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An Interpretation Of Dutch Culture In The Golden Age

by Simon Schama

Pub Date: May 31st, 1987
ISBN: 0679781242
Publisher: Knopf

Scholarly, exhaustively researched, packed with highly esoteric information, this massive study is less daunting than it might seem at first glance, thanks to Schama's lively writing style and his eye for the colorful and thought-provoking detail. Specialized, but likely to instruct and, more importantly, entertain the general reader. Focusing his attention on the Netherlands during the 17th century, Schama investigates the linkage that the citizens who wrested their lands from the sea felt with the waters lapping their shores. The sea, quite understandably, was viewed as an enemy and, in a particularly evocative section, the author discourses at length on the identification the Dutch felt with the Children of Israel, especially the Jews of Exodus and their flight through the Red Sea. It is intriguing to speculate on how Netherlander attitudes influenced our Puritan forebears during their stay in the Low Countries. Puritan talk of founding the "New Jerusalem" and the Calvinist emphasis on Old Testament teachings owe much lo the Pilgrims' sojourn in the Netherlands. Equally provocative are the insights given into Golden Age attitudes toward sexuality--chastity was demanded and. again, had something to do with Old Testament attitudes, this time toward "cleanliness." Not that women were secluded, as they were in Latin countries; they were, in fact, quite liberated in their social intercourse, but a Dutch woman's reputation had to be as spotless as her doorstep. The dichotomy between apparently uninhibited public behavior and the strictest private morality confused and shocked both Catholic visitors and Puritan moralists. Among other topics that come under Schama's scrutiny are art, superstition. finance and child-rearing during the period when the Dutch Republic was one of Europe's superpowers. In each area he explores, Schama discovers details that prompt far-ranging speculations about religion, philosophy and the human condition. A stimulating and important dissection of a little-known but constantly fascinating era. A lavish compilation of 325 photographs (not seen) illustrates the text.