Last reviewed: June 2018
Dutch novelist, journalist, and diplomat.
March 2, 1820
February 19, 1887
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. Multatuli.
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.