Gerard Reve

His writing and life showed the cost of hidden trauma.

Born:
December 14, 1923, Amsterdam (Reve later said he was born on December 13, but the record was changed due to superstition. parents: communist Janetta Jacoba Doornbush and journalist Gerard J.M. van het Reve)
Died:
April 8, 2006, Zulte, Belgium (Alzheimer’s)
Portrait of Gerard Reve
Joost Evers, Nationaal Archief / Anefo

Gerard Reve

His writing and life showed the cost of hidden trauma.

Born:
December 14, 1923, Amsterdam (Reve later said he was born on December 13, but the record was changed due to superstition. parents: communist Janetta Jacoba Doornbush and journalist Gerard J.M. van het Reve)
Died:
April 8, 2006, Zulte, Belgium (Alzheimer’s)
Portrait of Gerard Reve
Joost Evers, Nationaal Archief / Anefo

Gerard Reve's Connection to this Location

Oudezijds Achterburgwal 55, where Gerard Reve lived

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Gerard Reve’s home

The protagonist of this story was a gay writer who was part of early steps towards LGBT+ equality, but he eventually harmed as many people as he helped. He lived in this house with his first boyfriend.

The Story

Gerard Reve is remembered as one of “The Big Three” writers of the post-war era in the Netherlands. His first publications in his early 20s explored both the occupation that the country had just lived through and the harms created by the veil of silence that had been collectively and individually drawn around the experience. Reve himself had begun writing during the war at a psychiatrist’s suggestion after escalating depression had led the young student to try to kill himself. His breakthrough, THE EVENINGS, was about the disconnection and lethal cynicism many people his age were feeling.

Soon after, Gerard fled Amsterdam for England with his wife, a Jewish poet named Hanny Michaelis. He felt Amsterdam was too constrained by bourgeois repression and vowed to write only in English. Ten years later, he was back in Amsterdam, divorced from Hanny and living at this house with a boyfriend. Gerard began to write more explicitly about faith, depression, and erotic adventures between men. On December 11, 1963, he acknowledged his romances with men on a TV program called Literary Encounters. It was the first time any man did so without obscuring his identity. He went on to write attention-getting articles for the new gay magazine, Dialogue.

In the late 60s, Gerard went on trial for blasphemy after writing explicit prose about what he would do to God reincarnated as a donkey. He was initially acquitted but pressed the charges to a higher court, drawing attention to the distinction the law made between the Protestant God and holy figures in other faiths. As the 70s and 80s brought new generations of activism, Gerard began to lash out at them. He made racist statements and performances. He bemoaned the Pride festival as an embarrassment and called homosexuality unnatural.

It’s hard to know how to sum up Gerard Reve. The ground he broke in his writing and by living openly as a gay man was important on several fronts. He also did real damage to Black people and LGBT+ people in the Netherlands and South Africa. He wrote so eloquently about the effects of hidden trauma from both war and from internalized social oppression. There’s no excuse for his statements, but it is easy to wonder how his own trauma influenced him throughout his life.

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