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Willem Frederik Hermans (1921–1995)

Author of The Darkroom of Damocles

158+ Works 8,250 Members 151 Reviews 61 Favorited

About the Author

Image credit: Roland Gerrits / Anefo


Works by Willem Frederik Hermans

The Darkroom of Damocles (1958) 1,139 copies
Beyond Sleep (1966) 1,118 copies
Onder professoren (1975) — Author; Afterword — 575 copies
Au pair (1989) 494 copies
An Untouched House (1951) 360 copies
A Guardian Angel Recalls (1971) 324 copies
De tranen der acacia's (1949) 217 copies
Ik heb altijd gelijk (1951) 166 copies
De laatste roker (1991) 164 copies
Paranoia (1953) 113 copies
Ruisend gruis : roman (1995) 112 copies
Het sadistische universum 1 (1964) 100 copies
Boze brieven van Bijkaart (1977) 93 copies
Filip's sonatine (1980) 67 copies
De zegelring (1984) 64 copies
Homme's hoest (1980) 58 copies
Wittgenstein (1990) 50 copies
Mandarijnen op zwavelzuur (1963) 48 copies
Drie melodrama's (1957) 44 copies
Klaas kwam niet (1983) 41 copies
Het evangelie van O. Dapper Dapper (1973) — pseudonym — 38 copies
Dinky Toys (1988) 35 copies
De raadselachtige Multatuli (1976) 34 copies
Geyerstein's dynamiek (1982) 32 copies
Conserve (1947) 31 copies
Waarom schrijven? (1984) 27 copies
Volledige werken / 13 (2009) 23 copies
Drie drama's (1967) 23 copies
Volledige werken 4 (2012) 20 copies
Volledige werken 5 (2005) 19 copies
Naar Magnitogorsk (1990) 17 copies
Vincent literator (1990) 16 copies
Fotobiografie (2003) 15 copies
Volledige werken 15 (2005) 15 copies
Volledige werken 16 (2005) 15 copies
Volledige werken 6 (2005) 14 copies
Volledige werken 18 (2005) 13 copies
Volledige werken 8 (2005) 13 copies
Vier novellen (1993) 13 copies
Overgebleven gedichten (1982) 12 copies
Ongebundeld werk 1934-1952 (2020) 11 copies
Periander (1974) 11 copies
Volledige werken deel 10 (2005) 10 copies
Volledige werken 19 (2019) 10 copies
Koningin Eenoog (1986) 9 copies
Volledige werken 17 (2005) 8 copies
Hollywood 7 copies
Annum veritatis 6 copies
Een foto uit eigen doos (1994) 5 copies
Hypnodrome 5 copies
Reizigers (1994) 5 copies
La maison préservée (2023) 4 copies
De aardappel van de dood (1993) 4 copies
Erosie 3 copies
Tirade 2 copies
Een anekdote 2 copies
Nema više sna (2022) 1 copy
Wat eraan voorafging (2023) 1 copy
Mayerling 1 copy
Pang 1 copy
Een toerist 1 copy

Associated Works

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) — Translator, some editions — 4,209 copies
Voor wie dit leest : proza en poëzie van 1920 tot heden (1959) — Contributor — 25 copies
The Sorrows of a Fat Man (1922) — Translator, some editions — 25 copies
Voor wie dit leest : proza en poëzie van 1950 tot heden (1959) — Contributor — 20 copies
Griezelverhalen (1982) — Foreword — 18 copies
De fruitkar (1984) — Introduction, some editions — 18 copies
De beste korte verhalen van De Bezige Bij (1977) — Contributor — 13 copies
De schilderkunst in een kritiek stadium (1950) — Contributor, some editions — 6 copies
De zeven hoofdzonden — Author, some editions — 5 copies
Engelen stuifmeel uit de hemel (2002) — Contributor — 4 copies
15 verhalen uit noordelijke oorden (1987) — Contributor — 3 copies
Over Multatuli — Contributor — 3 copies
Focquenbroch — Introduction, some editions — 3 copies
Lezen & Schrijvers: foto's van lezende schrijvers (1992) — Preface — 2 copies
Literaire rechtspraak — Contributor, some editions — 1 copy


20th century (163) aanwezigg (86) analytic philosophy (92) anthology (41) Belletristik (55) boekenweekgeschenk (52) Dutch (453) Dutch fiction (56) Dutch literature (991) epistemology (40) essays (154) fiction (411) first edition (45) Hermans (188) language (95) letters (46) literature (501) logic (181) Netherlands (249) NL (44) non-fiction (162) Norway (53) novel (188) novella (75) PB (70) philosophy (1,053) philosophy of language (84) poetry (97) polemic (37) prose (80) read (66) Roman (372) short stories (40) stories (132) to-read (257) war (52) WFHermans (47) Willem Frederik Hermans (62) Wittgenstein (176) WWII (194)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Hermans, Willem Frederik
Legal name
Hermans, Willem Frederik
Other names
Prudhomme s.j., Pater Anastase
Schrijver Dezes
Bijkaart, Age
Klondyke, Fjodor
Wissel, Sita van de
Cimatarra, Luis (show all 7)
Zomerplaag, B.J.O.
Date of death
Burial location
Country (for map)
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Place of death
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Places of residence
Groningen, The Netherlands
Paris, France
Brussels, Belgium
Haren, The Netherlands
University of Amsterdam
Awards and honors
P.C. Hooft-prijs (1959, 1971)
Vijverberg Prijs (1966)
Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren (1977)
AKO Literatuurprijs (1988)
Aristeion Prize (1991, 1992)
Short biography
Willem Frederik Hermans was a Dutch author of poetry, novels, short stories, plays, as well as booklength studies, essays, and literary criticism. His most famous works are The House of Refuge (novella, 1952), The Darkroom of Damocles (novel, 1958), and Beyond Sleep (novel, 1966).

After World War II, Hermans tried to live off his writing exclusively, but as his country was just recovering from the Occupation, he had no opportunity to sustain himself. He published three important collections of short stories from 1948 to 1957, chief among them the novella The House of Refuge (1952), and in 1958 became lecturer in physical geography at Groningen University, a position he retained until his move to Paris, France, in 1973. The same year 1958 he broke to a wide audience with The Darkroom of Damocles. In the seventies Hermans played an important role in the unmasking of Friedrich Weinreb as a cheater of Jews in the war. Hermans refused to accept the P.C. Hooftprijs for 1971. In 1977 he received the Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren, the most prestigious literary award available for writers in the language, handed out every three years alternately by the reigning Dutch and Belgian monarchs to a writer of the other country, the Belgian king Baudouin handing the prize to Hermans. Hermans is considered one of the three most important authors in the Netherlands in the postwar period, along with Harry Mulisch and Gerard Reve.



Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: In this dark, unnerving work of wartime fiction, W. F. Hermans exposes humanity’s essential savagery, barely concealed by its mores and morals. The year is 1944, and a Dutch partisan chances on an abandoned estate, where he decides to take refuge during a lull in the hostilities. The house seems untouched by the war, a kind of haven, its ornament and grandeur intact (not to mention its walls), clothes and sheets to spare, a kitchen stocked with food and drink. He settles in, and begins to consider himself the owner. When the Nazis recapture the village and come knocking, they similarly assume the house to be his; they assume, also, its spare rooms, which they outfit as barracks.

It is all and well until the true owner and his wife return to their estate. Horrified at the thought of being caught in his subterfuge, our protagonist finds himself drawn into further deceit—and swept up in the violence that ensues.

Civilization comes face-to-face with brutality, truth meets the duplicity that has upended and challenged its certainty—Hermans’ prose searches for an order to the chaos and nihilism of war and life. What he cannot find is as telling as what he uncovers.


My Review
: Novellas are, by definition, brief and gestural as opposed to the novel in its deeper dives, its wider emotional landscape. These general observations are, of course, not true of every novel or novella. They serve to define nothing but an expectation of the reasonably experienced reader when picking up one or the other.

I went into this read, then, expecting to get a glancing blow to my interest in the topic of what the Second World War was like for those who lived it, who were involved in the conflict and not observing events from afar. That was an expectation met...but exceeded, at least as the read settled into my brain. The prose, as translated, was not showy or terribly Writerly; the story itself was simple enough, really more suited to a short story than a novella; but as I sat stunned after finishing the read, I realized why the author chose this length of telling for a story this uncomplicated.

Without the novella’s-worth of buildup, the ending would feel artificial and out of proportion to the story itself. As it is, the ending is a shocker. It arrives without fanfare and smacks the complacent, even slightly bored, reader in their readerly chops. At the end of a trip through one devious survivor’s opportunistic manipulations of everyone around him, all in service of maximizing his immediate personal comfort, the situation he has created from his selfish, self-serving and utterly believable actions comes to a loud, permanent conclusion.

The issue I had been nursing against this overgrown short story exploded in the events of the ending. There is a reason for the length the author chose to tell his simple tale. I was not ready for the impact of the ending, which to be clear would always have been powerful. The novella before it, however, was exactly right to create its seismic shifting of my emotional response. An entire novel with this ending would, honestly, have vitiated its power to stun; a short story, even a long one, would make the ending feel artificial and tacked on.

This read is an excellent example of what a novella can do best, when used to best advantage: satisfy the reader’s hunger for a powerful emotional experience in a one-sitting package. So why only four stars? In the end, the manner of telling the story, the simple unfussy writing, works against the needed investment in the story being told. It gets to the stage of thinking, "Really? is this IT?" before the truly impactful payoff occurs. That I soldiered on, finishing the read, was not assured by the manner of storytelling the author used. At times I was ready to jump ship just to be done with this really dislikable man, this solipsistic selfish creep. I am glad that I persevered, but also a little surprised that I did with the truly staggering number of reads I already have lined up.

So, to all who start this read, I say: Do stick it out for the whole distance. It *is* worth your time. But because I feel the need to say that, I can only in honesty rate it four of five stars.
… (more)
richardderus | 7 other reviews | Feb 24, 2024 |

How best to convey, in writing, the indescribable horrors of war? Some authors place us in the midst of the battlefield, on the front line, in the trenches. Others take us to blitzed and occupied cities, with tales of ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances. Others discern some light in the darkness of the carnage – acts of valour, of compassion, of kindness which provide a welcome contrast to the bloodshed.

The novels of Dutch author Willem Frederik Hermans show us “the absurdity, cruelty and pointlessness of war”, as Cees Nooteboom explains in the afterword to this edition of “An Untouched House”. For Hermans, war is just another facet of what he considered a “sadistic Universe”. There is therefore a metaphysical, cosmic underpinning to the author’s work, and it is unremittingly bleak.

This novella, first published in 1951, is now available to English readers in a translation by David Colmer. This might be a book about war, but its setting is surprisingly distant from any ‘traditional’ battle, at least at first. The unnamed narrator, a Dutch member of the resistance, finds himself in a deserted spa town and discovers an abandoned, palatial house, seemingly untouched by the fighting. He deserts his fellow combatants and installs himself in it.

There is something surreal about the house. With its magical feel and its mysterious locked room, it seems to come out of a fairytale, not unlike the ‘lost chateau’ in [b:Le Grand Meaulnes|794779|Le Grand Meaulnes|Alain-Fournier|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1430741512s/794779.jpg|51583]. It is hardly surprising then the narrator starts to believe that he will be safe from harm as long as he remains within it. But even this house will become a theatre of war. When the house is requisitioned by the German troops occupying the town, the narrator wildly holds on to his fantasy by pretending he is the owner. Eventually the Nazis are ousted by the Russian troops, aided by the Resistance. And so it is that the real world dispels the protagonist’s dreams, and what initially seemed a setting peripheral to the conflict is also touched by the “sadism of the Universe”.

Indeed, a defining element of this novel is its unrelenting violence, which reaches gut-wrenching levels in the final pages. Tinged with black humour and purposely over the top, the novel’s climax reads like a scene out of a Tarantino movie. No side is spared any punches: not the German soldiers, disseminating fear whilst acting as self-proclaimed defenders of “culture”; not the Russians or the partisans, at whose hands the town collapses into chaos. No wonder this novel made its author unpopular in some quarters. It is a veritable kick in the guts, a powerful indictment of war.
… (more)
JosephCamilleri | 7 other reviews | Feb 21, 2023 |



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