Book report: Max Havelaar

Title: Max Havelaar Subtitle: The coffee auctions of the Dutch Trading Company Author: Eduard Douwes Dekker aka Multatuli (= I have worn a lot) First edition: 1860 Read edition: seventeenth edition, 1985 Publisher: G.A. van Oorschoot, Amsterdam Number of pages: 241 pages


  • Used edition: Max Havelaar or the Koffijveiln der Nederlandsche Handelmaatschappy by Multatuli.
  • Introduced and provided with explanatory notes: Willem Frederik Hermans; De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam 1987 (photographic reprint of the latest edition, revised by the author himself).
  • The title refers to the (fictional) main character.
  • The subtitle to the coffee culture in the former Dutch East Indies, which brought a lot of money into the treasury.
  • The novel is dedicated "To the deeply honored memory of Everdina Huberta baroness of Wijnbergen, the faithful gade (wife), the heroic loving mother, the noble woman," so to Multatuli's wife Tine.
  • The assignment consists of a long French quote from the journalist Henry de Pène, in which it is said that high demands are made on the wife of a poet.
  • At the end of the novel, Multatuli also dedicates his book King William III (he sent the book in handwriting, accompanied by a letter to the king, but received no response).
  • In an introductory 'Unpublished Stage Play', that as a kind motto acts, a certain Lothario is accused of killing and salting Barbertje.
  • Even when Barbertje turns out to be alive and well and testifies that Lothario is a good person, the judge stays with his verdict: Lothario must hang because he is guilty of delusion.
  • In this 'motto' an absurd situation, an example of false ethics is displayed.
  • The first edition van Max Havelaar was published by J. de Ruyter in Amsterdam in 1860 and was cared for by J. van Lennep (Multatuli had sold the manuscript to him for five hundred guilders).
  • Van Lennep deleted data and disguised place names (which greatly reduced the novelty value of the novel), introduced a chapter layout and corrected language and style errors. The first edition appeared in a limited edition and was so expensive that the common man could not afford the purchase of a copy (which meant that the novel was only read in small circles). In 1874, Multatuli's friend bought G.L. Funke copyright and then the writer was given the opportunity to revise the book. The fifth edition of 1881 was the last revised edition during Multatuli's lifetime. It wasn't until 1949 that G. Stuiveling published Max Havelaar for the only surviving copy of Multatuli himself from 1859 (the original manuscript was never found).
  • Multatuli wrote his novel in 1859 in a poor attic room of the 'Au Prince Belge' café in Brussels. There are many editions of the novel, whether or not provided with introductions and notes, including those by G. Stuiveling (1949), M. Bots (1970), A.L. Sötemann (1979), G.W. Huygens (1983), J.J. Oversteegen (1983), M. Stapert-Eggen (1985), W.F. Hermans (1987), A. KetsVree (1992). The history of Saïdjah and Adinda also appeared separately in book form (provided by G. W. Huygens, 1988 and M. Smit, 1988).
  • In the by W.F. After the text of the novel, Herman's delivered edition includes the dozens of pages 'Notes and Clarifications by the edition of 1875 (revised, amended and supplemented in 1881)' by Multatuli himself.

Summary of the content

Batavus Droogstoppel is a coffee broker (company Last & Co.) and lives at Lauriergracht 37 in Amsterdam. He wants to write a book about coffee culture and will thereby be guided by truth and common sense; poets and novelists tell nothing but lies. One evening Droogstoppel met an old schoolmate who looked shabby; instead of wearing a decent winter coat, he only wore a sort of scarf over his shoulder. Droogstoppel therefore calls him Sjaalman. To his annoyance, the poor Scarfman walked a long way with him. The next day, Droogstoppel received a packet of papers with a letter in which Sjaalman asked him to stand surety for him with a bookseller for the printing costs associated with the publication and to read through the contents. Droogstoppel found many interesting things in the pack of documents (including a report on the coffee culture in the Menado residence), which he could use for his book. To prepare the excerpts for the press, he uses the volunteers Ernest Stern (the son of a friendly relation from Hamburg), who works at the Last & Co office. works. In fact, Stern will write the book on the basis of the data from Sjaalman. The title must be: "The coffee auctions of the Nederlandsche Handelmaatschappij". Droogstoppel itself will occasionally add a chapter to give the book a 'solid appearance'.
Stern starts his 'story' with a description of traveling on Java, the government of India and the abuses (messy and exploitation of the native population). He then says that a new assistant resident, Max Havelaar, has been appointed in the Lebak district (South Bantam). This Havelaar arrives in the capital of Lebak, Rangkas Betoeng. He is an excellent civil servant, quick of understanding, truthful, idealistic, but also realistic, "a barrel full of contradictions." He will fight vigorously against any form of injustice and that does not really matter in Lebak (buffalo robbery, men's services, etc.). The following day Havelaar gives a speech to the heads of Lebak. In it he clearly shows that he is aware that some people forsake their duty out of self-interest, sell the right for money and take the buffalo from the poor people. Havelaar knows all this from the archive documents of his predecessor Slotering. Inspector Verbrugge is also aware of the abuses and he also knows that rumors are circulating about the death of Slotering (he is said to have been poisoned by the son-in-law of the regent ...). The native population lives in miserable circumstances; the main culprit is the elderly regent, the Adhipathi Karta Nata Negara, a high-level administrative officer from a noble Sundanese family, who constantly has insufficient money to support his large family and household. Havelaar superior Slijmering, the resident of Bantam, is aware of the behavior of the regent, but has not yet taken any measures.
Drying stubble now interrupts Stern's story; he has not been able to tell that coffee is grown in Lebak. He thinks that the entire story about that Havelaar cannot fascinate any reader and that it is time to introduce something else to the reader, which will give him more meaning: fragments from a sermon by Reverend Wawelaar. The gospel must be preached to the Javanese and through work they will have to come to God. That is possible, because the soil in Lebak can be made very suitable for coffee culture. Furthermore, Droogstoppel believes that the papers of Sjaalman do not promote the Christian spirit in his house; that is why he will admonish his children and Shawl man. In a letter he urges Stern to get something more solid from Sjaalman's suit. From a parable about a Japanese stonemason, who tells Havelaar to the native girl Si Oepi Keteh, it becomes clear that man should not strive for ever higher things.
Havelaar sees that there are many abuses in the region. He tries to "edit" the rain with gentleness, but nothing can be started with him, despite nice promises. Everyone knew about injustice and extortion, but nobody dared to take action. At night the victims of the crimes came to Havelaar to complain and he tried to help them as much as possible. The tragic history of Saïdjah and Adinda shows how bad the exploitation is in Lebak, a 'monotonous' story that the Dutch have to address. Saïdjah, the son of a simple Sundanese farmer in Badoer, plows the rice field with their buffalo for his father. The faithful animal once protects him against a tiger attack. Just like the previous buffalo, this animal is also taken away by the district head. Some time after that, Saïdjah's father flees, because he cannot pay his land interest. He is caught and dies in prison; Saïdjah's mother dies of misery. Saïdjah takes love for Adinda. To make money, he leaves for Batavia to work as a gang boy (gang: two-wheeled carriage pulled by a horse). After three years he will return to marry Adinda; as a pledge he gives her a piece of his headscarf. During his long pedestrian journey to Batavia, Saïdjah reflects on many things (his love for Adinda, loneliness, fear, death). In Batavia he rises to be a house servant; after three years he leaves again, provided with a certificate, enough money to buy three buffalo and a beautiful cloth for Adinda. When he finally arrives in the village, Adinda and her house cannot be found. Rumor has it that she and family members and many others went to the Lampongs (South Eastern). Desperately, Saïdjah wanders around and goes looking for Adinda on the other side of the sea, where he joins a gang of insurgents. He finds Adinda's corpse in a burning village; he puts an end to his life by walking into the bayonets of the soldiers ... It is certain that there are many Saïdjahs and Adindas.
Dry couple disagree at all with Stern's sympathy for the oppressed Javanese: if people do not work in Lebak, the population remains poor; that makes sense! Mrs Slotering fears that Havelaar will be poisoned, just like her husband, who also wanted to take action against injustice. Havelaar submits a written complaint against the regent to Slijmering. Mucus reacts furiously, because Havelaar did not first inform him orally and disturb him with his letter in his busy activities. Droogstoppel tells about a renewed attempt to meet Sjaalman and about a letter from which it appears that 'Miss' Sjaalman is being divorced from her family. He also talks about a visit to his father-in-law and his meeting with a resident from the East, who claimed that there was no dissatisfaction in the Indies at all and that this Shaalman was a dissatisfied figure with a reprehensible behavior. The resident comes to Rangkas Betoeng. He first visits the regent, asks him what he can do about the assistant resident's complaint and gives him money. Then he visits Havelaar and asks him to withdraw the charge. But Havelaar refuses, so the case will have to be dealt with by a higher authority. The governor general is forced to relocate Havelaar to Ngawi for the time being.
However, Havelaar asks for his own dismissal. He goes to Batavia to speak to the governor-general in Buitenzorg, but His Excellency has a foot ulcer and cannot receive him; later he is too busy with his upcoming departure. Havelaar then writes a letter, but without result; the governor general leaves for the motherland without an interview. Havelaar roams poor and left around ...
Then Multatuli picks up the pen. He no longer needs Stern and sends Droogstoppel, that miserable product of greed and blasphemous femelarie ('choke on coffee and disappear'). With the book, Multatuli wants to give his children something for later, after their parents will have died of misery. Secondly, he wants and will be read. Everyone needs to know that the Javanese is being abused and if he is not believed, he will translate his book. Songs with the chorus will then be heard in the capitals: 'There is a predatory state on the sea, between East Frisia and the Scheldt' The book will also be published in Indian languages, because the Javanese must be helped by legal means or, if necessary, by force. Finally, Multatuli addresses King William the Third, emperor of the beautiful Insulinderijk, who winds around the equator like a belt of emerald, and asks him if it is his will that Havelaar be splashed with the mud of Slumeringen and Droogstoppels and his more than thirty million people there are abused and sucked out in his name ...



Max Havelaar is a very original work, for which no (written) sources can be identified. In the 'Unpublished play' reference is made to a work by O.E. Lessing, Nathan der Weise (1779).


The used edition of the novel consists of twenty non-numbered chapters without a title; the chapter division was made by J. van Lennep. There is a 'double novel' in which two stories are intertwined:
  • the Droogstoppel story about coffee culture ('novel A'); - the Stern story about Max Havelaar ('novel B').
  • A and B constantly refer to each other and end at the same time.
  • The last few pages form a kind of pamphlet or copywriting: Multatuli picks up the pen itself and explains the meaning of the book.

Towards the end of the book, fiction (the invented or invented reality) appears to be increasingly reality. The reader initially thinks he has a humorous-realistic story. Only later does the real (political) goal of the book appear: to expose the real abuses. But then the reader has already fallen under the spell; he is, as it were, lured into a trap ('trap structure'), the literature is 'put overboard'.
An important structural element is the contrast: the Netherlands versus India, poor versus rich, hypocrisy versus sincerity, fiction (form) versus reality (fact), Droogstoppel versus Havelaar and so on.
MuItatuli himself calls the book 'colorful', without 'graduality', but the structure is not that erratic. J.C. Brandt Corstius believes that the novel is very well composed. This is because two times three groups of chapters of the same size can be distinguished, each with two 'summits':
  • the first three (chapters 1 to 4, 5 to 8 and 9 to 11) have as their summits the speech to the heads of Lebak and the parable of the Japanese mason;
  • the second trio (chapters 12 to 14a, 14b to 17 and 18 to 20) knows the history of Saïdjah and Adinda and the final part.

The history of Saïdjah and Adinda forms an independent, exemplary story within the novel; it shows an example of exploitation practices. The subjects in Max Havelaar are very diverse in nature, but they are linked to each other by the central idea that the Javanese is exploited and the administration is not good.


The main character is actually E. Douwes Dekker (see Author) himself in various appearances (splits):
  • Max Havelaar, the about thirty-five-year-old assistant-resident of Lebak, a heroic figure, an 'ideal' civil servant, a kind of Don Quixote who fights against the injustice that is being done to the natives (in his opinion). He constantly encounters unwillingness and incomprehension of Dutch civil servants. He is sensitive, diligent, intelligent, honest, witty, socially conscious, revolutionary and idealistic. He does not fit in the then colonial civil service. He is convinced of the correctness of his own views and plays a beautiful role in the Lebak affair. Tine, his good-natured, loving wife, has a blind veneration for him and approves everything he does. Son Max Jr. is the innocent victim of his father's idealism.
  • Sjaalman: Douwes Dekker in poor condition after his resignation, a misunderstood idealist. Sjaalman was fired by book dealer Gaafzuiger.
  • Ernest Stern, a somewhat sentimental young German volunteer who lives with Droogstoppel. MuItatuli ('I have worn a lot').
  • Identification occurs again in the course of the novel: Havelaar, Sjaalman, Stern and Multatuli appear to be one and the same figure.

Batavus Droogstoppel, associate of Last, is a coffee broker in Amsterdam, a caricature of the selfish Dutch merchant: hypocritical, cowardly, vain and rude. He has two children, Frits and Marie; his servant is called Bastiaans. The native regent Karta Nata Negara is benevolent and polite, but does his own thing. He exploits his people and lets them do men's services. Some inhabitants of Lebak, who were not very prosperous, had been so despaired that they had moved to neighboring areas and South Sumatra, where they joined rebels.
Saïdjah and Adinda personify the abused native population. Pastor Wawelaar puts religion at the service of the exploitation of the Indies; he wants to convert the Javanese to make him work for the Netherlands. Resident Mucus is the type of civil servant who is always so particularly busy and neglects his duty of decisive action. The jovial, cozy Duclari is the military commander. Various characters have character names ('speaking names'), for example Droogstoppel (arid, dry), Grinding (slime, syrup licking) and Wawelaar (wailing, telling nonsense).

Place and time

The events take place in the Netherlands (in particular Amsterdam) and in the (former) Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia). These locations form a sharp contrast. The Lebak district (with the capital Rangkas Betoeng) is located in the Bantam residence in West Java. Saïdjah and Adinda live in Badoer, in the Parang-Kudjang district. Multatuli came up with the name Insulinde for the beautiful island kingdom. In Max Havelaar, he pays a lot of attention to the 'local color': beautiful nature descriptions, Indian language and so on. The time told cannot be specified precisely; the events in the history of Saïdjah and Adinda cover a period of approximately eleven years. The actions take place at different time levels: 1856 (the Lebak period and qe history of Saïdjah and Adinda) and ± 1860 (the 'present' of Droogstoppel and Stern). Present and past are intertwined.

Tell situation

The narrative perspective is multiple and complicated; there are several IK storytellers, namely Droogstoppel, Stern (who in turn creates a more or less auctorial IK storyteller who tells the Havelaar history) and Multatuli (in the final part). However, Havelaar also presents himself (in conversations and letters). Multatuli personally throws the storytellers Droogstoppel and Stern out of the book at the end of the novel ("I am disgusted by my own making").


Central to this are the fight against the exploitation of the population of the Dutch East Indies and the pursuit of reparation for the civil servant Douwes Dekker. The basic motive is justice. Among other things, an important role plays:
  • Mixing fiction and reality (see Composition);
  • personal division and identification (see Characters);
  • manuscript fiction or mystification: fictitious letters and documents ('pak van Sjaalman');
  • criticism of society, the church and colonialism;
  • fight against insensitivity and misunderstanding;
  • clash of different cultures;
  • civil service. The administration of the Dutch East Indies looked like this: Governor General and Council of India => residents => assistant residents => inspectors => overseers => clerks. The native regent was assisted by district heads.


Especially in the 'Stern story' the style is fresh, natural, personal, lively and compelling. The tone varies from harsh and businesslike to humorous and sarcastic and sometimes poetic. Ordinary spoken language, official language, biblical prophetic language and a sensitive, poetic narrative style alternate in the very disparate texts. Douwes Dekker himself characterized his style as 'music and thunder' and called sarcasm 'the most violent expression of smart' (Idea 324). The many elaborations serve primarily to inform the reader about Havelaar's character and work environment.

Flow and genre

Max Havelaar is a strongly autobiographical, ironic and realistic trend, tendency or protest novel from the romantic period (for romanticism, see Movement and genre with A.C.W. Sta¬ring, Jaromir). In addition, the novel can also be seen as a key novel, in which real persons are presented in disguise: Droogstoppel is probably the Amsterdam coffee broker Robert Voute, Slijmering is C.P. Brest van Kempen, Slotering is C.E.P. Carolus, the governor general is A.J. Duymaer van Twist, Verbrugge is A.J. Langevelt van Hemert and Duclari is Lieutenant Collard; the figures from the story about Saïdjah and Adinda are made up. Finally, Max Havelaar can also be seen as a complicated pseudo-autobiography. Typical romantic elements are the manuscript fiction, the self-centered vision (the I is always the center of attention), the rebellion against society and the emotion. In addition to romance, however, Enlightenment (see Flow and genre by J. van Effen, De Hollandsche spectator) and realism play an important role: the main idea (demonstrating wrongdoing) is highly rationalistic and various descriptions are very truthful.

Valuation, edits and translations

Max Havelaar is "the only world-class novel that produced our nineteenth century" (G. Stuiveling). According to R. Nieuwenhuys, however, Multatuli understood very little about the sense of justice of the natives (adat or customary law). The intended effects of Max Havelaar (improvement of the position of the Javanese and rehabilitation of Multatuli) were largely eliminated by the intervention of J. van Lennep (see Bibliography). Yet no other book in the nineteenth century has caused so much commotion; Multatuli instantly became famous and soon feared and hated. He opened many eyes to the mistakes of colonial policy in those days, he was the louse in the fur of the nineteenth-century national conscience. Max Havelaar distinguishes itself in a positive way from all other works that appeared in our country around 1850 through its style.
The novel was filmed by Fons Rademakers in 1976 (based on a scenario by G. Soeteman). Jos Brink, Frank Sanders and Henk Bokkinga made a musical to the book in 1987.
Max Havelaar has been translated into many languages, including French, German (by E. Stück, 1951), English (by A. Nahuys, 1868), Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Hungarian, Polish, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Chinese; Czech, Japanese and Indonesian!


Eduard Douwes Dekker (Multatuli, 1820-1887) was born in Amsterdam. He was the youngest of five children and was mainly raised by his mother (Sytske Eeltje Klein). He attended the Latin School for a few years and, like his brother Pieter, was destined to become a pastor. However, he failed at school, worked for three years as a clerk at textile firm Van de Velde and was taken by father to the Dutch East Indies in 1838. In Batavia he worked at the 'Netherlands Court of Audit'. In 1841 he became a Roman Catholic (his parents were Mennonite) to be able to marry the planter daughter Caroline Versteegh; however, her father did not want to agree to a marriage. Douwes Dekker then applied for a transfer to Sumatra; in 1842 he became a controller at Natal. He had a relationship with Si Oepi Keteh, the daughter of a native head, for a few months. He was wrongly suspected of tampering with the administration; his boss, General Michiels, suspended him. He left for Batavia, married Everdine Huberta baronesse van Wijnbergen (Tine) in 1846 and became a commisioner in Poerworedjo. Two years later he became secretary of the resident in Menado (Celebes) and again three years later assistant resident of Ambon. In July 1852 he had to return to the Netherlands for health reasons; his sick leave lasted about two years. He could not find any other work, lived as a grandseigneur and was deeply in debt due to money speculations in Spa, Bad-Homburg and Wiesbaden. Disappointed, he returned to Batavia in 1855. On the recommendation of Governor General Duymaer van Twist, he was appointed assistant resident of Lebak (West Java) in 1856. There he tried to put an end to the bad situation in which the natives found themselves. He even filed an official complaint against regent Karta Nata Negara with the resident of Bantam, Brest van Kempen, but no response was received. He was transferred to Ngawie, but then applied for dismissal himself. Brother Jan, who was a tobacco planter in central Java, took care of Tine and son Edu. Douwes Dekker himself traveled to Brussels and took up residence in 'Au Prince Belge'. In 1858 he tried in vain to return to colonial service. In 1859 Jan, Tine and the (meanwhile) two children (Edu and Nonnie) repatriated to the Netherlands. Douwes Dekker founded a 'Legion van Insulinde' (a corps, prepared for any service) and led a restless life for many years, while Tine stayed in Brussels. To avoid a prison sentence for giving a blow to someone who insulted a singer, he went temporarily to Germany. Tine left for Milan in 1866 to work as a kindergarten teacher. From 1870 Douwes Dekkers took care of friend and publisher G.L. Funke made sure that the income from his works was increased. Douwes Dekker started a relationship with Mimi Hamminck Schepel. He became correspondent in Germany for the 'Opregte Haarlemmer Courant'; because he was not allowed to give his own opinion, he made up a newspaper (the 'Mainzer Beobachter') from which he supposedly quoted. For a short time he lived in The Hague with Tine and Mimi. Tine left for Italy in 1870, where she died four years later; Douwes Dekker was not present at her funeral in Venice. After a short but intense friendship with the actress Mina Kruseman, he married Mimi in 1875. They went to live in Wiesbaden and took in a foster son (Wouter Bernhold). From an admirer, Joh. Zürcher, Douwes Dekker got a country house in Nieder-Ingelheim and an annuity as a national testimony. In recent years he lived quietly and carefree with Mimi. After severe asthma attacks, he died in February 1887 in Nieder-Ingelheim, on the birthday of King William III ... He was the first Dutchman to be cremated.
The pseudonym Multatuli is derived from Ovid ('ipsa multa tuli non liviora fugue' and means: I have endured much that is no lighter than the exile in itself). The life and work of Douwes Dekker are closely intertwined. He was a true romantic: he doubted all certainties and truths, was an emotional person, moralist and practitioner, fighter against injustice, social reformer, ironist and sarcastic, non-monogamous, driven idealist, self-taught, self-willed and self-centered, imaginative, haughty, tactless ... in short, a romantic split personality of European size with Napoleon tendencies and Jesus allures!
The Multatuli Society has existed since 1946 with its own magazine 'Over Multatuli'. Since 1987, a statue of Douwes Dekker has been on the Torensluis in Amsterdam. There has been a clear turn in the Multatuli appreciation in recent years: the almost unanimous admiration and worship have given way to much negative criticism (see for example the collection of articles There is nothing more poetic than the truth, 1987).
The most important works of E. Douwes Dekker are: Hector (1832; mourning play); Loose pages from the diary of an old man (1841-45); The Honorable (also called The Sky Bride and later The Bride Up There, 1844); Max Havelaar (1860); Impressions of the day (1861); Minnebrieven (1861); Ideas (1862-77; seven bundles with 1282 numbered notes, raids, stories, parables, predictions, etc.) The Ideas also include a play, 'Vorstenschool', and the history of 'Woutertje Pieterse'); Japanese conversations (1865); The blessing of God through Waterloo (1865); The Society for Nut van den Javaan (1869); A thousand and a few chapters on specialties (1871) and Millions studies (1873). Ten volumes appeared from 1890 to 1896. From the Complete Works of Multatuli, a new edition is being published in twenty-two volumes.

Video: Max Havelaar 1976 Full Movie (February 2020).

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