We chose to compile a list of 50 literary works originally published in Dutch, for adults, published before 1990 and written by authors who were deceased at the time of compiling the list (spring 2015). Authors are only represented by more than one work in exceptional cases.
The decision to include 50 texts is to a certain extent arbitrary and inevitably means that many of the favourite works of readers – and compilers – will be missing from this list. Nevertheless, we chose to make a strict selection since we are convinced that a canon is more useable when it is concise, didactically workable and stimulating than when it overwhelms through an unattainable ideal of comprehensiveness.
This is also why we have not set out to make surprising or unexpected choices. On the contrary, we present a limited number of works that are sufficiently entertaining, intriguing, fascinating or representative that they can serve as a starting point for a more extensive exploration of the Dutch literary heritage.
The two constraints (of time and the work of deceased authors) are necessary if we are to avoid discussions about contemporary literature that distract from the canon. Distance in terms of time is essential if we are to speak of a canonised work.
This canon list covers all Dutch literature but is compiled from a Flemish perspective and aimed at a Flemish public. It does not constitute an opinion on the unity or isolation of Dutch literature in the North or South.
Finally, this is a dynamic canon. It does not pretend to record the greatest achievements in Dutch literature once and for all, or for everyone. We intend to evaluate this list at regular intervals and to adjust it as necessary. At the same time, we see it as a springboard for discussion and as a point of reference for other canons with different objectives or aimed at specific target groups.
There is one more side note. This canon is, inevitably, the canon of the white man. But we are convinced that this dynamic canon will look very different and very diverse in the future. Because from this moment forwards, the canon is alive.