Willem Frederik Hermans – Onder Professoren

Last modified: February 9, 2018

A humorous portrait of Dutch university life in the 1970s, full of fanatical Marxists and Marcusians, the excrescences of democratization and egalitarian terror. A shocking sketch of stupid students, vain academics and imperious governors. All provincial to the bone. The main protagonist wins a Nobel Prize but is amazed to discover that the media are more interested in a student occupation of his laboratory, under the slogan “Boss in our own test tube”.

The details are very much of their time and place, but the characters are timeless and disturbingly recognizable. Hermans was a reader at Groningen for a while, and to some extent this novel is a product of his frustration and rancour with that experience. But this is also a majestic book containing some viciously realistic observations. The dialogues between the Nobel laureate and his wife very much resemble those between Maarten and Nicolien in Han Voskuil’s Het Bureau. That appeared more than a quarter of a century later but in part it, too, is a chronicle of the same era.

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