Eekhoud was a regionalist best known for his ability to represent scenes from rural and urban daily life. He tended to portray the dark side of human desire and write about social outcasts and the working classes.
Eekhoud was born in Antwerp. A member of a fairly well-off family, he lost his parents as a young boy. When he came into his own he started working for a journal. First as a corrector, later he contributed a serial. In 1877, the generosity of his grandmother permitted young Eekhoud to publish his first two books, Myrtes et Cyprès and Zigzags poétiques, both volumes of poetry. In the beginning of the 1880s Eekhoud took part in several of the modern French-Belgian artist movements, like Les XX (= The Twenty) and La Jeune Belgique (= Young Belgium). Kees Doorik, his first novel was published in 1883, about the wild life of a tough young farmhand who committed a murder. The renowned free-thinking publisher Henri Kistemaeckers brought out a second edition three years later. Eekhoud received some guarded praise by famous authors like Edmond de Goncourt and Joris-Karl Huysmans who both sent Eekhoud a personal letter. For his second prose book, Kermesses (= Fairs, 1884), not only Goncourt and Huysmans praised him, but also Émile Zola, about whom Eekhoud had written an essay in 1879.
In 1886 his novel Les milices de Saint-François (= The Soldiers of Saint Francis Xavier) was published. By now Eekhoud's established subject was the rural Campine, a poor farmers' district east of Antwerp. He had a distinct style permeated with enthusiasm for the roguish young farm labourers and their rough-and-tumble lives. His most famous novel, La nouvelle Carthage (= The New Carthage) was published in its definitive form in 1893, and many times reprinted. It has also been translated in English, German, Dutch, Russian and Romanian. The rustic Campine was in this book replaced with the brutal life of love and death in the Antwerp dockland metropolis and its dirty industry.
In 1899 Eekhoud offered to his readers a new and daring novel, Escal-Vigor. This is the name of the castle of its protagonist, count Henry de Kehlmark, but it conveys the name 'Escaut', French for the river Scheldt, and 'Vigor', Latin for Power. Many of these readers were shocked, because the book is concerned with love between men. According to Eekhoud's biographer Mirande Lucien, Escal-Vigor was the book of a man who wanted to speak about himself in all freedom. Escal-Vigor is a homogeneous, linear text. The story goes without detours to its final scene of the martyrdom, the moment that the tortured bodies testify of the justness of their cause. As for its composition, Escal-Vigor is the least decadent of Eekhoud's works. Eekhoud makes much less use of the elaborate and old-fashioned words that make the reader stop and wonder.
A clear and resolute novel about homosexuality, Escal-Vigor was heading towards trouble. Although it was well received by most critics, like Rachilde and Eugène Demolder, a lawsuit was launched against it. However, a storm of protest, especially vociferous because of numerous literary celebrities, and a cunning lawyer with literary aspirations, Edmond Picard, did their part in acquitting Eekhoud.
Later novels and stories, like L'Autre Vue (1904) and Les Libertins d'Anvers (= Antwerp libertines, 1912) also contain notions of homosexuality or sometimes only hints of admiration for masculinity, e.g. Dernières Kermesses (1920). Eekhoud corresponded with Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen and contributed to his sumptuous literary monthly Akademos (1909). Also, he influenced young Jacob Israël de Haan, who authored several poems on themes of his older Belgian colleague, especially La Nouvelle Carthage and Les Libertines d'Anvers. Eekhoud for his part wrote the preface of De Haan's sadomasochistical novel Pathologieën (= Pathologies, 1908).
Eekhoud continued to be a well-respected author until he put on a firmly pacifistic stance in World War I that ravaged Belgium, after which his star declined. In the twenties his books started to be reprinted again, although he died in 1927 at Schaerbeek.
Eekhoud left a voluminous diary (1895–1927) of some 5000 pages, that has been bought by the Royal Library of Brussels in 1982. Various Belgian libraries contain extensive collections of correspondence.
Nowadays, especially the homosexual aspect of his works has enjoyed attention. Escal-Vigor has been reprinted in 1982, and Eekhoud's partly homoerotic correspondence with the journalist Sander Pierron was published ten years later (Eekhoud, Georges: Mon bien aimé petit Sander, suivies de six lettres de Sander Pierron à Georges Eekhoud. Lettres de Georges Eekhoud à Sander Pierron (= My much beloved little Sander). Lille, GKC, 1993). This book, a full-scale biography (Lucien, Mirande: Eekhoud le rauque (= Eekhoud the hoarse). Villeneuve d'Ascq, Septentrion, 1999) and a choice of his works were edited by Mirande Lucien.
Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (February 17, 2005)
Amazon: Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century
"A brilliant work of social archaeology....A major historical contribution."—Adam Goodheart, The New York Times Book Review
The nineteenth century was a golden age for those people known variously as sodomites, Uranians, monosexuals, and homosexuals. Long before Stonewall and Gay Pride, there was such a thing as gay culture, and it was recognized throughout Europe and America. Graham Robb, brilliant biographer of Balzac, Hugo, and Rimbaud, examines how homosexuals were treated by society and finds a tale of surprising tolerance. He describes the lives of gay men and women: how they discovered their sexuality and accepted or disguised it; how they came out; how they made contact with like-minded people. He also includes a fascinating investigation of the encrypted homosexuality of such famous nineteenth-century sleuths as Edgar Allan Poe's Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes himself (with glances forward in time to Batman and J. Edgar Hoover). Finally, Strangers addresses crucial questions of gay culture, including the riddle of its relationship to religion: Why were homosexuals created with feelings that the Creator supposedly condemns? This is a landmark work, full of tolerant wisdom, fresh research, and surprises (31 illustrations).
Extract from the book: Legan intervention was relatively rare, which, to judge by the fame of banned works like Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal or Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, was not necessarily a boon for homosexual literature. Eekhoud's Escal-Vigor (Paris, 1899), in which two noble lovers in the Hamlet-esque castle of Escal-Vigor (a partial anagram of "Oscar Wilde") are murdered by a mob of local women, was banned in 1900, then translated into German and English (as Strange Love). Most gay novels never had the chance to be prosecuted. When Jacob Israel de Haan published his tale of two students, Pijpelijntjes (Amsterdam, 1904), his fiancee and the model for the main character, Dr. Arnold Aletrino, who had defended Uranists at a medical conference, bought all the copies they could find and destroyed them.
Many gay writers repressed their own work. Georges Eekhoud asked his Belgian publisher to print no more than 200 copies of Le Cycle patibulaire (1892), to charge a high price, not to advertise it and not to display it in bookstores. For Imre (1906) - one of the first truly happy novels of gay love - Edward Prime-Stevenson used an obscure press in Naples whose typesetters could not read English. When the Scottish-German anarchist John Henry Mackay issued the first two books of his series on "nameless love" in 1906, buyers were required to give their names and addresses and to sign a statement saying that they were disinterested "lovers of art".
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