Louis Marie Anne Couperus (kew-PAY-roos) brought the Dutch novel into the mainstream of twentieth century European literature by building on the tradition of Émile Zola’s social realism. From his first published work, Eline Vere—the story of a woman without character who feels damned by her heredity—to one of his best novels, Old People and the Things That Pass—in which a forgotten crime determines the lives of those who were unborn when it was committed—he developed his own method of situating personal life in a context of fate. Although Dutch critics accused him of having a perverse and morbid philosophical outlook, his novels were highly successful in his own country and abroad. When he returned to Holland in 1923, after living for many years in Italy, his sixtieth birthday was the occasion for a national celebration.
Couperus spent his early years until the age of fifteen in Java, where his father served as a government official, and he visited the Dutch East Indies again after 1921 as correspondent for the Haagsche Post. Much of his work reflects this colonial background.
Couperus’s most ambitious works are The Books of the Small Souls, a four-novel family saga, and his group of historical novels, De Berg Van Licht (the mountain of light), Arrogance, and Iskander, in which he analyzes the downfall of Heliogabalus, Xerxes, and Alexander the Great as caused by forces beyond their control. His writings were often relieved by a delicate play of irony, which also distinguishes his autobiography, Van en over Mijzelf en Anderen (of and concerning myself and others), which is interesting for its portrait sketches.