Small Souls/Translator's Note
This story is translated from the Dutch of Louis Couperus, the foremost novelist in a country which has lately had the good sense to join the Berne Convention. Friends who have seen my version in manuscript suggest to me that certain details of the action and dialogue strike an exotic note to English ears and may therefore need some interpretation. But I could not bring myself to burden a work of fiction with an array of foot-notes nor to believe that it is really necessary to explain to readers of Couperus’ fellow-countryman, “Maarten Maartens,” that Dutch men and women of the upper classes still call their parents “Papa” and “Mamma,” as the English did in the sixties, and still drink tea after dinner, as the English did in the forties; that, in Holland, persons of quality are not addressed by their titles in conversation; that it is not quite correct, or that it is at least a departure from the aristocratic tradition, for a lady of family not to wash up her own breakfast-china at the table; that the Dutch speak of Java as India and sometimes marry native wives, who, nihilo obstante, are “received” by the “family” at home.
I have done my best, by a complicated and perhaps only partly successful system of italics, hyphens and dots, to render the various eccentricities of speech of Cateau van Lowe, Adolphine van Saetzema and Aunt Ruyvenaer. The few Malay words employed by the last-named, by Otto van Naghel’s wife and by her native nurse are explained in notes as and when they occur.
Small Souls is the first of a series of four novels describing the fortunes of the Van Lowe family and known in Holland by the generic title of The Books of the Small Souls. The remainder will be translated and published if and as the antecedent volumes find favour with English and American readers. They are called: The Later Life, The Twilight of the Souls and Dr. Adriaan.
- 4 December, 1913.