On the absence of climate fiction in Dutch literature

For a long time I barely read Dutch literature. As a scholar of British literature, I read plenty of British novels, a bunch of American ones and books from other countries written in English. Occasionally I also read books in German.

I started to see parallels between American and British climate fiction on the one hand, and German climate fiction on the other. In both traditions climate crisis is explicitly img_3072addressed in literature. And in both, the north is an important space in which climate crisis is played out. When I started to look for similar Dutch books, I quickly drew a blank. I searched the internet and asked in bookstores. The booksellers were generally interested, but couldn’t really help. One ended up selling me a non-fiction book by a Flemish author — not quite the Dutch novel I was looking for.

Growing up on the coast has given me a lifelong longing for the sea, particularly now that I’ve moved away from it. At the same time, having been born and raised on an island devastated by the 1953 North Sea flood has made the sea for me not only a thing of beauty, but especially something potentially threatening.  Given the importance of the sea to Dutch history and culture it would make sense if Dutch authors would use that as a site of climate change. But I haven’t really found a Dutch novel yet that explores the sea in its own right and in relation to climate crisis.

I did start to think about the absence of climate fiction in Dutch literature and where that comes from. My search took me to seventeenth century Dutch landscape painting, European Romanticism that passed by the Netherlands and eventually into the present, into the norths of British and German fiction, and the flooded polder in a Dutch novel.

The result of my search is this paper I gave at the 2016 conference of the European Association for Studies of Literature, Culture and Environment in Brussels (27-30 October 2016). In the paper I refer to these slides.


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