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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Louis Couperus

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To purchase Inevitable

Title: Inevitable
Author: Louis Couperus
Genre: Novel
Written: 1900 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 334 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Inevitable - US
Inevitable - UK
Inevitable - Canada
Die langen Linien der Allmählichkeit - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: Langs lijnen van geleidelijkheid
  • Translated and with an Afterword by Paul Vincent (2006)
  • Previously published in a translation by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (1920)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : appealing period piece, an effective illustration of the forces of society at the time

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 8/10/2002 Joachim Kalka
The NY Times Book Rev. A 21/11/1920 .
TLS A- 24/11/2006 Clare Clark

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Lektüre dieses hundert Jahre alten Romans, der soviel von der Atmosphäre seiner verschollenen Moderne hat und so vertraut und so altmodisch wirkt, hat etwas unerwartet Bewegendes. Die Wiederkehr des vertrauten, banalen, unzufriedenen Kummers, dem man in der Gegenwart von Angesicht zu Angesicht mit einem Achselzucken begegnen würde, ist im Kostüm von 1900 beunruhigend." - Joachim Kalka, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "There are many chapters in The Inevitable, aside from the concluding one, which mark the book as an exquisite example of the fictionists art. The author's touch is always delicate and sure in handling the lights and shades of thought and emotion. (...) There is not a poorly drawn character among the score or so in the book." - The New York Times Book Review

  • "The portrait of their unfolding affair is a masterful observation of the beauty and illogic of romantic love. (...) Only the ending,which the title foreshadows, strikes an unhappy note; Cornélie's abrupt and arbitrary fate unbalances a finely shadowed novel." - Clare Clark, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Set around 1900, Inevitable is the story of a young (twenty-three when the book begins) divorced Dutch woman, Cornélie de Retz van Loo. Her short experience of marriage was an unhappy one, and she now believes:

That's what marriage is: habit, drudgery. And now I'll tell you frankly: I think marriage is disgusting. I think that habit is disgusting.
       But marriage is of course what society expects and even demands. And possibly it is -- as the English title suggests -- ... inevitable.
       After her divorce Cornélie travels to Italy, for a change of scene (and surely to be away from the prying eyes and gossip back home in The Hague). She takes rooms at a Roman pensione, where there's an entertaining cast of seasonal boarders. Couperus captures the hotel-feel very well, from the Vatican-sponsored religious man who's put up there to try to convert those who aren't Catholic to a variety of foreigners.
       But sightseeing or most anything else she might spend her time doing doesn't fulfill Cornélie either; it's not what she needs. She avoids the other Dutch hotel residents -- a woman and her two daughters -- at the start, but eventually can't help but be drawn into their orbit. But it's the son, Duco van der Staal (who lives elsewhere) that eventually really captures her attention.
       Duco is also having a bit of trouble figuring out what life is all about, as Cornélie finds out when she asks him what he does:
     "Do you paint ?"
     "Sometimes," he admitted reluctantly. "A bit. But actually everything's already been painted, and I can't really say I paint."
     "Do you write too perhaps ?"
     "Even more has been written than has been painted. Perhaps not everything has been painted yet, but everything has been written. Every new book that has no particular scolarly importance is superfluous. All poetry has been saidd and every novel has been written"
     "Do you read much ?"
     "Almost nothing. I sometimes leaf through ancient writers."
     "But what do you do then ?" she asked suddenly, in irritation.
     "Nothing," he said calmly, and looked at her humbly. "I do nothing, I exist."
       Cornélie doesn't do much more either, but finds a kindred spirit in Duco, and as they spend more time together they get closer. Eventually they move in together -- maintaining some appearances, but for the most part shocking everyone. (Co-habitation was not considered acceptable in these (or most) circles.) She explains that: "after having respected convention and nevertheless having become deeply unhappy, henceforth she no longer bothered about it" -- but, of course, it's not that easy.
       Unfortunately, they don't have much money, and can't earn much either. Cornélie does try to put her beliefs to some use, penning a pamphlet on The Social Situation of the Divorced Woman', but she's unable and unwilling to commit fully to a reformist or feminist programme. She wants to flout convention, but she does quite enjoy the company of proper society -- which doesn't permit much flouting. Together with Duco she more or less makes do, but it is a difficult balancing act.
       Another pair also figure prominently in the book: American heiress Urania Hope (another guest at the pensione) and prince Virgilio 'Gilio' di Forte-Braccio, duca di San Stefano. The prince and his family are short of cash, which is how he is set up with Urania -- and though Cornélie warns the girl, Urania can't help herself and ties the knot with the golddigger. He's nice and amiable enough -- but he also has an eye on Cornélie .....
       Cornélie isn't torn between convention and love; the choice is obvious to her, it's Duco. But the financial strain gets to be considerable. Cornélie even takes a job -- and thus finds herself in the last position she wants to be in:
She longed for Rome, for the studio, for Duco, for independence, love, happiness. She had had everything, but had not been allowed to stay. She had been forced back into pretence, convention, the disgusting comedy of life. It surrounded her like a great lie, more glittering than in The Hague, but even falser, more impudent, more perverse.
       And there's another shock to the system, when she runs into her former husband again. It's an interesting choice Couperus then makes: inevitability conquers all, society (and its norms) overwhelms the individual and free choice. Cornélie feels compelled, even as she does not feel all those things she was able to revel in:
It was as it was. In her blood she was not a woman for many: in her blood she was all wife, spouse, mate. In her flesh, in her blood she was the wife of the man who had been her husband, she was his wife, even without love.
       It's an odd moral: for all the passion and all the flouting of convention and even Cornélie's forays into feminism, the novel takes a surprisingly conservative turn, as if Couperus believed the times were not quite ready for the independence Cornélie shows (but can't completely commit to). Her youth excuses some of it, and Couperus warned the reader almost from the beginning:
This woman was a child of her time but particularly of her environment, which was why she was so immature: conflict against conflict, a balance of contradiction, which might be either her downfall or her salvation, but was certainly her fate.
       And so it is a clever novel of the times, exposing the forces at work on the (female) individual -- what she must fight against, and why she may ultimately not be able to assert herself (or at least her independence).
       Together with the very fine character-portraits and good pacing it makes for an appealing enough read -- though it is very much a book of its time.

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Inevitable: Reviews: Louis Couperus: Other books by Louis Couperus under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Louis Couperus lived 1863 to 1923.

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© 2006-2021 the complete review

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