Schwartz (Some Women I Have Known, 2015, etc.) reintroduces a forgotten Dutch literary giant in this work of literary criticism.
Jozua Schwartz, under the pseudonym Maarten Maartens, was one of the most popular novelists writing in English at the turn of the last century—a feat made even more impressive by the fact that he spent most of his life in the Netherlands and that his first language was Dutch. So popular were his 14 novels and four volumes of short stories that Maartens became an intimate of Andrew Carnegie and was hosted at the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt. Following his death in 1915, however, Maartens’ work fell into near total obscurity—an injustice that the author of this volume seeks to set right. A great-nephew of Maartens’, he offers this introduction to 13 of the writer’s novels, with a second volume covering his first self-published novel and short fiction to follow. Schwartz writes in his introduction that the book “is not a scholarly effort. It is a collection of impressions of Maartens’ novels as his nephew experienced them.” After a short overview of Maartens’ life and career, Schwartz grants a chapter each to Maarten’s commercially published novels. Each includes a few notes on the novel’s publishing history, its reception, its principal characters, a summary of the story’s events, a brief note on its themes, and a selection of choice passages. The thorough summaries make up a majority of the text, averaging 25 pages each, and they’ll give readers a sense of Maartens’ talent and craft. Several of them, including those for The Sin of Joost Avelingh (1889) and God’s Fool (1892), may make readers want to seek out the original novels. As a means of stirring more interest in the author, the book succeeds, although anyone planning on reading the novels perhaps shouldn’t read too far into the summaries. Readers may wonder why Schwartz hasn’t simply republished the novels themselves, as they’re surely now in the public domain. Even so, there’s something wonderfully Borges-ian about reading summarizations of unread novels of a forgotten writer. One hopes that Maartens will return to print in the near future.
An odd but alluring retelling of the
works of an obscure author.