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Louis Paul Boon

Louis Paul Boon (1912-1979) started out as a house painter but went on to become the author of a large and rich oeuvre spanning several genres: from the compelling historical epics he composed later in life to his sharp, witty work as a newspaper columnist and his tongue-in-cheek, scabrous novels. Boon certainly competes with Hugo Claus for the title of most important writer of Flemish literature in the twentieth century. Like Claus, Boon is a keen observer of society, the individual and the interplay between them, which he renders beautifully by perfecting various narrative techniques.

Boon’s work demonstrates a passionate affection for the ordinary common man. It is characterized by a powerful awareness of form and the creative use of dialogue, both of which are placed at the service of a critical examination of Western society. His hostile attitude towards political systems and great empathy for the working class led to Boon being described as a ‘gentle anarchist’. At the time of his untimely death, he was expected to become the first Dutch-language author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Boon’s literary legacy is a varied one, ranging from journalistic pieces on Belgian politics and society to erotic novellas. Nearly all of Boon’s work is infused by his profound commitment to socialism. As a historical novelist, ‘The Gang of Jan De Lichte’ or in ‘Daens’ for example, he depicts the oppression of the working class in nineteenth-century Flanders. In his controversial ‘Geuzenboek’, he writes about the Spanish rule of the Low Countries in the sixteenth century. And in experimental, modernistic works such as Forgotten Street, Boon projects an ideal society but at the same time shares his doubts as to whether human nature could achieve utopia. In 1969, he stopped writing (except for his columns) and devoted himself to painting. He died in his home in 1979 at the age of 67.

Photo Collection Letterenhuis, Antwerp