Kikkertje lief

By Aagje Luijtsen (collected by Perry Moree)

Kikkertje Lief (dear froglet) was the favourite pet-name of Aagje Luijtsen for her husband, Harmanus Kikkert, first mate on a VOC ship in the 18th century. Perry Moree found her letters to her husband in an archive in Great Britain. The letters had been captured with the ship Kikkert was sailing on by the British, and the British had the custom of archiving all papers found on such a ship.

It has often been said that before the twentieth century, real love like we know it between wife and husband or parent and children didn’t exist; that people were so used to death and loss that they took care never to grow any real affection for each other. This is, as proven by the very dear and very sweet letters in this book, complete nonsense.

There are nineteen letters in this book, written with love and a sense of self-deprecation. There’s one extra letter, written by Aagje and Harmanus’ son — all letter O’s, as his proud mother writes. The letters end with the much mourned death of their son.

Harmanus returned safely from his travels, and lived for some time happily together with his wife, until she died of breast cancer at far too young an age.

The book is very well produced, with illustrations, a thorough introduction, a nice, strong binding, and even an insert with a song text from a letter Aagje wrote in 1777 with music. The spelling and interpunction of the letters have not been modernized, but it’s easy enough to read, often saying a word aloud in Aagjes spelling will make you realize what the modern form is, and also the sensibility of her spelling conventions.