Multatuli exhibition “Ik wil gelezen worden”

From 2 March in the Heritage Display Case of the University Library – VU Main Building

02/18/2020 | 11:11 AM

Multatuli_tentoonstelling_Portret_Mulatuli2 March 2020 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author Multatuli (pseudonym of Ed. Douwes Dekker) in Amsterdam. This bicentenary is cause for a large-scale commemoration in the Netherlands. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has appointed Jacqueline Bel as professor of the newly created Multatuli chair, which is sponsored by the Multatuli Society. To celebrate this occasion, the University Library will present the Multatuli exhibition ‘Ik wil gelezen worden’ [‘I want to be read’].

Multatuli's life, Complete Works and magnum opus Max Havelaar
On 2 March, Prof.dr  Jacqueline Bel gives her inaugural lecture entitled ‘Ik wil gelezen worden. Multatuli, het pak van Sjaalman en de moderne Nederlandse literatuur’ [‘I want to be read. Multatuli, Shawlman's package and modern Dutch literature’]. This day will also see the opening of an exhibition marking Multatuli's life, his Volledige Werken [Complete Works], his magnum opus Max Havelaar (1860) and other writings. It also highlights academic publications on Multatuli's work and its afterlife, including plays, a musical as well as a film based on his work. 

Harsh criticism of the colonial system
Until this day, Multatuli is ranked among the greatest writers in Dutch literature. The publication of his novel Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company (1860) – with its famous opening line by Batavus Drystubble: ‘I am a coffee-broker, and live at No. 37 Laurier Canal, Amsterdam’ – set off a ripple across the country. Multatuli voiced harsh criticism of the colonial system through the book. At the end of the novel is an appeal to then King William III: ‘I ask thee if it be thine imperial will […] that thy more than thirty millions of subjects far away should be ILL-TREATED AND SHOULD SUFFER EXTORTION IN THY NAME?’
The book that killed colonialism’
Up to the present, Multatuli's Max Havelaar has succeeded in drawing continual attention from new generations of readers and researchers. That Max Havelaar is renowned abroad as well is shown by its translation into nearly forty languages. Not only is the novel an outstanding literary achievement, but it is also a book whose importance is derived from its major impact on society. In 1999, for example, the Indonesian candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature Pramoedya Ananta Toer called Max Havelaar ‘the book that killed colonialism’. More recently, a Spike and Suzy comic on Max Havelaar called De halve Havelaar [‘Half of Havelaar’] was published in 2010, as well as an adaptation of the novel entitled Max Havelaar met zombies [‘Max Havelaar and zombies’] in 2016. Decades before, Max Havelaar also established itself as a Fairtrade coffee brand.

Multatuli memorial tablet in the Nieuwe Kerk
To mark this 200th anniversary, many other activities have been organised by the Multatuli Society, chaired by Dr Elsbeth Etty. For example, the start of the Multatuli Year was celebrated with the unveiling of a Multatuli memorial tablet by King Willem-Alexander in Amsterdam's Nieuwe Kerk on 17 February 2020.

Multatuli website presenting his full body of work
The ‘Multatuli Online’ website will be launched in the autumn. This website will present, provide and publish all of Multatuli's writings, correspondence, manuscripts, secondary literature as well as archives in a coherent manner. Moreover, geo-visualisation will link all of Multatuli's works and biographical details to geographical locations, which will appear on maps from his own age. As a result, readers and researchers can travel across his life and works.

This exhibition was created by:
•    Prof. Jacqueline Bel, associate professor of modern Dutch literature (Multatuli chair);
•    Willemien van Dijk, curator of Manuscripts and early printed books at the University Library;
•    Reinout Klaarenbeek, curator of Maps and atlases at the University Library;
•    Marja Willekens, subject librarian for the Arts and Humanities at the University Library.

Multatuli-tentoonstelling “Ik wil gelezen worden”  | Date: 2 March until 29 May 2020 | Location: Heritage Display Case, first floor, main building, next to entrance UL


    On the right: map of the Dutch East Indies (1920)


    Left: Gezigt op Lebak (Vues de Java), G.W.M. van de Velde, right: coffee plant Teyers museum