Old People and the Things that Pass/About the author and this work

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About the author and this work[edit]


"LOUIS COUPERUS (1863-1923), Dutch writer, was born at The Hague, June 10, 1863, a member of a family of Scottish origin, banished from Scotland for political reasons in the 16th century. His early boyhood was spent in the Dutch East Indies, where his father was a prominent Government official.

His first novel Eline Vere, written under the influence of Tolstoy, appeared in 1889 and was followed by Noodlot (The Footsteps of Fate) in 1894 and Extaze, the first of his novels to be translated into English (1892). He next produced certain imaginative and idealistic works, such as Majesteit (1895) and several volumes of prose poems.

But the work by which he is best known in the English-speaking world is the series of "Books of the Small Souls," four novels entitled Die Kleine Zielen (The Small Souls), Het Late Leven (The Later Life), Zielenschemering (The Twilight of the Soul), Het Helge Weten (Eng. version Dr. Adriaan) which, together with Van Oude Menschen, de dingen de voorbijgaan (Old People and the Things that Pass, Eng. version 1919) raised him to the first rank of European novelists. In this record of an ancient crime, buried deep in the hearts of the aged pair of lovers who committed it, and yet poisoning the lives of their descendants to the third and fourth generation, there is the austerity and inevitability of Aeschylean tragedy.

Couperus travelled much in Greece and Italy and embodied his classical researches in historical romances such as De Berg van Licht (The Mountain of Light) and its successor De Komedianten (The Comedians), and mythological romances such as Dionyzos (1905) and Herakles (1913), as well as volumes of essays, sketches and short stories. The greater part of his work has been rendered into English by A. Teixeira de Mattos. His historical novel Iskander (concerning Alexander the Great) appeared in 1920.

Source: Encyclopaedia Brittannica, 1911.


That extraordinary gift for portraying the faintest shades of character and temperament, the divergencies, little and big, the varying differences in viewpoint existing in members of the same family, which Louis Couperus revealed to us in the three volumes already in this country, is very evident in this new one, "Old People and the Things That Pass." It is a book more nearly akin to "Small Souls," perhaps, than to either of the other two, though it has little of the bitter wit which distinguished that very interesting novel, and contains more than a little of the grayness, the effect as of a murky, sombre day, so noticeable in "The Twilight of the Souls." For nearly all its characters are old people, while of the very few young ones, Charles Pauws, known to the family as "Lot," is haunted by a nervous, hysterical dread of growing old. Only Elly, Lot's young wife, longs for "great, faraway things," and feels within her the call "to strive as far as she could," finding unendurable the aimless life which contents the man whose soul is "neutral tinted," who is incapable of "scarlet things," yet at the last finds himself hiding "an innocent secret * * * torturing as a hidden, gnawing disease."

It is, however, with two very old people, the man 93, the woman 97, and with a secret which was very far from innocent, that the novel is principally concerned. It was the secret of that which had happened one night in a lonely bungalow among the mountains of Java—a night of fierce tempest and fiercer passions, sixty years before the time the novel begins. [...]

[...] The story is admirably handled throughout, the events following one another quite simply and naturally. But clever and skillfully developed as the plot is, it is in the sureness and subtlety of its psychology, and in the effect which it produces of dark forces lurking behind lives which are nearly all of them failures, that this book makes its strongest claim on the attention of discriminating readers. It is a very sombre, but an unusually interesting novel.

Source: The New York Times Book Review, Sunday March 31, 1918.