Eric Hoekstra


The Frisian writer Tsjibbe Gearts van der Meulen (1824-1906) wrote a short story entitled "Britting, the magician. A memoir", which is argued to constitute a literary masterpiece. In this story, Van der Meulen presents a seemingly innocent memoir about a stranger, Britting, and his wife, who spend some time in Burgum, Van der Meulen’s home town. A second storyline features a very humorous description of catechism conducted by the pastor of the local church. Upon closer inspection, the two storylines reveal a complex interaction, full of biblical allusions, which are used to convey Van der Meulen’s deeply cynical world view. In this world view, humanity consists of tricksters and dopes, featuring the church’s pastor and Britting the magician as supreme examples of tricksters. The literary analysis presented here is meant to unravel the winding paths of Van der Meulen’s incidental genius as a story-teller, revealing the wealth and complexity of the interacting allusions between the two storylines. Van der Meulen’s style is very similar to that of Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy. The article has an appendix containing an English translation of Van der Meulen's masterpiece.


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allusion, literary complexity, metaphor, cynicism, Laurence Sterne, 19th century

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Alter, R. (1981) The Art of Biblical Narrative. Basic books, New York.

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