Lotte Jensen / Lotte Jensen – War Against the Water

Lotte Jensen – War Against the Water

Lotte Jensen – War Against the Water

About the book

For centuries the Dutch have waged a war against the water. Many times we were able to tame the ‘water-wolf,’ but just as often we have faced devastating floods such as the St. Elizabeth’s Flood of 1421 or the North Sea flood of 1953. Vulnerability and pride go hand in hand in cultural depictions of these catastrophic events. In photos, stories and monuments, writers and artists highlight both the disastrous consequences for these communities as well as their resilience.

War Against the Water tells the story of floating cradles carrying infants, Dutch lions, fatherly monarchs, community fundraisers, and the boy who put his finger in the dike. But Lotte Jensen also shows how the cultural imagination gains new relevance over time. With rising sea levels now representing a growing threat, acknowledging our vulnerability is more important than ever.

Excerpt from War Against the Water:

On 4 and 5 February a severe storm raged across the Netherlands, with disastrous results: the national death toll was 380, along with 16,700 cattle. Overijssel was the most severely impacted, with at least 305 dead. In his Description of the Overijssel Flood of February 1825, Johannes ter Pelkwijk, a teacher from Zwolle, described the dramatic scenes that had taken place town by town. One scene was more heart-wrenching than the next: many people saw their dear ones drown before their very eyes. In a ditch near Zwartsluis, five bodies from the same family were found. The mother had been in labor; the head of the infant was already visible. Yet Ter Pelkwijk also described scenes of consolation, such as the members of one family whose lives had been preserved “by a miraculous act of Providence,” and the visit to the disaster area by the crown prince of Orange.

…Flood disasters and the history of the Netherlands are inextricably linked. Flood disasters make for a fascinating paradox within the culture of our national memory. On the one hand there are the traumatic events from the past that expose the vulnerability faced by the Dutch: all too often they have lost the struggle with the natural elements.


LOTTE JENSEN (b. 1972) is a professor of Dutch Language and Culture at Radboud University Nijmegen and writes about national identity, Dutch literature and history. Her previous works include The Glorification of the Past and Celebrating Peace: The Emergence of Dutch Identity, 1648–1815. She also edited the anthologies Napoleon’s Legacy and The Great and Terrible Flood.


© Babet Hogervorst

Additional book information

  • Literary non-fiction
  • ISBN 9789403185613
  • Number of pages: 320
  • World rights: De Bezige Bij
  • Price: €34,99
  • Full English translation in preparation