Jan de Hartog

Infobox Writer
name = Jan de Hartog

imagesize =
caption = Publicity photo for the Broadway production of "The Fourposter", with Jan de Hartog pictured at far right. (temporary image)
pseudonym = "F.R. Eckmar" (used infrequently)
birthname =
birthdate = Birth date|1914|April|22|mf=y
birthplace = Haarlem, Netherlands
deathdate = death date and age|2002|09|22|1914|04|22|mf=y
deathplace = Houston, Texas
occupation = Novelist and Playwright
nationality = Dutch
period =
genre = Non-fiction, Creative Non-fiction, and Fiction
subject = (primarily) Seafaring Stories
movement =
notableworks = "Holland's Glorie"
"The Captain"
"The Hospital"
spouse = Marjorie de Hartog
partner =
children =
relatives =
influences =
influenced =
awards = awd|Tony Award|1952|For "The Fourposter" (best play)
awd|Nominated for Nobel Prize|1972|For "The Peaceable Kingdom"
awd|Cross of Merit|"1945"|For wartime Merchant Marine activities"Imagination & Spirit: A Contemporary Quaker Reader", by C.Michale Curtis, J. Brent Bill, page 152
[http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0944350615&pageID=S056&checkSum=z1wxDsHIaRHYdbhXC5gAGCcVzzkkU0TrFrY7NWo1ges=# Viewable here on Amazon Online Reader] ]

website =
portaldisp =

Jan de Hartog (b.1914- d.2002) was a Dutch playwright, novelist and occasional social critic who moved to the United States in the early 1960s and became a Quaker.


Early years

Jan de Hartog was born to a Dutch Calvinist Minister (and professor of theology), Arnold Hendrik, and his wife, Lucretia de Hartog (who herself was a lecturer in medieval mysticism), in 1914. He was raised in the fishing community of Haarlem, Holland. .]

At around the age of 11, he ran away to become a cabin boy otherwise referred to as a "Sea mouse" on-board a Dutch fishing boat. His father had him brought home, but shortly afterwards, Jan ran off to sea again. The experiences thus gained became material for some of his future novels, as many of his life experiences did. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9806E1DC1539F937A1575AC0A9649C8B63 New York Times - Sep 24, 2002] ]

At 16, he briefly attended the Netherlands Naval College.] .] but was only there for a year. Per his own account, was expelled, and told emphatically by his angry schoolmaster "This school is not for pirates!" [http://www.friendshouston.org/articles/dehartog.html The Quaker Liar] .]

De Hartog was adjunct inspector with the Amsterdam Harbor Police until 1932. It was a few more years before he began to write..]

While employed as skipper of a tour boat on the Amsterdam Canals, he wrote several mysteries featuring Inspector Gregor Boyarski of the Amsterdam Harbor Police. At this time he used a pseudonym "F.R. Eckmar" (which is translatable as "Dr. O.P. Dead") for these works which ("luckily" according to the author himself) were never translated into English.

His theater career began in the late 1930s at the Amsterdam Municipal Theater, where he acted in and wrote a play. .]

World War II

De Hartog's career as a writer (as well as his personal life) was decisively influenced by a coincidence. In May 1940, just ten days before Nazi Germany invaded and swiftly occupied the hitherto-neutral Netherlands, de Hartog published his book "Hollands Glorie" ("Holland's Glory", translated much later to English as "Captain Jan").

The novel described the life of the highly skilled sailors on ocean-going tugboats, a specialized field of nautical enterprise in which the Dutch have always taken the lead. Without saying it in so many words, de Hartog portrayed the sailors - doing a difficult, dangerous and poorly rewarded job - as the modern successors to the bold navigators of the Dutch Golden Age.

In fact, the book's plot as such had nothing political, anti-German or anti-Nazi, the sailor protagonists' conflict being mainly with nature and with their highly paternalistic and authoritarian (and thoroughly Dutch) employers. Nevertheless, for a country undergoing the shock of invasion and occupation, the book with its outspoken assertion of and pride in Dutch identity became a bestseller in the occupied Netherlands and a focus of popular opposition to the Nazi occupation. As a result, the Gestapo took a lively interest in de Hartog himself, who had joined the non-military Dutch resistance movement, .] performing/writing plays while assisting in the concealment and relocation of Jewish babies to avoid having them sent to concentration camps. His book was banned.] and he was forced into hiding; assuming the identity of an elderly woman in a nursing home. Eventually, he staged a difficult and adventure-filled escape to England. [http://weberstudies.weber.edu/archive/archive%20A%20%20Vol.%201-10.3/Vol.%204.1/4.1Hartog.htm WeberStudies Volume 4.1 - Spring 1987] ]

In London he became deeply involved in the community of the exile Dutch sailors. The exiles felt deep alienation from and suspicion towards their British allies and hosts, and felt that they were being set up as cannon fodder (or rather, U-boat fodder) by the Royal Navy, being sent on dangerous missions with inadequately armed (or sometimes, completely unarmed) boats.

He joined the Netherlands Merchant Marine as a correspondent in 1943, and later served as a ship's captain for which he received Netherland's "Cross of Merit.".]

This experience served as the background to several of his later books such as The Captain and "Stella" (also published as "The Key"). "The Key" was made into a movie, starring Sophia Loren and Trevor Howard under the title "Stella's Key"; it also started de Hartog on the route to becoming a pacifist which later culminated when he joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

Beyond World War II

De Hartog had many hesitations about authorising translation of "Hollands Glorie" into English, and when finally he did in 1947 the English version (entitled "Captain Jan") did not have as much success as the Dutch original. However, in the wake of the war he made the decision to remain in the UK; later he relocated to the USA. He also made the professional decision to write most of his later works in English, beginning with "The Lost Sea" (1951), which was a fictional account of his experiences as a sea mouse when he was younger..]

Precisely because in the war years he had been regarded as close to a national hero, quite a few people in Holland resented this decision to write in English and felt betrayed and abandoned by him. While the sales of his books in the English-speaking world soared, his reputation in his own homeland took somewhat of a plunge, which took years to repair.

For his part de Hartog continued to regard himself as - and take pride in being - a Dutchman, even after living several decades in America, and many of his later books had Dutch protagonists and themes. Indeed, for many people outside the Netherlands, these books of his became a major source of information about Dutch society, culture and modern history. In 1952, while visiting New York, he encountered a play he had written while still in hiding during the war,.] and had sold the rights to while in England..] The play was called "The Fourposter". A New York Times reviewer called it "the most civilized comedy we have had on marriage for years.".] It went on to win de Hartog a Tony Award at the 6th annual Tony Awards Show for Best Play. Columbia Pictures also made "The Fourposter" into a partially animated movie, starring Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer. The scenes from the play were linked by cartoon sequences between them. The film was nominated for both, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for its cinematography. Later, in 1966, it became the musical "I Do! I Do!". The play also appeared under its original name at the Theatre New Brunswick in 1974.

Jan and Marjorie de Hartog took a 90-foot Dutch Ship (called "The Rival") and transformed it into a houseboat which they lived on. In 1953, during Holland's severe flooding, "The Rival" was transformed into a floating hospital. It was entirely stripped-out and refitted with coffins. .]

Moving to America

In the late 50's the de Hartogs decided to take "The Rival" to the USA, via the deck of a freighter..] There was difficulty in locating a dock with hooks large enough to lift the houseboat from the freighter, until they found Houston, Texas. They decided they liked it there, and stayed.

While Jan was giving lectures in Houston regarding play writing, Marjorie was out looking for community volunteer oppourtunities for both of them to participate in. They found Jefferson Davis County Hospital (now the Ben Taub Memorial Hospital). Conditions at the hospital were bad at that time, and with the hospital being significantly underfunded, understaffed, and overcrowded, it showed no signs of getting better. .]

Jan decided to document the conditions there, resulting in the historical memorial "The Hospital" (1964), which exposed the horrid conditions of Houston's charity hospitals in the 1960s. The book received national response, but also a local response where, within a week of the book's release, nearly four hundred citizens volunteered at the hospital. .] It also led to significant reforms of that city's indigent healthcare system through the creation of the Harris County Hospital District. It also led, however, to considerable hostility and many anonymous threats which finally forced de Hartog and his wife to move away from Houston. .]

In 1967, de Hartog wrote "The Captain" which again revisited his love for the sea, using a main character that was loosely based on himself called, Martinus Harinxma, who first appeared in the previously published "The Lost Sea" (1951). The book was a success for de Hartog, and later Martinus would go on as a primary character for several more sequels.

Before going to work on the second of the Martinus series, Jan wrote of his experience regarding the adoption of his two daughters who were Korean War orphans. This book, called "The Children" was written in 1969.He then wrote an important semi-fictional account of the origin of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). The book, "" written in 1972, won him a nomination for the Nobel Prize, and was followed eight years later by another quaker novel, called "The Lamb's War" in 1980.

He later released the next book of the Martinus series entitled "The Commodore" (1986), while living in "The Walled Garden" in Somerset, England, followed by "The Centurion" in 1989 which explored an interest that he and his wife had become involved in; dowsing. In the story, Martinus Harinxma, dabbled with dowsing and was led on a journey that followed in the footsteps of a Roman Centurion from history. The real story, in terms of researching and writing this book, was not much different from the book itself, with the exception of fictional elements used to carry the story along.

In 1990, Jan and Marjorie "quietly" returned to Houston to a much improved atmosphere. Shortly afterwards he returned to the Quaker books to write the last of the series: "The Peculiar People" in 1992..]

This was followed by his last fully completed novel, "The Outer Buoy: A Story of the Ultimate Voyage" in 1994, which again, was a Martinus Harinxma novel which expressed quite clearly, Jan de Hartog's own fascination with becoming old, a fascination with inner explorations of the mind, and perhaps even a desire to rest.

In 1996, Jan de Hartog was chosen to be honored as the year's "Special Guest" at the Netherlands Film Festival. Four years later, in 2002, Jan de Hartog passed away at the age of 88. Appropriately, his ashes were taken to sea by an ocean going tugboat, the SWITWIJS SINGAPORE, and scattered onto the surface of the sea at the coordinates 52.02.5 N – 004.05.0 E at 13.10 hrs LT, by his wife, Marjorie de Hartog, and his son, Nick de Hartog, while other family members spread flowers at the site. [http://www.ibiblio.org/maritime/Scheepvaartnieuws/Pdf/scheepvaartnieuws/2002/specialeedities/hartog.PDF Biography of Jan de Hartog in the "Daily Shipping Newsletter"] ]

A few years later, Marjorie de Hartog decided to compile and arrange a story that Jan had been working on some time ago, in the hopes of releasing it in his memory. In 2007, "A View of the Ocean" was released, a story, in essence about Jan de Hartog's own mother's death, and reveals his first contact with Quakers.


Jan de Hartog wrote many of his plays, books, and magazine articles in Dutch. Also, some of his plays and books were adapted into movies. It is the intent of this section to document those of his works that were in English (including some that were translated from their original Dutch versions by outside sources).

Books in English (incomplete)

*"The Captain"
ISBN 0-7090-3110-6

*"The Commodore: A Novel of the Sea"
ISBN 0-06-039041-7

*"The Flight of the Henny"

ISBN 0-449-21773-6

*"The Centurion: A Novel"
ISBN 0-06-039094-8

*"The Lamb's War: A Novel"
ISBN 0-06-010995-5

*"The Trail of the Serpent"
ISBN 0-06-039018-2

*"Star of Peace"
ISBN 0-06-039029-8

*"The Peculiar People"
ISBN 0-679-41636-6

*"The Outer Buoy: A Story of the Ultimate Voyage"
ISBN 0-679-43604-9

*"The Lost Sea"
ISBN 0-8488-0982-3

*"Distant Shore"
ISBN 0-8488-0981-5

*"The Inspector"
ISBN 0-88411-069-9

*"Spiral Road"
ISBN 0-88411-071-0

*"The Hospital"
*"The Little Ark"
*"A Sailor's Life"
*"Captain Jan"
(an English translation of "Holland's Glorie")
ISBN 0-85617-979-5

*"The Children: a Personal Record for the Use of Adoptive Parents"
ISBN 0-241-01622-3

(also published as "The Key")
*"Waters of the New World: Houston to Nantucket"
(with illustrations by Jo Spier)
*"The Sailing Ship" (#2 of "The Odyssey Library" collection)
(with illustrations by Peter Spier)
*"The Call of the Sea"
*"A View of the Ocean"
(published in November 2007)
ISBN 0-375-42470-0

tories appearing in Reader's Digest Condensed Books

*"Mission to Borneo" in Volume 30 - Summer 1957
*"Duel with a Witch Doctor" in Volume 31 - Autumn 1957
*"The Artist" in Volume 54 - Summer 1963
*"The Captain" in Volume 68 - Winter 1967

Adaptations of his Works


"The Fourposter (1952)" - 1hr 43min — Directed by Irving G. Reis
* Based on play of same name.
* Won Venice International Film Festival — Volpi Cup for Best Actress (Lili Palmer)
* Nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Cinematography — Black and white (Hal Mohr)
* Nominated for an Academy award for Best Cinematography (Hal Mohr)

"The Key (1958)" - 2hrs 1 min — Directed by Carol Reed
* Based on "Stella" Novel
* with William Holden and Sophia Loren
* Won a British Academy Award for Best British Actor (Trevor Howard)

"The Spiral Road (1962)" - 2hrs 25min - Directed by Robert Mulligan
* Based on Novel of the same name.
* starring Rock Hudson and Burl Ives"Lisa (1962)" - 1hr 52min - Directed by Philip Dunne
* Based on "The Inspector" novel
* Released as "The Inspector" in the United Kingdom
* starring Dolores Hart, Stephen Boyd and Donald Pleasence
* Nominated for a Golden Globe for "Best Picture - Drama

"The Little Ark (1972)" - 1hr 40min - Directed by James B. Clark
* Based on Novel of the same name.
* Nominated for an Academy award for Best Song (Marsha Karlin and Fred Karlin)


"The Fourposter" (Play on TV) (1955) - 1hr 30min - Directed by Clark Jones
* Aired on NBC, July 25th, 1955, as an episode of the 'Producers Showcase Series' whose tagline reads "Bringing the best of Broadway to the 21-inch screen".

External links

* Biography of Jan de Hartog in the "Daily Shipping Newsletter" [http://www.ibiblio.org/maritime/Scheepvaartnieuws/Pdf/scheepvaartnieuws/2002/specialeedities/hartog.PDF]
* [http://www.thelooniverse.com/books/jandehartog.html "the Looniverse"] , by Harrie Verstappen, whose sources include on-going collaborations with Marjorie de Hartog. It covers more in-depth articles regarding details of Mr. De Hartog's books. It is a source for some of the material found on this page.
* [http://www.friendshouston.org/articles/dehartog.html The Quaker Liar] , An article by Ann Sieber, which was originally published in the "Houston Press". It's a good source of information gleaned through personal contact with the De Hartogs.
* [http://www.friendsjournal.org/jan-de-hartog-activist-and-storyteller An abridged version of "Jan de Hartog: A Captain on the Ocean of Light and Love"] , also by Ann Seiber, includes historic photographs of Jan De Hartog provided by his wife.
* [http://www.schrijversinfo.nl/hartogdejan.html Writers Info website (in Dutch)]
* [http://litmed.med.nyu.edu/Annotation?action=view&annid=391 Summary of his book: "The Hospital"] which also adds to the author biography
* [http://weberstudies.weber.edu/archive/archive%20A%20%20Vol.%201-10.3/Vol.%204.1/4.1Hartog.htm WeberStudies Volume 4.1 - Spring 1987] This is a transcript of a talk Jan de Hartog gave at Weber State College on November 17th, 1986. It discusses his involvement with the Dutch Underground Theatre, along with notes regarding "The Fourposter." While this is arguably not a proper biographical reference per Wikipedia guidelines, it should stand as a temporary one until conflicting or supporting references can be uncovered.
* [http://www.ronslate.com/view_ocean_memoir_jan_de_hartog_pantheon Ron Slate's review of "A View of the Ocean"] includes de Hartog biography.
* [http://youtube.com/watch?v=7OBFPDYdiGs Jan de Hartog - Schoorl (Plaats van Herinnering)] -A Youtube video, possibly of interest, (though narrated entirely in Dutch) includes old filmstock of Jan.


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