Theodorus Johannes Thijssen was born on the 16th of June 1879 in the Eerste Leliedwarsstraat, and he died in Amsterdam on the 23rd of December 1943. With his rise to fame and consequent inclusion to the canon, he thanks a book he wrote called Kees de jongen.
Upon the completion of his education, Theo taught at several elementary schools in Amsterdam.
Theo displayed from an early age a keen fascination for socialism. However, it’s not until he’s 33 that he becomes a member of the Social Democratic Labour party, the SDAP, the same party that later changed its name to PvdA (party for the labourers). He became a member as he had recently been chosen to join the Dutch parliament; he spends a total of two terms in the Dutch version of the house of commons, or for Americans, the house of representatives. Until the end of the second world war, he was also a member of the Amsterdam city council.
Kees de jongen
In 1923 he wrote his masterpiece, the book we all know him from Kees de jongen (Kees the boy). Thijssen tried in his book to portray the aspirations of a young boy who hopes he’ll be recognized for his talents and become someone of importance. As we can all recognize ourselves in that young little boy, the book became a huge success.
Kees is Kees Bakels, a lad who grew up in one of Amsterdam’s poorer neighbourhoods at the end of the 19th century. His father is a cobbler, a shoemaker. The stage for the book is primarily set during Kees’s elementary school years. He is a dreamer who sees himself becoming someone of real importance, and he’s not afraid to bend the rules a bit to obtain his objective.
In the end, Kees fails. His father dies, and he has to drop out of school and find a job to support his mother. The time of the book is set at the end of the 19th century. The city had gotten a new burst of energy, and education was on the rise. No longer was it the privilege of the well to do; poor people like the writer themselves were given a chance to make it in the world thanks to education. More and more parents send their children to school for longer and longer periods. Education was seen as a way out for those who could advise themselves.
Theo had put quite a bit of autobiographic material in his book, but his life had taken a different path than his character Kees. Theo’s father had died while he was young, but he did not have to drop out of school. His mother sacrificed everything to keep him in education. He was given a scholarship for very bright children and became a teacher. After several years of now education, he took up writing; he also went into politics, became a member of parliament, and joined the Amsterdam city council. He also became the head of the union of Dutch teachers. He had become a man of standing.
The Theo Thijssen Museum
Eerste Leliedwarsstraat 16 (house of theo’s birth)
Phone: 020 – 420 71 19
Kees de jongen is window number 30 on the Canon of Amsterdam.