Couperus and the Hidden Force... 'What idiots we are here, we Westerners in this country.'

Couperus and the Hidden Force... 'What idiots we are here, we Westerners in this country.'

Exhibition about Couperus 'East Indian novel' De stille kracht, seen from the current point of view about the Dutch colonial past. The book came out in 1900. Twenty-one years later, it was translated into English under the title The Hidden Force.

4 June 2022 - 8 January 2023

Louis Couperus

Couperus was not specifically interested in political or societal problems. Poverty, inhuman working conditions, capitalistic exploitation or oppression of the Javanese - he preferred to have nothing to do with it all. He took refuge in his imagination or in the past. The First World War he saw as one gigantic, tragic opera, and the antique worlds of Alexander the Great or the emperor Elegabalus seemed to him the time in which he could have lived out all his unfufilled dreams. On 18 february 1923 he wrote in one of his columns: 'I want to be happy in my illusions.'

This doesn't prevent Couperus from making some characters in The Hidden Force express the most unusual utterings. The most poignant is perhaps when Frans van Helderen describes the Dutch East Indies as '... a huge, but exhausted colony, still ruled from Holland with one idea in mind: profit.'  And he continues:

'The reality is not that the rulers are great in the Indies, but that the rulers are petty-minded exploiters. The country is being sucked dry, and the real population - not the Dutch who spend their money from the Indies in The Hague, but the native population, attached to the soil of the Indies - are being oppressed by a disdainful overlord [...]. Now they are threatening to rise up against that oppression and that contempt.'

The Hidden Force

The aversion of the force majeure of Dutch colonial authority could be expressed in subtle ways only, by means of the mysterious magical powers known as guna guna - which Couperus calls 'the Hidden Force'. The novel features numerous white haji's or ghosts. Stones are flying around the district commissionar's mansion and his wife is a target of sirih spitting, culminating in the infamous bathroom scene. Even the down to earth commissioner Otto van Oudijck who wants to have nothing to do with what he calls that native 'juggling' eventually perishes from the results of what gave the book its title.

The exhibition

The exhibition aims to visualize what Couperus describes as 'the secretive animosity of Javanese soil and atmosphere against the Dutch conquistador' by means of image, film, sounds from the tropical rain forest, a white haji doll and of course the many editions and translations of The Hidden Force.

The exhibition was made possible thanks to a financial contribution from Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.



poster of the exhibition

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