Cyriel Buysse (1859-1932) became known as a naturalist writer and playwright in the tradition of Émile Zola. At the suggestion of his aunt and well-known author Virginie Loveling, he started writing at the age of 26. Although he had been educated in French, he wrote in Dutch, promoting the revival and originality of Flemish literature. After his marriage, he spent more time in the Netherlands and collaborated with Louis Couperus, amongst others. He also maintained close relationships with Flemish painter Emile Claus and Belgian- French playwright, poet and Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck.
As a liberal humanist with socialist sympathies, but also as a fierce opponent of the Flemish-French gap, Buysse was at odds with just about any taboo that existed in Flemish society at that time. In the naturalist tradition, his novels and plays are infused with a deep sympathy for the common man and his fate, which he describes vividly and realistically. His best-known play The Van Paemel Family, which was screened in 1986, is most representative for his bleak depiction of the world. Other naturalistic works include ‘The Law of the Jungle’ (Het recht van de sterkste, 1896) and ‘The Bastard’ (De biezenstekker, 1894). His later work, which includes The Aunts, demonstrates a more refined ironic tone of voice, beyond the naivety of his early work.
The development of naturalism to post-romantic irony is the essence of Buysse’s writing. The negative criticism on his earlier work, which shocked the Flemish upper class in its grim style, is in sharp contrast to the recognition of his literary output in 1921, when he received the Belgian State Prize for Narrative Prose for his entire oeuvre. Much to the astonishment of his early critics, he evolved from a naturalistic narrator par excellence to a true pioneer of the modern Flemish novel.
Photo Collection Letterenhuis, Antwerp