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Eduard Douwes Dekker - 001.jpg
Eduard Douwes Dekker, also known as Multatuli
Born Eduard Douwes Dekker
(1820-03-02)2 March 1820
Amsterdam, United Kingdom of the Netherlands
Died 19 February 1887(1887-02-19) (aged 66)
Nieder Ingelheim, Rhine, German Empire
Occupation Writer

Eduard Douwes Dekker (2 March 1820 – 19 February 1887), better known by his pen name Multatuli (from Latin multa tulī, "I have suffered much"), was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar (1860), which denounced the abuses of colonialism in the Dutch East Indies (today's Indonesia).


Youth and apprenticeship[edit]

Eduard Douwes Dekker was born in the Korsjespoortsteeg of Amsterdam[1] as the fourth of five children of a Mennonite family: the other children were Catharina (1809-1849), Pieter Engel (1812-1861), Jan (1816-1864), and Willem (1823-1840). His father, Engel Douwes Dekker, was a Sea captain from the Zaan-area.[2] Engel's parents were Pieter Douwesz and Engeltje Dekker. Engel Douwes used both family names[3] The official family name should however have been Dekker; at the wedding licence of Eduard Douwes Dekker and Mimi Hamminck Schepel (1875) was the family name of the bridegroom mentioned as "Dekker, who himself names and writes as Douwes Dekker".[4] His mother Sietske Eeltjes Klein (sometimes also "Klijn") was a housewife, born at Ameland.

He visited the Latin school at the Singel, a precursor of the present Barlaeus Gymnasium.[4] As the third son he was predestined to become a baptist reverend according to his father. After three years he left the school without any certificate.[4] He worked some time as youngest clerk at a textile merchant firm.[5] In 1838 his father sailed with his ship to Batavia in the Dutch Indies, took his son with him as sailer. As a failed son he was taken to the colony. In 1839 they arrived in the capital Batavia. Eduard was dropped there, and eventually he was employed as a civil servant by the Dutch governmental Court of audit. In the following years he was promoted as administrative officer, although he disliked the financial work.

He led a merry and varied life in Batavia - but he more and more disliked the social life in Batavia, because the Dutch, small bourgeois environmental atmosphere. On top of this he had made severe debts in the casino. Therefore, he applied for a job in the outer regions of the colony by the Governor-General.

Administrative Officer in Dutch East Indies[edit]

The hospital of Natal, North Sumatra, formerly the office and residence of Multatuli as controleur

Douwes Dekker was appointed controller of the troubled district of Natal, North Sumatra on 12 October 1842. However, there appeared to be a deficit under his controllership, for which he received a serious reprimand from the Governor of Sumatra's West Coast, General Andreas Victor Michiels. It earned him the label "unmanly, without honor", by which Douwes Dekker felt particularly aggrieved. When he was suspended temporarily by Michiels because of the deficit in Natal and in his own words even suffered hunger, he wrote (as a kind of revenge) the play De Oneerbare/The dishonarable, later published under the name De bruid daarboven/The bride up there, a play in five acts.

It is not certain that Dekker was fully responsible for the deficit in Natal. His interventions in the local conflicts left him ample time to keep up with the finances. The deficit dated from before his days and, according to Max Havelaar in which this episode is described, was because monies for dispatches of troops to the interior were not administered. But Douwes Dekker obviously did not belong to the administration and, moreover, reacted stubbornly and nettled when spoken to about mistakes.

Regional Secretary Van de Ven, who took over the administration of the suspended Douwes Dekker, wrote to the Governor that Dekker was behind with all the documents, errors had been made, rules were neglected and no response was given to complaints.

To the annoyance of his colleagues, in addition to his inaccuracies and his apology that he possessed 'less suitability' for administration, Douwes Dekker also did not adhere to the unwritten rules of the local civil service. These included, among other things, that the "koeliebonnen" (or carrier certificates) for salt and money transports were administered for only four guilders. The carriers, however, never did it for less than eight. It was customary to administer a few more carriers on the list than there had actually been. But in this kind of business Douwes Dekker remained opposed in principle to 'messing', and he stubbornly administered eight guilders per carrier.

Through his administrative arrears and the deficit, his suspension in Natal became final; the hardened General Michiels, who had successfully suppressed many rebellions on the west coast of Sumatra, was later unsuccessful at the General Court in Batavia. But Douwes Dekker had entered the fight with him as a young civil servant and could not win. After Dekker had replenished the deficit from his own resources, he was put on half-pay and transferred to Java.

First marriage, career and furlough[edit]

Back on Java, Douwes Dekker married Tine van Wijnbergen (actually Everdina Huberta Baroness van Wijnbergen) on April 10, 1846. From this marriage two children were born: son Edu in 1854 and daughter Nonni in 1857. The relationship with Edu remained difficult throughout his life. That he also more-than-liked other women in addition to his wife was a difficult trial for Tine, especially after their return to the Netherlands and the beginning of his literary career.

After several functions in the country's service at Nanjing and Purworedjo, where he worked in subordinate positions, Douwes Dekker was appointed Secretary of the residence Manado on the island of Indonesia in 1848, with which he enjoyed full recovery of his official career. His strong sense of justice for the indigenous population found appreciation here by resident Reinier Scherius who, on his departure in 1851, spoke in favor of Douwes Dekker as his successor. The Government decided otherwise; Dekker had again made private debts and during his later furlough in the Netherlands it turned out that here too his administration had left a deficit behind. The exact circumstances were never cleared up. From his time in Manado, a speech was delivered to the homegrown heads, that has a strong resemblance to the famous speech from Lebak in the Bantam residency of Java (now Banten province), which he would use later in his Max Havelaar.

At the end of 1851 Douwes Dekker was promoted again on the administrative ladder at Ambon as Assistant Resident but after a few months was already allowed leave to the Netherlands for another furlough for health reasons. From 1852 to May 1855 he was in Holland. He made many plans to publish books, among other things, but little was accomplished. In the meantime he made many debts, it seems, in the vain assumption that money from his wife's family would flow to him. Despite his later success as a writer, he was pursued by creditors almost his entire life. On top of that, Dekker still made many fruitless attempts in the casino at the roulette table. Multatuli reports on this in his book Millions Studies.

During the period between 1848 and 1851 Douwes Dekker eventually rose to serve as Assistant Resident in various regencies in the Indonesian archipelago including Manado in Sulawesi and Ambon in the Moluccas.[citation needed]

Further career[edit]

In 1857 he was transferred to Lebak, in the Bantam residency of Java (now Banten province). By this time, however, all the secrets of Dutch administration were known to him and he had begun to openly protest about the abuses of the colonial system. Consequently, he was threatened with dismissal from his office for his openness of speech. Douwes Dekker resigned his appointment and returned to the Netherlands.

Statue of Multatuli on a square over the Singel canal in Amsterdam.

He was determined to expose in detail the scandals he had witnessed and he began to do so in newspaper articles and pamphlets. Little notice however was taken of his protestations until, in 1860, he published his novel Max Havelaar under the pseudonym of Multatuli. Douwes Dekker's new pseudonym, which is derived from Latin, means "I have suffered much" or more literally "I have borne much", referring to himself, as well as, it is thought, the victims of the injustices he saw. An attempt was made to suppress the inflammatory book but in vain: it was read all over Europe. Apologists for colonialism accused Douwes Dekker's horrific depictions of being exaggerated. Multatuli now began his literary career and published Love Letters (1861), which, in spite of their mild title, were mordant, unsparing satires.

Although Multatuli's work was widely criticized as lacking literary merit, he received an unexpected and most valuable ally in Carel Vosmaer who published a book (The Sower 1874) praising him.[6] He continued to write prolifically and to publish his miscellanies in uniform volumes called Ideas, of which seven appeared between 1862 and 1877. (His novel Woutertje Pieterse (Little Walter Pieterse) was also first printed in Ideas).

Douwes Dekker left the Netherlands and went to live in Ingelheim am Rhein near Mainz, where he made several attempts to write for the stage.

One of his pieces, The School for Princes (published in 1872 in the fourth volume of Ideas), expresses his non-conformist views on politics, society and religion. The volume starts with the play. It received much attention and the edition was soon completely sold, requiring a new edition. It took three years before it was staged in the theatre, for fear of offending the Dutch king. But the premiere was a great success and the subsequent tour with the theatre company was one of the highlights in Dekker's career as a writer. Night after night he was applauded and celebrated, and this for a man who often complained that he was ignored in everything he touched on in his work.

He moved his residence to Nieder Ingelheim on the Rhine, where he died in 1887.

Douwes Dekker was one of Sigmund Freud's favorite writers. He heads the list of 'ten good books' which Freud drew up in 1907.[7]

In June 2002, the Dutch Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde (Society of Dutch Literature) proclaimed Multatuli the most important Dutch writer of all time.[8]

Multatuli's brother, Jan Douwes Dekker, was the grandfather of Ernest Douwes Dekker (also known as Danudirja Setiabudi, a National Hero of Indonesia).

Douwes is commonly (incorrectly) thought to be his middle name. Douwes Dekker is the combined form of both of his grandparents' last names, chosen after they couldn't decide which of their names they should give him.

Bibliography (selection)[edit]

Works which appeared during Multatuli's lifetime[edit]

  • 1859 - Geloofsbelydenis (Profession of faith) (published in the freethinkers Magazine "De Dageraad") ('The Dawn')
  • 1859 - Brief aan de kiezers te Amsterdam omtrent de keuze van een afgevaardigde in verband met Indische specialiteiten en batige Saldo's (Letter to the voters in Amsterdam about the choice of a Deputy related to Indian specialties and discretion determines Balances), Amsterdam, J. de Ruyter
  • 1860 - Indrukken van den dag (Impressions of the day)
  • 1860 - Max Havelaar (boek)|Max Havelaar of de koffij-veilingen der Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappy (Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company)
  • 1860 - Brief aan Ds. W. Francken Azn. (Letter to Ds. W. Francken Azn)
  • 1860 - Brief aan den Gouverneur-Generaal in ruste (Letter to the retired Governor-General)
  • 1860 - Aan de stemgerechtigden in het kiesdistrikt Tiel (To the voters in the electoral district of Tiel)
  • 1860 - Max Havelaar aan Multatuli (Max Havelaar to Multatuli)
  • 1861 - Het gebed van den onwetende (The prayer of the ignorant)
  • 1861 - Wys my de plaats waar ik gezaaid heb (Show me the place where I have sown)
  • 1861 - Minnebrieven (Love letters)
  • 1862 - Over vrijen arbeid in Nederlandsch Indië en de tegenwoordige koloniale agitatie (About free labour in The Dutch Indies and the present colonial agitation) (brochure)
  • 1862 - Brief aan Quintillianus (letter to Quintillianus)
  • 1862 - IDEËN I (Ideas 1) (includes the start of the novel Woutertje Pieterse)
  • 1862 - Japansche gesprekken (Japanese conversations)
  • 1863 - De school des levens (The school of life)
  • 1864-1865 - IDEËN II
  • 1864 - De bruid daarboven. Tooneelspel in vijf bedrijven (The bride up there. Play in five acts)
  • 1865 - Bloemlezing door Multatuli, (Anthology by Multatuli) Amsterdam, R.C. Meijer, p. 1-296
  • 1865 - De zegen Gods door Waterloo (The blessing of God by Waterloo)
  • 1865 - Franse rymen (French rhymes)
  • 1865 - Herdrukken (Reprints)
  • 1865 - Verspreide stukken (Scattered pieces taken from Reprints)
  • 1867 - Een en ander naar aanleiding van Bosscha's Pruisen en Nederland
  • 1869-1870 - Causerieën (Seminars)
  • 1869 - De maatschappij tot Nut van den Javaan (The society useful for the Javanese)
  • 1870-1871 - IDEËN III
  • 1870-1873 - Millioenen-studiën (Millions studies)
  • 1870 - Divagatiën over zeker soort van Liberalismus (Deliberations about a certain kind of liberals)
  • 1870 - Nog eens: Vrye arbeid in Nederlandsch Indië (Again: free labour in Dutch East Indies)
  • 1871 - Duizend en eenige hoofdstukken over specialiteiten (Thousand and some more chapters on specialties)
  • 1872 - Brief aan den koning (nl) (Letter to the King)
  • 1872 - IDEËN IV (contains the play Vorstenschool (School of Princes)
  • 1873 - IDEËN V
  • 1873 - IDEËN VI
  • 1874-1877 - IDEËN VII
  • 1875 - Vorstenschool, drama in 5 bedrijven (School of princes, 4 editions in 1875)
  • 1876 - Bloemlezing door Heloïse (= Mimi Hamminck Schepel), (Anthology by Heloise) Amsterdam, G.L. Funke

Published after his death[edit]

  • 1887 - Onafgewerkte blaadjes (Unfinished leaves)
  • 1891 - Aleid. Twee fragmenten uit een onafgewerkt blyspel (Aleid. Two excerpts from an unfinished comedy) (play)


  • 1880 - De geschiedenis van Woutertje Pieterse. Uit zijn Ideën (nl) verzameld door zijne Weduwe, 2 parts (The history of Woutertje Pieterse. From his Ideas collected by his Widow)
  • 1888-1889 - Multatuli, Verzamelde Werken Eerste naar tijdorde gerangschikte uitgave bezorgd door zijne weduwe (ten parts)

(Multatuli, collected works, first edition ranked to time order by his widow)

  • 1919 - Bloemlezing uit Multatuli's werken (Anthology of Multatuli's work (a selection from his works, introduced by J. van den Berg)
  • 1937 - Bloemlezing (verzameld en ingeleid door Julius Pée) (Anthology, collected and introduced by Julius Pée)
  • 1950-1995 - Volledige Werken van Multatuli (25 parts) (Complete works of Multatuli)(redaction: Garmt Stuiveling and Hans van den Bergh) (two editions)
  • 1955 - Barbertje moet hangen, Verhalen, parabelen, aforismen (collected and explained by Garmt Stuiveling)

Letters and other publications[edit]

  • 1890-1896 - Brieven van Multatuli. Bijdragen tot de kennis van zijn leven. Gerangschikt en toegelicht door M. Douwes Dekker geb. Hamminck Schepel, 10 delen, Amsterdam, W. Versluys (uitgeverij) (Letters by Multatuli. Contributions to the knowledge of his life. Ranked and explained by M. Douwes Dekker born Hamminck S.) (second edition: 1912)
  • 1905 - Multatuli, Frauenbrevier, Anthology and translation to German by Wilhelm Spohr. Ruetten & Loening, Frankfurt am Main, DM 55.
  • 1948 - Multatuli-literatuur. Lijst der geschriften van en over Eduard Douwes Dekker (door A.J. de Mare) (Multatuli-literature. List of the writings of and about Eduard Douwes Dekker)
  • 1949 - Max Havelaar, according to the manuscript, by Prof. dr. Garmt Stuiveling, Amsterdam, G. A. van Oorschot.
  • 1987 - Max Havelaar (edition W.F. Hermans after the fifth edition. The last edition edited by the author)
  • 1987 - Multatuli-literatuur 1948-1977. Lijst der geschriften van en over Eduard Douwes Dekker (by P.C. van der Plank)
  • 1992 - Multatuli, Max Havelaar of de Koffiveilingen der Nederlansche Handelsmaatschappij uitgegeven en toegelicht door Annemarie Kets-Vree, Uitgeverij Prometheus / Bert Bakker Amsterdam, ISBN 90-351-1955 X (scientific edition)
  • 1995 - Multatuli, Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, 1995, ISBN 0-14-044516-1.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Geboorteakte van Eduard Douwes Dekker
  2. ^ Dik van der Meulen (2002): Multatuli. Leven en werk van Eduard Douwes Dekker. Nijmegen, Sun, ISBN 9789058750549, pp. 34-36.
  3. ^ Multatuli, Jeugd, biographic data at the website of the Multatuli Museum
  4. ^ a b c De raadselachtige Multatuli, W.F. Hermans; pagina 17
  5. ^ Stuiveling (1985), p. 401
  6. ^ Een Zaaier: studiën over Multatuli's werken Carel Vosmaer, Amsterdam : G.L. Funke, 1874
  7. ^ Freud, S. (1907). Contribution to a Questionnaire on Reading. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume IX (1906–1908), 245–247.
  8. ^ accessed on 30 November 2005


External links[edit]