Bakefish – De Groene Amsterdammer

Willie and Adolphe Pettellon circa 1910

It was decided at two meetings, according to the Amsterdam Archives: that the streets of Scholeneiland should be named after the authors of children’s books, and exactly after that also the women writers. Two women – Anke Servaes and Marie Schmitz – made it to the reserve-only list. (A court in Tilburg and a street in Spijkenes are named after Service.) It happened in 1988.

Two years later, in June 1990, J. Van den Berg – the first resident of 1 Willy Pétillonstraat – sent a letter to Pétillon’s daughter. She had it in the magazine elegance Unfortunately, she found that no one knows her mother yet. Not so, the resident Van den Berg wrote to her in a cheerful tone. Didn’t you know that the street was named after her mother? By the way, when he was moving into their new home, he happened to come across one of Pétillon’s books while filling the attic, and they were also moving in that novel, and you’d never guess – the main character also had the same name as his wife. The daughter was always allowed to attend, but only called in advance.

That daughter felt fine. In fact, there isn’t much to be found about Willie Pettillon. Anyway, much less talking about fellow and contemporary Cissy van Marxveldt – for whom the street is also named. They both wrote “girls’ novels”. In this type of novel, Thesi Schmitz writes in “Naturalistic ‘Ghosts’ in Girls’ Books,'” the problems of a growing girl resisting the female role imposed on her by society are described. Teenage girl (in German “Backfish” In English Crazy cap or “Tomboy”) a rebellious and a real tomboy. The character is usually slim and athletic, does not have feminine curves, does not like the tasks of women and often has a boy name (such as “Joop” in the Van Marxveldt books). However, at the end of the story, the “girl” is tamed: she marries, has children, and embraces her soft qualities. In this genre, the story mostly takes place at school (girls, like boys, wanted an exciting school life) and the characters come from richer families.

In addition to the teenage girl and her friends (usually the most famous of her group), there is also a female character in the story that the teenage girl opposes, who is hypersensitive, selfish, nervous, and melancholy, writes Schmitz. “She lives among more sober natures that she cannot fathom and that makes her a lonely character.” She is a character like that often featured in natural literature; shaped by her “nature”. Compared to that of a female character, the “tomboy” character was quite innovative; Now almost every woman prefers to call herself One of the men.

Van Marxvelt published over 25 books and collections of short stories between 1917 and 1946. Some are for adults, but most are for girls. The Joop ter Heul series in particular was very popular; Anne Frank, for example, addressed her memoirs to Job’s imaginary friends. Pétillon did not gain much popularity. Her books lack Van Marksvelt’s humor, are less shallow, are more gritty, and the cliched, happy endings will irritate in the long run.

Indeed, in the books I have read, I find van Marxvelt’s language smoother, fresher, more playful, and more imaginative (“we call it sour because it’s so picturesque”; “tacky face”). You write complete sentences, with plenty of whipped cream. But what I find original about the Petilon book Lydia’s difficulties (It’s really refreshing to see the title drama) is that the main character is really a spoiled kid. Always unsatisfied, ruthless, grumbling, for an entire book. Lydia didn’t learn until the last page, on her mother’s hospital bed, to “finally see in her heart”–whatever that might mean. An unsatisfactory ending, however: I know of few other novels that depict an unsympathetic female heroine like this one on 195 pages.

In Van Marxveldt, those so-called happy endings weren’t as “happy” as they seemed, as Monica Sawing says in her autobiography. The main characters are already married, and they have children, but as a reader you can sense that they were avoiding their true desires.

As van Marksfeldt did it himself, Sötting appears. Her real name was Setsek de Haan and she has publicly denied her writing career and literary ambitions. Only six interviews have taken her, but Soeting sums up a representation of a self that is very different from the way she talks about herself and her desires in her diary. She was one of the highest-earning writers in the Netherlands between 1920 and 1940, yet she repeatedly emphasized that she writes only for pleasure, and literature was not “real”; She never had to write a great novel. Indeed, her husband was urging her to write those books – the same Petillon claimed. As if they didn’t really choose it themselves. It’s a tactic used by many writers at the time, Soeting explains: They have power, and they have to try to cover it up.

References to “high literature” in Van Marksfeldt’s novels indicate that she read those books, and she herself also tried to write novels for adults. With her pseudonym, she also wanted to suggest that she came from a higher class (“Van Marksfeld without a ‘t’ was a lady waiting for nobles). Very different from Nienke van Hichtum and Nellie van Kol, who used unclear names as pseudonyms. They pretended to be “Natural,” but they didn’t take it lightly when it came to their ambitions and qualities.

The image of women in (folk) children’s literature changed in a short period of time. Where van Hechtom and van Kohl still glorified women (their characters took pride in raising their children and thus indirectly shaped a community), in the novel The Adolescent Girl, a woman, or rather a girl, becomes a bad imitation of a boy, who eventually becomes a housewife. Perhaps the rule on which van Hechtom and van Kohl put the woman in their books was a medium of exchange. Sup to keep women quietly inside, so they don’t yearn for more. But the woman’s rather abrupt literary transformation as a teenage girl doesn’t leave much room for her to be remembered.

Sissy van Marksfeldt, pseudonym for Setsk de Haan, early twenties

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