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

Jenny Watson


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.


Colonial Literature; Post-Colonialism; Couperus; Gothic

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