Although Jan De Hartog is probably not considered in the same league with Herman Melville and Walt Whitman, he certainly has left his mark on the literary field. His output is prolific in terms of numbers of books written, but also in terms of how many of his books were turned into stage plays and/or films. He is also well known because his books were written in Dutch during the early part of his writing career and in English during the latter part of his career. Many of his Dutch titles were eventually also translated into English.
In The Netherlands he is best known for “Holland’s Glory”, a book written just prior to the invasion by the Nazi’s of his homeland, The Netherlands in 1940. The book became a best seller overnight and sustained the Dutch population during the five-year military occupation and suffering under the hated Nazi regime. It is estimated that over a million copies of “Holland’s Glory” were sold during the war time period. Considering that the entire Dutch population then was well under 10 million, the one million copies sold is an enormous number. The book was banned by the Nazi’s, but that did not deter hidden printing presses from continuing to turn out the book in huge numbers.
In the United States he is best known for his three books about the Quakers, consisting of the “Peaceable Kingdom” in 1978 [or 1972], the “Peculiar People” in 1988 [or 1992], and “The Lamb’s War” in 1982 [or 1980]. De Hartog was not a Quaker for much of his life. His father was a theology professor at the University of Amsterdam, and a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. His mother was interested in the Quaker movement, and later became a Quaker, but it is not clear she was a Quaker at the time De Hartog was a child. Jan De Hartog personally did not become a Quaker until he was in his late forties or early fifties and after he had moved to the United States in the early sixties.
De Hartog wrote about two dozen novels and several plays, some in Dutch and others in English and some, of course, in both languages. His first book appeared under the pseudonym, F.R.Eckmar in 1935. During the thirties he wrote about eight novels, but none was considered outstanding, until he produced “Holland’s Glory” in 1940. It made his name a household word for the next five years in The Netherlands.
.De Hartog’s first English language book appeared in 1942 and was published in the United Kingdom. Its title was “Captain Jan”. Following the war in 1945, De Hartog returned to his native Holland and wrote a trilogy, “Gods Geuzen”, in the 1947-1949 time period. It was followed by another trilogy, “Stella”, “Mary”, and ”Thalassa”, in 1950. During the fifties he wrote several other Dutch novels, but none of note.
Following his move to the United States his books were largely in English. Some of the more notable ones appeared in both languages. A most notable one was about the conditions in a Houston hospital. It was entitled, “The Hospital”, published in 1964. The Dutch translation, ”Het Ziekenhuis” appeared in 1965.
De Hartog’s other major book of note was an English language book entitled, “The Captain”, published in the United States in 1966. It sold over a million copies in the United States, excluding the copies sold in England. It was based on a true life story about an escorted convoy of merchant ships traveling between Iceland and Murmansk, Russia, supplying the Russians as part of the World War II lend lease program. Because of a mix up in communications, the convoy split up and nearly the entire convoy was torpedoed by the Germans without any survivors. In 1967 the book, under the title, “De Kapitein” appeared in a Dutch language version.
De Hartog’s other notable books are the “Four Poster” published in 1951 and “The Spiral Road”, published in 1957. Both books either became stage plays or films were made based on the books. There was also a book which describes De Hartog hiding from the Nazi’s in his native Holland during the war in a nursing home where he was disguised as a female patient. He eventually was able to escape to England by way of an arduous journey through occupied Belgium, occupied France, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal before reaching England in 1943.
A number of his other books were translated into stage plays or movies. Actors who played roles in his plays or movies consisted of William Holden, Sophia Loren, Burl Ives, and Rock Hudson among others.
Not much detail is known about De Hartog’s private life. With his first wife Vidia he had a son and a daughter during the thirties. During the forties, while in England, he married his second wife, Angela Wyndham, who was J. B. Priestley’s step daughter. That marriage also produced a son and a daughter. There is little information as to what happened to either one of the first two wives. He remarried again in the sixties to Marjorie Hein, to whom he remained married until his death in 2002.
De Hartog passed away on September 22, 2002. His remains were cremated and returned to his native country. On December 6, 2002, De Hartog’s ashes, accompanied by his family members, were taken out to sea on an oceangoing tug, named “Smitwijs Singapore”, owned by the Smit Ocean Towing Company. Upon reaching the open waters of the North Sea the ashes were spread on the waters of the North Sea. The importance of using the ocean tug relates to the story of his famous book, “Holland’s Glory”, which describes the life of Dutch sailors on ocean going tugs such as the “Smitwijs Singapore”. From the above it is clear that De Hartog left an indelible imprint on the people in both his native country, The Netherlands, and on his adopted country, the United States, and to a considerable extent on people in many other parts of the world.
Jan De Hartog, Wardman Library, Whittier College, http://web.whittier.edu/academic/library/HARTOG.HTM (Site not functioning at the time this file was installed - 12/28/06).
Jan De Hartog in the Looniverse Bookstore, www.thelooniverse.com/books/jandehartog.html
Jan De Hartog Special, Daily Shipping News, www.ibiblio.org/maritime/
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