A man of many interests and talents was born in Haarlem in The Netherlands.
He was a novelist, dramatist, poet and critic, who also studied medicine, completed a PhD on the artificial nutrition of tuberculosis patients and became later interested in psychiatry. If this was not enough, he was also interested in reforming society and was a pacifist.
He used this background beautifully in Hedwig’s Journey, published as Van de koele meren des doods in 1900. This book intriguingly was reprinted several times in the UK and Germany despite of an initial mixed reception in his native The Netherlands.
Hedwig’s Journey is still a surprisingly modern book because of van Eeden’s skill in drawing us into Hedwig’s psychological makeup.
However, at the request of the author, we should not consider this work a psychological study. It is a brilliant literary novel which gives us a thoroughly interesting portrait of a young woman that still makes sense today.
As a writer van Eeden belonged to the group known as the Tachtigers and was one of the founding members of the literary-political journal De Nieuwe Gids.
An excerpt of one of his best know literary works De Kleine Johannes I, translated in the same year as Little Johannes appeared in the first issue of De Nieuwe Gids in 1885. He also finished his medical studies in the same year.
He started a practice as a psychiatrist in 1893 and became internationally famous in this field. In 1913 he presented the very first paper introducing the concept of lucid dreaming. His interest in this field was triggered by attending Charcot’s famous Tuesday lecture given in the Salpêtrière hospital, one of the key places in Hedwig’s Journey.
His literary work was influenced by several philosophical and religious movements including Boehme’s mysticism and the Hindu concept of self. Interestingly in the light of the outcome of Hedwig’s journey, van Eeden became a Roman Catholic in 1922.
During his life he became increasingly idealistic. He founded the communal society, Walden, in 1898 and a cooperative for dismissed strikers, De Eendracht, in 1904.
Frederik van Eeden had a wide-ranging, international set of friends made up of influential people including literary friends such as Hermann Hesse. He also famously disagreed with Sigmund Freud about the merits of psychoanalysis.