Eline Vere is probably the best-known novel by 19th century Dutch author Louis Couperus.
It is a story about the influence of how ‘nerves’ can ruin a life, a story about high expectations and how they crumble in real life and most of all a story how one cannot escape fate.
Eline Vere lives in The hague with her married sister. She is bored in their wealthy environment and the circle of families they keep company with. Eline longs for a passionate life and has many fantasies about what she could do, feeling these fantasies place her above the people in het circles who would not dare dream of such things.
Eline gets engaged with Otto, a quiet and serious man who can give Eline the stability she needs. For some times Eline does feel she and Otto could be perfectly happy, but in the end she breaks of the engagement.
After that, things go downhill for her. She ruins her health and she has no home anymore, she lives either with her uncle un Brussels, or a relative in The Hague and later on her own in some rented rooms in a pension for ladies. She never finds happiness again and when there is a change she might be happy, she feels she does not deserve this because she caused Otto so much pain. She gets morphinedrops from the doctor to help her sleep, but she becomes addicted to them and finally they will be fatal for her.
Eline Vere is set in a rich environment in The Hague, at the end of the nineteenth century. All the characters in the novel know each other very well and share the same kind of values, keeping up appearances and standing is very important.
Eline plays a role of the elegant young lady or the devoted fiancée, who fits in perfectly, although she feels she does not fit in at all.
She hopes for more, more drama and more excitement. She has fantasies in which she thinks a tenor in the opera is in love with her. She goes out every morning to take long walks in the park in the hope she will encounter him and she buys his portraits that she keeps in a special album. Only when she once sees him without the theatrical costumes she realizes her fantasies are nonsense and her hopes are shattered.
Eline wants many things, but she does not have the strength to make it happen. Couperus makes it clear this is a hereditary thing; her father was a painter who was too weak to become a great artist and also her cousin Vincent is weak and indecisive.
Eline likes Vincent because he reminds her of her father and she gets it in her head that she is the only person who understand and appreciates Vincent and even that Vincent is in love with her. A huge row with Otto about Vincent was a major factor in breaking of the engagement.
Eline’s ending is inevitable, her physical health is ruined, but her mental health prevents her from getting better.
This book was first published as a feuilleton in a magazine and it has been reprinted many times. I read this book the first time when I was 16 and I bought a paperback version then. Just a few weeks back I bought a hardback copy, and I reread the book.
Couperus is not stingy with words, he writes in long and flowing sentences, with many (many) adjectives. Not everybody will like this, but for me the characteristic richness of the style is part of Couperus’ charm.
The story is not just about Eline Vere, but also about other people in her circles. Not everything is as interesting, but all in all I think I can safely say that for me Eline Vere is one of the most beautiful Dutch classics there is.
Published in 1888