Hugo Claus
Hugo Maurice Julien Claus (ˈɦyˑɣoˑ klɒˑu̯s; 5 April 1929 – 19 March 2008) was a leading Belgian
Belgian literature
Because Belgium is a multilingual country,French, Dutch and German are legally the three official languages in Belgium see: EU-Belgium Belgian literature is divided into two main linguistic branches following the two most prominently spoken languages in the country - Dutch and French...

 author who published under his own name as well as various pseudonym
A pseudonym is a name that a person assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym...

s. Claus' literary contributions spanned the genres of drama
Drama is the specific mode of fiction represented in performance. The term comes from a Greek word meaning "action" , which is derived from "to do","to act" . The enactment of drama in theatre, performed by actors on a stage before an audience, presupposes collaborative modes of production and a...

, the novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

, and poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

; he also left a legacy as a painter
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 and film director
Film director
A film director is a person who directs the actors and film crew in filmmaking. They control a film's artistic and dramatic nathan roach, while guiding the technical crew and actors.-Responsibilities:...

. He wrote primarily in Dutch, although he also wrote some poetry in English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...


His death by euthanasia
Euthanasia refers to the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering....

, which is legal in Belgium, led to considerable controversy.


Hugo Claus was born on 5 April 1929 at Sint-Janshospitaal in Bruges
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country....

, Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

. He was the eldest of the sons born to Jozef (Joseph) Claus, a printer who had a passion for theater; his mother was Germaine Vanderlinden. Three more sons were born into the family within the subsequent decade: Guido (February 1931 - 9 November 1991), Odo (born January 1934), and Johan (November 1938 - 13 February 2009).

Educated at a boarding school, the young Hugo Claus lived in Flanders
Flanders is the community of the Flemings but also one of the institutions in Belgium, and a geographical region located in parts of present-day Belgium, France and the Netherlands. "Flanders" can also refer to the northern part of Belgium that contains Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp...

 during Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

's invasion of the country in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Several of Claus' schoolteachers during the half-decade of the German occupation of the country were right-wing nationalists eager to support the Nazi government; his father was briefly held in custody for pro-German activities at the end of the occupation, and Hugo was himself swayed into supporting the pro-German Flemish fascist youth movement. Claus' experience with the wartime nationalist right would later become a source for his 1983 book The Sorrow of Belgium
The Sorrow of Belgium
The Sorrow of Belgium is a novel by the Belgian author Hugo Claus published in 1983. It's his best known work. In 1994 it was translated in English by Arnold J. Pomerans...

, a novel which tells the story of Claus' alter ego
Alter ego
An alter ego is a second self, which is believe to be distinct from a person's normal or original personality. The term was coined in the early nineteenth century when dissociative identity disorder was first described by psychologists...

 Louis Seynaeve. A sympathizer of the political left at a more mature period in his life, Claus lauded the socialist model after a visit to Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 in the 1960s.

Claus' prominence in literary circles and his debut as a novelist came in 1950, with the publication of his De Metsiers at age twenty-one. His first published poems had in fact been printed by his father as early as 1947. He lived in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 from 1950 until 1952, where he met many of the members of the CoBrA
Cobra is a venomous snake belonging to the family Elapidae. However, not all snakes commonly referred to as cobras are of the same genus, or even of the same family. The name is short for cobra capo or capa Snake, which is Portuguese for "snake with hood", or "hood-snake"...

 art movement.

From February 1953 until the beginning of 1955, Hugo Claus lived in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 where his girlfriend Elly Overzier (born in 1928) acted in a few films. They were married on 26 May 1955, and had a son, Thomas, on 7 October 1963. In the early 1970s, he had an affair with actress Sylvia Kristel
Sylvia Kristel
Sylvia Kristel is a Dutch actress, model and singer. Her most famous role is in the French film Emmanuelle.- Early life :...

, who was 27 years younger, with whom he had a son, Arthur, in 1975. The relationship ended in 1977, when she left him for actor Ian McShane
Ian McShane
Ian David McShane is an English actor, director, producer, voice artist, and comedian.Despite appearing in numerous films, McShane is best known for his television roles, particularly the BBC's Lovejoy and HBO's Western drama Deadwood...


He was a "contrarian", of "anarchist spirit". Journalist Guy Duplat recalls that Claus had organized in Knokke
Knokke is one of a group of communities that are all grouped in the administrative community Knokke-Heist, in the province of West Flanders in Flanders, Belgium. Knokke itself has 15,653 inhabitants .Knokke-Heist has 33,818 inhabitants ....

 the election of a "Miss Knokke Festival", which was a typical beauty contest
Beauty contest
A beauty pageant or beauty contest, is a competition that mainly focuses on the physical beauty of its contestants, although such contests often incorporate personality, talent, and answers to judges' questions as judged criteria...

, except for the Claus ruling that the members of the all-male jury would have to be naked.

Literary career

Hugo Claus was considered to be one of the most important contemporary Flemish authors . Claus published the novel Schola Nostra (1971) under the pseudonym Dorothea van Male. He also used the pseudonyms Jan Hyoens and Thea Streiner. The 1962 De verwondering (The Astonishment) and the 1983 Het verdriet van België (The Sorrow of Belgium
The Sorrow of Belgium
The Sorrow of Belgium is a novel by the Belgian author Hugo Claus published in 1983. It's his best known work. In 1994 it was translated in English by Arnold J. Pomerans...

) rank among Claus' most significant works as a novelist.

Most prolific in literary endeavors as a dramatist, Claus wrote 35 original pieces and 31 translations from English, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and Dutch plays and novels. His dramatic sketch Masscheroen was first staged at a casino
In modern English, a casino is a facility which houses and accommodates certain types of gambling activities. Casinos are most commonly built near or combined with hotels, restaurants, retail shopping, cruise ships or other tourist attractions...

 in Knokke and featured an all-nude cast: three naked men were given the task of portraying the Christian
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 Holy Trinity of God the father
God the Father
God the Father is a gendered title given to God in many monotheistic religions, particularly patriarchal, Abrahamic ones. In Judaism, God is called Father because he is the creator, life-giver, law-giver, and protector...

, God the son
God the Son
God the Son is the second person of the Trinity in Christian theology. The doctrine of the Trinity identifies Jesus of Nazareth as God the Son, united in essence but distinct in person with regard to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit...

, and the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of the Hebrew Bible, but understood differently in the main Abrahamic religions.While the general concept of a "Spirit" that permeates the cosmos has been used in various religions Holy Spirit is a term introduced in English translations of...

; the work also made light of the Holy Virgin
Holy Virgin
"Holy Virgin" is the first single from the album 21st Century by German trance group Groove Coverage. It's based on the song Fata Morgana by EAV.-Remix list:#"Holy Virgin" – 3:50#"Holy Virgin" – 3:28...

, a Flemish saint
A saint is a holy person. In various religions, saints are people who are believed to have exceptional holiness.In Christian usage, "saint" refers to any believer who is "in Christ", and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth...

, and the Three Wise Men. Attacked as blasphemous
Blasphemy is irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things. Some countries have laws to punish blasphemy, while others have laws to give recourse to those who are offended by blasphemy...

 and deleterious to the public's moral well-being, the light-hearted play's performance triggered a notable legal case in which Claus was prosecuted: convicted on charges of public indecency, Claus was ordered to pay a ten-thousand-franc
Belgian franc
The franc was the currency of Belgium until 2002 when the euro was introduced into circulation. It was subdivided into centimes , 100 centiem or Centime .-History:...

 fine and serve a four-month prison sentence. The prison term was reduced to a suspended sentence
Suspended sentence
A suspended sentence is a legal term for a judge's delaying of a defendant's serving of a sentence after they have been found guilty, in order to allow the defendant to perform a period of probation...

 after a public outcry.

Hugo Claus' name had been put forward many times for the Nobel Prize in literature
Nobel Prize in Literature
Since 1901, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded annually to an author from any country who has, in the words from the will of Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction"...

, on which he would casually comment "this prize money would suit me fine".

Painting and film

As a painter, Claus was a participant in the CoBrA art movement from 1950. He had developed friendships with some of its members, and illustrated a book by Pierre Alechinsky
Pierre Alechinsky
Pierre Alechinsky is a Belgian artist. He has lived and worked in France since 1951. His work is related to Tachisme, Abstract expressionism, and Lyrical Abstraction.Alechinsky was born in Brussels...

 in 1949. He collaborated with key figures in the movement including Karel Appel
Karel Appel
Christiaan Karel Appel was a Dutch painter, sculptor, and poet. He started painting at the age of fourteen and studied at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam in the 1940s...

 and Corneille
Guillaume Cornelis van Beverloo
Guillaume Cornelis van Beverloo , better known under his pseudonym Corneille, was a Dutch artist.Corneille was born in Liege, Belgium, although his parents were Dutch and moved back to the Netherlands when he was 12. He studied art at the Academy of Art in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands...

 and participated in some exhibitions.
He later used his experiences of this time in his book Een zachte vernieling (Mild Destruction)

Claus directed seven films between 1964
1964 in film
The year 1964 in film involved some significant events.-Events:* January 29 - The film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is released....

 and 2001
2001 in film
The year 2001 in film involved some significant events, including the first of the Harry Potter series and also the first of The Lord of the Rings trilogy...

. His film Het sacrament
The Sacrament (film)
The Sacrament is a 1990 Belgian comedy film directed by Hugo Claus. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival.-Cast:* Ann Petersen - Natalie* Carl Ridders - Claude* Jan Decleir - Albert...

was screened in the Un Certain Regard
Un Certain Regard
Un Certain Regard is a section of the Cannes Film Festival's Official Selection. It is run at the Salle Debussy, parallel to the competition for the Palme d'Or.This section was introduced in 1978 by Gilles Jacob...

 section at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival
1990 Cannes Film Festival
- Jury :*Bernardo Bertolucci *Alexei Guerman *Anjelica Huston *Bertrand Blier *Christopher Hampton*Fanny Ardant *Françoise Giroud *Hayao Shibata *Mira Nair *Sven Nykvist...



Claus suffered from Alzheimer's disease and requested his life to be terminated through euthanasia
Euthanasia refers to the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering....

, a legal procedure in Belgium, at the Middelheim Ziekenhuis in Antwerp on 19 March 2008.

The Flemish Minister of Culture stated "I knew him well enough to know that he wanted to depart with pride and dignity." Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt
Guy Verhofstadt
Guy Verhofstadt is a Belgian politician who was the 47th Prime Minister of Belgium from 1999 to 2008. He is currently a Member of the European Parliament and leader of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.- Early career :...

 said that he imagined the onset of Alzheimer's must have been "inevitable and unbearable torture". "I can live with the fact that he decided thus," he said, "because he left us as a great glowing star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

, right on time, just before he would have collapsed into a black hole
Stellar black hole
A stellar black hole is a black hole formed by the gravitational collapse of a massive star. They have masses ranging from about 3 to several tens of solar masses...


His death by euthanasia has received criticism from the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 and the Belgian Alzheimer League. The Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 criticized the media coverage; Cardinal Godfried Danneels referred to Claus' euthanasia in his Easter Homily. The Belgian Alzheimer League respects Claus' decision, but believes the media coverage of his death neglects other options for Alzheimer's patients.


Amongst others:
  • 1952 — Arkprijs van het Vrije Woord
    Arkprijs van het Vrije Woord
    The Arkprijs van het Vrije Woord is a symbolic award which was created in 1951 by Herman Teirlinck and the editorial team of the Nieuw Vlaams Tijdschrift to counteract ideologically driven restrictions on the freedom of expression.He wanted to bring those persons into the spotlight who actively...

     for De Metsiers
  • 1964 — August Beernaertprize for De verwondering
  • 1965 — Henriëtte Roland Holst-prize for all his plays
  • 1967 — Edmond Hustinxprize for all his plays
  • 1979 — Constantijn Huygens Prize
    Constantijn Huygens Prize
    The Constantijn Huygens Prize is a Dutch literary award.-History:Since 1947, it has been awarded each year for an author's complete works by the Jan Campert Foundation , a foundation named in honor of the Dutch writer Jan Campert who died while helping Jews during WWII...

  • 1985 — Cestoda-prize
  • 1986 — Herman Gorterprize for Alibi
  • 1986 — Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren
    Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren
    The Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren is awarded every three years to an author from the Netherlands, Belgium or, since 2005, Suriname writing in Dutch...

  • 1994 — Prijs voor Meesterschap
  • 1994 — VSB Poëzieprize for De Sporen
  • 1997 — Libris Literatuurprize for De Geruchten
  • 1998 — Aristeion Prize
    Aristeion Prize
    The Aristeion Prize is a European prize, awarded for significant contributions to contemporary literature, and exceptional translations of contemporary literature. The prize is awarded in a different Capital of Culture each year...

     for De Geruchten
  • 2000 — Premio Nonino

External links

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