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DU5: Introduction to the language and literature of the Low Countries

We regret that Paper Du5: “Introduction to the Language and Literature of the Low Countries” will not be available as an option in 2020-21 and 2021-22.


This paper is available as an option at IB for all MML students, not just those who are doing German.

Application forms are available in May each year and early submission is advisable to avoid disappointment. This popular course is usually oversubscribed.

This course is an integrated part of the 4-year Honours Degree in Modern and Medieval Languages and aims to offer second-year MML students the opportunity to acquaint themselves with Dutch, the language spoken by circa twenty million people in the Netherlands, Belgium, and in the former Dutch colonies of the Antilles and Suriname. Dutch is taught on a large scale in Indonesia to students who wish to investigate their past since much of the documentation of, for instance, linguistic, literary, (art)-historical, archaeological and anthropological aspects of the archipelago is in Dutch. 

Students taking this paper will therefore find that the Dutch language provides them with a tool to explore not only cultural aspects of two European countries but also aspects of cultures which are themselves connected to, respectively, Latin America and the Far East. 

It is true that in education, business and technology in the Netherlands and Belgium English is used extensively but there is, for instance, a great need for translators and interpreters from and into Dutch.

The visual arts of the Low Countries, in the Medieval and Renaissance period as well as in the seventeenth century, the Golden Age, are world famous and a knowledge of the language is enriching for the study, and the enjoyment, of these cultural aspects too. 

In Avant Garde and Modernism, the Low Countries not only participated but often pioneered new ground, painters such as Mondriaan, but also poets, architects, printers and designers were influential in the development of early twentieth-century culture. Those interested in the Great War and the Second World War will find that a knowledge of Dutch offers them different perspectives from those gained through the medium of English and from a British viewpoint. 


The three set text that we will be using are:

  • Louis Couperus: De stille kracht. Amsterdam. Contact 2000
  • Willem Elsschot: Kaas. In: Verzameld Werk. Amsterdam. Querido 1992
  • Harry Mulisch: De Aanslag. Amsterdam. De Bezige Bij. 1983

These three texts will be set in a greater context and the lectures in which they will focus on the following topics:

  • Dutch colonialism in Couperus’ work: East versus West
  • Urban living: literature and the visual arts in the Interbellum
  • The aftermath of suffering: the Second World War in Dutch literature
Preparatory reading: 

Language Acquisition

Before Term starts students may find it useful to acquire a basic level of Dutch. The following books and courses will be helpful:

  • Jane Fenoulhet: Dutch in three months (Hugo). Dorling Kindersley Ltd London 2003
  • The New Routledge Dutch Dictionary. Dutch-English and English-Dutch. Routledge 2003

Our Department has participated in developing extensive online material and the following website will be very useful: Virtual Department of Dutch.

The course book we will be using in class is

  • William Z. Shetter, Dutch: An Essential Grammar. 9th edition. Routledge New York 2007

The Faculty Library has a large number of textbooks, grammars and dictionaries, amongst which the following will be particularly useful:

  • Carol Fehringer, A Reference Grammar of Dutch. CUP. 1999 

Preliminary reading for the literature component (taught in Lent)

  • Paul Arblaster: A History of the Low Countries. Basingstoke. Palgrave Macmillan 2006
  • E.H. Kossmann: The Low Countries, 1780-1940. Oxford. Oxford University Press 1978
  • William Z. Shetter: The Netherlands in Perspective. Utrecht 1997
Teaching and learning: 

Language classes

The language components of the DU5 course will be taught in intensive classes that will enable the participants to achieve A-level equivalent standard in one academic year. There will be two language classes per week throughout the three terms, one hour each for Use of Dutch and Translation into English. 

The coursebook we will be using for the language classes is:

  • W. Shetter: Dutch: An Essential Grammar. 9th edition. Routledge. New York 2007


The literature lectures focus on three different and extremely creative periods in modern Dutch literature, and the texts are chosen for their intrinsic as well as for their representative value. Couperus is the most important the fin de siècle author whose work links the Netherlands with the colonial past. The Flemish author Elsschot was an iconic figure in Dutch Modernist literature and his work acquired a great following in the 'sixties. The oeuvre of the Dutch author Harry Mulisch spans the last forty years and his novel set in the Second World War and in the era of the great anti-nuclear demonstrations in the Netherlands was immensely successful, not least because it confronted a number of fondly maintained myths about Dutch behaviour in, and after, the period 1940 to 1945 and the famed Dutch tolerance. There will be four lectures in the second half of the Lent Term.

For the Du.5 Moodle site, please see here.


The examination paper is divided into three sections: in the first section candidates will be asked to translate one passage from Dutch into English; in the second section they will be required to do three Use of Dutch exercises; in the third section they will have a choice of four questions - one commentary and three essay questions on a literary topic - from which they will have to choose one. Specimen paper.

Course Contacts: 
Erna Eagar