Belgium has two large independent literature, one French-language and one Dutch -language, because of the country’s language conditions. In addition, a smaller German-speaking literature exists in the German-speaking minority in Eastern Belgium.
This article is about Belgium’s Dutch-language and German-language literature. To read about the literature in French, see Belgium’s French-language literature.
Literature in Dutch
In present-day Belgium, Dutch culture and Dutch-language literature emerged, and Belgium was the center of Dutch culture until about 1600.
The Middle Ages
Some literature in Old Dutch is not handed over. The oldest name is the limburger Heinric van Veldeke (c. 1140–1200), the founder of the knight bag in both Dutch and German literature. However, the true literary tradition is traced back to the West Flemish area, where the oldest literature dates to the beginning of the 13th century, possibly of older date. With the anonymous epic Karel end Elegast (about Charlemagne and his paladin Elegast), you have an original Dutch contribution to the pre-Hoist epic in Europe. Similarly, one has an important contribution to the holistic epic in Walewein, about Arthurthe knight Walewein (Gauvain), written by Pieter Vostaert and Penninc.
The epic masterpiece, however, is Van den vos Reinaerde, written in the form of the knight’s bag and the zenith’s highlight in European literature. The work can be seen as both a literary satire on the knights’ bag and as a bourgeois satirical critique of society. A late medieval work was translated into Lower German ( Reinke Vos ) around 1500.
The knight novel’s continuation in the 1300s finds the great Roman van Heinric a Margriete van Limborch, a forerunner of the modern novel. Around 1250, the West Flemish encyclopedia Jacob van Maerlant founded the bourgeois didactic poetry, which was passed on by the bartender Jan van Boendale in the transition to the 1300s. The Dutch mysticism was founded in the 13th century by the Barbadian woman Hadewijch, and reached its peak with Jan (Johannes) van Ruusbroec. Of an epic, religious saint and legendary poem must be mentioned Beatrijs .
Medieval literature is otherwise represented by both religious and profane lyricism. From about 1350 there are a number of knights’ games or courtly dramas not found in other literatures, Lanseloet van Denemerken (Norwegian translation in Fråborg og torg, 1975), Esmoreit and Gloriant. These games include just as many dads that were played immediately after the Knights’ game, and these are the oldest dads known in European poetry.
From the 1400s, the so-called shipowners began their business. They were members of poetry guilds in Flemish and Brabantian cities and created the shipowner drama, an educational play (morality) that, through allegorical figures, produced an idea or truth. Particularly famous are the drama Elckerlijc (c. 1480), which was translated into English ( Everyman ), the miracle play Mariken van Nieumegen (Norwegian translation Veslemari from Nijmegen in Frå borg og torg, 1975) and Colijn van Rijssel’s love tragedy Spiegel der memorial (The Mirror of Love), the first bourgeois contemporary drama.
The Reformation century is otherwise marked by Philip Marnix van St. Aldegonde, the reformer’s advocate, and the lyricist Anna Bijns, its contender. The first significant Renaissance poet is Jan van der Noot.
Following the division of the Netherlands during the 1980 war against Spain, Flanders entered a period of political and cultural decline. The Spanish regime caused a great influx of intellectuals towards the province of Holland towards the end of the 16th century, which from then on became the Dutch cultural center.
17th and 18th centuries
Justus de Hardewijn marks a highlight of the Dutch-language Renaissance lyric. In the Flemish Baroque poem you find the tragedy poet Guilliam van Nieuwelandt, which is characterized by Justus Lipsius ‘ neo-philosophical philosophy, the comedy poet Willem Ogier, the popular moralist and emblematic poet Adriaen Poirters, and towards the end of the 1600s Michiel de Swaen, which in a way continued the tradition by Joost van den Vondel.
In the 18th century dramas were written in a monumental Late Baroque style for a popular audience, which formed the backdrop for an active theater life, especially in Brussels and the larger cities of Flanders. The shipping companies continued their business. They preserve the distinctive Flemish tradition and gained importance in the new literary boom with the Flemish movement after the founding of the state of Belgium in 1830.
The 19th and 20th centuries
The first significant names are the novelist Hendrik Conscience and the lyricist Karel Lodewijk Ledeganck. This time stood in the mark of national romance and produced a large number of poets who began to use poetry in the Flemish cultural struggle. After 1870 a stronger realistic attitude is traced. In Guido Gezelle Flanders received his most significant poems.
In the 1890s, younger writers gathered around the journal Van nu immediately, which agreed to bring the Flemish spirit life up to modern European level instead of getting lost in the Flemish great times of the past and the misery of the day. Prominent names in this literary renewal are the lyricists Prosper van Langendonck and Karel van de Woestijne, the prose artists August Vermeylen, Cyriel Buysse and Stijn Streuvels, and the novelist and playwright Herman Teirlinck.. Outside of this movement stood the internationally renowned Felix Timmermanns with his lush depictions of Flemish folk life. Next to him stood novelist Ernest Claes and playwright Gaston Maria Martens. A pathetic, strongly Flemish neo-romanticism is represented by Cyriel Verschaeve.
In the 1920s, expressionism erupted under the direction of lyricist Paul van Ostayen and playwright Herman Teirlinck. Also mentioned are the novelists Filip de Pillecijn, Willem Elsschot, Gerard Walschap, Marnix Gijsen, Maurice Roelants, Maurice Gilliams, André Demedts and Raymond Brulez. Their poetry shows a very nuanced breadth in 20th century Flemish storytelling.
The lyrics also show a wide spectrum with Jan van Nijlen, Richard Minne, Maurice Gilliams, Maurice Roelants, Anton van Wilderode, Herwig Hensen, Hugo Claus, Paul Snoek, HC Pernath, Christine D’haen and Herman de Coninck. In the area of the drama one notices, alongside Herman Teirlinck and Martens, names such as Paul de Mont, Anton van de Velde, Herwig Hensen, Hugo Claus, Walter van den Broeck and Kristien Hemmerechts.
The literature after the Second World War shows both tradition and renewal. The prose art ranges from the renalist Piet van Aken, to Louis Paul Boon, Ward Ruyslink, Hugo Claus, Hugo Raes, Willy Spillebeen, Monica van Paemel and Walter van den Broeck, distinguished modernists such as Ivo Michiels and Paul de Wispelaere into magical “realists” like Hubert Lampo and Johan Daisne. Hugo Claus, by the way, is a dominant name throughout the Dutch-language literature, and mastered the novel as well as lyric and drama.
Literature in German
Wilhelm Fremerey (1765-1832) wrote socially critical poems, fables and epigrams. In the 19th century, the two dialect poems August Tonnar (1827–1909) and Hubert Schiffer (1851–1923) appeared. The biggest name is Josef Ponten (1883-1940), who has also received a name in general German literature. He wrote the novel Der Babylonische Turm (1918) and is especially known for his short stories. Peter Schmitz (1888–1938) wrote the pacifist novel Golgatha (1935) from the First World War. Otherwise you will notice the religious poet Johannes Scholten (1886–1961) and the lyricists Robert Hamacher (1889–1922) and Josef Lousberg (1892–1960).
Among the older generation of 20th century poets are the Impressionists Peter Emonts-Pohl and Gérard Tatas, and the symbolist Maria-Theresia Weiner-Mennicken. A clearer contemporary author is Gerhard Heuschen (1934–2010). Among the younger ones, who often express themselves in an experimental language, are Marcel Bauer, Susanne Visé, Freddy Derwahl, Hans Niessen, Rosemarie François, Leo Wintgens and Freddy de Waal.