Theo Thijssen: ‘Het taaie ongerief’

Book cover: Het taaie ongerief by Theo Thijssen

Cover of the 1932 Arbeiderspers edition of ‘Het taaie ongerief’. Design by Albert Hahn.

The semi-biographical works of the school teacher Theo Thijssen immerse you in early 20th-century Amsterdam.

The title translates roughly as ‘the enduring hindrance’. The book is about the physical and psychological torment caused by cheap clothing, at once the most intimate and most public expression of the poverty the main character Joop (pronounced ‘Yope’ in English) and his family can’t seem to escape.

We follow Joop from childhood in a slum neighborhood with his mother and four siblings (teasing, fights), through to the teacher’s college to which he is admitted with a rare stipend (humiliation in class, fear of attention), military service (gruesome inspections), and working life (lying to avoid admitting he can’t afford a jacket).

Thijssen intended it to be a light satire about bourgeois values and the feelings of shame and insecurity they create.

But to a contemporary reader, the suffering stands out. As Joop talks about his struggles with a deformed hat or a disintegrating pair of pants, you see what’s at stake: the ability to go to a cultural event, to court someone he loves, to give an important speech, to find work. “Not fitting in” meant losing the chance to navigate his way out of poverty into an emerging middle class.

You also see how he and his peers combine forces to invent ways around the enduring hindrances. Young people were organizing into clubs with rules of their own making. The Almanac of the Teacher Trainee Union of 1911 gives us a glimpse of the kind of society they must have had in mind. Here are some scans of the pages:

Cover of almanac.

Cover of the Almanac of the Teacher Trainees Union of 1911.

kwekeling almanak 1911 augustus

Engraving showing nude young woman in forest, with smaller figure in background.

Calendar page from teacher trainee Almanac, 1911. The quote at the bottom translates roughly as: Our movement creates a rustling like the wind in the woods: ‘We are the young’.

kwekeling almanak 1911 november

kwekeling almanak 1911 oktober

The ad pages are also interesting:

kwekeling almanak 1911 advertenties_003

kwekeling almanak 1911 advertenties_002

Advertising pages.

Advertising pages.

And there are even a couple of black and white photos pasted in, describing a vacation:

kwekeling almanak 1911 vacantie

kwekeling almanak 1911 sunny home

Story about a vacation trip.

Story about a vacation trip.

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