Trappistenleven

By Godfried Bomans

In the seventies, Elsevier embarked upon the publication of series of books that would represent the complete works of the Dutch author Godfried Bomans, who had just died in 1971. I am fairly sure that they never reached their goal of completeness. Elsevier had a reputation for starting things, and never completing them. Nowadays, Elsevier doesn’t publish any literature anymore, just incredibly expensive scientific journals and scientific databanks. Their task has been picked up a few years ago, and there now exists the Complete Works of Godfried Bomans in five impressive volumes. Too expensive for me, I’m afraid, and I haven’t seen them in second-hand bookshops yet.

  • Author: Godfried Bomans
  • Title: Trappistenleven
  • Pages: 176
  • Published: 1975 (1950)
  • Publisher: Elsevier
  • ISBN: 90-10-01364-2

Godfried Bomans is probably for ‘Erik, of het Klein Insectenboek’, which has also been translated into English. He also created fair renditions of fairly tales and a large body of gently humorous work, like Bill Clifford a hilarious send-up of Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond.

This book, by contrast, is a completely serious chronicle of the history of the Abbey of Maria Toevlucht. This Cistercian or Trappist abbey was founded in 1900 in Zundert, in Dutch Brabant. The typically Bomans way of putting things — as distinctive in Dutch as Wodehouse is in English — appears only in a few places. Mostly, we get a respectful and loving account of the life and times of the abbey and the monks living there.

Some people might not be much interested in this, except perhaps in as far as it documents a time that appears to have gone. However, much of the pioneering in this book is very recognizable to me. It is in a measure similar to what my own church has experienced.

Besides, I like reading about pious people. It helps me grow in my own belief.

One last word about the preface by Kees Fens. Kees Fens was an erudite, self-taught professor in Dutch literature at the university of Nijmegen. Very learned, but a man of little understanding. He never re-read books himself: and promptly declared everyone who did to be childish. Kees Fens tries very hard to see this book as it should be seen — but never seems to quite succeed in his attempt. He keeps seeing not the greatness, but the quaintness.

This edition lacks most of the pictures that the original edition sported (which was published as a souvenir for the monks and their family and for the benefactors of the abbey). Kees Fens doesn’t understand why that is such a pity.

In the end it doesn’t matter. This book has found a place on our shelves, not with Bomans’ other works, in the Dutch literature section, but in the theology section.