Book reviews for the lay reader grew explosively after the First World War

11 October 2018

The number of book reviews for the “lay reader” grew explosively in the Netherlands after the First World War, concludes Ryanne Keltjens (University of Groningen). She gained her doctorate for her NWO-funded research into the reviewers Gerard van Eckeren, Roel Houwink and Anthonie Donker. Besides “high” literature, they reviewed family novels, psychological realism books and books written by women.

"Critisch Bulletin" (Critical Bulletin)

Ryanne Keltjens' research is unusual because, so far, Dutch literary researchers who studied the period until the Second World War have mainly focused on “higher” literary criticism. According to Keltjens, this means that public literature has been overlooked. ‘My research reveals a blossoming practice of educating and informing the general public.'

According to Keltjens, the so-called “mediating critics” Eckeren, Houwink and Donker devoted considerable attention to literary genres that were popular among the reading public. Books from female writers were also extensively discussed and recommended. There were, however, limits. Detectives and adventure stories did not pass the selection procedure. Even these critics considered those books to be superficial, meaningless and commercial.

Introduction to “good” books

Keltjens shows how Van Eckeren, Houwink and Donker aimed to introduce as many people as possible to “good” books. They experimented with journalistic styles, wrote for newspapers, held lectures and spoke via the then hypermodern medium of radio. Van Eckeren was a publisher of the successful book magazine "Den Gulden Winkel" (The Glorious Store). Houwink wrote in that magazine and at the end of the 1920s was a popular guest on radio programmes broadcast by the AVRO, NCRV and VPRO. Donker founded the modern journalistic review magazine "Critisch Bulletin" (Critical Bulletin) through which he informed readers about recently published books.

Keltjens's research reveals that the “mediating” literary criticism for a wide public lost ground in the 1930s compared to “higher” literary criticism. During the Second World War, there was scarcely any activity in literary circles. After the war, however, new public magazines were founded, offering reviews and information about literature. Keltjens: 'Thus far, literary history and scientific research have paid scant attention to these post-war initiatives as well.'

More information

Ryanne Keltjens (1984) defended her doctoral thesis on 4 October 2018 at the University of Groningen. Her supervisors were Erica van Boven and Mathijs Sanders. Keltjens' doctoral thesis is entitled "Boekenvrienden: Bemiddelende kritiek in Nederlandse publiekstijdschriften in het interbellum" (Book Friends: Mediating criticism in Dutch popular magazines during the interbellum). Keltjens graduated cum laude in Dutch language and Culture at the University of Groningen in 2010. She subsequently worked in the private sector for several years. In 2013, she started her doctoral research within the NWO research project "Dutch Middlebrow Literature 1930-1940: Production, Distribution, Reception" with funding from the Free Competition. Keltjens has worked at the National Library of the Netherlands in The Hague since 2016.

Source: NWO