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Miss Blanche by Nelleke Noordervliet

Miss Blanche

by Nelleke Noordervliet

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Title:Miss Blanche
Authors:Nelleke Noordervliet
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Miss Blanche by Nelleke Noordervliet



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In 2001, when Rotterdam was celebrated as the European Cultural capital, the city of Rotterdam took the initiative of instituting the "Rotterdams Leescadeau", a free book publication, or a par with the national Boekenweekgeschenk, the literary book publication distributed for free during the National celebration of Books. In 2004, the Rotterdam Leescadeau was written by Nelleke Noordervliet. For the occasion she wrote the short novella Miss Blanche.

Nelleke Noordervliet was born in Rotterdam. As a historian and novelist, she has cleverly woven part of Rotterdam's history into this short novella. Noordervliet was born in Crooswijk, a part of Rotterdam which is among the oldest areas of the city, its history going back to Roman times, and the name "Krooswijck" first recorded in the Fourteenth Century. Rotterdam is a city with a very long history, home to the humanist thinker Desiderius Erasmus. Unfortunately the old city was destroyed in a bombing at the beginning of the Second World War.

In Miss Blanche, Noordervliet recalls the area of Rotterdam she grew up in. The story is centred around an elderly tobacconist, Herman Hillebrand Wedigh. Old Mr Wedigh is a somewhat somber man, whose business in clearly in decline, but one day he is inspired by a young Turkish woman who walks past his shop. He follows her around, discovers where she works and then books a long, expensive holiday at the travel agent where she works. Soon after, he is robbed and wounded as burglers break into his home, and suspicion falls on the young woman, whom he calls Halina in his imagination.

The novella is short, and seems to relate to the atmosphere of racial tensions in Rotterdam and elsewhere, partly as a possible result of growing unease with Muslim communities in general, following 9-11, and a much longer, simmering uneasiness of criminal suspicion, especially with regard to petty crime, and the tendency, whether justified or not, of Dutch people to think of minorities, especially of Turkish and Moroccan descent in a criminalized context. In fact, the novella captures the Dutch attitude very well: joy and perhaps even erotic interest at first sight, and suspicion when trouble brews. Actually, old Mr Wedigh does not seem to suspect "Halina". As such, the novella is light, and inconclusive, showing the darker side, but also the light and optimistic.

Nelleke Noordervliet has included some interesting cultural references into this short novella. Old Mr Herman Hillebrand Wedigh is a give-away, as the author supplies the reference, and the old man priding himself on a possible family connection with the historical Hermann von Wedigh, whose portrait was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1532. Holbein the Younger made several portraits of Erasmus and illustrated his The Praise of Folly.

More intriguingly, the title of the novella, "Miss Blanche" refers to a brand of cigarettes that was produced in Rotterdam during the first half of the Twentieth Century. In 1916, a Turkish tobacco merchant established a tobacco company in Rotterdam, Vittoria Cigarette Company. His daughter was called Blanche, and he named the brand after her. The complete visual design for the brand Miss Blanche Virginia cigarettes, including packaging, advertising, and point of sale displays, was desingned by the Hungarian painter and designer, Vilmos Huszár, who lived in the Netherlands, and was one of the founding members in 1917 of the art movement De Stijl, together with Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg.

As a work of literature, Miss Blanche is rather light, but the cultural references in relation to Rotterdam, the the connection to its industrial past makes it interesting. Cigarettes and the cultural history of smoking is relatively short, as contested by Richard Klein in Cigarettes are sublime. Since 2003, public advertising for tobacco became illegal in the Netherlands, and it may well be that following smoking bans as they are imposed in public areas virtually world wide, smoking will be looked upon with revulsion, in the near future. ( )
  edwinbcn | Aug 30, 2015 |
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