Are you a feminist?
It is impossible to imagine modern times without feminism. But feminism is not just a modern phenomenon. One of the most important female novelists of the 18th century was Belle van Zuylen. An important theme throughout her work is inequality between men and women. She believed that women should be given the opportunity to think for themselves, to learn and to study.
Geen talent voor ondergeschiktheid
"I have no talent for subordination." You may know this quote from Belle. By saying this she made clear (in 1764) to the Scotsman James Boswell, who was then studying in Utrecht, that he should not count on her as a wife. The question is whether he was out for marriage himself: a few days earlier he had written about Belle to an English friend: "She is much my superior. One does not like that". For herself, the tricky part was that there were more candidates who were her intellectual "inferiors"...
Little Miss Nobility
Born into the aristocratic Van Tuyll van Serooskerken family, Belle did not miss out on anything. Up to the age of 31, she lived in Castle Zuylen, which is just outside Utrecht and can still be visited. Belle would spend the cold winters with her family on the Kromme Nieuwegracht in Utrecht.
Just tend to your corsets and pearls
Still, she was frowned upon. An aristocratic lady with an interest in politics, mathematics, physics, philosophy and the classics was unheard of. She was not allowed to study at Utrecht University. Fortunately, she did not let that stop her: she attended public lectures held by Utrecht professors and took private lessons.
In 1763, Belle published her first book titled Le Noble (The Nobleman) anonymously. French was the language of the elite; the people spoke Dutch. The book made a mockery of aristocratic prejudice and habits. When her father found out that Belle had written the book, he bought all copies and destroyed them. He did not want Belle's reputation damaged any further.