How Maurice Gilliams turned from a cute boy into a wonderful poet

It’s an exaggeration Reflected in a glass of water A photographic biography of Maurice Gilliams (1900-1982), but the number of images printed on the entire page is so great that it is alluring: from the delicate infant and preschool-aged figure of the octogenarian gently looking into the camera Gentleman with a decorative walking stick. In between is a selection of images for all ages with an unmistakably poetic appearance, far from the poetic temptations of Stefan Georg, but so conscious and of such high quality that the idea of ​​porcelain comes to mind.

Gilliams seems surprisingly self-conscious and vulnerable from the start: Looking directly at the camera, he’s not kidding. At the same time you see his shy tendencies, his future “suffering”, his migraines as a family illness, his tendency to withdraw like a real poet into a world of his imagination. Gilliams was a person of fine physical and mental build right from the start.

Gilliams is the author of poems, stories, novels, anecdotes, diaries, and essays, but this enumeration of genres only makes up 1,100 pages in his combined four-volume work. Vita Breves. He was considered a promising poet from the age of eighteen, but his novel Despair or fight with the nightingale She established her name in 1936, also in the Netherlands.

Biographer Annette Porteges makes it clear from the start that family played a crucial role in Gilliams’ life: that his mother was of the poor Burgundian gentry (sockets), something that happened almost daily, but that did not detract from the affection of his embrace. Poetry for his mother (“mom”). She had Maurice kneel and pray for wanderers on the family’s 17th-century grave in St Poloskerk in Antwerp.

His father came from a family of blacksmiths, had a printing and publishing house for friends in the Ossenmarkt, was an active reigning man, and an author. History of the Book Printing Association of Antwerp And founder of a training school for typists. With such an energetic and kind father, Maurice went on a quest to find a client in town. This father, unlike his wife, has nothing to do with the church. He came with him, but he was sitting or standing reading a book by Jacob Vosmer the size of a missal.

Although Gilliams always feels lonely, his aunts and uncles control his life. In particular, his mother’s two sisters, who appear in his novels as Theodora and Henriette. Theodora was a stern and unapproachable woman, and he had to check her dictionary every word he wrote. Henriëtte, as the woman who cast an “admirable shadow” over his life: “This tragic woman so pure and sensitive, developed in her mind and soul, an aristocratic genius, tormented forever.” I taught him to draw, write and read. But she also used to tell the story of his traumatic birth over and over again, leaving Maurice always feeling guilty that he nearly killed his mother. She couldn’t have any more children after that.

fragile frame

Nothing passed by Maurice Gilliams, everything impressed him. He was treated introverted. His impressions and experiences were his material. Like his years at Sint-Victorgesticht, the boarding school in Turnhout where he attended until 1911, riven by homesickness, he was bullied “systematically and ruthlessly”. Parents are offended. He looked very poised to his fellow students, he had a fragile constitution. In this boarding school, you have been systematically stripped of your character, which is unfavorable to an exception like Morris.

Gilliams’ Catholic upbringing meant that everything was veiled, not spoken, and everything was covered in commandments and sin.

This is clear from the novel about this boarding school Elseneur or Storm Starling which will never be published. He was a “conservative” to some teachers, a favourite. In one unfinished print edition of that novel, Gilliams could only express what happened to him in fragmentary: he tried to hide under the covers when he saw the observer approaching his bed: he covers. away and touch it shamelessly. It was also not safe during the day. He even collapsed and refused to go back to school after vacation. His parents finally got it and pulled him out of school.

Despite the weakness of young Williams, he was a “water polo player of good merit”. He thought it was “the most exhilarating sport”. Portugues was amazed that Gilliams’ work of fiction contains nothing about his athletic achievements, except in untie In which he looks back, also at ‘Mr. C’, the somewhat older coach who kept his enthusiasm alive. So it was viewed with suspicion by parents.

Unmistakable Lesbian Feelings

Gilliams’ Catholic upbringing meant that everything was veiled, not spoken, and everything was covered in commandments and sin. It was lodged in Gilliams. He had a hard time getting rid of that. He wanted to be very frank, but he was hardly able to do so. Often he would hide, turn around, as in stories Journey of exercise in the void. He loved girls and women, but had undeniable homosexual feelings. He was a friend of the slightly older Emil Bernerts, with whom he is standing by the arm in one of the photographs. But writing about it was impossible. And he might also have been uncomfortable because he befriended girls a few times, but he never really made it.

Gilliams was old-fashioned and modern, he insisted on talking about ‘Mom’ in his autobiography, not ‘Mom’, that just wasn’t touching enough for him.

Much of the autobiography is taken from the marriage that Williams entered into with Gabriel Bellemans, a woman he met in the choir that both attended. Their history is so ridiculous and every word you dedicate to it is discarded: Gaby Baelemans didn’t want to know anything about sex or eroticism and demanded from her confessor that she didn’t have to consummate the marriage because she didn’t want children. And so the wedding night becomes a farce and the honeymoon period is a prelude to Gilliams’ decision to immediately move in separately. This psychological drama is a theme Gregoria or Marriage in IxellesThe absurd novel that Gilliams worked on for years without ever completing it. He appeared after his death. In the novel he does not appear to be happy for years afterward, eventually marrying Maria de Ray Makers, the nurse who rescued him from psychological distress.

Meanwhile, among all the excellent biographical acquaintances that Porteges has acquired, there is also the poet and novelist Maurice Gilliams, the perfectionist, the man who was always in search of ‘the most beautiful word, the best picture, the most striking comparison, the smoothest’. Rhythm’. Gilliams was old-fashioned and modern, he insisted on talking about ‘Mom’ in his autobiography, not ‘Mom’, that just wasn’t touching enough for him. Gilliams was old-fashioned in his clever and often cumbersome language. Never veiled, but veiled, as if the words contained something that really mattered to him, and not the word itself. Gilliams wanted to make the “basic” visible under everyday shapes. He can wait months for the missing correct word for a poem to arrive. He did it for less.

arrogant routine

As a child, Gilliams was called a “thin boy,” but as an adult he was far from that. He was stubborn, acted like a prince, was routinely arrogant, and thought that everything revolved around him. He was an aesthetician and, according to the Flemish critic Maurice Roelants, belonged to the family of the sensitive: Poe, Holderlin, Rilke, van de Westen. It involves “all feeling and thought in a noble and true poetic plan and has a poetic code that can only be deciphered with great sensitivity”. That doesn’t change the fact that Gilliams had an intrigued interest in diseases, aberrations, and Gregory He writes candidly (but not self-publishing) about the failed erotic adventures during his wedding night, where his new wife spat on him the moment he wanted to touch her. Portugues writes that Gilliams wanted to be as candid as his younger literary colleagues, and even outdo them.

Gilliams, in addition to being a public figure (‘The Chaste Mandarin’) secretary of the Royal Flemish Academy of Linguistics and Literature (sixteen years), was also an ascetic, someone who could withdraw into himself and no obvious lie in the realm of thought. Like the love of difficult and wonderful things: “Since childhood I have loved difficult, closed and wonderful things, although I am not without feelings and desires, although in some cases I feel hot and irrational. And not for the comfort of a warm stove, I longed for the winter months. I loved the long, cold nights, in a room without fire, to be able to read in the silence of the winter diamonds.

Reflected in a glass of water It is a powerful autobiography in which so much is told and revealed, yet so much remains unclear. This belonged to Gilliams, who had scruples while at the same time he wanted to be tough. Gilliams’ duality, honesty and attitude, originality and intellectual style, and loneliness in the crowd, culminating in the ‘melancholy of thought’ that permeates it all, are given ample space in this intelligent and somewhat skeptical autobiography.

Reflected in a glass of water. Morris Williams 1900-1982 Annette Bortigis and published by Atheneum-Pollack and Van Gennep.

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