From enfant terrible to literary lion
An introduction by Alain Van Crugten, French translator of Hugo Claus
Even if this assertion is bound to ruffle a few feathers, Hugo Claus is the most illustrious Belgian writer of the twentieth century, bar none. Indeed, who else has written a book the title of which has become a set expression, used even by those who have not read the work in question? Just as one evokes an ‘imaginary invalid’ without thinking of Molière or ‘the taming of the shrew’ without referencing Shakespeare, it has been more than 30 years since ‘the sorrow of Belgium’ has become a popular saying that belongs to one and all. You can bet that if the Red Devils leave the 2018 World Cup early, our resourceful journalists will run headlines evoking our national sorrow.
Hugo Claus is the most illustrious Belgian writer of the twentieth century, bar none.Alain Van Crugten
But those who knew Claus know that he was far from being a sad dog. Those who have read him know also that, despite his at times cruel depiction of humanity, there was always room in his work for humour, a devastating sense of irony, and salutary laughter. For, while there is a clearly distinct ‘Claus tone’ in everything he wrote, that tone consists of a variety of registers the balance of which is a feature of the artists of literature. What’s more, although one can argue about the criteria that make it possible to call a work great, one of them seems obvious: great is the work in which any reader, in any language, can find his nourishment and his own interpretation.
Hugo Claus was at the forefront for more than 50 years, from the enfant terrible of Flemish literature to the literary lion that he is today (but who remains terrible), recognised as one of the great writers of world literature.