Letters by Geertruida Bosboom-Toussaint (1812-1886)

Geertruida Bosboom-Toussaint is the only nineteenth-century female author mentioned almost by default in Dutch literary histories between the late nineteenth and early twenty-first centuries. Her literary work garners admiration; her female identity as a writer is the subject of debate in literary studies and women’s studies. The view that her work can be read as a nineteenth-century masquerade of conformity to contemporary culture with a layer of unconventional gender consciousness underneath might or might not be confirmed by her letters. This edition also provides insight into numerous important issues and influential figures of the nineteenth century: as an important female author and as the wife of the painter Johannes Bosboom, Geertruida Bosbooom-Toussaint’s letters provide her view of part of reality, a picture of her contacts with the cultural elite and an insight into her personal life. Given her stance on religious issues, the letters are also of interest to historians of religion. And, of course, the letters are of interest to non-specialists interested in nineteenth-century literature, especially Bosboom-Toussaint’s novels.

Digitisation of these letters is taking place as part of NL-Lab and the DARIAH-EU working group Women Writers in History, for which an international database has been developed within the Huygens Institute. Many writers – including Bosboom-Toussaint – were also avid readers, so their letters provide a wealth of reception data, which are included in the database – of Women Writers.

The original letters are in various libraries, archives and private collections, such as the Allard Pierson in Amsterdam, the University Library in Leiden and the Literature Museum in The Hague. In 2022, the Nationaal Archief presented 23 as yet unknown letters to A.J.S. van Rappard-Munnicks van Cleeff that complement the corpus of Bosboom-Toussaint’s letters to female correspondents. The first series of letters of Bosboom-Toussaint is now being put online. The motivation for choosing this first series is twofold: numerical (the relatively large numbers of letters to Potgieter and Beets) and gender-related (did she write differently to women than to men? At least she signs differently…). The reply letters of a number of correspondents can be traced; of the lost counter-letters, the content can regularly be deduced from Bosboom-Toussaint’s response to them. As for the confidentiality of the letters, in April 1881 Bosboom-Toussaint wrote to C. Busken Huet:

‘One has to compile my biography, my character, or whatever, later but from my letters which, though not written for that purpose I believe, can still be fairly well used to it.’

The project continues with the edition of Bosboom-Toussaint’s letters to other correspondents.