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July 1, 2019


#Classic Max Havelaar

by N@ncy

  •  Author: Eduard Douwes Dekker (Multatuli) (1820 – 1887)
  •  Genre: novel (satire)
  • Title: Max Havelaar ( Language: Dutch)
  • Published: 1860
  • Table of Contents: 20 chapters, 315
  • Timeline: 1842 ( Sumatra). 1856 (Lebak) 1860 (Amsterdam)
  • Setting: Dutch East Indies
  • Trivia: E. Douwes Dekker was one of Sigmund Freud’s favorite writers.
  • List of Challenges 2019
  • Monthly reading plan



  1. Eduard Douwes Dekker is better known by his pen name Multatuli.
  2. It is from latin ‘multa tuli’ meaning I have suffered much.
  3. This is a satire denouncing  the abuses
  4. …of  colonialism in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).
  5. 1838 Douwes Dekker became a civil servant in Java.
  6. All the secrets of Dutch administration were known to him.
  7. Disgusted with the actions of the Dutch in Java,
  8. …he had begun to about the abuses.
  9. Threatened with dismissal from
  10. …his office for his openness of speech.
  11. Dekker resigned his appointment.
  12. He returned to the Netherlands and wrote this
  13. scathing criticism of Dutch colonialism.
  14. In 2002 the Society of Dutch Literature proclaimed
  15. ….Multatuli the most important Dutch writer of all time



  • This is a  grim depiction of life in a European colony, namely Indonesia.
  • The description of web of hypocrisy of church-going Dutch.
  • …and the repression of the natives under their rule endure.
  • The Dutch derived benefits from others misery.
  • Max Havelaar was  beacon of hope.
  • He was in a position of unquestionable power, Assistant-Resident.
  • Havelaar struggled with the colonial government  leaders ….to no avail.


Theme:  exploitation;  colonialism


TitleDubble  title “Max Havelaar or Coffee Auctions Dutch Trade Company”

  1. I had to research this information
  2. … would never have caught my eye!
  3. Irony: the title tells  Mr. Droogstoppel that this book contains
  4. …information that  he would be interested in: coffee auctions.
  5. He agrees to  finance the  rewriting of a final draft and publication of the book
  6. But it appears that there is nothing in the book about coffee or the Dutch Trade Company!


  1. The author  misled Droogstoppel  and the reading public!
  2. In 1860 coffee and trade were in the news.
  3. Multatuli wanted to have his book read. (pg 57)
  4. “Mijn boek moet de wereld in!”
  5. He was probably the  first Dutch “whistleblower” !
  6. He used this  ‘clever piece of irony’
  7. …to capture the public’s  interest.
  8. Multatuli  TRICKED  the readers with a dubble title.
  9. He lured them to buy the book and
  10. revealed the abuses he thought must be made public.


Narrators:  3 characters

  • Droogstoppel:  coffee broker at Last & Co.
  • Stern:  assistant Last & Co.  ( = author  Multatuli)
  • Sjaalman: is thecharacter of Max Havelaar incognito in Amsterdam.


Structure: frame  story (stories-within-stories)

  1. Story:  Commentary in journals of Max Havelaar who abhors the exploitation of the  Dutch East Indies natives.
  2. Story:  Havelaar returns to Amsterdam with his exposé in rough draft and wants it to be published.
  3. Story: In the last chapter:
  • Multatuli, the author himself,  takes over the narrative.
  • Droogstoppel is written ‘out of the book’.
  • Multatuli writes what he wants to achieve.
  • He wants the readers to share his outrage.


Breaking the 4th wall

  • Multatuli speaks directly to the reader and ‘confronts’ him.
  • Speaking to the reader acknowledges that this is a book or a story.


Unreliable narrator

  • Mr. Droogstoppel  coffee broker  is characterized by exaggeration and bragging.
  • Multatuli satirizes the coffee merchant, Droogstoppel, by simply letting him speak!



  • The use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning.
  • Droogstoppel tells the reader ( pg 18)  that the Dutch are successful because:
  • …they  conduct business honorably and maintain exemplary Christian beliefs.
  • Irony: Mutatuli reveals that the Dutch say one thing in public and act differently in business!
  • Droogstoppel gossips about other business partner’s family. (pg 25)
  • Irony: But reminds us that he  would never knowingly slander anybody!



  • There are some great examples of humor in Multatuli’s writing:
  • The repetition in Droogstoppel’s  emphatic dialogue
  • reminding the reader that he always speaks the truth
  • ” heus de zuivere waarheid” (pg 24)  and
  • conducts himself at all times with civility
  • fatsoen gaat voor mijn boven alles” ( pg 31).
  • In a bouncing carriage over a hobbley road  Multatuli brings the choppy conversation
  • before our eyes with one-word sentences.  You can just hear it!
  • I. Did. Not. Dare.To. Agree.
  • ” Ik. Durfde. Het. Haar. Niet. Toezeggen.” ! (pg 101)



  1. Weak point:
  2. This book was complicated with its intricate narrative structure.
  3. There is no chronological order, many flashbacks and 3 narrators.
  4. Weak point:
  5. Many pages of out-of-date  style of dialogue which  makes the reading difficult.
  6. Strong point:
  7. The shock effect caused by the author  in chapter 20.
  8. This was his pulpit. It would be his  chance to send a message to the Dutch and the world.
  9. Multatuli refers to the barbaric division in American society on pg 103.
  10. He must have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852, H.B. Stowe) that exposed the abuse in USA.
  11. Multatuli shares Stowe’s social realism in his writing of Max Havelaar.


Last thoughts:

  1. I could relate to this book because
  2. of my knowledge of the ‘Dutch mentality’.
  3. I wonder if this book would appeal to
  4. a wider audience outside The Netherlands.
  5. I read the book in Dutch
  6. I liked the book but a recommendation to read it
  7. …..that’s a hard call.
  8. Dutch is the 7th most spoken language in Europe..
  9. The study of foreign languages
  10. …is simply the gift that keeps on giving.



Read more from Classic, Dutch, fiction
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  1. #20BooksOfSummer 2019 | NancyElin

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