Deken, Aagje (1741–1804)

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Deken, Aagje (1741–1804)

Dutch poet and novelist. Name variations: Agathe, Agatha. Born in 1741 in the northern Netherlands; died on November 14, 1804.

Born in the northern Netherlands in 1741, Aagje Deken would become a frequent collaborator with novelist Elizabeth Bekker on realistic stories of Dutch life. Deken was orphaned at an early age and lived in an Amsterdam orphanage before becoming a servant and governess. Employed by the Bosch family, she was befriended by their daughter Maria Bosch ; the two wrote religious poetry together: Stichtelijke gedichten was published in 1775.

Bekker, Elizabeth (1738–1804)

Dutch novelist. Name variations: Elisabeth Bekker; Elizabeth Betjen Wolff; Elizabeth Wolff-Bekker; Betje Wolff. Born at Vlissingen, northern Netherlands, on July 24, 1738; died in The Hague, on November 5, 1804; married Adriaan Wolff (a Reformed cleric at Beemster), in 1759 (died 1777).

Daughter of Calvinist merchants, Elizabeth "Betje" Bekker entered into a theoretical marriage with Adriaan Wolff, a vicar 31 years her senior. Her writing debut in 1763 consisted of poetry of moral contemplation, though her later poetry became satirical. After Adriaan's death in 1777, Bekker began to write with her close companion Aagje Deken . While living in Burgundy with Deken, Bekker was exposed to some of the dangers of the Revolution, and she is said to have escaped the guillotine only by her presence of mind. She lived with Deken for nearly 30 years before her death on November 5, 1804. Deken died nine days later.

After Deken sent a letter to Elizabeth Bekker chastising her for her satirical poetry and worldly behavior, the two became close friends and collaborators. Bekker, widowed in 1777, persuaded Deken to quit her job and move in with her. The year 1777 is considered a turning point in the history of letters in the Netherlands, because it was the year that the two women came together. In 1778, they moved to Burgundy, in part for political reasons, arriving just in time for the French Revolution.

Returning to Holland in 1797, they took up residence at The Hague until Bekker's death in 1804. They lived together for nearly 30 years, collaborating on novels, including the extremely popular works De Historie van Mejuffrouw Sara Burgerhart (History of Sara Burgerhart, 1782), De Historie van den Heer Willem Leevend (History of William Leevend, 1784–85), Letters of Abraham Blankaart (1787), and Cornelia Wildschut (1793–96). The pair, whose individual contributions to their novels were indistinguishable, also produced Geschrift eener bejaarde vrouw (Document of an Elderly Woman) in 1802. Deken died nine days after Bekker in 1804. Their correspondence was published in 1987 as Briefwisseling van Betje Wolff en Aagje Deken (Correspondence of Betje Wolff and Aagje Deken).

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