TV works

Maurice Gilliams

Maurice Gilliams (1900-1982) made his debut as a poet, but also wrote essays (on Paul van Ostaijen, Henri De Braekeleer and others), annotations and narrative prose, which he – in strict and monomaniacal fashion – composed into a coherent and concise body of work entitled Vita Brevis, which is frequently associated with German Romanticism and the writings of Rainer Maria Rilke and Marcel Proust. In Vita Brevis, Gilliams constructed the character of the autocratic, proud, reserved and intentionally unworldly poet, a thinking writer for whom art comprises the absolute and unconditional commitment for human existence, yet who simultaneously experiences the urge to create as a disease, an agonizing and dogged search for authentic self-revelation and ‘the sole and correct expression for a sole and correct perception’.

The literary character created by Gilliams – ‘the Gilliams idea’ – did not entirely coincide with the real Maurice Gilliams, who was the son of an Antwerp printer, a nefarious and ironic raconteur who worked as a librarian at the Royal Museum for the Fine Arts in Antwerp and later became Secretary of the Royal Flemish Academy for Linguistic and Literary Science. Gilliams was himself never a well-read author, even though his novel, Elias of het gevecht met de nachtegalen (Elias: Or the Fight with the Nightingales, 1936) enjoyed several reprints. He was a writer’s writer with high critical ambitions. In 1980, he received the Grand Prize for Dutch Literature, the highest literary distinction for contributions to the Dutch language. According to Daniël Robberechts (in 1978), Gilliams and Louis Paul Boon were ‘the two (strongly contrasting) reference points for today's Flemish prose’. Gilliams’ influence on such writers as Paul de Wispelaere, Mark Insingel, Stefan Hertmans, Leonard Nolens and Erwin Mortier is unmistakable. Gilliams continued to be an insiders’ resource even after his death, with the 1993 publication of his Gregoria of een huwelijk op Elseneur (Gregoria: Or a Wedding at Elseneur), an ‘essayistic novel in poetry about the misery of my first marriage’. In 1978, Jef Cornelis produced Het gedroomde boek, a film for television based on Vita Brevis. The film, after a scenario by Laurent Veydt (a pseudonym for Georges Adé), was initially broadcast by the Belgian public broadcasting network on 9th January 1980. [Eddy Bettens]