A special letter among the receipts

A volunteer of second-hand bookstore Books4Life has made an interesting discovery: a letter written by Multatuli’s widow, addressed to an employee of the RUG in 1930. The letter will be presented to the Multatuli Museum in The Hague on 11 March.
By Simone Harmsen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

A volunteer at second-hand bookstore Books4Life in the Paddepoel area in Groningen made an interesting discovery last summer. As he opened one of the books that had just come in – a novel by Nelleke Noordervliet – he found a letter dated 4 January 1930.

Dear Sir!

I thank you greatly for your letter from 16 December last – which shows how much you value Multatuli and how you want to acquaint young people with his work. This delights me greatly. Because he was great and good and his ambitions were always noble.

Kind regards, respectfully,
The widow Douwes Dekker

Max Havelaar

The letter was written by Mimi Douwes Dekker, the widow of Eduard Douwes Dekker, better known as Multatuli. Under that pseudonym he wrote the famous work ‘Max Havelaar’, among others. In the letter, the widow addresses an employee at the RUG, a ‘dear sir Jac Grit’, who was apparently a great admirer of Multatuli’s work. At the time of writing, he worked at the University of Groningen’s Hygienic Laboratory.

Jetty Olijdam, president of the Books4Life foundation: ‘Multatuli’s widow tried her hardest to bring her deceased husband’s work to people’s attention.’ In her letter, she therefore thanks Jac Grit for his efforts to acquaint the 1930s young people with Multatuli. Mimi Douwes Dekker died later that year.


Although the letter was found six months ago, the foundation has only now taken action. ‘We were busy moving to another building over the past few months. We only now made work of it.’

The Multatuli Museum is happy to have the letter in their collection. Klaartje Groot at the museum: ‘Obviously it would’ve been even better if the letter had been written by Multatuli himself. But we’re a documentation centre as well as a museum. This letter will make a great addition to our archives.’ De Groot will pick up the letter in Groningen on 11 March.

Olijdam says, ‘We’ve found pieces of paper in books before, but they were usually receipts.’ The foundation is unable to trace who the owner was of the book where the letter was found, or where it came from. ‘People often donate boxes full of books. We don’t keep track of where they came from.’


01 March 2017 | 1-3-2017, 13:01