Critical Essays (Short Story Criticism)
Andersen, Hans Christian (Short Story Criticism)
Hans Christian Andersen 1805-1875
(Also wrote under the pseudonym Villiam Christian Walter) Danish short story and fairy-tale writer, poet, novelist, travel essayist, autobiographer, and playwright.
The following entry presents criticism of Andersen's short fiction works from 1990 to 2000. For criticism of Andersen's short fiction prior to 1990, see SSC, Volume 6.
Andersen is one of the foremost writers of fairy tales in world literature. Known for such stories as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” and “The Ugly Duckling,” he expanded the scope of the fairy-tale genre by creating original stories drawn from a wealth of folklore and personal experience that reveal his boundless imagination. Andersen utilized the simple premise and structure of the fairy tale to transform his ideas about human nature into allegories that are written in a conversational language children can understand and enjoy. Many critics believe that Andersen's genius lay in his ability to see nature, events, people, and objects with childlike curiosity and imagination, and to infuse his subjects with traits never before attributed to them. His plants and animals, for example, represent innocence and simplicity, while such inanimate objects as the red shoes from “The Red Shoes,” become symbols of greed, pride and envy. A master craftsman, Andersen has created a body of literature that continues to be loved by readers of all ages throughout the world.
Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark. His father, a poor shoemaker who had hoped for a more fulfilling career, encouraged his son to aspire to a better life by telling him glamorous stories about the theater and opera and by sending him to school at an early age. He also encouraged his son's vivid imagination; he read to him from the comedies of Ludvig Holberg, The Arabian Nights, and the fairy tales of Jean de la Fontaine. He also built him a puppet theater. Andersen was a shy child, and instead of playing with other children, he wrote puppet dramas and designed costumes for his characters. In 1819, three years after his father's death, Andersen moved to Copenhagen to pursue an acting career. He did not find a job acting, but Jonas Collin, a director of the Royal Theater, was impressed by Andersen's promise as a writer. He took Andersen into his home, sent him to grammar school, and supported him until he passed the entrance exams at the University of Copenhagen. Andersen first garnered attention in 1829 for Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til østpynten af Amager I aarene 1828 og 1829, the chronicle of an imaginary journey through Copenhagen. He traveled widely and by 1835, when his Eventyr, fortalte for børn (Fairy Tales Told for Children) was published, Andersen was well-known in Denmark for his travel books, plays, and novels. Eventually, his popularity increased in Europe and the United States, and he traveled extensively throughout Germany, Holland, and England. Andersen was not popular in Denmark, however, and it was not until his health began to fail that he was acknowledged by his native country as its most universally popular and prominent author. Andersen died in 1875.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Andersen's fairy tales fall into two general categories: adaptations of traditional Danish folktales and original creations. In his adaptations, Andersen frequently integrated plots from more than one source. “The Tinder Box,” for example, is based on a combination of an old Danish tale, “The Spirit of the Candle,” and an episode from the Arabian Nights. Andersen himself divided his original tales into two distinct classes: eventyr and historier. The eventyr are fairy tales in which a supernatural element contributes to the outcome of the narrative. “The Little Mermaid,” for example, is set in a kingdom beneath the sea and tells the story of a mermaid who drinks a magical potion brewed by a sea-witch in hopes that she will be metamorphosed into a human. Andersen's historier are stories that do not employ a supernatural element. Frequently, the historier starkly portray poverty or suffering, leaving readers disturbed when good is not necessarily rewarded at a story's conclusion. The historier also often reveal their author's strong moralistic and religious attitudes: Andersen had a childlike faith in God and perceived death as a reward for a difficult life. This perception is perhaps most vividly portrayed in “The Little Match Girl,” a grim story in which an impoverished child dies from exposure on Christmas Eve when no one will buy her matches. The child is finally freed from her suffering when her deceased grandmother arrives to lead her to heaven. Although many of Andersen's historier and fairy tales end unhappily, most critics concur that his underlying attitude in his stories is positive. Andersen often offers an optimistic approach to otherwise distressing situations and invests many of his tales with a mischievous sense of humor. Of all his stories, Andersen's semi-autobiographical sketches are considered his most enduring. Stories like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Nightingale,” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” reflect in part Andersen's own unrequited love affairs in varying degrees of melancholy and satire. “The Ugly Duckling,” the story of a homely cygnet who becomes the most beautiful of all swans, is probably Andersen's best-loved and most popular work of this type.
In general, Andersen's works have been consistently well-received. Georg Brandes, one of the first prominent critics to recognize Andersen's literary significance, especially commended Andersen's use of conversational language, which he claimed distinguished the author from other children's writers and prevented his stories from becoming outdated. Later, some commentators praised the uncluttered structure of Andersen's tales. Some twentieth-century commentators have considered Andersen's work maudlin and too disturbing for small children. Nevertheless, he is usually recognized as a consummate storyteller who distilled his vision of humanity into a simple format that has proved universally popular. His fairy tales remain the enduring favorites of children and adults throughout the world.
Eventyr, fortalte for børn [Fairy Tales Told for Children] 2 vols. 1835-44
Billedbog uden billeder [A Picture-Book without Pictures] 1840
En digters bazar [A Poet's Bazar] (poetry, short stories, and travel essays) 1842
Samlede voerker. 15 vols. (fairy tales, short stories, travel essays, novels, and poetry) 1876-80
Eventyr og historier. 5 vols. 1894-1900
The Complete Andersen. 6 vols. 1942-48
Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales 1950
Ungdoms-Forsøg [as Villiam Christian Walter] (novel) 1822
Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til østpynten af Amager I aarene 1828 og 1829 (travel sketch) 1829
Improvisatoren [The Improvisatore; or, Life in Italy] (novel) 1835
Kun en spillemand [Only a Fiddler!] (novel) 1837
De to baronesser [The Two Baronesses] (novel) 1838
Mulatten (play) 1840
I Sverrig [Pictures of Sweden] (travel sketches) 1851
At voere eller ikker voere [To Be or Not To Be] (novel) 1857
Mit lives eventyr [The Story of My Life] (autobiography) 1859
I Spanien [In Spain] (travel sketches)...
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SOURCE: Ingwersen, Niels, and Faith Ingwersen. “A Folktale/Disney Approach.” Scandinavian Studies 62, no. 4 (autumn 1990): 412-15.
[In the following essay, the Ingwersens compare Andersen's “The Little Mermaid” to the Disney adaptation of the short story.]
A. THE TESTS
Any student of folklore will point to the importance of “the test” in the magic tale. Heroine or hero, according to the epic expectations invoked by the genre, must inevitably pass one or a series of tests to eliminate the lacks in her or his life and to earn the reward of living happily ever after with the sexual partner encountered on that “quest for fulfillment.”
In the magic tale, the protagonists may initially fail the tests posed, but they ultimately prove their mettle. Hans Christian Andersen's texts are strongly indebted, of course, to the folktale (and, in this case, [“The Little Mermaid”] to the magic tale), but the poetic narrative examined in this context, to a large degree, also echoes the undeserved sense of deprivation and utter isolation commonly experienced by the protagonists of the ballad. In that genre, in stark contrast to the magic tale, the passing of a test does not guarantee that those who have demonstrated their honor or moral integrity will be rewarded. Although the textual universe of the magic tale is just, the world of the ballad discloses the...
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SOURCE: Dahlerup, Pil. “‘Little Mermaid’ Deconstructed.” Scandinavian Studies 62, no. 4 (autumn 1990): 418-28.
[In the following essay, Dahlerup deconstructs“The Little Mermaid.”]
A text, just like a person, may be very well structured—and at the same time completely deconstructed. A structuralist reading finds (or constructs) the implicit significance of the relations of the formal elements. A deconstructive reading finds (or constructs) “the warring forces of signification” (Johnson) within these same elements. The advantage of deconstruction is the opening of the text to more complex levels of signification. The disadvantage is the professional reader, who will always be able to “construct deconstructions.” The only protection from the sophistication of the deconstructive reader is the validity of his or her argumentation.
“THE LITTLE MERMAID”
“The Little Mermaid” is known to children and to grown-ups worldwide, to normal and to professional readers. Children and normal readers are usually fascinated by the sad story of unrequited love. Professional readers have seen the basic dualism of the story, whether it be life versus death (Søren Baggesen), culture versus nature (Eigil Nyborg), or high status versus low status (Ellen Grønlund, Peer E. Sørensen). Psychoanalytic professionals of various schools have seen the unsuccessful...
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SOURCE: Greenway, John L. “‘Reason in Imagination is Beauty’: Oersted's Acoustics and H. C. Andersen's ‘The Bell.’” Scandinavian Studies 63, no. 3 (1991): 318-25.
[In the following essay, Greenway suggests that the acoustic theories of Hans Christian Oersted can be found in the short story “The Bell” by Andersen.]
It may come as a surprise to those who do not consort with scientists save under duress to find that Hans Christian Oersted (1777-1851), the preeminent scientist of the early nineteenth century, discoverer of the relationship between electricity and magnetism in 1820, was the genial hub of cultural debate in Denmark for a generation. Friend and confidant of poets and critics, Oersted convinced a dubious Hans Christian Andersen to publish his Eventyr, fortalte for børn (Tales Told for Children) in 1835. Andersen wrote to Henriette Wulff on March 16, 1835, that he had “Dernæst skrevet nogle Eventyr for Børn, om hvilke Ørsted siger, at naar Improvisatoren gjør mig berømt, gjør Eventyrene mig udødelig, de ere det meest fuldendte jeg har skrevet, men det synes jeg ikke, han kjender ikke Italien” [Topsøe-Jensen 1: 211] (Then I wrote some tales for children, about which Oersted says that if The Improviser makes me famous, the tales will make me immortal, that they are the most accomplished things I have done, but I don't think so: he doesn't...
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SOURCE: Anderson, Christopher L. “Andersen's ‘The Snow Queen’ and Matute's Primera Memoria: to the Victor go the Spoils.” Critica Hispanica 14, no. 1-2 (1992): 13-27.
[In the following essay, Anderson examines the ways in which Andersen's “The Snow Queen” influenced Ana María Matute's Primera Memoria.]
In a revealing article entitled “Diciembre y Andersen” Ana María Matute recalls her childhood affection for Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales: “Si algo ha influido realmente en mi infancia, fue precisamente aquel tomo de cuentos de Andersen, que hace tantos años trajeron los Reyes Magos a mi casa” (159). As Janet Díaz has stated, this attraction did not end with the writer's childhood, for upon rereading the same tome decades later, “she found its magic undiminished” (26). Given Matute's ongoing fascination with Andersen's tales, it is not surprising that on occasion they leave their mark on her adult writings. While I have previously written of the great importance of Andersen's “The Little Mermaid” as a thematic and structural model for Matute's Primera memoria, this current study focuses upon “The Snow Queen” and its profound impact on the same superb novel.1
THE FAIRY TALE
According to Bruno Bettelheim, upon reading fairy tales a child senses that “to be a...
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SOURCE: Sanders, Karin. “Nemesis of Mimesis: The Problem of Representation in H. C. Andersen's ‘Psychen.1’” Scandinavian Studies 64, no. 1 (1992): 1-25.
[In the following essay, Sanders investigates how the art of sculpture subverts understandings of gender markings in Andersen's tale “Psychen.”]
“Pip! Det er det Skønne!”(2)
During his impressionable first visit to Rome in 1833-1834, Hans Christian Andersen observed the digging of a grave for a young nun who had just died. In the grave a statue of Bacchus was unearthed. Nearly thirty years later, in 1861, this memory was transformed or “translated” to “Psychen.” The “translation” of Bacchus to Psyche seems to have caused the author considerable problems but manages nonetheless to raise some significant questions concerning the nature of art and immortality, of mimesis and (gender) identity. The conspicuous disparity between Psyche, Greek Goddess of the spirit, and Bacchus, Roman God of wine, invites the reader to look behind the obvious representations in order to examine other meanings hidden in the written image.
Sculpture as metaphor here grants a possibility to analyze how a figural image, as a textual device different from that of a written text, plays a significant role in the understanding of a written narrative.3 How does this “alien...
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SOURCE: Ingwersen, Niels. “Being Stuck: The Subversive Andersen and His Audience.” In Studies in German and Scandinavian Literature after 1500, edited by James A. Parente, Jr. and Richard Erich Schade, pp. 166-80. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993.
[In the following essay, Ingwersen illustrates a common motif seen in Andersen's fairy tales, “that of being captured, of being trapped … of being denied freedom,” and how this dilemma is overcome in Andersen's “subversive” stories.]
Hans Christian Andersen's “Butterfly” (“Sommerfuglen,” 1862) flutters through life without finding anyone quite fit for marriage. When he finally proposes, he is firmly told by the desired object that too much time has passed to realize a marriage; friendship must suffice. As an old butterfly, he finds himself comfortably lodged in a parlor, but in spite of the warmth and protection of the locale, he passes judgment on his life by admitting that a butterfly ought to be outside enjoying the sunshine, the freedom, and the company of a little flower as a partner: “Han var tilfældigvis kommet inden Døre, hvor der var ild i Kakkelovnen, ja rigtigt sommervarmt; han kunde leve; men ‘leve er ikke nok!’ sagde han, ‘Solskin, Frihed og en lille Blomst maa man have!’”; and then, “han fløi mod Ruden, blev seet, beundret og sat paa Naal i Raritetskassen; Mere kunde man ikke...
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SOURCE: Ziolkowski, Jan M. “A Medieval ‘Little Claus and Big Claus’: A Fabliau from before Fabliaux?” In The World and Its Rival: Essays on Literary Imagination in Honor of Per Nykrog, edited by Kathryn Karczewska and Tom Conley, pp. 1-14. Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1994.
[In the following essay, Ziolkowski traces the origins of the tale “Little Claus and Big Claus” to an anonymous medieval poem.]
Albeit on a humble plane, this essay seeks to celebrate some of Per Nykrog's intellectual range, both geographical and chronological, and a little of his personal background. His highly individual keenness of literary insight and wry sense of humor … I can aspire not so much to replicate as to acknowledge and admire. In devising the topic of this essay, I had Per doubly in mind. The first half of the title contains an implicit tribute to his Danishness. Immediately on reading the first clause (rather, the first Claus), he and others familiar with the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen will divine the essay has a Danish component. It may be true Andersen's tale “Little Claus and Big Claus” has not come close to attaining the Disney-hallowed status of “The Little Mermaid.” Indeed, it has not even achieved the name-recognition of “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor's New Clothes,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Match Girl,” or any of a half-dozen...
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SOURCE: Malmkjaer, Kirsten. “Punctuation in Hans Christian Andersen's Stories and in their Translations into English.” In Nonverbal Communication and Translation: New Perspectives and Challenges in Literature, Interpretation and the Media, edited by Fernando Poyatos, pp. 151-62. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1997.
[In the following essay, Malmkjaer contends that the normalization of Andersen's unusual punctuation in English translations significantly alters the stories.]
1. PUNCTUATION IN TRANSLATION
Punctuation marks constitute ‘a set of non-alphanumeric characters that are used to provide information about structural relations among elements of a text, including (at least in European languages) commas, semicolons, colons, periods, parentheses, quotation marks and so forth’ (Nunberg 1990:17). The primary function of this set ‘is to resolve structural ambiguities in a text, and to signal nuances of semantic significance which might otherwise not be conveyed at all, or would at best be much more difficult for a reader to figure out’ (Parkes 1992:1).
Perhaps this function is not widely recognized. According to Poyatos (1993:142), ‘the full literary and communicative importance of the … punctuation system has not been sufficiently explored’, and it is obvious that relatively little attention is being paid to punctuation in the...
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SOURCE: Esrock, Ellen J. “‘The Princess and the Pea’: Touch and the Private/Public Domains of Women's Knowledge.” In Research in Science and Technology Studies: Gender and Work, edited by Shirley Gorenstein, pp. 17-29. Stamford, Conn.: JAI Press, Inc., 2000.
[In the following essay, Esrock claims that “The Princess and the Pea” serves to warn women about moving knowledge of their bodies from the private sphere into the public sphere.]
When most people reflect on Hans Christian Andersen's “The Princess and the Pea,” they imagine a beautiful young maiden sleeping atop an enormous pile of mattresses. Though readers of all ages seem to recall this picture, what they do not recall with such uniformity is the story itself. What is even more curious are the radical differences in their understanding of what one would suppose was a straightforward fairy tale. Granted, Andersen addressed this story and his others to different audiences. While enchanting the small children gathered about him in various homes, he also enjoyed amusing the sophisticated adults who listened from afar. But differences in one's understanding of the story are not simply a matter of one's age.
The conflicting interpretations of Andersen's fairy tale are symptomatic of conflicting cultural attitudes about a subject that lies at the heart of the tale—women's bodily knowledge, which is represented...
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Bennett, Rachel. “Hajji and Mermaid in Little Dorrit.” The Review of English Studies 46, no. 182 (May 1995): 174-90.
Suggests that the patterns of romance found in Little Dorrit are similar to those in “The Little Mermaid.”
Dollerup, Cay. “Translation as a Creative Force in Literature: The Birth of the European Bourgeois Fairy-Tale.” The Modern Language Review 90, no. 1 (January 1995): 94-102.
Includes Andersen's writing in a study of the history of the bourgeois European fairy-tale.
Knowles, Murry, and Malmkjaer, Kirsten. “Key terms in H. C. Andersen's Fairytales and Their Translation into English.” Babel 37, no. 1-4 (1990): 203-12.
Argues that translators of Andersen should examine all of his work, even when translating only one piece, in order to understand his subtle use of language.
Malmkjaer, Kirsten. “Who Can Make Nice A Better Word Than Pretty? Collocation, Translation, and Psycholinguistics.” In Text and Technology: In Honour of John Sinclair, edited by Mona Baker, Gill Francis, and Elena Tognini-Bonelli, pp. 213-32. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1993.
Argues that translators do a better job when translating Andersen's work out of their native language rather than into...
(The entire section is 566 words.)