The publication of Sara Maria van der Wilp’s volume of collected poems, Gedichten (1772), led to one of the juiciest controversies in Dutch literary history. The author portrait Van der Wilp initially included in the book (left) produced a torrent of criticism and resulted in a fierce argument in the public press between its painter and the poetess. After several contemporaries reached out to the Amsterdam poetess and told her she “looked like a shrew; a dragon of a wife, […] an impertinent Whore, with Breasts like the udders of a cow,” Van der Wilp decided to commission a new portrait from a competing artist (right) and urged her readers to destroy the first portrait.
Many of her readers, however, seem to have ignored the poetess’s explicit request. Most surviving copies of the edition contain both portraits. Interestingly several readers added handwritten notes, taking a position in the controversy. On the whole, their judgement did not favor Van der Wilp, and only a few seemed pleased with the volume. A noteworthy exception appeared to have been Wobbegien Smit (b. 1767). Born in Meppel, Wobbegien married the local merchant Egbert van Veen (1767-1815) in 1788. In 1818, a few years of her husband’s passing, Wobbegien wrote multiple inscriptions of her name in her copy of Van der Wilp’s Gedichten: ‘Wobbegien Smit haar boek in jaar achttien honderd en achttien’ (Wobbegien Smit her book in the year 1818) and ‘Wobbeggien Smit zijn Boek’ (Wobbegien Smit his Book). In addition, she included two inscriptions with the surname of her late husband (‘Wobbegien van Veen’). Apparently, Wobbegien used Van der Wilp’s controversial book to practice her writing and try to establish her own distinctive signature.
Source: Atria, Institute on gender equality and women’s history (Amsterdam), NED 54 1772-B. Photographs by Lieke van Deinsen, reproduced with permission.
Lieke van Deinsen, “Visualising Female Authorship. Author Portraits and the Representation of Female Literary Authority in the Eighteenth Century,” Quærendo 49:4 (2019), pp. 283-314.
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