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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Ernest Claes
Age Range: 12+
Whitey is a classic of Flemish literature by Ernest Claes (1885-1968) set in his native Flemish Brabant village of Zichem. It is a partly autobiographical account of the author’s childhood. Young Louis Verheyden, nicknamed ‘Whitey’ is always getting into trouble, whether it’s at school or playing pranks on grown-ups. However, he only has himself to blame for the punishments he constantly receives. Whitey steals a hat from a passenger on a train; throws a multitude of marbles on the floor during a school lesson and also carries out mischievous acts in church during a mass. Whitey and his friends find different sources of entertainment at country fairs, in local shops and playing outdoor games.
Claes was a popular novelist and short-story writer and Whitey, written in 1920, offers a wonderful insight into social life in a small Flemish town at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. It is regarded as a regional ‘picaresque’ novel about youthful escapades and growing up and becoming one of the most widely read children’s novels in Flanders. A testament to this is the two films that were made: De Witte in 1934 and De Witte van Sichem in 1980. A monument to ‘De Witte’ was erected in the town on the 100th edition of the book in 1964 and the Ernest Claes Museum, located on the farm where the author lived, was founded in 1967.