The Anarchist Encyclopedia:
Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887), best known under his pseudonym, Multatuli (Latin, "I have suffered much"). Great Dutch anarchist writer/novelist, a one-time civil servant who wrote the autobiographical novel Max Havelaar, reflecting his disgust with Dutch colonialism & racism. Despised middle-class conformism, excoriating religion, the family, & prejudices of all kinds — racist, sexist or sexual. Multatuli's ideas influenced the socialist & libertarian milieu of his time & practising his libertarian ideals scandalized his contemporaries, living as he did with two women & their children. Among his other acclaimed works is the seven-volume Radical Ideas.
The father is silent...
Oh God, there is no God!
— Multatuli alias Eduard Douwes Dekker,
"The Prayer of the Ignorant", The Hague, 26 February 1861, published in "De Dageraad", 1861.
Dekker lived nearly 20 years in Dutch East Indies, & held a number ofgovernmental posts from 1838-1856. After resigning he returned to Europe & published in 1860 his most important novel, Max Havelaar, which depicts the Dutch exploitation of the Javanese. Among his other acclaimed works is Radical Ideas (7 volumes). Died in Germany.
When Max Havelaar was first published in Holland in 1860, it ignited a major political & social brouhaha. The novel, written by a former official of the Dutch East Indian Civil Service under the pen name Multatuli, exposed the massive corruption & cruelty rife in the Dutch colony of Java.
Max Havelaar is an undeniably autobiographical novel; like his hero, Multatuli — the pseudonym for Eduard Douwes Dekker — was an Assistant Resident of Lebak in Java; like Havelaar in the novel, he resigned his position when his accusations of corruption & abuse were disregarded by higher authorities, resulting in years of poverty for both author & fictional hero.
Max Havelaar is told from several different perspectives; the reader first meets an Amsterdam coffee dealer named Droogstoppel, a man so obsessed with coffee that his every thought & action is governed by it. Droogstoppel has come by a manuscript from an old schoolmate who, down on his luck, has asked him to get it published. The schoolmate is Havelaar, & the manuscript relates his experiences as an idealistic & generous young civil servant who tries to protect the poor & bring justice to the powerless.
The central part of the novel details conditions in Java, particularly Havelaar's efforts to correct injustices in the face of a corrupt government system. That his efforts will prove futile soon becomes apparent, & there is something almost Greek in the inevitability of Havelaar's declining fortunes.
Despite its tragic themes, Max Havelaar is savagely funny, particularly the chapters narrated by Droogstoppel, a character unmatched for his veniality, narrow-mindedness, or singular lack of understanding or imagination. Though Multatuli's masterpiece is nearly 150 years old, it wears its age well, & Roy Edwards's excellent translation offers English-speaking readers a wonderful opportunity to experience one of the Netherlands's great literary classics.
"Iconoclaste, Multatuli n'avait aucun respect des usages sacrés, (...) il avait la haine de l'hypocrisie et le mépris de toute abdication de l'individu. Loi, religion, morale, propriété, étaient autant de masques à arracher."
— Henry Poulaille, 1942
French preface to Max Havelaar
Cited by Peter Kropotkin in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910
Multatuli at International Institute of Social History,
The Multatuli Museum in Amsterdam.
Last updated February 2004
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