Deken, Agatha (1741-1804)

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Agatha (Aagje) Deken, a noted Dutch author of poems and fiction, was born in 1741 at Amstelveen near Amsterdam, and died in 1804 at The Hague. Her parents, members of the Reformed Church, died when she was very young, and she was brought up in the Oranjeappel, the Collegiant orphanage in Amsterdam. In 1760 she united with the Collegiants, being baptized by immersion at Rijnsburg. In 1769 she became a member of the Amsterdam Mennonite Lam en Toren congregation without rebaptism. In 1767 she left the orphanage to make her own living, and soon began to write religious verse and later short stories. In 1776 she met Elisabeth Bekker (1738-1804), the wife of the Reformed pastor A. Wolff, and became her very close friend. After Wolff's death the following year they lived together at Beverwijk near Haarlem, writing and publishing conjointly. They were warm friends in spite of fundamental differences in temperament, Elisabeth Bekker (or Betje Wolff, as she was usually called) being lighthearted and Aagje serious. Betje had already written some verse and a novel. Their best novels were De Historie van Sara Burgerhart (1782) and Historie van den Heer Willem Leevend (1784-85). Their novels, most of them written in the form of letters, describe the times in which they were living with a lively wit and gentle criticism. They were both opposed to the low moral standards of the time, as well as to the sterile formal orthodoxy of the Reformed Church; they were pious, but averse to bigotry; politically they were zealous Patriots, filled with ideals of a better age which would be governed by a rationalistic, Christian morality. Aagje was warmly inclined to Mennonitism. She wrote to Adriaan Loosjes Pzn, the Mennonite minister at Haarlem (22 January 1802), "I should like to have the misinformed people informed that the Remonstrants and the Doopsgezinde are also good Christians," and "I want to help to increase the Doopsgezinde congregation, to whom I am dearly attached." In 1787, fearing the vengeance of the reactionary government for their anti-Orange Patriotism, they went into exile in France for ten years. In 1797 they returned to Holland and lived in The Hague. Their finances, never brilliant, were now rather bad, but they were aided by good friends, such as Pastor Loosjes. On 5 November 1804 Betje Wolff died; eight days later Aagje followed in death and was buried in the same grave.

Besides the books they published jointly, there is a collection (not important) of devotional poems, Stichtelijke gedickten van Maria Bosch en Agatha Deken (Amsterdam, 1775), most of which was written by Aagje. She also contributed at least 74 hymns to the hymnal published by the Haarlem congregation in 1804. It is very probable that Betje Wolff wrote the major and best parts of the novels they wrote together; but Aagje must also have contributed some important passages.


Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1865): 75; (1909): 100.

Dyserinck, Johannes. Hulde aan Betje Wolff en Aagje Deken. Middelburg : J.C. & W. Altorffer, 1892.

Ghijsen, Hendrika Catharina Maria. Dapper vrouwenleven: karakter- en levensbeeld van Betje Wolff en Aagje Deken. Assen: Van Gorcum ; G. A. Hak & H. J. Prakke, 1954.

Kalff, Gerrit. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche letterkunde. Groningen : J.B. Wolters, 1906-1912: VI, 60-94, 326-32.

Molhuysen, P. C. and P. J. Blok. Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek. Leiden, 1911-1937: I, 696.

Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Wolff en Deken en de Doopsgezinden." Stemmen uit de doopsgezinde broederschap (November 1954).

Author(s) H. F. W Jeltes
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Jeltes, H. F. W. "Deken, Agatha (1741-1804)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 21 Apr 2024.,_Agatha_(1741-1804)&oldid=119642.

APA style

Jeltes, H. F. W. (1956). Deken, Agatha (1741-1804). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 21 April 2024, from,_Agatha_(1741-1804)&oldid=119642.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 27. All rights reserved.

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