Authors: Multatuli

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Dutch novelist, journalist, and diplomat.

March 2, 1820

Amsterdam, Netherlands

February 19, 1887

Nieder-Ingelheim, Germany


Eduard Douwes Dekker, who wrote under the pen name Multatuli, was for many years a colonial administrator in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), 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 Everdina “Tine” van Wijnbergen, whom he called Tine; they had two children, a son and a daughter. Van Wijnbergen died in 1874, and the following year Douwes Dekker married Maria “Mimi” Hamminck Schepel. After his death, Hamminck Schepel served as her husband's literary executor and published his collected works in 1888–89. She also published a collection of his unfinished works and several volumes of his correspondence.


By César Mitkiewicz, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

During his years as a colonial administrator in the Dutch East Indies, Douwes 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 the Netherlands 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 (1860; English translation, 1868), in which he depicted the abuses of the Dutch colonial system, especially the abuse of free labor by the administrators. He published the novel under the pseudonym Multatuli. Minnebrieven (Memory letters, 1861), ostensibly a collection of love letters, was a satire on the abuses of the colonial system; though intended as a sequel to Max Havelaar, it evolved into its own work. Vorstenschool (School of princes, 1872), a drama based on the same need for reforms, had limited contemporary success on the stage. From 1862 to 1877 Douwes Dekker published the seven volumes of his Ideën (Ideas), a collection of thoughts, propositions, and sketches on a wide variety of topics. Ideën also contained some fictional works; Vorstenschool was first published in volume 4, and the novel De geschiedenis van Woutertje Pieterse (1862–77, 1890; Walter Pieterse: A Story of Holland, 1904) first appeared as individual sketches throughout the seven volumes.

Douwes Dekker died in Nieder-Ingelheim, Germany, on February 19, 1887. In 2002, the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde (Society of Dutch Literature) named Multatuli the most important author in all of Dutch literature.

Author Works Long Fiction: Max Havelaar, of de koffij-veilingen der Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij, 1860 (Max Havelaar; or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, 1868) Minnebrieven, 1861 Wijs mij de plaats waar ik gezaaid heb!, 1861 (novella) De geschiedenis van Woutertje Pieterse, 1862–77 (in Ideën), 1890 (book; Walter Pieterse: A Story of Holland, 1904) Drama: De bruid daarboven, wr. 1843–44 (as De eerloze), pb. 1864, pr. 1865 Vorstenschool, pb. 1872 (in Ideën), pb., pr. 1875 Aleid: Twee fragmenten uit een onafgewerkt blyspel, pb. 1891 (unfinished) Nonfiction: Brief aan de kiezers te Amsterdam omtrent de keuze van een afgevaardigde, in verband met Indische specialiteiten en batige saldo’s, 1859 (open letter) Indrukken van den dag, 1860 (includes Max Havelaar) Ideën, 1862–77 (7 volumes; includes some fiction) Over vrijen arbeid in Nederlandsch Indië, en de tegenwoordige koloniale agitatie, 1862 Japanse gesprekken, 1862 De zegen Gods door Waterloo, 1865 (satire) Herdrukken, 1865 Verspreide stukken: Overgenomen uit de Herdrukken, 1865 Een en ander naar aanleiding van J. Bosscha’s Pruisen en Nederland, 1867 (reprinted as Een en ander over Pruisen en Nederland, 1867) Divagatiën over zeker soort van Liberalismus, 1870 Nog-eens: Vrye-arbeid in Nederlandsch-Indië, 1870 (Indonesia: Once More Free Labor, 1948) Duizend-en-eenige hoofdstukken over specialiteiten, 1871 (satire) Brief van Multatuli aan den koning over de openingsrede, 1872 (open letter) Millioenen-studiën, 1872 Onafgewerkte blaadjes gevonden op Multatuli’s schryftafel, 1887 (M. Douwes Dekker, editor) Brieven van Multatuli: Bydragen tot de kennis van zyn leven, 1891–96 (10 volumes; correspondence; M. Douwes Dekker, editor) Briefwisseling tusschen Multatuli en S. E. W. Roorda van Eysinga, 1907 (correspondence; M. Douwes Dekker, editor) Over den godsdienst, 1910 Reisbrieven aan Mimi en andere bescheiden, 1941 (correspondence; Julius Pée, editor) Brieven van Multatuli aan Mr. Carel Vosmaer, R. J. A. Kallenberg van den Bosch en Dr. Vitus Bruinsma, 1942 (correspondence; Julius Pée, editor) Briefwisseling tusschen Multatuli en G. L. Funke, 1947 (correspondence; G. L. Funke Jr., editor) Collected Works: Verzamelde werken van Multatuli, 1888–89 (10 volumes; M. Douwes Dekker, editor) Volledige werken, 1950–95 (25 volumes; Garmt Stuiveling et al., editors) Bibliography Bergh, A. van den. “Multatuli and Romantic Indecision.” Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 1984, pp. 36–47. Discusses the curious mixture of romanticism and realism in Max Havelaar and explores the novel’s roots in Dutch literature. Feenberg, Anne-Marie. “Max Havelaar: An Anti-imperialist Novel.” Modern Language Notes, vol. 112, no. 5, 1997, pp. 817–36. A detailed analysis of the novel, focusing on Multatuli’s message of anti-imperialism.

King, Peter. Gezelle and Multatuli: A Question of Literature and Social History. U of Hull, 1978. A critical assessment of the works of Multatuli and of Belgian writer Guido Gezelle, his contemporary. Includes bibliographical references. King, Peter. Multatuli. Twayne Publishers, 1972. A comprehensive study of Multatuli. Gives an overview of Max Havelaar’s complexity, as well as its relation to its author’s life.

Lawrence, D. H. Introduction. Max Havelaar; or, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, by Multatuli, translated by Roy Edwards. 1927. U of Massachusetts P, 1982, pp. 11–16. A literary review of Max Havelaar that likens it to Uncle Tom's Cabin with respect to its purpose and maintains its continued readability.

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