So about three months ago my Facebook news feed fucking exploded because of this:
Fifty Shades of fucking Grey coming out on fucking Valentine’s Day next year, such a perfect date for a movie based on a the first novel of a trilogy that basically romanticizes abuse.
For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet after these first two lines (sentences?) of introduction: I fucking hate the Fifty Shades trilogy. I almost fucking hate it more than I fucking hate fucking Wuthering Heights, my most hated book ever since… forever (which is something I will certainly come back to in a future blog). For me the Fifty Shades trilogy and its fucking popularity simply indicate that the entire fucking world needs to be fucking educated about unhealthy relationships. It’s not romantic when someone controls your entire fucking life. It’s not romantic to constantly be afraid of how your S.O. will react to every fucking single tiny thing. And it’s certainly not romantic to be stalked by someone in the name of fucking love.
And don’t get me started on that whole fucking ‘but inside he’s still a sad damaged little orphan boy who just needs to be loved and she is the only one who understands him and can save him’ bullcrap. That’s no fucking excuse to behave like a fucking jerk, let alone to mistreat somebody else. Mr. Grey is a fucking adult and should therefore fucking act like one. This fucking isn’t a story about love! In fact, this fucking isn’t much of a proper story at all: to say that the writing is awful is a fucking understatement. Hell, Rauzer is a fucking Ulysses compared to this! And unless they are uttered by George Takei, there are only so many fucking “oh my”s I can take.
In that regard, this is fucking brilliant by the way:
But when I posted my “WHY WORLD WHYYYYYYYYYY?!” rant on Facebook in regard to this fucking upcoming movie, a friend’s response certainly put things into perspective:
Of course she was fucking damn right: it’s not the highly romanticized abuse part that seems to be remembered first when it comes to the Fifty Shades trilogy; it’s the fucking ‘porn’. And it’s that same fucking ‘porn’ that, indeed, made these fucking books sell so fucking damn fast. But therein, in my opinion, lies the fucking rub.
See, most of the actual ‘porn’ parts of the Fifty Shades trilogy don’t offend me at all. This, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean that I like that part of the series. I mean, again, the entire piece of shit is not that well written to begin with, neither is it all that ‘special’.
Sure, the series tackles BDSM and the likes, and that doesn’t happen that often. But let’s face it: Mrs. James doesn’t really seem to understand how BDSM actually works. (And for those of you who are giglingly wondering why I know that: as far as I know that’s fucking common knowledge, fucking educate yourselves.) This, by the way, is the only aspect of those ‘porn’ sections that does fucking piss me off. Ignoring someone’s safe word for example… that’s not a dom; that’s a fucking sadist. Not okay, yet here fucking romanticized as hell because she is a ‘very strong woman’ standing by her ‘deeply troubled’ man while he fights his inner demons.1 Again, this stuff happens in real life, and in real life it never gets a fucking happy ending. Anna is not a heroine; she’s a fucking victim.
But back on topic: porn sells. I get that. (Duh.) Who doesn’t enjoy a steamy story from time to time? A dirty mind is a joy forever, as I always like to say. But you know what else sells next to porn and/or sex in general? Bad reactions because of the porn and/or sex in general. (Hell, I read the Fifty Shades trilogy purely because my favourite internet critic Lindsay Ellis wrote a blog about it (that I now unfortunately can’t seem to find anywhere)2.) It’s a trick as old as times… Well, that is to say: it’s at least as old as the 20th century, especially when it comes to Dutch literature.
Much of this, of course, has to do with WWII, or rather, in this case, with its aftermath. After the Netherlands were liberated in 1945, our literary landscape changed at an astonishing pace. Particularly when it came to the loosening of morals. One of the main reasons for that was that an increasing number of writers now started to emerge from the working class, whereas writers before WWII were mostly upper class. And as a result of this, earlier established rules of conduct started to disappear. Writers now mostly desired to show the world as she really was, instead of following decorum created by sophisticated artists and moralists.3
This freedom of looser morals, however, did meet with resistance. This started as early as 1946, when Voetreis naar Rome (“Walking Tour to Rome”) by Bertus Aafjes came out, a book length poem describing a trip to Rome Aafjes made by foot in the 1930s. What made the critics rage: the part in which he depicts making love to a servant girl he met in a hotel. A one night stand, as we would call it today. The actual love making is described in lines as “Oh nights, which swell as fruits/ full of juice of love and happiness” and “where the body rises”. Pretty tame from our present day point of view, but a shock for a culture that was still mostly driven by religion and traditional etiquettes. Reviewers were disgusted and preached against the demoralization of youth and culture. The result of their rants was far from what they intended though: Voetreis naar Rome sold out in the blink of an eye and went to second print within mere weeks.4
Over the following years, more taboos were gradually broken. In 1948, Eenzaam avontuur (“Lonely Adventure”) by Anna Blaman was the first Dutch novel about the love between two women. It contained a meticulously described kissing scene between the female protagonist Berthe and another woman.5 Although the book certainly stayed within decent margins, as everything was written in a very chaste and discrete manner, conservative Christians were appalled. And so was the press, who wrote angry reviews full of prudery and bigotry. De Volkskrant stated “it’s a dirty thing”, Het Parool called it “a demonstration of bad taste and silliness”, and F.C. Dominicus, reviewer of Nieuwe Haagse Courant, even declared on camera that he “regard[ed] the case Anna Blaman as an illness”.6
As a response to this, the Rotterdam bookstore Buul decided to set up a mock trial in which the book was to be the accused. Although the now famous ‘Book Trial’ was actually intended as a publicity stunt for the national book week of 1949, and was initially set up with the approval and collaboration of Blaman herself, the author was shocked by the contents of the mock subpoena and decided not to turn up.7 The trial, which was broadcasted by national radio, quickly turned into an outrage: fellow authors made vicious remarks about the book’s style and content, and cruelly mocked Blaman because of her sexuality.8 Needless to say, Eenzaam avontuur instantly became a number one bestseller, and Anna Blaman became one of the literary tastemakers of the Netherlands.9
Repulsed as the critics were though, up to then everything still had been extremely decent when it came to the language used to describe anything sexual. This changed however when writer W.F. Hermans took everything another step further with his 1949 novel De tranen der acasia’s (“The Tears of Acacias”). Hermans’ language was straightforward, even businesslike, and devoid of romance. De tranen der acasia’s contains a passage in which one of the novel’s protagonists tries to have sex with a girl, but has difficulty in doing so: “she repulsed him like a plate of stale food.” It was the first time in the history of Dutch literature that words like “coming” and “limp member” could be found in a novel. Hermans had a lot of difficulty finding a publisher who was willing to print it.10 And when finally published, the novel caused a storm of protests,11 but De tranen der acacia’s had set the tone for what we nowadays would call a typically Dutch novel: overtly and overly sexual (and about WWII).
Yet the rest of the Dutch media was not that keen to jump in. As late as in 1964, the program management of the AVRO television show Literaire ontmoetingen (“Literary Encounters”) decided to cancel the live broadcast of a poetry reading by author and poet Remco Campert because the poem “Niet te geloven” (“Unbelievable”) that he intended to read on TV contained the word “naaide”, which is the Dutch equivalent of “screwed”.12 A word that, according to Campert in a 1995 interview on the same television network, even then could be heard on the street on a daily basis.13 Yet in the days that followed the canceled broadcast, most Dutch newspapers used a wide variety of tricks to print the poem without the ‘dreaded’ word. Nieuwe Amsterdamse Courant replaced it with a literal description of the word, which in Dutch also means “sewed”: “word that in less vulgar sense means: handling needle and thread”, De Volkskrant changed it to “an act to which we owe the continuing existence of the world”, and Haagse Post simply printed “…”.1415
Fun fact: queen of Dutch children’s literature Annie M.G. Schmidt later revolted against television network VARA’s censorship by writing this song for the children’s television show Ja Zuster, Nee Zuster.16 The Dutch pronunciation of the word “fuck” happens to be exactly the same as that of the ‘fuch’ in “fuchsia”.
Though even that changed over the following decade. Hippies swarmed Amsterdam in the late sixties and early seventies and preached their free love, feminists demanded sexual liberation and the recognition of prostitution as a profession, and Dutch movies turned into porn-disguised-as-art. Sex became far from shocking; it became normal. In 1974, Tjeenk Willink wrote in De Nieuwe Taalgids:
We gradually have gotten used to much, if not to everything (in poetry the necrophilia is still missing)[.] […] The assertion is: ‘it becomes almost all equally bland, and especially blunt, that what is continuously presented to you’. Faster than was expected at the time, we have become accustomed to the candor, that came with the breaking of the (hetero- and homo)sexual taboo. […] If we are to believe Greshoff, we are ahead of our time. In 1950, he wonders, ‘whether around 2000, the horrors of WF Hermans, which now enrage the patriotic fathers and art judges, will be as naturally accepted as the terrible atrocities of 1900 are now?’17
Greshoff and Willink were certainly right: for the last three decades at least, the works of Aafjes, Blaman, Hermans, Campert, and numerous other writers who like(d) to write about sex have been studied in Dutch high schools as part of the required curriculum and discussed in exams. This brings me back to that fucking Fifty Shades trilogy, and why its ‘porn’ doesn’t shock me. For someone who read sentences like “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, DON’T WIPE YOUR ASS, I WILL LICK YOU CLEAN”18 in high school and found it the most ordinary thing ever (around the year 2000, as nicely predicted by Greshoff), passages that contain whips, rope, and butt plugs but don’t have a well written story to accompany them are simply boring as fuck.
In my world, sex in any medium whatsoever is anything but shocking; sex is either art or a cheap&easy sell-out, and even more often than that it’s both. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t works out there that know how to combine sex and content in a brilliant manner. And a wonderful example of this is Turks fruit (1969), or in English: Turkish Delight. A novel by Dutch author, sculptor and painter Jan Wolkers (1925-2007). It’s one of the best novels ever to be written in the Dutch language, if not the best. It’s a fucking masterpiece.
But what is it exactly that makes Turkish Delight a literary masterpiece instead of just another cheap&easy ‘porn’-story? Especially as most of the novel explicitly seems to be about sex, and the sex itself in it is, in turn, extremely explicit. The novel doesn’t even make the slightest of efforts to build up to this: chapter 1 immediately starts off with the unnamed narrator/protagonist jerking off to the photos of his ex. But all its sex, raunchy as it is, serves a purpose: it’s used to illustrate intimacy. Or, like in the example I just gave, the fruitless struggle to find that intimacy again after the person who that intimacy was with has left. Turkish Delight is a love story. A graphic, dirty, messy, and tragic love story that certainly shows how the line between love and obsession can be wafer-thin sometimes, but a love story nonetheless.
But there’s more to Turkish Delight than just being a tempestuous love story, it’s also a perfect example of the theme of mutability done right. In short: it’s also a story about death. And its elaborate sex scenes therefore also often symbolize death, decay, and/or mortality.
I’ve briefly discussed the theme of mutability in literature in an earlier blog, but in this case it probably needs some more elaboration. Mutability is the notion that death and the process of dying are already present in life, and that life therefore is doomed to change and decay. This concept is almost as old as literature itself. It can be traced all the way back to the works of ancient Greek philosophers as Anaximander, Heraclites, Socrates, and Plato. To make a very long story short: they concluded that, as death is present in life, and life starts with being born, death must also be present in the sexual intercourse that precedes birth. A paradox of procreation so to say, which early Christians in turn, of course, blamed on the fall of man.
Early modern western culture approached this topic with a passionate fixation. In English, examples of this can be found in the works of writers as Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. In their works the image of the rose became an often recalled metaphor or symbol for the notion that the process of withering and decay is present in everybody. They also contemplated that death was present in sexual ecstasy as well, as these feelings of desire often resulted in death-giving procreation.19
This notion also found its way into the 20th century in an even more intensified manner. Freud discussed the concept of death being present in life and sexuality in The Ego and the Id,20 and for many writers and poets sex now simply was death. If not by it creating life and thus creating death, then by it not creating life at all and thus creating death. And it is therefore probably of no surprise that masturbation, in that regard, became the epitome of death. Now more than ever, worms and maggots were phallic symbols foreshadowing doom and deterioration, and everything in general breathed decay and rottenness. And Wolkers was a master of this.
Turkish Delight tells the story of an unnamed sculptor and his tempestuous relationship with the voluptuous red-haired Olga, his wife and muse. The novel starts after she has left him, leaving our protagonist in ruin, both literally and symbolically. While their former love nest withers away around him in his melancholic neglect, he masturbates to her photos and desperately tries to find her in other women, all of this described in excruciating detail of course.
After that, the novels flashes back and forth. He tells us how he meets her while he is hitchhiking; she picks him up. They immediately hit it off and have steamy sex on a parking lot next to the freeway. Afterwards, his penis gets trapped in his zipper and they have to ask a local farmer for some pliers in order to liberate him again. Back on the road, the incident makes them laugh so hard that they forget to pay attention to the traffic around them. They manage to dodge a car, but crash into a tree and end up in the hospital.
After the accident he tries to get in touch with her, but never manages to get past her protective mother. He runs into her at a fair two months later however, and they immediately continue their relationship. She moves in with him and they marry quickly afterwards. What follows is an extremely detailed, passionate, and intimate story of their life together. Olga becomes his muse, and poses for his statues and drawings, most of them nudes of course. They fuck like rabbits, again all vigorously described, and are poor but happy.
But Wolkers being a master of mutability, symbolic and literal death and decay surround them everywhere. Olga is terrified of getting pregnant and zealously keeps track of her menstrual cycle, insisting on using condoms the days she is fertile. She does display a lot of motherly love to the numerous pets they have, but most of them die gruesome deaths. Next to fearing pregnancy, Olga is also extremely anxious about her health, and sees cancer symptoms in everything. A notorious passage of the novel is when she panics about her stool being bloody, only to be remembered by the protagonist that they had beets for dinner the prior evening. But putridness and disease are omnipresent. Olga’s overbearing mother for example, who according to the novel’s narrator is the prime reason for all their struggles and subsequent divorce later on, has lost one of her breasts to breast cancer. And Olga’s father, a big softy who cracks bad jokes and loves to sing “tits and ass, tits and ass, tits and ass ass ass” to the tune of the Radetzky March, dies because his wife fed him unhealthy food while he was on a diet. And then there are the maggots and worms… they’re everywhere: in Olga’s favourite childhood doll after she fed it bread, in the feather she uses as a toothpick, in the grass when they have sex in the open air… EVERYWHERE!
All of this foreshadows inevitable doom of course. She suddenly leaves the narrator for another man; he catches her flirting with him in a restaurant and hits her in the face, giving her a black eye. And as it turns out, he hit her before when he suspected her of flirting with a bouncer while she was drunk. What follows is a nasty divorce in which she claims to have been stuck in an unhealthy relationship. He tries to save their marriage in every possible way, even by fucking raping her in her sleep (justified by the fucking narrator by claiming that she did enjoy it eventually after she woke up).
They do, sort of, stay in touch after their divorce though, and through the narrator we get a glimpse into Olga’s life after she left him. She hops from man to man, marries several other times, but is never happy. She also loses one of her ovaries after a badly executed abortion causes it to rot. Then the protagonist receives a call from his former mother in-law: they discovered that Olga has a brain tumour.
Even though the doctors try to remove it, their efforts are unsuccessful. The narrator loyally visits her in the hospital several times a week while she becomes sicker and sicker. He borrows money to buy her a red wig after she loses her hair, and brings her Turkish delight when that’s the only thing she still eats as she’s afraid her teeth will fall out. He also observes that the tumour’s remains seem to affect her memory and personality. In her deliria she accuses him of all sorts of things that, according to him, have never happened, and her behaviour becomes insufferably childlike. After an excruciating sickbed of about six months, she dies at night, alone. The narrator tells the hospital staff to cremate her with her wig on, because that’s how she would have liked it.
The novel leaves you with various questions. Was Olga’s brain tumour the actual reason why she left him so suddenly, as the unnamed narrator himself speculates? Or might it even be the case that the story’s protagonist never actually knew the real Olga, the tumour already affecting her personality before he met her? And how reliable is the unnamed narrator’s account of the story anyway? We see everything through his eyes, which are, as is pointed out repeatedly, the eyes of an artist. A bohemian artist, whose dark romantic perception of the world around him embellishes everything in a crude, raunchy, and yet highly poetic manner. Is, for example, his often extremely masochistic and jerkish behaviour really as justified as he says it to be? Did Olga really leave him as unexpectedly as he claims? The fact that we never get to find these things out, however, only adds to the novel’s strength, which despite its raw and vulgar language and imagery still reads like a beautiful, yet highly ambiguous, poem.
The 1973 movie adaptation of Turkish Delight doesn’t share much, if any, of this poetic ambiguity though. It’s all over the place, and not in a good way. The movie also gives the unnamed narrator a name: Erik Vonk. He is played by Rutger Hauer, who now in Hollywood is mostly known for playing Germans or Eastern Europeans. Olga is played by then newcomer Monique van de Ven. The movie was directed by Jan de Bont, nowadays known for such beautiful cinematic gems as Speed and Twister. It might be of no surprise therefore that a lot of the things that happen in the novel are blown up to ridiculous proportions. As is the novel’s protagonist, who in the movie appears to be nothing more than an arrogant, masochistic, and perpetually horny dick.
Take the pliers-incident that I discussed earlier: a clumsy and comedic incident in the novel, here a bloody scene in which Erik immediately behaves like a fucking tyrant:
Or take this scene. In an early part of the novel that I haven’t discussed before, the narrator is making religious reliefs in the marl caves of Valkenburg together with his fellow art students. While being there, he finds a fur coat that he later gives to Olga when she picks him up on their hitchhiking adventure. He also complains about the food the hotel serves there. He doesn’t, however, steal the fur coat like from an old drunken lady, and the food doesn’t contain any horse eyes, neither does he react to the food in this obnoxious and loathsome manner:
And what about the movie’s ending! Olga doesn’t faint almost immediately after the protagonist runs into her for the first time in many years, thus introducing the brain tumour in this manner. She also doesn’t die while he’s with her, missing her last breath because he is eating a sandwich. Nor does he throw away her wig at the very end:
But like the novel, the movie has its own iconic elements that are now considered part of our cultural heritage. Like the bike scene, which takes place right after they get married. Briefly mentioned in the novel, but glorified in the movie. It’s as Dutch as Dutch can be:
And this scene of Olga’s father singing “tietenkont” (“tits and ass”) to the tune of the Radetzky March, which has taken on a life of its own here in the Netherlands:
Seriously, there is hardly a person here who doesn’t immediately start to sing “tietenkont tietenkont tietenkontkontkont” when the Radetzky March is played somewhere. There’s even a recording of Jan Wolkers and his third wife Karina singing along to it, which was broadcasted every hour as part of a special radio show about women on 31 August 1976.21
With 3.5 million visitors, Turkish Delight is still the most successful Dutch feature film of all time. And it also turned out to be quite the success abroad,22 which might or might not have everything to do with all of the full frontal nudity that’s in it. It was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film the year it came out, although it didn’t win.23 A fun fact is that because of this the international DVD release of the movie actually came out earlier than its Dutch original. At least that’s what one of the employers of the video store near my former house told me a few weeks back, when I stopped by to borrow a copy for research (which therefore had the English title and subtitles). He added that the movie is, in fact, still very popular among the numerous international students in their clientele.
Cultural heritage aside though, I do find it a pity that the movie doesn’t seem to catch much of the novel’s underlying symbolism. The only thing I could find is this short scene, when Erik lets Olga pose as Persephone and they receive the news that Olga’s father is dying (the scene starts at 4:20):
And that while the title that both movie and novel share alone is packed with symbolism. Something that unfortunately gets lost in translation: the literal translation of Turks fruit is not Turkish Delight but “Turkish Fruit”. Hereby thus not only referring to the candy the protagonist brings Olga while she’s dying, but to a shitload of other possible interpretations as well. Fruit is healthy, but Turkish delight is full of sugar, and therefore also brings decay.24 And when taking into consideration that fruit is also often a symbol of fertility, and thus a symbol of sexual intercourse (remember Aafjes’ poem earlier in this article?), we get another sex = death reference. At the same time the title may also stand for an extremely sweet yet decaying relationship.
But the most interesting title interpretation I found when surfing the web for information came from scholieren.com, an online database for Dutch and Belgian high school students notorious for its huge amount of book reports written (and uploaded) by teenagers. After mentioning several possible title-explanations not unlike the ones I gave above, an anonymous high school student ponders:
All these statements are, I think, logically arguable, but I think the best explanation of the title is that Wolkers has named his revenge novel after a sweet to make his revenge even sweeter.25
Which brings me to the sad truth behind Turkish Delight: it’s highly autobiographical, albeit in a strangely twisted manner. The real Olga is still very much alive. That is to say: 2/3 of her is.
Wolkers based the character of Olga on three women he knew in real life. The brain tumour part was based on the death of the poet Ida Sipora, a good friend of his who actually died of a brain tumour in 1964. Together with a friend, Wolkers brought her a wig when she was in the hospital, like the protagonist of Turkish Delight does when Olga loses her hair. And next to that, some of the numerous sexual escapades described in the novel happened between Wolkers and his third wife Karina Gnirrep. But Wolkers’ biggest inspiration for Olga was his second wife Annemarie Nauta,26 who left him in the spring of 1960.27
Wolkers met Nauta in the summer of 1956 and immediately fell in love with her. She was eighteen, he thirty-one. Her initial feelings for him were far from mutual though, but fortunately Jan turned out to be quite the skilled stalker. He was even considerate enough to hang flowers on her front door in the middle of the night. His ‘romantic’ efforts proved to be effective however and Annemarie slowly warmed up to him as well: “I didn’t want anything to do with him at first, but he was so convincing”.28 Minor detail: Wolkers was still married to his first wife Maria de Roo. But as their marriage wasn’t going that well at the time anyway, Maria was actually surprisingly supportive of her husband’s new love. Annemarie even moved in with them and their two children, and the two women got along really well.29 So over the next two years, Jan divorced his first wife and married Annemarie.30
For Annemarie it was only natural that she would model for Wolkers’ sculptures and paintings. “You didn’t say no to Jan,” she tells writer and presenter Abdelkader Benali in a 2012 interview for his television series Benali Boekt, “Jan dominated, so you wouldn’t even dare to [say no to him].”31 Unfortunately Jan dominated every single other aspect of their relationship as well: he decided what clothes she wore, what they watched when they went to the movies or theatre together, and even what she read.32 Annemarie herself describes most of her life with Wolkers as “rather monotonous”. Not only because most of her days consisted of posing, but also because she rarely left the house. And when she did go out, Jan was always there with her.33
To say that Wolkers turned out to be obsessive and extremely jealous is a fucking understatement. Annemarie wasn’t allowed to leave the house alone, and he hit her when she went against his wishes. Not only that: every time Jan spotted that she got attention from another man it ended in physical violence. But his crazy behavior went even further: there was a phone booth outside the gallery where they lived, and every time he spotted a male acquaintance making a call in there Wolkers was convinced they tried to call Annemarie.34
The marriage ended after the couple was invited to dinner at a restaurant in the spring of 1960. What exactly took place there is slightly unclear. Jan Wolkers: Brieven aan Olga, a collection of letters between Wolkers and Nauta edited by Wolkers’ biographer Onno Blom, claims that Annemarie flirted with a business associate of her parents.35 But in her 2012 interview with Benali, Annemarie herself simply stated that she was having a great time, and that Jan didn’t like that.36 Whatever happened, it caused him to hit her in the face when they got outside. “My whole face turned blue”, she would later tell. “I looked terrible and had to visit the eye doctor to check whether my eye socket wasn’t broken. You must remember, Jan was a sculptor, he was very strong.”37
“I couldn’t do it anymore,” she told Benali. “It was enough, I couldn’t. I couldn’t take anymore. I wanted a different life.”38
Up to this very day, Annemarie herself still questions what tormented Wolkers most after their divorce: that he lost his wife, or that he lost his muse.39 Whatever it was, it made him go full Taylor Swift, and thus Wolkers typed down all his emotions and frustrations and turned them into Turkish Delight, a dark romantic and passionate ‘love story’.
But still being the obsessive, and now of course also incredibly tortured, artist that he was, Wolkers went into extremes that bordered on insanity. He secretly recorded conversations they had after their separation and used excerpts of them in his novel. And the same happened with old letters Annemarie had written him before she moved in with him.40 Rather strange actually, considering how so many of the other things that happen in Turkish Delight are highly exaggerated and twisted renditions of what really had occurred, sometimes even downright fantasies. As he never liked Annemarie’s mother much for example,41 he turned her into the novel’s antagonist, blaming her for Olga’s/Annemarie’s departure. And Annemarie also resented the fact that Olga never wanted any children, as she herself did want them. But every time she tried to talk to Jan about it, he brushed the subject off by saying that they already had his two children and therefore didn’t need any more.42
As for killing Olga off in the novel: that was plain revenge. At least… that’s Nauta’s opinion, who states that Wolkers has also admitted that. “He simply wrote me out of his life. And what better way to do that than by letting someone die”. Wolkers’ biographer Onno Blom sees it different though. According to him, Olga had to die in order to stay “the ultimate love”. He compares Olga’s death to Ovid’s “Death of Eurydice”: when Orpheus lost her he kept singing her beauty forever. It’s the same with this book: it’s a book about a mythical love and the image of it had to be kept intact. And the best way to keep an image of something intact is by freezing it in time.43
Even though Turkish Delight is now considered to be one of the best novels ever to be written in the Dutch language by many, it actually did not make much of an impression when it first came out. Most literary reviews from 1969 can be summarized by one word: ‘Meh’. After all, they had gotten used to so much already. Many critics had the feeling it mimicked the works of Dutch author Jan Cremer, whose extremely explicit novel Ik, Jan Cremer (“I, Jan Cremer”) had stirred up the Netherlands five years earlier. Others simply stated that Wolkers’ newest novel had no renewing qualities when compared to his earlier work. And on top of that, as literary critic Fons Sarneel so pointedly remarked: “the [novel’s] big antagonist [was] just a mother”.44
So, what made Turkish Delight the big success it still is today? Much probably has to do with Annemarie Nauta’s angry response when the novel hit the stores. There’s at least one account of a bookstore in Annemarie’s hometown Leeuwarden selling an incredible amount of novels after a furious Annemarie had told everybody that the book was about her.45
But it didn’t stop there: while Turkish Delight the movie was busy shooting its many nude scenes in the summer of 1972, she gave an angry television interview to Avro’s Televiezier: “The people in my surroundings [speak shame] of Turkish Delight. I was pointed at, there was gossip about me. I was a filthy slut. A painter’s whore.”46
He has written everything off his chest, he left me with the damage. […] Turkish Delight contains several very touching moments. So it makes me wonder: why make such a cheap portrayal of someone at the same time? Because people read over the touching aspects. They flip through the pages thinking ‘where’s the next sex part’. After all, that’s why most people got it. Reviews say it’s a good book literary wise. Have you ever met people who have good literature in their bookcase? I haven’t. And when I see Turkish Delight standing there next to the medical romance novels and other cheap romantic novels, I think that’s a bad sign.47
Of course the rest of the Dutch media jumped right in and soon various rumours were born: Annemarie was said to have called Wolkers as soon as she heard that the book would be adapted into a movie, offering to play the role of Olga herself. It was also said that she wanted them to get back together again.48 All bullshit of course, but the novel sold remarkably well because of it, as did the movie tickets.
The scandal eventually caused Annemarie Nauta to withdraw from the media. And for over forty years she refused to give any comment whatsoever. She never bought the novel. “I’m not wasting money on that,” she told Benali in 2012. She read it as late as 1985 or 1986 and didn’t really like it. Although she still hears everybody say how heart wrenching it is, she sees it from a different perspective. Looking back though, she said, he made a lot of beautiful things, and that is something that she is somewhat proud of. “I did make somewhat of a contribution to the cultural scene, didn’t I?” she added.49
They say that you can never die when an artist falls in love with you. That’s certainly true for Annemarie Nauta. Not only is she memorized in Turkish Delight (which not only spawned a movie, but also a musical in 2009), but also in the numerous statues that Wolkers made of her during their time together. These statues, many of which are also mentioned in the novel, can be found all over the Netherlands. And as it turns out, there’s even a statue of her right around the corner of my new house. Now endearingly nicknamed “Olga with the cat”.
All of this begs the question though: when comparing Turkish Delight to the Fifty Shades trilogy, which one of them is actually worse? A badly written romanticized abuse story by a very ignorant happily married working mother of two, who just happened to be a huge fan of Stephenie Meyer and wrote a Twilight fanfic, not knowing that what she considers ‘romantic’ is often another’s real life nightmare? Or a fucking literary masterpiece that happens to be a highly romanticized and twisted rendition of an actual abusive relationship, written by a fucking obsessive, masochistic, and egocentric jerk who knew his fucking classics?
I’d love to put in a good word for Turkish Delight. Because it’s well written. Because it drags you in. And because most, though not everything, that happens in the novel is extremely relatable, especially when it comes to the emotions its protagonist goes through. Whereas in the Fifty Shades trilogy, the only thing that seems to be relatable are its numerous red flags. But why is that? As they certainly both have them. Maybe because Turkish Delight eases you into them, whereas the Fifty Shades trilogy starts all red flags from the beginning but ignores them? Maybe because Turkish Delight doesn’t end well and doesn’t casually brush off all of its red flags?
Maybe because everything that the narrator and Olga do has consequences? I mean, even the sex in Turkish Delight is more relatable and realistic than it is in the Fifty Shades trilogy. Despite of all the crazy sex she has, Anna never gets cystitis. Neither does she seem to have a gag reflex. Seriously, who is this fucking bedroom/red room of pain/ pool table/ jacuzzi -sex wonder woman? The narrator of Turkish Delight, on the other hand, has to visit a doctor after his penis starts to exhibit a strange rash from all the sex they have. (Which he then, of course, blames on Olga, whom he claims is cheating on him.)
As I said, I’d love to put in a good word for Turkish Delight, but the truth is that I can’t. The truth is that three months ago, upon seeing the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer for the first time, I wanted to write a short blog about that it is possible to write a good novel full of graphic sexual imagery, without it being about an unhealthy relationship. And I decided to write about a novel that I hadn’t read since high school. Research and re-reading certainly put things into perspective for me. Damn was I fucking ignorant…
So, to conclude, I can only say this:
Fuck you E.L. James and fuck you Jan Wolkers. You both should have known better.
And you know what: fuck all of you other fucking ‘artists’ out there who have twisted the most sick, unhealthy, and perverted stuff ever into ‘romance’ and ‘art’. Fuck you Emily Brontë for telling us that two people destroying each other and everybody around them ‘because they love each other so much’ is romantic. Fuck you Disney for teaching little children that you just have to be patient and stay kind when a beast keeps you fucking trapped in an enchanted castle and shouts at you, because in the end he ‘just needs to be loved’ and ‘can change’. And fuck you Stephenie Meyer for telling teenagers that it’s romantic when someone sneaks into your bedroom at night to watch you sleep… What the fuck is wrong with you people?!
And now I’m off to down a fucking bottle of wine. I’m done with all of this fucking ‘romance’ bullshit.
P.S.: If anybody knows a well written novel full of graphic sexual imagery that is actually about a healthy relationship in which people treat each other with respect. Please let me know.
Many thanks to my good friend Marino, who was kind enough to lend me his copy of Turkish Delight.
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For those among you who think these words sound familiar: yes, I took them from Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED speech “Why domestic violence victims don’t leave”. It bears a lot of similarities to Anna’s perspective on Christian’s behaviour. ↩
Calis, Piet. (2010) Venus in minirok. Seks in de literatuur na 1945. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff. 20-21. ↩
Ibidem, 21-27. Translations by me. ↩
Ibidem, 28-29. ↩
Calis, Piet. (2010.) Venus in minirok. Seks in de literatuur na 1945. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff. 30-33. ↩
Found on http://www.vanoorschot.nl/winkel/verhalen-novellen.html?page=shop.product_details&flypage=flypage_vo.tpl&category_id=11&product_id=21965, last checked 29-10-2014 ↩
The documentary images that had been shot to be shown in the studio prior to Camperts reading can be found at http://boeken.vpro.nl/artikelen/2011/het-geweigerde-portret-van-remco-campert.html ↩
Calis, Piet. (2010.) Venus in minirok. Seks in de literatuur na 1945. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff. 33-34. Quotes translated by me. ↩
More alternatives that the Dutch newspapers used to replace “Naaide” can be found at http://www.tzum.info/2013/03/zwarte-bladzijde-remco-campert-gecensureerd/ ↩
De Nieuwe Taalgids. Jaargang 67. H.D. Tjeenk Willink, Groningen 1974, p. 462. The lines quoted by Willink in this excerpt are from Gerard van het Reve, De taal der liefde. Amsterdam 1972, p. 86 and from Jan Greshoff, Het Vaderland (1950). Found on http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/_taa008197401_01/_taa008197401_01_0063.php last checked 7-10-14 ↩
Wolkers, Jan. Turks Fruit. (2000.) Jan Wolkers: Het vroege werk. Amsterdam: Meulenhoff. 814. ↩
Dollimore, Jonathan. (1998). Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture. London: Penguin. 5-6, 9, 11, 44, 68-69, 135-45, 187. ↩
Found on http://weblogs.vpro.nl/radioarchief/2007/10/22/tietenkont/, last checked 29-10-2014 ↩
Blom, Onno (Ed.). (2010). Jan Wolkers: Brieven aan Olga. Amsterdam: De bezige bij. 6. ↩
Ibidem, 12-16. Quote translated by me. ↩
Ibidem, 16-19. ↩
Ibidem, 144 ↩
Blom, Onno (Ed.). (2010). Jan Wolkers: Brieven aan Olga. Amsterdam: De bezige bij. 88. ↩
Blom, Onno (Ed.). (2010). Jan Wolkers: Brieven aan Olga. Amsterdam: De bezige bij. 145. ↩
Blom, Onno (Ed.). (2010). Jan Wolkers: Brieven aan Olga. Amsterdam: De bezige bij. 145. ↩
Blom, Onno (Ed.). (2010). Jan Wolkers: Brieven aan Olga. Amsterdam: De bezige bij. 7. ↩
Blom, Onno (Ed.). (2010). Jan Wolkers: Brieven aan Olga. Amsterdam: De bezige bij. 12. ↩
Ibidem, quote translated by me ↩
Boomsma, Graa. (Ed.) (1983) Over Jan Wolkers: beschouwingen en interviews. Deel II: 1969-1983. Den Haag: BZZTôH. 22. ↩
Dutting, Hans. (2009) Jan Wolkers : De Rubens van de literatuur. Soesterberg: Aspect. 117. ↩
Blom, Onno (Ed.). (2010). Jan Wolkers: Brieven aan Olga. Amsterdam: De bezige bij. 145 ↩
Dutting, Hans. (2009) Jan Wolkers : De Rubens van de literatuur. Soesterberg: Aspect. 116. ↩
Ibidem, 117. ↩