The Girl Queen – De Groene Amsterdammer

Nellie van Kol with her husband, the politician Henri van Kol, in the garden of their house in Voorschoten, 1909

Spaarnestad Photo / ANP

It caused quite a stir when the socialist feminist and well-known children’s author Nellie van Kol (1851-1930) converted to Christianity in 1909. She retired from public life but continued to write, albeit in a different way. She no longer needed to save the world, Heleen Bakker writes in her Van Kol dissertation. In her eyes, people were now bad instead of good, so it was only God’s job to make the world a better place. In writing her, she from then on she no longer had to raise people and children.

On the contrary, before her conversion, she was a constant mother. As a socialist she defended the workers-she thus founded our sheet op, an affordable magazine for working-class kids, and The woman, for their mothers. In the latter, she advocated for contraception and single mothers, among other things. She was also a strong advocate for sex education for children from preschool age. She was convinced that only if mothers are honest about sexuality, about how children are born, and if mothers have to suffer for it, will that produce ‘naturally good’ children.

Just how much she was loved at the time is clear from a lengthy article in the dutch magazine dedicated to her. She is compared to Jeanne d’Arc, she is called ‘the child queen of the Netherlands’ who ‘rules by divine grace over the souls of thousands of children’. Her children’s stories, her rhymes and her fairy tales have in a way the same approach as those of Nienke van Hichtum: she must be human, she must be about nature, she must contain a fraternizing vision. This is how I get when I read the collection of stories animal friends, that I borrow from a neighbor – composed by Van Hichtum! – in a story about squirrels the lesson to always look at things from both sides. In another story about caged birds, I learn that if you love someone, you must set them free. If I compare the stories of his children with those of Van Hichtum, Van Kol’s message is higher, they feel more childish, less literary. I called Van Hichtum’s lyrics quite strict and insincere, but they have more layers; the many conversations and small details immerse you deeper into the story. Van Kol’s writing style is very different when he writes for adults, more modern, more intimate; she is not shy about using situations from her own life.

So the newspapers were very surprised when she converted – she withdrew her statements about contraception, by the way, the rest didn’t – but according to Bakker, it wasn’t really such a big break with her previous life. After a not-so-joyful childhood, Van Kol always sought companionship, happiness, often feeling lonely, ’empty at heart’ in her own words. Her inquisitive soul took her to the Dutch East Indies, where she published sketches of her life and her travels under the pseudonym Nellie in the Soerabaiasch Handelsblad, was released under the title Letters to Minette† Van Kol hoped that a loved one would solve loneliness; that marriage would make her eternally happy, but that happiness was unfortunately short-lived: shortly after meeting her husband Henri van Kol (he introduced her to socialism and later became a well-known party leader) she wrote: ‘Perhaps if something special, if necessary something bad happened, for example if I gave Henri a son almost at the cost of my life, or if Henri fell in love with another woman and was treated badly by her, it would happen again. .’

But she never really got back on track: he was often away from home, she gave up much of her own job to support him, even if it led to depression, they had four children (of whom she lost two), they moved unimaginably often, to Indonesia, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands. They remained married until his death, though he eventually moved on with another woman, another Nienke van Hichtum lookalike.

Most of those two have survived, more than any of the other writers on the street signs in my neighborhood. For example, the archive of Atria, a knowledge institute for women’s emancipation and history, is full of material by and about Van Kol, and the literature museum also contains ancient manuscripts by him, an exchange of letters between his son and a bookseller who is amazed that he still tries so hard to keep his mother’s work alive, character sketches, a transcribed radio broadcast from the protestant radio station about Van Kol, many newspaper articles clipped and underlined to pencil, exclamation marks in the margin, somewhere a small loose piece of paper with the text “for the Dutch Literary Museum”. Who wrote that, who has stripes, his son? herself? Many female writers made sure she wasn’t too far behind, they say on the podcast. fix this, of the collective of the same name that is trying to incorporate more women into the literary canon: newspapers were burned, letters were torn up. This does not apply to Van Kol. Everything has been carefully handed down.

When Van Kol resigned in 1909 from his management of the magazine that she founded The woman he writes in a farewell letter that with his conversion he has been reborn: ‘It is a transition from the natural to the spiritual, from vagueness to solidity, from search to discovery, from darkness to light, from death to life ‘. I believe her, with pleasure, perhaps even a little too much, I like people who think, the only thing that is striking is that she seemed to have that same firmness before. When she joined socialism, for example, or she entered spiritualism, many people at that time tried to contact spirits, for example, through bottle spinning; Van Kol was a fanatic and she kept a diary about it, but when she was twice ‘connected’ with a living person, she stopped. Or when she found the answer in vegetarianism; in motherhood (‘I prefer to be a good unnoticed mother than a good famous writer’); she shaped the reform movement (in which women fought for, say, comfortable clothes instead of tight corsets).

This supports Bakker’s thesis: Van Kol previously wanted to improve the world. And she wanted a truth. Movements like socialism and feminism naturally lend themselves well to this. Confrontationally, many of the issues Van Kol focused on are issues that people are also focusing on today, or still focus on, to improve the world: vegetarianism, feminism, appreciation of nature, education. of children, sexual information, equitable distribution of property. But that God finally gave him the best answer.

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