Ernest Claes (1885–1968), herald of Flemish Heimat literature
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Ernest Claes, one of the most popular and widely read Flemish authors during the first half of the twentieth century. Throughout his life he wrote stories, regional novels, thousands of letters and many diaries.
His big breakthrough came with the picaresque regional novel Whitey ('De Witte', 1920), which charts the adventures of a mischievous, straw-haired country lad. ‘Whitey’ became a so-called ‘ever-seller’: the novel was reprinted no fewer than 120 times and twice made into a film.
Claes gained international renown with various novels based on his childhood and wartime experiences in the region where he was born. He was all too aware that his strength as a writer lay not so much in his imagination, but in his storytelling prowess. Up until World War Two Claes drew on his memories of and empathy with the ‘ordinary man’ and his often tough struggle for survival.