Johanna van Ammers-Küller (AHM-ur-skyoo-ur) was, with E. and M. Scharten-Antink and Marie Schmitz, the foremost interpreter of Dutch middle-class life after World War I in the tradition of psychological realism. Her novels probe the social and spiritual problems that beset the younger generation during the postwar period of disillusionment.
Born on August 13, 1884, into a family of lawyers and doctors, Ammers-Küller began writing early, publishing a story of romantic love at the age of fifteen in a weekly paper. She continued to write stories until her marriage in 1904, and then the birth of two children led her to postpone a literary career. Later, after going to London with her husband, she resumed work writing fiction and published several novels that gained a wide audience. Between 1912 and 1921 three of her plays were produced. However, it was not until she went to Amsterdam and wrote The Rebel Generation that she became famous.
This novel, one of the most popular in the Netherlands in the mid-twentieth century, has been translated into most modern languages and was produced successfully as a play. It reviews three generations of Dutch life and is primarily concerned with the emancipation of women in a world of shifting values. The House of Joy, another best-seller, also drew upon the aspirations of woman in its story of a girl’s yearning for a theatrical career and the problems that resulted. The same milieu provided the background for a sequel, Jenny Heysten’s Career, an account of an impoverished aristocrat who becomes corrupted by her stage role.
In No Surrender, youth is shown struggling against standards it refuses to observe. This novel, using the family background of The Rebel Generation, concerns an English suffragist forcefully conscious of her aims in life. Common to most of Ammers-Küller’s work of this period is a subtlety of detail in characterizing intimate family life and a collection of incidents that carry the reader into her central theme of struggle for identity.
Her later novels were romances based on French and Dutch history. Elzelina, for example, is about a Dutch parson’s daughter who became the mistress of Marshall Ney and accompanied him into the field during Napoleon’s campaigns.