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A settling of accounts with the father and the patriarchal world

The Accursed Fathers

Monika van Paemel

Central to ‘The Accursed Fathers’ is the life story of Pamela. Rejected by her mother who had been hoping for a boy, browbeaten by her father whom she refuses to hate, the heroine of the story is the eternal victim of a hereditary curse.

Through her central character, Monika van Paemel exposes the subjugation of women. The key themes of the book are threat and destruction, wars great and small, and oppression and exploitation by the ‘gentlemen’ who disguise themselves as fathers. Opposed to all they represent is the powerlessness (or is it unwillingness?) of the daughters, until their resistance is broken by love.

A literary achievement of the first order
Sächsische Zeitung

Monika van Paemel was inspired by the colourful history of her own illustrious forefathers, which makes the book not only a fascinating family chronicle with unforgettable characters, but a penetrating recreation of both rural and city life in twentieth century Flanders.

Published in 1985, well after the feminist wave had passed its peak, the novel is nourished by the unforgettable passion of womanhood, evoking its universal mystery with the power of an incantation.

The epic comprehensiveness is a great virtue
Vrij Nederland
'A writer of European stature'
PROF. HUGO BOUSSET, editor in chief of the journal DW B

‘Monika van Paemel’s ‘The Accursed Fathers’ is her magnum opus, incorporating her first three novels. The book can serve as an example of a layered, multi-vocal prose text that explores the boundaries between documentary autobiography and fiction, while playing with blocks of text like a do-it-yourself textual mosaic. 

The life of the main character Pam(ela) is related to her own existence. But the novel is about ‘fathers’ in the plural. Gentlemen rule the world ‘filled with hate towards anything that lives and loves’. They destroy the environment and make war.

What makes ‘The Accursed Fathers’ tower high above the multitude of other feminist novels is the way in which the language of the men is analysed. The author casts a critical eye on their man talk, with its vulgar profundities, hidden violence and military rhythms. But the endless litanies of lament from the submissive female characters also come under fire. The nuances are more apparent in the concluding part of the novel, in which the elderly Pam looks back at her life and one single man makes her believe in love once again. 

Monika van Paemel compares her own work with that of Virginia Woolf, but she could just as easily have referred to Elfriede Jelinek and Jeanette Winterson. She is a writer of European stature.’