Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Simone Golob
Lies Wesseling inspired by Herman Hissink
It was her Dutch language teacher, Herman Hissink (1915-2011), who opened up a whole new world for Lies Wesseling. “Wheels started to turn.” After six years of grammar school, Wesseling decided to study English and Literary Theory. She is now a professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
Lies Wesseling (56) shows her hands. The black edges on her nails betray her love of nature and gardening. “I love to work outside, I am also a volunteer at the Vaeshartelt estate gardens.”
What this has to do with Herman Hissink? “Only after Observant had asked me who had inspired me, I thought: ‘well, I am also a literary person who loves gardening, just like Hissink. I had never looked at it that way before. Hissink had a legendary knowledge of flora and fauna. At the time, I thought it was something unique in him, but many literary people turn out to be passionate gardeners. Emily Dickinson, the 19th-century poetess, for example. Or the Dutch writers Maarten ’t Hart and Jan Wolkers. Adriaan van Dis, also a Dutch author, wrote under a pseudonym for the Amsterdam allotment federation’s magazine. Hissink himself had an enormous admiration for Dutch Ida Gerhardt, who wrote many poets about flora and fauna and dedicated herself to the organisation for the protection of the environment.”
When Wesseling was twelve, she attended the Christian grammar school Sorghvliet in The Hague. “A very good, small-scale school, really special. For six years, we had the same teacher for a subject, it was like creating a strong bond.”
Wesseling describes Hissink as a “vieux garçon, a bachelor. He lived an austere life, didn’t smoke, and didn’t drink”. She herself did not come from a literary family, but loved reading, “everything I could find”.
The spark for literature struck her during Hissink’s lessons. “He gave me direction and had an educating influence. He often recited poetry in class. He also dictated the Dutch history of literature, out of his head, with his eyes closed – I can still see him walking between the rows. He was completely devoted to his teaching. He had a photographic memory, which he constantly trained; he was strict on himself, set the bar high.”
“The school gave him complete autonomy, he was allowed to teach the way that he felt was right.” The same applied to his hiking trips in Greece and his contribution towards the school plays. “They performed plays by Herman Heijermans; he felt that the social realism would be good for us, the call for justice. But classical tragedies were also on the repertoire.”
He personally selected his pupils for the trips to Greece, says Wesseling. “It was an honour if you were allowed to go. I was chosen once. Hissink didn’t organise anything beforehand, he arranged things on the spot. We cannot imagine that now, but he wanted the trip to ‘epically unfold’.”
This is a series in which researchers talk about the person who inspired them most