‘I am not a Writer’: Self-Reflexivity and Politics in Multatuli’s Max Havelaar

Saskia Pieterse


The Dutch author Multatuli is mostly famous for his subversive and critical prose. In his debut-novel Max Havelaar (1860) he attacked the impassive, bureaucratic manner in which the Dutch government dealt with the maltreatment of the Javanese people. In the last two centuries, Multatuli's work has provoked a wide variety of, often contradictory, interpretations. A recurring question in Multatuli-studies is: if Multatuli wanted to make such strong and ambiguous political statements, why did he use such an intricate literary form? In this article, Pieterse formulates a new answer to this question, by looking at the specific relationship between literary self-reflexivity in Max Havelaar, and the substance of his political position.


Multatuli; Max Havelaar; Dutch Colonial History; Postcolonial Studies; Polities and literature; Self-Reflexivity

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