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Summary biografie Jan Hanlo

The Dutch poet Jan Hanlo (1912-1969) gained brief national notoriety after the publication of his first poetry collection. In the Dutch senate, questions were asked about the justification of subsidizing a literary journal in which poems such as Hanlo’s experimental ‘Oote’ were printed. This is one of the occasions that gave Hanlo his permanent place in the literary canon of the Dutch language. In this biography, life and work of the poet are described from a cultural historical perspective. Hanlo’s life, as anybody’s, mirrors its age. This explains why the person is not the only focus of this study, and why it also deals with literary, social and religious institutions, such as literary journals, publishers, psychiatric hospitals, legal and church authorities, and subdivisions of the catholic pillar.

Hanlo grew up in a privileged environment in the south of the Netherlands. After his high school years, he considered movies to be the right medium for his artistic ambitions. This is why he founded the Valkenburg department of the Catholic Film Front in the 1930s. Inspired by the jargon of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain, he opted for artistic freedom in a catholic context. When he found out that the movie establishment could not provide him with the freedom he was aiming for, he subsequently lost interest, and moved on to jazz music. This search for an artistic home gets ample attention in this biography.

  When Hanlo meets an English girl in 1936, his search for a social and sexual identity starts as well. She made him realize that, in the end, he was not attracted by the other sex, although the repressive climate of his day prevented him from voicing that conclusion. In 1938, an accident with his motorcycle caused the death of a villager. This weighed heavily on his conscience and it was the main incentive to leave Valkenburg. Before the beginning of World War II, he found a home in Amsterdam, where he started his studies in psychology. But he could not finish these, because he was transported to Berlin, where he was forced to work for the Germans. He slowly started to recognize his own psychological problems, which were partially caused by his reluctance to grow up. This issue is described with the use of psychiatric literature about the Peter Pan Syndrome.

After his return from Berlin, Hanlo starts working in a psychological institute as a homework supervisor. Here he gets into trouble due to his more than casual interest in young boys. Pedophilia was not well known among social workers, and Hanlo was all too easily classified as a homosexual. In 1947, now working as an English teacher at a secretary school, his artistic, social and sexual problems grew so bad that he could not avoid admission to a psychiatric institution. It is possible to reconstruct Hanlo’s stay in two institutions, because he wrote about them later, and because I could use psychiatric reports that had not been made public earlier. Thanks to this archive material, conversations with patients and psychiatrists, and to two dissertations by doctors who worked in the institution where Hanlo stayed, it was possible to give a thorough and far-reaching interpretation of this important episode in his life. Although he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he was treated as a sexual offender and Hanlo was probably castrated in a psychiatric institution.

After being released, he moved back to Amsterdam, where he met up with the poets who would become well known as the Movement of Fifty (‘Beweging van Vijftig’). This episode is dealt with in a chapter on the above-mentioned poem ‘Oote’ and in a more comprehensive chapter on Hanlo’s place in the literary surroundings of his time, the nature of his poetry, and his transition from poetry to prose. In his prose, Hanlo revealed an ambition to create a new genre, comparable with a text type that in France had been developed by Felix Fénéon: Nouvelles en trois lignes short stories without a plot. This ambition was stimulated, in 1958, when a new literary journal entered the scene: Barbarber This creation of some high school graduates gave Hanlo room to write the kind of prose that no other journal wanted to publish, not even the typical Movement of Fifty-journals in which he had published his poetry. Hanlo was seen as a poet, not as a prose author, not in the least because Geert van Oorschot had published his Collected Poetry (Verzamelde Gedichten) in 1958. Hanlo had moved back to Valkenburg in the beginning of 1958, because he wanted to support his beloved mother during the illness she suffered in the last months of her life. After her death, he moved to the gatehouse of a schooling institute, on the same street where he had lived in the 1930s.

In 1962 Hanlo is imprisoned for a month, because of his contacts with a 15-year-old boy. I describe the court case preceding his imprisonment extensively, since it was typical for the social view of pedophilia in those days. Hanlo often corresponded in his life, especially with boys.  

Ironically, they often wanted contact with him because he was a poet, while he instead was looking for human, erotic contact. A separate chapter is devoted to these correspondences.

In 1968 Hanlo got a restraining order in his own town, due to a complaint filed against him by the parents of a paper delivery boy. These and other humiliating experiences alienated him from the Netherlands and spring 1969 found him on a trip to Morocco. In Marrakech he fell in love with a thirteen-year-old boy. When he moved back home after a couple of months, he took the kid with him to the Netherlands. The Dutch authorities did not accept this adoption, and sent Mohåmed back to his native country. A week later Hanlo was killed in a motorcycle accident when he hit a tractor.

The biography ends with a theoretical positioning of the research project, which is specific to the genre. In the study of literature, the same rules of verifiability do not apply as they do in the natural sciences. Similarly, the biography demands a specific scientific approach to a variety of resources. This chapter therefore also deals with the use of oral history, and with the relation between biographical and journalistic research. The biography of Jan Hanlo is also placed within the context of the different types of literary biographies that have recently been published in the Netherlands.

Laatst gewijzigd:21 december 2017 15:16