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A masterful symbolic novella

The Dying Peasant

Karel van de Woestijne

In ‘The Dying Peasant’, Van de Woestijne describes the last, lonely hours of an old dying peasant from his own perspective. Evening falls, it grows dark, the peasant Nand is lying alone in bed and is cold. Scraps of his life flash by his mind’s eye. He resentfully ponders the deficiency of his life, but he also eagerly re-lives the varied alternation of work and pleasure. The delirious peasant sees five women appear at his bed, each one a symbol of a sense that has coloured his past and that he now has to say goodbye to. Together, they give a penetrating impression of human existence. While looking death in the eye, Nand tries to rise above his loneliness.

Maybe it’s the finest thing by Van de Woestijne that we have
Martinus Nijhoff

‘The Dying Peasant’ isn’t just an anecdotal peasant novella, but a symbolic tale that excels in its simplicity. Moreover, because the action is focused inwardly, it deviates markedly from the regional novels that are often driven by external actions and developments. Van de Woestijne’s novella did not only prove to be very much alive for contemporary critics, but is still counted as part of the canon today.

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