Deaf Ears and an Accustomed Music: Colonial Criticism in Louis Couperus’ The Hidden Force


  • Jenny Watson


Colonial Literature, Post-Colonialism, Couperus, Gothic


Louis Couperus’ novel The Hidden Force (De stille kracht), published in 1900, is one of the most famous examples of Dutch colonial literature. In its own time, the book was considered scandalous because of its naturalistic portrayal of an Indies family torn apart by illicit affairs, jealousy and a series of unexplained events, and the novel’s risqué reputation was given renewed attention when it was televised in 1974 (the drama contained the first nude scene in Dutch television history and was the subject of some controversy). This article puts forward a reading of The Hidden Force which focuses on another aspect of the novel which would have been potentially more contentious at the time it was published: its critical attitude to colonialism. Although other scholars have recognised the sense of doom which permeates the text and the ways in which Couperus signals the inevitability of the failure of colonialism, this has previously been linked to an essentialist perception of incompatibility between the Dutch and the Javanese. Here, the focus is on how the characters embody and discuss the shortcomings of the Europeans within the colonial system, suggesting that Couperus is communicating a view of imperialism as morally unacceptable rather than simply problematic.

Author Biography

Jenny Watson

Jenny Watson is a PhD student in the College of Arts and Humanities at Swansea University, Wales. Before coming to Swansea, Jenny gained her BA and MA at the University of Sheffield, in the Department of Germanic Studies, where she studied German and Dutch literature and culture. Her MA thesis focused on migration literature by Dutch and German authors, in particular Yoko Tawada, Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Hafid Bouazza. Alongside this modern, postcolonial writing, Jenny became interested in the colonial literature of Louis Couperus, presenting a paper on his travel writing at the 2012 ALCS Conference. Jenny’s current project involves memory and the representation of the Nazi past in the work of Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller; with a special interest in memory cultures of the Romanian-German community. She also works as a literary translator from Dutch to English.




How to Cite

Watson, J. (2013). Deaf Ears and an Accustomed Music: Colonial Criticism in Louis Couperus’ The Hidden Force. Journal of Dutch Literature, 4(1). Retrieved from