijermans went into the wholesale rag business, to which his fiancée’s family contributed some money. He was not a very good businessman, an unfortunate side of his nature that turned up at several points later in his career. It was only by assuming some of the financial burden himself that his father was able to save him from the disgrace of bankruptcy. Nevertheless, Heijermans lost his standing in the community, people he had thought were his friends deserted him, his family was deeply disappointed by the sudden collapse of such a bright career, and his engagement came to an end.
In the meantime, he had not really given up his interest in writing, and his success as a journalist and a writer of sketches and stories enabled him to leave Rotterdam for Amsterdam. Heijermans was already at work on his first play, Dora Kremer, which was produced in Rotterdam. It was not as good as Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, from which he had borrowed a theme, but the young Dutch playwright blamed its failure on the audiences, who, he believed, lacked interest in the work of native dramatists. He had already written his effective...
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