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Hugo Maurice Julien Claus ( ; April 5, 1929March 19, 2008) was a leading Belgian author, writing primarily in Dutch. He was prominent as a novelist, poet, playwright, painter and film director.

His death by euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium, led to considerable controversy.


Hugo Claus was considered to be one of the most important contemporary Flemish authors . Under the pseudonym Dorothea van Male, he published the novel Schola Nostra (1971). He also used the pseudonyms Jan Hyoens and Thea Streiner. In 1983, he published Het verdriet van België ("The Sorrow of Belgium"), which is probably his most famous book.

Claus was also a dramatist. He wrote 35 original pieces and 31 translations from English, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish and Dutch plays and novels.

As a painter, Claus was a participant in the CoBrA art movement from 1950. He had developed friendships with some of its members, and illustrated a book by Pierre Alechinsky in 1949. He collaborated with key figures in the movement including Karel Appel and Corneille and participated in some exhibitions.He later used his experiences of this time in his book Een zachte vernieling (Mild destruction)

Hugo Claus' name had been put forward many times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, on which he would casually comment that "l'argent de ce prix m'aurait bien arrangé" ("this prize money would suit me fine") .


Hugo Claus was born in Brugesmarker. He was the eldest son of the printer Jozef (Joseph) Claus and Germaine Vanderlinden. In February 1931, his brother Guido was born (died 9 November 1991). Guido was later followed by two other brothers — Odo (born January 1934) and Johan (born November 1938, died February 13, 2009).

He lived in Paris from 1950 until 1952, which is where he met many of the CoBrA members.

From February 1953 until the beginning of 1955, Hugo Claus lived in Italymarker where his girlfriend Elly Overzier (born in 1928) acted in a few films. They were married on 26 May, 1955, and had a son, Thomas, on 7 October 1963. In the early 1970s, he had an affair with actress Sylvia Kristel, who was 27 years younger, with whom he had a son Arthur born in 1975. The relationship ended in 1977, when she left him for actor Ian McShane.

He was a "contrarian", of "anarchist spirit". Journalist Guy Duplat recalls that Claus had organized in Knokkemarker the election of a "Miss Knokke Festival", which was a standard Beauty contest, except for the Claus ruling that the members of the all-male jury would have to be naked .

Claus was actively opposed to Flemish separatism.


Claus directed seven films between 1964 and 2001. His film Het sacrament was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival.


Claus suffered from Alzheimer's disease and requested his life to be terminated through euthanasia at the Middelheim Ziekenhuis in Antwerpmarker on March 19, 2008. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium.

The Flemish Minister of Culture stated, "I knew him well enough to know that he wanted to depart with pride and dignity." Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said that he imagined the onset of Alzheimer's must have been "inevitable and unbearable torture". "I can live with the fact that he decided thus," he said, "because he left us as a great glowing star, right on time, just before he would have collapsed into a black hole."

His death by euthanasia has received criticism from the Roman Catholic Church and the Belgian Alzheimer League. The Roman Catholic Church criticized the media coverage; Cardinal Godfried Danneels referred to Claus' euthanasia in his Easter Homily. The Belgian Alzheimer League respects Claus' decision, but believes the media coverage of his death neglects other options for Alzheimer patients.


Amongst others:
  • 1952 — Arkprijs van het Vrije Woord for De Metsiers
  • 1964 — August Beernaertprize for De verwondering
  • 1965 — Henriëtte Roland Holst-prize for all his plays
  • 1967 — Edmond Hustinxprize for all his plays
  • 1979 — Constantijn Huygensprize
  • 1985 — Cestoda-prize
  • 1986 — Herman Gorterprize for Alibi
  • 1986 — Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren
  • 1994 — Prijs voor Meesterschap
  • 1994 — VSB Poëzieprize for De Sporen
  • 1997 — Libris Literatuurprize for De Geruchten
  • 1998 — Aristeion Prize for De Geruchten
  • 2000 — Premio Nonino


Claus wrote over a thousand pages of poetry, more than sixty plays, over twenty novels and several essays, film scripts, libretti and translations. Only a small part of this œuvre has been translated into English:
  • Prose:
    • The Duck Hunt, 1955 (De Metsiers, 1950)
    • Sister of Earth, 1970 (De Metsiers, 1950)
    • The Sorrow of Belgium, 1990 (Het verdriet van België, 1983) (ISBN 1-58567-238-6)
    • The Swordfish, 1996 (De Zwaardvis, 1989) (ISBN 0-7206-0985-2)
    • Desire, 1997 (Het verlangen, 1978) (ISBN 0-14-025538-9)
    • Wonder, 2009 (Der verwondering, 1962) (ISBN 978-0-9800330-1-4)
  • Poetry:
    • with Karel Appel: Love Song, 1963 (written in English)
    • Four Flemish Poets: Hugo Claus, Gust Gils, Paul Snoek, Hugues C. Pernath / edited by Peter Nijmeijer. (1976) (ISBN 0856820342)
    • with Pierre Alechinsky and Karel Appel: Two-brush paintings: Their poems by Hugo Claus, 1980 (Zwart, 1978)
    • An Evening of postwar poetry of the Netherlands and Flanders [sound recording]: Hugo Claus, Judith Herzberg, Gerrit Kouwenaar, and Cees Nooteboom reading their poems, 1984
    • Selected Poems 1953-1973, 1986
    • The Sign of the Hamster, 1985 (Het teken van de Hamster, 1964) (ISBN 9071345130)
    • Greetings: selected poems, 2004 (ISBN 0151009007)
  • Theatre:
    • Friday, 1972 (Vrijdag, 1968) (ISBN 0706700511)
    • Four Works for the Theatre, 1980 (ISBN 0-9666152-1-2)
    • Friday, 1993 (Vrijdag, 1968)
    • The sacrament and other plays of forbidden love, 2007 (ISBN 9781575911106)
  • Essay:
    • Karel Appel, Painter, 1963 (Karel Appel, Schilder, 1964)


  1. Radio-Television Belge RTBF (French)
  2. Le Devoir (French)
  3. La Croix (French)
  4. Revue de la presse belge (French)
  5. BBC obituary, 2008
  6. ArtAndYou, 2008
  7. De Standaard online (Dutch)
  8. LCI (French)
  9. (Dutch)
  10. De Standaard online (Dutch)

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