Secrets and danger: interracial sexuality in Louis Couperus’s ‘The Hidden Force’ and Dutch colonialism.

Pamela Pattynama. ‘Secrets and danger: interracial sexuality in Louis Couperus’s The Hidden Force and Dutch colonialism (Charlotteville, VA 1998) 85-107

Written in 1998, this article is now, 20 years later even more important. It gives an in-depth psychological insight in mechanisms and resistances that rise frequently to the surface…… when mixed races could become the new ‘normal’ and ‘endanger’ classic human ‘separations’. An extensive summary made by Max Herold.

Secrets and danger: Dutch colonial culture
The Hidden Force is situated in the Indies just before the turn of the century (1900). A smoldering conflict is brewing between the Dutchman Otto van Oudijck, the resident of Labuwangi (region of Java) and Sunario, a Javanese regent or local administrative official. Behind this all-male battle is the Dutch colonial system of indirect rule.

In the course of the 19th century, however, European surveillanve had become more intrusive, because the expansion of economic activity and the European settlement required a more, direct administration. By 1900 indigenous leaders had been reduced to the role of subordinate colonial administrators.

The Hidden Force narrative structure reflects this framework in the antagonism between the Dutch resident Van Oudijck, as a classical high-minded sort of colonial administrator, and the Javanese regent Sunario. In his private life, Van Oudijck has some complications. He has a young wife, Leonie, and four children from a previous marriage. His son Thei is sexually involved with his stepmother Leonie, whereas his daughter Toddy is in love with a handsome Indo-European (Eurasian) man.

The conflict between Van Oudijck and Sunario is never openly battled out, but gradually Van Oudijck’s hous is affllicted by strange and incomprehensible phenomena: anonymous letters accuse family members of indecent activities, stones are huled, betel juice is spat at them and white-clad hadjis (Muslims who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca) hover around the house.
Also Van Oudijck’s private life, and suspicions and jealousy contaminate his soul. Van Oudijck succumbs to a graduate downfall. In the end he is portrayed through the eyes of Eva Eldersma, who consistently but in vain has tried to introduce European culture to colonial society.

Theoretical considerations: orientalism and feminism
Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) shifted the study of colonialism to its discursive operations and has shown that the history of colonialism and imperialism is intimately connected to language.
At the same time Third and First World feminists have merged the fields of colonial-discourse analysis and feminist theory. Pattynama draws upon the resisting reading methods developed by feminist literacy critics in a effort to locate, in the margins of literacy discourse, the “unsaid” or the “absent text of history” in terms of race, gender, class and sexuality in both colonial and feminist postcolonial discourse.

Celebrated as one of the highlights of the Dutch literature,
The Hidden Force is firmly embedded in the cultural heritage and historical memory of the Dutch nation. Since its serialization fot televesion in the 1970s, it has entered the popular imagination and has become part of a collective unconscious in the contemporary Netherlands.

The question to be answered is: ‘How can this ‘Hidden Force’ still wield such alluring imaginative appeal in comtemporary Dutch culture?

Natural fatherhood
The opening portion of the novel situates Van Oudijck at the very heart of the colonial milieu. Faith in European supremacy as the outcome of God’s will or belief in the inherent racial superiority of Europeans was a necessary precondition for colonialism.

Represented as an archetype of the rational, vigorous, yet compassionate sovereign, Oudijck’s portayal is primarily articulated in masculine terms. In Couperus’s characterization of Van Oudijck, one can see the the influence of the so-called Ethical Policy that emerged at the turn of the century in the East Indies. There was a growing awareness that the Netherlands, over the centuries, has incurred a debt toward the Indonisian people because of outright abuse. Nevertheless, the attitudes and behaviors associated with indirect rule lingered on.

‘Like a father’
Also Van Oudijck loves the Javanese ‘like a father’. Symbols of fatherhood – and by implication motherhood – cemented the relation of Europeans with native people by emphasizing the benevolent tutelage of fathers and mothers. In turn, these parental figures had the right to insist on deference and obedience. Howwever, exposing the unstable foundations of Van Oudijck’s self-glorification,  disruptions as discribed unsettle the colonial order and the naturalness of the Dutch presence in the colony and Van Oudijck’s secure position as a father of a familiy. Van Oudijck’s rational and down-to-earth, denies the reality of the spiritual forces that permeate the Javanese cultural landscape. Also his wife and children seem to belong to a realm that is beyond Van Oudijck’s control. A second disruptive feature is Van Oudijck’s companion, the Javanese head servant, who is potrayed as having “watching eyes”. Also his “other perspective” also destabilizes the dominant position of the white-skinned, Western father-ruler.

New and conflicting trends
Toward the end of the ninetheenth century, new and conflicting trends had began to emerge. Since the late 1890s education had slowly become available to natives, albeit exclusively fort he Javanese aristocracy. Western education gave members of Java upperclass a chance to fill posts in the colonial administrative structure that had previously been reserved fort he European caste; as a result, Javanese nationalist consciousness was awakened. On the other hand, modern Dutch policy led to a more stringent racial apartheid. Thus disparities between various ethnic and political groups became glaringly evident.
The beginning section of The Hidden Force emphasizes a public discourse of politics. Yet these three forces that have begun to undermine the natural position of Van Oudijck as a father are the first implicite sign of a palimpsest narrative in the novel.

Creole femme fatale
The atmosphere of pollution culminates in the revelation of Theo’s illicit passion for his stepmother. Howwever Leonie, figuring as an object of the male gaze, Léonie is nothing but a fair, beautiful body. Devoid of intellectual interests or responsibility, she symbolizes an unpredictable and immoral femininity. Her narcissism and erotic self-indulgence make her immune to human sufferring; hence, this female character functions as a counterpoint tot he resident’s powerful but tragic make figuration. No suffering, no sickness, no poverty, no misery existed for her. An irradation of glittering egoism encompasses her. And yet she was, for  the most part, lovable.

A psychoanalitical view
Reminiscent of the psychoanalitic views on femininity of Couperus’s comtemporary Sigmind Freud, the juxtaposition between Léonie’s narcissistic sensuality and Van Oudijck’s conscientious rationality is underpinned by genderdifferences. Léonie’s designation as a creole (i.e., an individual of European descent but born in the Indies) identifies her with the colony, despite her full-blooded European parents and her creamy white complexion.

European Eva Eldersma
The “very European” Eva Eldersma, the wife of Van Oudijck’s secretary, represents the woman newly arrived from Holland. Eva regards the Indies with a curious combination of bitter dissapointment and naive delight, due to her “soul of an artist” and “Arabian Night Illusions”.
Léonie gladly delegates to Eva all the social obligations a resident’s wife should have fulfilled. Eva’s house becomes the real centre of European social life in Labuwangi. Eva also breaks with “good old Indies customs.” More than Léonie, she resembles the resident. Opposed to Eva’s freshness and het enthusiastic embrace, Léonie is eroticized and rendered obscure and vulgar.

However, during the years, every day Eva lost something moore of het fresh Dutch blood and her Western energy.

Interracial adultry as implosion
IInterAnd already marked by the links between het promiscuity and hher descent from hybridized early Dutch settlers in the colony, Leonie gradually becomes intimately associated in The Hidden Force with the Orient. Het illiciit affair with Addy de Luce articulates further transgression of the boundary between East and West. As the embodiment of an aestheticized, exotic East, Addy is a sultry bronzed beauty.
It is special this interracial adultry that is depicted as an implosion at the heart of the Dutch presence in the colony. The union of the adulterous femme fatale and the feminized oriental male occupies a central place in The Hidden Force narrative. By invoking what in psychoanalytical terms is callled revulsion, these fused myths reveal the danger of interracial sexuality that threatens to castrate Van Oudijck’s white, European ideal of male authority and rational superiority. So far, perverse femininity, jeopardized masculinity, and dangerous interracial sexuality form the elements of the palimpsest narrative.

Indo culture
Apart from the Van Oudijck’s, two other families function prominently in the plot of The Hidden Force: the Aliningrats, who comprise Sunario’s aristocratic Javanese family, and De Luces, an Indo-European racially mixed family of which Addy is a beloved son.
Van Oudijk’s aversion tot he Adiningrats focuses on the steady degeneration of noble Javanese aristocrats caused by liquor, gambling, and superstition. They escape Dutch control.

The mestizo culture
Decendants of an enterprising, bohemian French adventurer and a princess related tot he sultaan of Solo, the De Luces typify the Indonesian family clan as described in Jean Taylor’s The Social World of Batavia: European and Eurasian in Dutch Asia. During previous ages, social-sexual relations between Europeans and Asians had produced a mestizo society. In contrast to British imperial rule in India, in the Indies this had not always been condemned. Thus, a thoroughly hybridized community had evolved in which Indo-European women occupied a central position. Couperus described the De Luces as an example of the wealth and high social position that mixe-raced landowners occuppied in nineteenth century Java. Van Oudijck expresses a hatred of half-castes and their mestizo culture. This was possible due to the fluctuations of colonia attitudes toward interracila unions ans, subsequently, towards the mixed Indo culture that had long existed on Java. Another reason was probably the charismatic Addy De Luce.

The object of European fear
The object of European fear was less interracial sexuality per se than it was the decline of the white population that would be it’s inevitable result. In The Hidden Force, Eva Eldersma emblematizes and expresses these common fears of a rapid racial degeneration among Dutch people in the Indies.

Condemnation of mixed Indo children
Until the  late ninetheenth century, mixed Indo children had been regarded as physically and psychologically better equipped to flourish in the tropical climate. After the turn of the century, in contrast, Indo-European children were depicted more often as the tangible evidence of their fathers sexual weaknesses, as if they were suddenly tainted, both physically and morality, by the supposedly inferiority of their Indonesian and Indo-European mothers. It’s condemnation became crucial in the twentieth century. It became importannt whho was white and who not.
Based on the long-standing traditions of interracial unions in the Netherlands East Indies, it was the father’s recognition, rather than physical features, that determines who counted as a real (white) European constructed on the basis of imaginary fictions, as was demonstrated by Van Oudijck. His own wife and children escape the grasp of the colonial, white Law of the Father, as suggested from the very beginning of the novel.

Impure white
In The Hidden Force’s brillliant elaboration between psyche and culture Van Oudijck is not only batterd by an outside force embodied in a treacherous female figure. The final blow to his authority comes from within, from his offspring – children who were the tangible result of his own sexuality and desire. In a variant of an Oedipal homosocial arrangement, Addy and Theo agree to possess and exchange Léonie.

Si-Oudijcks blackmail
Als the outcast half-breed Si-Oudijck appears as Van Oudijck’s possible son from a relation with a concubine. Si-Oudijck reminds him of his interracial sexual desires in the past; and, having spent his whole life in the native quarter, Si-Oudijck anticipates Van Oudijcks later abandomnent of Europian civilisation for native culture. Si-Oudijck is ablle to blackmail his alleged father through his mere existence.

In the end Van Oudijck’s defeat results from his daughters yearning  to belong to Addy de Luce’s mixed-race world, the hateful betrayal of his legitimate son, and, finally, the anonimous letters of a presumptive illegitinate son. His own children’s actions crush his faith in reason and logic, undoing his sense of European masculinity and honor. In terms of narrative strategies, the palimpsest narrative has unsettled the father’s central position as well as his story. But in the end, as the sexualized images of her affairs take over in the colonial conflict, the Creole Léonie is forced to assume the burden of guilt.

Other approaches assumed a preconfigured East and West by concentrating on the opposition between the colonizers and the colonized. Or Van Oudijck’s resounding defeat in a relentless battle between Western rationalism and Eastern spiritualism. Rob Nieuwenhuys has asserted that it would be a mistake to regard the supernatural hidden force as the novel’s central theme. Nieuwenhuys maintains that the novel is about ‘the tragedy of the European individualism whose lack of superstitiuous belief leaves him helpless in the colony. Fatal lonely European heroes, associated with European individualism.

The analysis in this article has disclosed a  submerged narrative which exposes illicit sexuality, dangerous liaisons, and racial interbreeding.
Also Couperus tormented hero carries the white man’s burden at a time at a time when the Duutch seem to have lost faith in their natural right to govern. Couperus’s story of “decay, fear, and disillusions” not only presents the defeat of the male individual but also portends the demise of the colonial enterprise in the Indies as well as the collapse of the Dutch empire in Southeast Asia.

Also the palimpset narrative tells us a different story. In her betrayal, Léonie transgresses colonial laws, which are expressed in increasingly clear-cut lines of demarcation between white, mixed-race, and native people. Watched by het silent Javanese maid, Urip, she challenges and subverts the rigidity of colonial injunctions that mandate the racial boundaries between East and West.

In 1949, decolonization took place during four bruising years of struggle. The loss of its former colony becomes one of the most traumatic features of Dutch national identity. However, the former colony continues tob e reinvented through a circulation of histories, narratives and memoires. Among these circulating texts, two narratives dominate the collective memory of the East Indies. ‘Those were our glory days’ is the first, but this narrative has been largely overtaken by a second story which indulges in feelings of shame and guilt and talks of racism and exploitation.
However contradictionary these narratives may seem to be, both stories have contributed, in fact, to the abscuring and forgetting of mestizo Indo-European histories, in which miscegenation was pivotal. Hence, Holland’s dominant narratives not only persist insurpressing Indo people’s colonial past, they also tend to muzzle the many voices in contemporary Dutch culture that tell tales about difference, hybridity, and mixed identities. Seductive and ambiguous stories such as Couperus The Hidden Force reinvent miscegenation as a disruptive element that both haunts ans captivates the Dutch nations collective self-image.