Remembering Hadewijch. The Mediated Memory of a Middle Dutch Mystic in the Works of the Flemish Francophone Author Suzanne Lilar

Tijl Nuyts


Commonly known as one of the last Flemish authors who resorted to French as a literary language, Suzanne Lilar (1901-1992) constitutes a curious case in Belgian literary history. Raised in a petit bourgeois Ghent-based family, she compiled a complex oeuvre consisting of plays, novels and essays. In an attempt to anchor her oeuvre in the literary tradition, Lilar turned to the writings of the Middle Dutch mystic Hadewijch (ca. 1240), remodelling the latter’s memory to her own ends. This article argues that Lilar’s remembrance of Hadewijch took shape against the broader canvas of transfer activities undertaken by other prominent cultural mediators of Hadewijch’s oeuvre. Drawing on insights from memory studies and cultural transfer studies, an analysis of Lilar’s mobilisation of Hadewijch in two of Lilar’s most important works, Le Couple (1963) and Une enfance gantoise (1976), will show that Lilar’s rewriting of the mystic into her own oeuvre is marked by an intricate layering of mnemonic spheres: the author’s personal memory-scape, the cultural memory of Flanders and of Belgium, and a universal ‘mystical’ memory which she considered to be lodged within every human soul. In teasing out the relations between these spheres, this article will demonstrate that Lilar aimed to further the memory of Hadewijch as an icon of (Neo)platonic nostalgia and as a marker of Flemish and Belgian cultural hybridity.


Suzanne Lilar; Hadewijch; medieval mystical literature; mystiek; Francophone literature; Franstalige literatuur; Neoplatonism; neoplatonism; Flemish nationalism; Vlaams nationalisme; memory studies; cultural transfer studies

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