In Association with

Choose another writer in this calendar:

by name:

by birthday from the calendar.

Credits and feedback

for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Hugo Claus (1929-2008)


Highly versatile and prolific Belgian author, whose oeuvre included poetry, novels, dramas, short stories, screenplays, essays, translations. Most of Hugo Claus's writing had an experimental quality. An anti-authoritarian, his attacks on conventional bourgeois mores, religious bigotry stirred much controversy. Claus worked also as a stage and film director – his films were regarded as scandalous due to their eroticism and bluntness. His international breakthrough Claus made in 1983 with the postmodern novel The Sorrow of Belgium. Claus wrote in Flemish. For decades he was the dominant figure in Belgium's postwar Dutch-language literature.

Too many battles I have seen,
heard too much whining of lovers.
I always travelled too far.
A show-box has replaced my eye,
a humming-top my ear.
Too much mire
and too much corpses.
Too much joy.
Now I hide among the suitors,
those beggars.

(in The International Portland Review 1980, ed. Cindy Ragland, 1980)

Hugo Claus was born in Bruges, the son of a printer. His childhood Claus spent in the East Flemish town of  Kortrijk. After a very strict Catholic upbringing, Claus left school at an early age, unable to adapt himself to the traditional education system. He worked on a farm while studying at the Academy of Ghent, but at the same time he also studied drama. In France he was a seasonal worker in a sugar factory, saying later that he found it so senseless that he decided never to work for anyone again. Claus's play, Suiker (1958), was based on these experiences. In Paris Claus met Antonin Artaud whose influence is seen in the early collection of poems, Registreren (1948, Registration). "I will meet him still / under bridges, in the empty train station. / He will put his arm around my shoulder. / Towards morning he starts drilling, / shaking my fibres, / until I scream, Artaud, Artaud." (in 'For the Poet Antonin Artaud', Registration, 1948, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer)

After returning to Belgium Claus joined the Cobra group, which was named after the cities of Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. The group was established in 1948 by Karel Appel with other Northern European artists and writers, and presented a European parallel to the Abstract Expressionists in New York. Later Claus published essays on the painter Corneille (Over het werk van Corneille, 1951) and Appel. In the novel Een zachte vernieling (1988) he retunerned to the  activities of group.

In 1950, Claus went to live in Paris. He also spent some time in Italy. In 1955 he settled down in Belgium and married Elly Overzier; they had one son. As a novelist Claus made his debut with De metsiers (1950, The Duck Hunt), which was inspired by William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. This naturalistic family chronicle made Claus famous. The Duck Hunt focuses on the problems of puberty, and shows how innocence is crushed by an absurd fate. Claus's experimental period in poetry ended with De Oostakkerse Gedichten (1955).

In the fragmented Het verlangen (1978, Desire) overweight, slow-witted Jake and dark, brooding Michael leave The Unicorn, their local tavern and head for Las Vegas, where they see the other side of glitter and glamour in the New World. Meanwhile their friends at The Unicorn comment on their missing buddies and Jake's wife struggles to tend their brain-damaged daughter.

Claus's ambitious war novel De verwondering (1963), a story of a private inferno and Flemish Nazis, was an allegory of the contemporary world, and included references to Dante, Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, and classical mythology. The work had a late sequel in Het verdriet van België (1983, The Sorrow of Belgium), which traced grippingly the narrow-mindedness of ordinary Belgians, a subject which had led the French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) collect his insults in a travel book entitled Pauvre Belgique! The post-modern bestseller can be read on different levels. Louis Seynaeve, the protagonist, is young who grows up in Nazi occupied Belgium. His formative years are tinged with a convent school with its nuns and monks and later the strong women of the family who reveal to him the secrets of the family. The story later inspired Claude Goretta's television film Der Kummer von Flandern (1994).

Schaamte (1972) was set in the Caribbean and the autobiographical Het jaar van de kreeft (1972) was based on a love affair between the author and a well-known actress. In Claus's work the emphasis is more on situation than on character. Often his books dealt with a family crisis in which the victims and victimizers are both threatened by the same forces. De zwaardvis (1989, The Swordfish) was a novella about a small-town conflict and crisis. In the story Martin Ghyselen, a lonely boy, escapes the pressures of his surroundings into fantasy, seeing himself tragically as the martyred Jesus. De geruchten (1996) was set in the mid-1960s. René Catrijsse, the sick prodigal son, returns to his home village. He has fought in the Belgian Congo before deserting from the army. His return coincides with a series of accidents in the community, and soon also the scapegoat is found.

As a playwright Claus wrote psychological and social dramas, such as Suiker (1958), historical spectacles (Tijl uilenspiegel, 1965; Het leven en de werken van Leopold II, 1970), and adaptations of classical Greek, Roman, and Elizabethan texts, written under the influence of Antonin Artaud's theatre of cruelty. Orestes (1976) was after Euripides and Het huis van Labdakos (1977, The House of Labdacus) was a synthesis of several ancient Greek and Roman works. Claus's dramatic output ranged from the theatre of absurd and slapstic farce to naturalism. "I have no style," Claus once said. Many of his plays dealt with religious taboos and forbidden love.

A Bride in the Morning (1955), Claus's first full-lenght play, alluded to an referred to an incestuous relationship between the bipolar young hero, Thomas, and his sister Andrea. Claus wrote this landmark work of Dutch-language theater while in self-imposed exile in Rome with his future wife Elly Overzier. When it was produced in Paris with great success, Jean-Louis Trintigant appeared in the role of Thomas. "There reigns in this work an atmosphere of impassioned charm and innocence, charm and innocence that throughout are truly menaced by the monsters that surround them," wrote Le Figaro Littéraire.

Claus's Masscheroen (1968), drawing on the sixteenth-century miracle play Mariken van Nieumeghen, was brought to trial on charges of obscenity and sacrilege. Vrijdag (1969) was a triangular drama in which the acceptance of the truth means a step toward reconciliation. George Vermeersch returns from prison and finds that his wife has a lover. Vermeersch reveals that he had an incestuous relationship with their daughter. His wife acknowledges that she was aware of the situation. When the lover leaves her, the Vermeersches are left to reconstruct their marriage. The Life and Works of Leopold II (1970) connected sexual lust and colonialism. In The Temptation (1980) an elderly nun imagines having a carnal liaison with Jesus and urinates during a spiritual experience.

In 1973 Claus travelled to Bangkok where his wife of that time, Sylvia Kristel, acted in Emmanuelle, one of the most successful erotic movies ever made. Claus, who was 27 years her senior, coached her in acting. "Don't lie there like a dead fish," she recalled him saying. With Kristel he had a son. "Hugo was Mister Positivo," she once said. "Hij was de liefde van mijn leven."

Claus's own place in Belgian cinema was primarily as a writer, for example of commentaries for documentaries by Charles Dekeukeleire, Paul Haesaerts and Patrick Ledoux. He wrote the screenplay for Roland Verhavert's Pallieter and adapted Stijn Streuvel's novel De Teleurgang van de Waterhoek for Fons Rademakers' film Mira (1971). With Rademaker he also collaborated in Het Mes (1961), De dans van de reiger (1966), and Niet voor de poezen (1973), based on Nicolas Freeling's Van der Valk crime thriller.

Claus's own films caused much controversy and were less successful. In 1967 he directed De Vijanden (Enemies) from his own screenplay and in 1980 Vrijdag (Friday), based on his play which was produced originally in Amsterdam in 1969. Another attempt at direction was Het Sacrament (1989, The Sacrament), about 24 hours in the life of a priest. Claus adapted the film from his novel Omtrent Deedee (1963). The Sacrament  was submitted for the 62nd Academy Awards for best foreign language film; the winner was Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore.

Claus lived long periods in Paris and Rome. In the later years of his life Claus spent half of the year in his farm in Northern France. Claus's several awards include the State Prize for Dutch Letters, the Herman Gorter Prize, and VSB Prize for poetry in 1994. Claus won three times the coveted Triennial Award for Theatre. De Geruchten (1996) received in 1998 the Aristeion Prize. He was frequently mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Claus, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died by euthanasia at a hospital in Antwerp on 19 March, 2008. His third wife was the actress Veerle Claus-De Wit.

For further information: Dutch and Flemish Literature as World Literature, edited by Theo D'haen (2019); Hugo Claus: familiealbum by Georges Wildemeersch (2018); Hugo Claus: de jonge jaren by Georges Wildemeersch (2015); Introduction to The Sacrament and Other Plays of Forbidden Love by David Willinger (2007); 'Claus, Hugo,' in Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 1, ed. Steven R. Serafin (1999); Introduction to Four Works for the Theatre by Hugo Claus by D. Willinger (1990); Introduction to Hugo Claus: Selected Poems by T. Hermans (1986); Claus Reading by Paul Claes (1984); Mensch und Schuld by Herbert van Uffelen (1983); Hugo Claus, Experiment en Traditie by J. Weisgerber (1974); Hugo Claus of Oedipus in het Paradijs by G. Wildemeersch (1973); Literature on the Low Countries by R.P. Meijer (1971); Post-war Dutch Literature by J.P.Snapper (1971); Over Claus' Toneel by J.De Decker (1971) 

Selected works:

  • Kleine reeks, 1947
  • Registreren, 1948
  • De blijde en onvoorziene week, 1950 (with Karel Appel)
  • De metsiers, 1950
    - The Duck Hunt (tr. George Libaire, 1955)
  • Zonder vorm van proces, 1950
  • Tancredo Infrasonic, 1950
  • Over het werk van Corneille, 1951
  • De hondsdagen, 1952
  • Een huis dat tussen nacht en morgen staat, 1953
  • Natuurgetrouw, 1954
  • De Oostakkerse gedichten, 1955
  • Paal en Perk, 1955 (with Corneille)
  • Een bruid in de morgen, 1955
    - A Bride in the Morning (tr. David Willinger, in The Sacrament and Other Plays of Forbidden Love, 2007) 
  • De Koele Minnaar, 1956
  • Het lied van de moordenaar, 1957 [The Assassin's Song]
  • Suiker, 1958
    - Sugar (tr. David Willinger, in The Sacrament and Other Plays of Forbidden Love, 2007)
    - films: TV drama 1960, dir. Ton Lutz; Zucker, TV drama 1965, dir. Oswald Döpke, starring Günter Strack, Herbert Fleischmann and Max Wittmann; TV film 1980, prod. Belgische Radio en Televisie (BRT), West-Vlaams Teater Antigone, dir. Albert Hanssens, Luc Segers, starring Piet Balfoort, Frans Denturck, Gil Lefever, Oswald Maes, Joris Sustronck, André Van Daele, Hadewich Van Der Straeten  
  • translator: Onder het melkwoud by Dylan Thomas, 1958
  • translator: Als een jonge hond by Dylan Thomas, 1958
  • De zwarte keizer, 1958
  • Dantons dood, 1958 (adaptation of a play by Georg Buchner)
  • Mama, kijk, zonder handen!, 1959 [Look Ma, No Hands!]
  • Een geverfde ruiter, 1961
  • De dans van de reiger, 1962 [The Dance of the Heron]
    - films: 1966, prod. Atlas Film, Jadran Film, Rademakers Productie BV, dir. Fons Rademakers, starring Gunnel Lindblom, Jean Desailly, Van Doude, Mien Duymaer Van Twist; 1977, prod. Belgische Radio en Televisie (BRT), N.T.G. Nederlands Toneel Gent, dir. Dré Poppe 
  • Omtrent Deedee, 1963
    - film: Het sacrament, 1990, prod. Corsan Productions N.V., dir. Hugo Claus, screenplay Hugo Claus, starring Ann Petersen, Carl Ridders, Jan Decleir, Hugo Van Den Berghe
  • Love Song, 1963 (with Karel Appel)
  • De verwondering, 1963
    - Wonder (tr. Michael Henry Heim, 2009)
  • Karel Appel, schilder, 1963
    - Karel Appel, Painter (tr. Cornelis de Dood, 1963)  
  • De man van Tollund, 1963
  • Het teken van de Hamster, 1964
    - The Sign of the Hamster (tr. Paul Claes et al., 1986)
  • Louis Paul Boon, 1964
  • Oog om oog, 1964 (with van Sanne Sannes)
  • Gedichten 1948-1963, 1965
  • Het landschap, 1965
  • Die schilderijen van Roger Raveel, 1965
  • Tijl Uilenspiegel, 1965 (adaptation of a work by Charles de Coster)
  • Thyestes, 1966 (adaptation of the play by Seneca)
  • Het Goudland, 1966 (The Golden Land; adaptation of a novel by Henrik Conscience)
  • Acht toneelstukken, 1966
  • Relikwie, 1967
  • De vijanden, 1967
    - film 1968, prod. Jan Vrijman Cineproduktie, Ministerie van Nederlandse Kultuur, Visie Filmproduktie, dir. Hugo Claus, starring Del Negro, Fons Rademakers and Robbe De Hert, Ida Bons
  • De avonturen van Belgman, 1967 (drawings by Hoguké)
  • Morituri, 1968
  • Masscheroen, 1968 [Maskeroon]
  • Wrraak!, 1968 (adaptation of the play The Revenger's Tragedy by Cyril Tourneur)
  • Reconstructie, 1969 (libretto, with others)
  • Motet, 1969
  • Genesis, 1969 (with Roger Raveel)
  • Natuurgetrouwer, 1969
  • Vrijdag, 1969
    - Friday (translated by the author and Christopher Logue, 1972) / Friday  (in Four Works for the Theatre, tr. David Willinger, Luk Truyts and Luc Denuelin, 1990)
    - film 1981, prod. Cinécentrum N.V., Concept, Elan Film N.V., dir. Hugo Claus, starring Frank Aendenboom, Kitty Courbois,  Herbert Flack, Hilde Van Mieghem 
  • De spaanse hoer, 1970 (The Spanish Whoree; adaptation of La Celestina by Fernardo de Rojas)
  • Tand om tand, 1970 [Tooth by Tooth]
  • Het leven en de werken van Leopold II, 1970
    - The Life and Works of Leopold II (tr. David Willinger, in An Anthology of Contemporary Belgian Plays, 1970-1982, 1984)   
  • Heer Everzwijn, 1970
  • Van horen zeggen, 1970
  • Dag, jij, 1971
  • Schola Nostra, 1971
  • Interieur, 1971 (adaptation from his novel Omtrent Deedee)
    - The Sacrament (tr. David Willinger, in The Sacrament and Other Plays of Forbidden Love, 2007) 
  • Oedipus, 1971 (adaptation of the play by Seneca)
  • Schola Nostra door Dorothea van Male, 1971
  • De vossejacht, 1972 (The Fox Hunt; adaptation of the play Volpone by Ben Jonson)
  • Gebed om geweld, 1972
  • Het Jaar van de kreeft, 1972
    - film 1975, prod. MGS Film, teleplay Herbert Curiel, dir.  Herbert Curiel, starring Rutger Hauer, Willeke van Ammelrooy 
  • De vossejacht, toonelstuk naar Ben Jonson, 1972
  • Schaamte, 1972
  • Figuratief, 1973
  • In het Wilde Westen, De groene ridder, deel 1, 1973
  • De paladijnen, De groene ridder, deel 2, 1973
  • Aan de evenaar, De groene ridder, deel 7, 1973
  • Pas de deux, 1973
    - TV film 1975, prod. Belgische Radio en Televisie (BRT), Nederlandse Omroepstichting (NOS), Teater Arena Gent, dir.  Fred Bosman, Jaak Van de Velde, starring Annelies Vaes, Jaak Vissenaken and John Willaert 
  • Blauw blauw, 1973 (adaptation of the play Private Lives by Noël Coward)
  • Gekke Gerrit, 1973
  • Wangebeden, 1973
  • De groene ridder, 1973
  • Thuis, 1975
    - Back Home (tr. David Willinger, in An Anthology of Contemporary Belgian Plays, 1970-1982, 1984)
  • Orestes, 1976 (adaptation of the play by Euripides)
  • Het graf van Pernath, 1976
  • Four Flemish Poets: Hugo Claus, Gust Gils, Paul Snoek, Hugues C. Pernath, 1976 (edited by Peter Nijmeijer)
  • Het Jansenisme, 1977
  • Jessica!, 1977
  • De vluchtende Atalanta, 1977
  • Het huis van Labdakos, 1977 [The House of Labdachos]
  • De Wangebeden, 1978
  • Zwart, 1978
  • Het verlangen, 1978
    - Desire (tr. Stacey Knecht, 1997)
  • Claustrum, 1979
  • Fuga, 1979
  • Gedichten 1969-1978, 1979
  • Phaedra, 1980 (adaptation of the play by Seneca)
  • Dertien manieren om een fragment van Alechinsky te zien, 1980
  • De verzoeking, 1980
    - The Temptation (in Four Works for the Theatre, tr. David Willinger, Luk Truyts and Luc Denuelin, 1990)
  • Ontmoetingen met Corneille en Karel Appel, 1980
  • Phaedra, 1980
  • Een Hooglied, 1981 [An Anthem]
  • Jan de Lichte, 1981
  • Almanak, 1982
  • translator: Het hooglied (The Song of Solomon), 1982
  • translator: Lysistrata by Aristophanes, 1982
  • Mexico vandaag, 1982 (with Freddy dw Vree)
  • Het haar van de hond, 1982
    - The Hair of the Dog  (in Four Works for the Theatre, tr. David Willinger, Luk Truyts and Luc Denuelin, 1990)
  • Het verdriet van België, 1983
    - The Sorrow of Belgium (tr. Arnold J. Pomerans, 1990)
    - Belgian suru (suom. Markku Mannila, 1999)
    - TV mini-series 1995, prod. Belgische Radio en Televisie (BRTN), Kunst en Kino, La Sept-Arte, dir. Claude Goretta, starring Marianne Basler, Damiaan De Schrijver, Mathias Engelbeen, Dirk Roofthoof 
  • Serenade, 1984
    - Serenade  (in Four Works for the Theatre, tr. David Willinger, Luk Truyts and Luc Denuelin, 1990)
  • Blindeman, 1985 [Blindman]
  • Georg Faust, 1985 (libretto, music by Konrad Boehmer)
  • Alibi, 1985
  • De mensen Hiernaast, 1985
  • Een weerzinwekkend bezoek, 1985
  • Gevulde contouren, 1985
  • Wyckaert, 1986 (with Freddy de Vree)
  • Bewegen, 1986 (photographs by Willy Legendre)
  • Evergreens, 1986
  • translator: Hamlet by Shakespeare, 1986
  • translator: In Kolonos by Sophocles, 1986
  • Gedichten van Hugo Claus, 1986
  • Het verschijnsel, 1986
  • Sonnetten, 1986
  • Hugo Claus: Selected Poems, 1986
  • Bewegen, 1986 (with van Willy Legendre)
  • Sporen, 1987
  • Hymen, 1987
  • translator: De anderehand by Pierre Alechinsky, 1987 (with Freddy de Vree)
  • Voor Pierre, 1987
  • Sonnetten, 1987
  • Mej honderd gedichten, 1987
  • Chateau Migraine, 1987
  • Beelden, 1987
  • Een zachte vernieling, 1988
  • Het schommelpaard, 1988 [The Rocking Horse]
  • Toneel I, 1988
  • Gilles en de nacht, 1989
  • Toneel II, 1989
  • De zwaardvis, 1989
    - The Swordfish (tr.  Ruth Levitt, 1996)
  • Kort dagboek, 1989
  • Perte Totale, 1989
  • Four Works for the Theater, 1990 (ed. David Willinger, tr. David Willinger, Luk Truyts and Luc Denuelin)
  • The Temptation, 1990 (adaptation from the novel De verzoeking)
  • Toneel III, 1991
  • De Sporen, 1993
  • Onder de torens, 1993 [Under the Trees]
  • Toneel IV, 1993
  • Belladonna, 1994
  • Gedichten 1948-1993, 1994
  • De eieren van de kaaiman, 1995
  • De verlossing, 1996
    - film 2001, prod. prod. Corsan Productions N.V., SNG Film / Studio Nieuwe Gronden, dir. Hugo Claus, starring Gilda De Bal, Jan Decleir, Peter Van den Begin, Elke Dom, Willeke Van den Begin 
  • Visite; Winteravond, 1996
  • De Geruchten, 1996
  • Onvoltooid verleden, 1997
  • Zoek de zeven, 1997
  • De Komedianten (Pas de deux II), 1997
  • Oktober '43, 1998
  • Voor de reiziger, 1998
  • De aap in Efese, 1998
  • Het laatste bed, 1998
  • Onvoltooid verleden, 1998
  • Verhalen, 1999
  • Het huis van de liefde, 1999
  • Wreed geluk, 1999
  • Made in Belgium, 2000 (photographs and preface by Harry Gruyaert, postface by Robert Delpire)
  • Een Slaapwandeling, 2000
  • De groeten, 2001
  • Ik schrijf je neer, 2002
  • De tafel is leeg, 2002
  • Sans Merci, 2002
  • Mijn hart en ik, 2002
  • De Verzoeking en andere novellen, 2003
  • Zeezucht, 2003
  • Greetings: Selected Poems, 2004 (tr. John Irons)
  • Gedichten: 1948-2004, 2004
    - Even Now: Poems (selected and translated from Gedichten 1948-2004; translated by David Colmer, 2013)
  • In geval van nood: gedichten, 2004
  • Flagrant, 2004 (with Pierre Alechinsky)
  • Groepsportret: een leven in citaten, 2004 (ed. Mark Schaevers)
  • The Sacrament and Other Plays of Forbidden Love, 2007 (ed. David Willinger)
  • Hugo Claus, Roger Raveel: brieven 1947-1962, 2007 (ed. Katrien Jacobs)
  • Nu nog: een keuze uit de gedichten, 2007
  • Laat nooit deze brief aan iemand lezen: de briefwisseling tussen Hugo Claus en Simon Vinkenoog, 1951-1956, 2008 (ed. Georges Wildemeersch)
  • De wolken: uit de geheime laden van Hugo Claus, 2011 (ed. Mark Schaevers)
  • Even Now: Poems, 2013 (selected and translated from the Dutch by David Colmer)
  • Nieuwe tekeningen en gedichten, 2018 (samengesteld door Suzanne Holtzer)
  • Het verdriet staat niet alleen: een leven in verhalen, 2018 (verzameld door Mark Schaevers)
  • Alle verhalen, 2019

In Association with

Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. 2008-2022.

Creative Commons License
Authors' Calendar jonka tekijä on Petri Liukkonen on lisensoitu Creative Commons Nimeä-Epäkaupallinen-Ei muutettuja teoksia 1.0 Suomi (Finland) lisenssillä.
May be used for non-commercial purposes. The author must be mentioned. The text may not be altered in any way (e.g. by translation). Click on the logo above for information.