Published in 1907, The Flaxfield is the undisputed masterpiece of Stijn Streuvels, a towering figure in the Flemish cultural revival at the turn of the last century. Though well known and well read throughout Europe from the time of its publication onward—the socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg counted it as one of her favorite books—and twice made into a movie, the novel made its first and only appearance in English in 1989, in this translation by Peter Glassgold and André Lefevere.
The story begins in spring. The aging farmer Vermeulen is putting off the planting of the flax, his most important crop, which his neighbors have already begun to sow. Vermeulen has secretly ordered a new type of seed, and while he waits its delivery, servants and family begin to suspect what becomes more and more apparent as the novel builds to its climactic ending: the once clever and successful farmer is on a decline that can only end in emotional and physical collapse. His young son, Louis, on the other hand, every day grows in maturity and confidence and becomes increasingly impatient to begin sowing the crop. As the seasons turn and the work of the farm progresses, Farmer Vermeulen comes to resent his son’s youth and vigor. The shocking end of Vermeulen’s world comes as a result of this building mutual resentment.
As in the work of Ivan Turgenev and the Nobelists Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Knut Hamsun, The Flaxfield is a lyrical evocation of nature. Its description of life on the sweeping fields of Streuvels’ Flanders is also an account of the struggle between generations, between father and son.
Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1989
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