Hendrik Conscience (1812-1883), the best-known 19th-century Belgian novelist and short-story writer, is generally credited with the development of the Flemish novel. He wrote more than 100 novels, "thus teaching his people how to read", as tradition has it. A true romantic, he supported the emerging Flemish movement, and, after Victor Hugo, wrote historical novels glorifying the Flemish past from the period of the Franks to the late 18th century.
Born in Antwerp to a French father and a Flemish mother, Conscience wrote mainly in Flemish. His writings not only reflect his romantic temperament but also present a strong moral point of view ; he has been criticised for excessive sentimentality. Conscience was employed at first as a teacher, but after a short period in the army he entered the literary life of Antwerp, first writing verse and later historical novels, such as “In't wonderjaar” (In the Year of Miracles, 1837), a pastiche of 16th-century life.
Conscience's masterpiece, the national epic “De Leeuw van Vlaanderen” (The Lion of Flanders ; 1838, translated 1853-1857), recounts the victories of the Flemish over the French rulers in their land. From the 1840s, Conscience also wrote moralistic tales about small town life. Finally, he wrote numerous romantic and idyllic novels about village life in the remote eastern Flemish region (Kempen), such as Baes Gansendonck in 1850.
He was immensely popular in his day, and his work has been translated into numerous languages. His reputation seems to be growing again after a long period of decline.