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Research Biografie Instituut

H.J.A. Hofland (1927-2016)

H.J.A. Hofland
H.J.A. Hofland

Throughout his life, Hofland spoke and wrote about the formative influence of the Second World War on his generation. As a child, he was an eyewitness to the bombing of his native city of Rotterdam. Especially during the last years of the occupation, he experienced a condition of existence based on the sensation of adventure, chaos, the urge for freedom and solidarity against the Nazis, which he and other contemporaries did not reconcile with the post-war restoration and pillarization in society. His studies at Nyenrode, his service during the war with Indonesia and his studies in political science in Amsterdam offered no solace. That only happened when he joined the foreign editorial board of Algemeen Handelsblad in 1953 . A biography of Hofland examines how he was able to enter the world through journalism, to lead an adventurous existence, something that at one point translated through his pseudonyms into the ability to assume several identities and thus live more lives at the same time.

In 1967 he became deputy and in 1969 editor-in-chief of Algemeen Handelsblad . A position that was continued after the merger in 1970 in a membership of the editor-in-chief of NRC Handelsblad . A position that he then lost again in 1972, because he was discredited after a report published in De Telegraaf about a visit to a party of his friend Willem Oltmans, where Russian embassy personnel were present. After his fall, Hofland got back on his feet as the author of the illustrious collection of essays Tegels lichten , in which he brought to light Dutch political issues that had been unofficially concealed. From that moment on he was an authoritative factor of political-cultural-intellectual significance in society. He could no longer be ignored as such.

There is more. At the end of his life, Hofland was best known as a very prolific columnist. It remains too quiet about his lifelong fascination with the elite and populism and the development in his thinking. The same applies to his phenomenological view of society, which extends beyond the columns of (his pseudonym) S. Montag . His essay-writing side still remains fairly underexposed, for which he was awarded the PC Hooft Prize towards the end of his life.

In the last phase of his life, H.J.A. Hofland received two honors for different components of his work. He was named Journalist of the Century in 1999. And twelve years later, in 2011, he was awarded the highest literary award in the Netherlands: the P.C. Hooftprijs, for contemplative prose. Lauded separately as a journalist and as a man of letters, this strict thematic classification of his areas of interest has something unnatural to those who look at Hofland's work. If he writes about art, it is often also about politics. If it's about politics, then usually about writers. It is not without reason that he calls the writers who inspire him 'literary-political writers'. A thinking writer, he has also been called. Thinking and writing breathe each other at Hofland. To him, writing is being able to read what you think. Hofland's thinking stems from unadulterated Freischwebende Intelligenz. Intelligence that he used to live more lives than the one he was allotted.

A biography of Hofland shows how the life of this versatile journalist and writer cannot be viewed separately from the journalistic and literary culture of the time, largely during the Cold War, a period that Hofland lived through as a journalist and writer from beginning to end. By examining the experiences of his private life and his public existence, it is possible to examine the interaction between private and public.

The doctoral research is supervised by Prof. Hans Renders, prof. Doeko Bosscher and prof. Frank van Vree (UVA).

Jeroen Vullings is a Dutch scholar, he wrote a book about literary criticism, co-edited an anthology about Hofland's essayistic work and has been publishing literary criticism for over thirty-seven years, long before Vrij Nederland , and more recently for Elsevier Weekblad .


Email: jeroen.vullings

Last modified:28 January 2023 5.18 p.m.
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