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A raw, realistic play about social injustice and exploitation

The Van Paemel Family

Cyriel Buysse

 ‘The Van Paemel Family’ is a naturalistic play about a family of tenant farmers who jump through hoops to avoid utter ruin, but are still overwhelmed by misery. Sickness and death, rape, illegitimate children and bankruptcy – the family is spared nothing. In ‘The Van Paemel Family’, Cyriel Buysse addresses the social exploitation and immense poverty of the rural population.

A moving play
NBD Biblion

Buysse offers no solutions to the conflict, but merely paints a picture of how the farmer becomes ruined and his family falls apart as a result of socioeconomic conditions. He shows how powerless the older generation are, who accept their fate as a punishment from God. But there is a glimmer of hope: a couple of the children refuse to accept their fate and are able to escape by emigrating to America.

Generational conflict is timeless. However, this is not the only thing that makes this play still so engaging today. There is also the mixture of profound tragedy and Buysse’s typical, humoristic elements that provide some relief. This 1902 play has since found a firm place within theatre repertoire and was adapted for a 1986 film with a script by Hugo Claus.