Who Is Hvalbiff? Name and Identity in W. F. Hermans’s “Beyond Sleep”

  • Karina van Dalen-Oskam Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands


One of the functions of names in literary texts is Akzentuierung — Anonymisierung (accentuating — anonymizing) (Debus, 2002, 84). By giving a character a certain name, an author can accentuate that name and that character; conversely, by not providing a name where a name could be expected, an author can keep that person anonymous. Both approaches are deviations from ‘normality’. This paper proposes that the accentuating and anonymizing function of literary names can be closely linked to the idea of ‘foregrounding’ as developed in stylis- tic research. To illustrate this, this paper presents an analysis of the accentuating and anonymizing use of personal names in the novel Beyond Sleep (1966) by Willem Frederik Hermans (1921–1995), one of the most important 20th-century Dutch literary authors. This paper shows that the stylistic application of names that have an accentuating or anonymizing function is key to sustaining the plot of Beyond Sleep.