Hugo Claus

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Hugo Claus (Belgium, 1929) wrote in Flemish. He debuted as a poet with the collection "Registreren/ Registration" (1948).

De Metsiers/ Duck Hunt (1950) +

synopsis forthcoming

He published another poetry book, "De Oostakkerse Gedichten" (1955) and wrote the theatrical plays "A Bride in the Morning" (1955), first produced in French, and "Suiker" (1958).

Een Bruid in de Morgen/ A Bride in the Morning (1955) [t]

synopsis forthcoming

Suiker (1958) [t]

synopsis forthcoming

De Verwondering/ The Wonder (1962) has the structure of a fragmented narrative, written by a madman from his asylum cell. In theory, the novel is simply the story of the disadventures of an everyman who, chasing a woman who may or may not remind him of the wife who left him, infiltrates by accident a group of old Nazi sympathyzers. Not only the chapters shift back and forth in time (sometimes within the same paragraph) but they alternate four different kinds of narratives: the five "third person" chapters (that have a title in italics), commissioned by a psychiatrist as a form of self-therapy, the secret notebook, written in the first person singular (that is mainly about his conditions in the clinic’s cell but also mixed with memories and comments elicited by the third-person narrative, and also with events that he somehow omits in the main narrative), the "I" chapters (also written in the first person but not part of the notebook), and a few "we" chapters, written in the first person plural (that feel like being written by someone else, a spokesman for the community, and relate events that took place during and after the war). The four types of narrative provide different points of view on the events of the legendary figure who comes to haunt the protagonist and narrator. The notebooks and “I” chapters are generally confused and delirious, mixing present and past, and multiple levels of past: his past marriage, his past job as a teacher, his adventure at the castle. This narrative mosaic is basically a document of the crumbling of his mind. Victor has increasing hallucinations about Crabbe, and we don't know whether those are based on what he discovered about Crabbe (and therefore supplement the main narrative) or are just made up by his insanity. By the end, we don't really know what happened to the mythical Crabbe, and we don't even get conclusive evidence whether the madman was hospitalized by his wife or imprisoned by the Nazi sympathyzers.

(Note: the 2009 English translation by Michael Heim is hard to understand and has normalized the titles of the chapters, some of which are in italic in the original. He has a passion for obscure words and convoluted sentences).

The novel opens with a teacher, Victor Denijs de Rijckel, taking the elevator to leave his apartment and then walking to the school where he teaches. We learn that he is lonely and divorced. He lives in a small town of Belgium. We are introduced to other teachers: Nouda who teaches Latin and Greek, Kurpers who teaches Geography, etc. Victor, a meek, mediocre and ordinary man, teaches English and German. The principal invites him to a late evening meeting. After school, Victor walks to his hotel and passes by the Pavilion, where a White Rabbit ball is being advertised. He reaches his "White Sea" hotel, dines and briefly meets his neighbor, a gypsy fortune-teller who warns him to avoid Scorpio people. The principal Verbaere is giving his lecture on classical music while the costume ball gets underway. Victor decides to buy a ticket and joins the festivities. He befriends a car salesman dressed like a Venetian courtier who was flirting with a woman. They take his car and follow the woman.
The second chapter is a diary written in the cell of a mental asylum. The psychiatrist Korneel who runs the clinic has asked him to write in detail, and in a detached impersonal manner, what happened before his hospitalization as a form of self-therapy, and the previous chapter ("Encounter/ Meeting", page 7-35) was the beginning of that document. At the same time the nurse Fredine has smuggled in sheets of papers that Victor is using to write a secret notebook, which is written in first person. In this notebook Victor mentions that he was tortured and drugged, and he pays tribute to Crabbe, a Belgian fascist who disappeared in World War II.
The three chapters that follow are also notes written in first person about several events that happened at different times. The principal reminds Victor of the evening meeting. The car salesman introduces himself as Teddy, and says that he fought with Crabbe. Teddy and Victor followed the mystery woman to the pier but she ignored them.
A brief chapter shows how Victor fell in love with one of his pupils, Elizabeth, presumably underage.
We then get the first "we" chapter (page 69) about the collaborationist Haakebeen family.
The third person narrative resumes ("Reconnaisance/ Exploration", page 75). Victor follows a sexy girl to the park but then loses her. Later he meets one of his teenage students, Albert Verzele, who was at masked ball and tells him where Alessandra lives in a remote castle of the Flanders countryside. Albert thinks that Alessandra and her mother Alice caused the death of Crabbe, who is a local legend. The boy escorts Victor to Alessandra's town and they sleep at the inn as uncle and nephew. They explore the castle's gardens and are surprised by a group of statues of Crabbe. Albert also points out a man called Sprange who lives in the castle.
In the notebook Victor writes about the jacket of a stranger who saved him in World War II (maybe he is impersonating Crabbe?). Fredine thinks he is Dutch. She tells him the story of a man called Max who killed his own child and is also hospitalized there. Victor is haunted by Crabbe.
An "I" chapter shows men playing cards at the inn who talk about Crabbe with devotion. The boy Albert knows the story of Crabbe: he was a hero of local Nazis, is still revered in town, and was a close friend of the Harmedam family that runs the castle. It is assumed that Crabbe was killed in Poland during the war and his body was dumped in a mass grave.
In another “I” chapter, Victor is reminded by the giant statues of Crabbe of the time when he fought with giant gypsy Zara the “human rock” to impress Elizabeth during one of their dates.
The third chapter of the official narrative ("Attack, page 153) begins with Victor and Albert arriving at the castle and being warmly welcome by an old man, Richard Harmedam, Alessandra's father. He has fond memories of Crabbe. Both Richard and Alessandra mistake Victor for a Dutch delegate that they invited to attend a meeting: a writer named Heerema. They are then introduced to Sprange, the amateur sculptor who has spent the last seven years creating those Crabbe statues. They all think that Victor/Heerema wrote a book on Crabbe. This time Victor introduces Albert as his son.
In the notebook we read that a pregnant Elizabeth wanted an abortion, that she became disillusioned with the marriage when she was only 18, that she became an alcoholic, that Victor beat her. He remembers their early date when he fought Zara the “human rock” and they went on a rollercoaster. In the notebook he mixes his wife Elizabeth and mystery woman Alessandra.
In several “I” chapters, Richard and Sprange fill up Victor/Heerema with details of Crabbe’s life. Jan-Willem Crabbe was an orphan, adopted like a son by Alice Harmedam (Alessandra’s mother) after the execution of Maurice DeKeukeleire, and died after the end of the war. DeKeukeleire himself was executed already in 1940, and Crabbe took over the leadership of the pro-Nazi group. He volunteered to fight in Russia and they believe that he performed heroic acts in the war. Alessandra was a teenager when Crabbe lived with them. Now she’s curious about Crabbe, tries to reconstruct his life and death, lives in his old room, and organizes the yearly meeting of nostalgics.
A person of the town (a “we” chapter) narrates how Richard was captured a few days after the liberation and kicked by an old woman named Cecilia.
An “I” chapter tells us that Victor played tennis with Alessandra/Sandra, who still believed that he was the Dutch delegate Heerema.
The main story continues in the fourth chapter of the official narrative ("Occupation", page 215). Richard introduces Victor to Alice, Alessandra’s mother, who is also the model for Richard’s photography hobby. Victor notices many pictures of children on the wall of Richard’s studio. Richard mentions that his brother went mad after the war. Back at the inn, Victor is treated like a pederast because the innkeeper figured out that Albert is not his nephew. Victor tries to elope without paying the bill but is caught in the act. Alessandra picks him up at the inn and takes him on a date. He tells her that he’s been divorced for a year. Alessandra was 11 when Maurice DeKeukeleire, who was her mother’s lover, brought Crabbe along. She calls Richard her stepfather. She is still a virgin, as if she remained infatuated and loyal to Crabbe. Nonetheless, she performs oral sex on Victor who simply thanks her, and they sleep together in what used to be Crabbe's bed. When they return to the castle, they find about 20 delegates ready for the meeting. Alessandra saves the teacher when it’s his turn to speak proposing that they take a break for dinner.
In the notebook Victor writes again about the jacket that a man gave to him. Victor describes the cell from which he is writing and the unschooled Fredine who befriends him. Fredine tells him that his wife took him to the clinic after he started screaming in the middle of a class. Victor is convinced that Alessandra is pregnant of his child.
Three “I” chapters talk about Crabbe’s invisible but increasingly oppressive presence around Victor. Albert reassures Victor that they are protected by the influential Alice and they don’t really need to pay the innkeeper. Albert also relates the gossip that Alessandra’s real father is Maurice DeKeukeleire, not Richard, and that she married Richard because she was pressured by her own father. Now Alice lets Richard take pictures of her every day. Albert also heard that Crabbe may have deserted, that fighters never saw him in Russia. According to Albert, Alessandra believes that Crabbe is still alive. A brief flashback takes us back to the war in Belgium: a lightning strikes an old woman and it turns out she’s a man who cannot be identified: could it be Crabbe?
The fifth and last third-person narrative for Korneel ("Flight Without Defense, page 286) relates the end of Victor's stay at the castle. Out of the blue, Richard tells Victor that Sprange is a liar. Crabbe is infiltrating Victor’s schizophrenic mind. Victor/Heerema begins again his speech but is interrupted by a fire. During this new interruption Alessandra confronts him: Sprange has discovered that he is an impostor. She assumes that he must be an informant. Victor tells her that he is a Jew (which is not true). She is disgusted and outraged that she had sex with a Jew. He then says: “I am Crabbe”. Just then the innkeeper and a crowd from the village shows up with a guard demanding to be paid. Albert creates a distraction which helps Victor escape. He and Albert find refuge in a church and the priest helps them flee from the back. A posse chases them. The posse turns into a group of German soldiers chasing him with dogs... Victor’s story is merging with Crabbe’s story (that nobody knows). Victor has to get rid of his clothes and runs naked through the fields until he runs into someone who helps him and hands him a jacket.
The I and We now mix with the third person narrative.
Victor’s writing in the cell is interrupted by Fredine, who tells him her own horror story. When she was only a child her father made some kind of sordid deal with a man called Tall Wanted who performed an operation on her and removed an organ. She then raised her siblings by herself. Victor writes a farewell letter to the doctor, Korneel, announcing that he is going to escape. The delirious letter accuses Korneel of letting Sprange persecute him in the clinic and of being beaten by police officers. It now sounds like Strange captured him, tortured him, and locked him in Korneel's clinic. His story ends with the execution of Maurice DeKeukeleire: young Crabbe is in the crowd and witness the execution. Victor leaves the clinic and, by the sea, lets out a loud scream.

The novel "Omtrent Deedee" (1963) is very minor.

He returned to theater with the plays "Tijl Uilenspiegel" (1965), "Masscheroen" (1968).

He also directed his first film, "De Vijanden/ Enemies" (1967).

The play Vrijdag (1969) [t] +

synopsis forthcoming

The novel Schaamte (1972) is set in the Caribbeans.

synopsis forthcoming

The novel Het Jaar van de Kreeft (1972) is an autobiographical love story.

synopsis forthcoming

The play Het Verlangen/ Desire (1978) +

synopsis forthcoming

He revisited ancient Greek and Latin classics in the plays "Orestes" (1976) and "Het Huis van Labdakos/ The House of Labdacus" (1977).

"Vrijdag/ Friday" (1980) was his second film.

The novel Het Verdriet van Belgie/ The Sorrow of Belgium (1983) +, a sort of follow-up to "Wonder", revealed him outside Belgium.

synopsis forthcoming

"The Temptation" (1980) was another play.

De Zwaardvis/ The Swordfish (1989)

synopsis forthcoming

"Het Sacrament/ The Sacrament" (1989) was his third film, an adaptation of his novel "Omtrent Deedee" (1963).

De Geruchten (1996)

synopsis forthcoming

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