Hans Christian Andersen

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Hans Christian Andersen 1805–1875

(Also wrote under the pseudonym Villiam Christian Walter.) Danish writer of fairy tales, poetry, short stories, novels, travel sketches, autobiographies, and dramas.

Although he wrote in many genres, including novels, poems, plays, and travelogues, Hans Christian Andersen is remembered primarily as one of the most distinguished writers of fairy tales. Many of these—such as "The Ugly Duckling" (1843), "The Emperor's New Clothes" (1837), and "The Little Mermaid" (1837)—have become world famous. In all, Andersen wrote more than 150 tales, primarily between 1835 and 1874. Before this time, fairy tales had been part of the oral tradition of literature passed through generations and recorded in writing only for historical interest. Andersen revitalized and expanded the genre by merging the traditional folk tale with the more sophisticated literary tale. To this end he employed conversational language suitable for children, often provided sad rather than happy endings, combined an adult sensibility with a child-like simplicity, and blended into his tales aspects of his own personal life.

Biographical Information

Andersen was born into poverty in the town of Odense, Denmark. His father, a shoemaker, was an avid reader, and encouraged his son's intellectual and creative aspirations by reading to him tales from Danish folklore and from such works as Arabian Nights. The elder Andersen also built a marionette theatre for Hans, so the youngster could write and perform plays for the characters. When Hans was eleven, his father died, but the elder Andersen had already instilled a keen interest in literature in his son, who particularly enjoyed the works of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott. Desiring a career on stage as an actor, dancer, or singer, Andersen left home three years later in 1819, intent on joining Copenhagen's theater circle. Without references, though, he was denied admittance to the Royal Theater (many biographers have also stated that Andersen had neither the talent nor the appearance suitable for the theater). He was, nevertheless, taken under the wing of Jonas Collin, a director of

the Royal Theater and a prominent government official. Collin arranged for Andersen to obtain some basic schooling, including instruction at elite private schools during the mid-1820s, and by the late 1820s Andersen had passed the entrance exams for the University of Copenhagen. In the meantime, Collin had become a sort of surrogate father to Andersen, opening his home to the young man. Andersen never saw his own family again. Eventually, Andersen secured some work at the Royal Theater, appearing as an actor in minor roles and translating some French plays. Then in 1829 an original play of his was performed at the theatre: the farcical Kjœrlighed paa Nicolai Taarn, elle Hvad siger Parterret (Love on St. Nicholas Tower, or What Says the Pit). That same year saw the publication of his mock travel book Fodrejse fra Holmens Canal til Østpynten af Amager (Journey on Foot from Holmens Canal to the East Point of Amager), which describes an imaginary walk through Copenhagen. But Andersen's first real success came after a more extended journey, a trip to Italy in 1833, which inspired his novel Improvisatoren (1835; The Improvisatore), which is considered his literary breakthrough. Many scholars have contended that the trip marked a rebirth for Andersen, who turned from composing poetry to writing prose and fairy tales.

Andersen had begun his first fairy tales, published in the collection Eventyr, Fortalte for Børn (1835-42; Fairy Tales Told for Children), during his stay in Italy. Although he had originally intended the fairy tales for adults as well as children, he amended the title to "tales for children" after critics faulted the simplistic dialogue and style of the stories. Many of his early tales were adaptations of traditional folk tales, but he eventually concentrated on producing original stories: all but a dozen of his more than 150 tales are original creations. By 1837 and with the publication of his third novel, Kun en Spillemand (Only a Fiddler), Andersen began to be perceived as a European celebrity and was granted an annual stipend from Denmark for the remainder of his life. Thereafter Andersen continued his travels, visiting such countries as Germany, England, and Holland. Toward the end of his life, as his health began to fail, Denmark acknowledged him as its national author. He died in 1875 near Copenhagen.

Major Works

The tales most familiar to English-speaking readers are Andersen's early tales, written between 1835 and 1850. These include such stories as "The Princess on the Pea" (1835), "Thumbelina" (1835), "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" (1838), "The Snow Queen" (1844), "The Darning Needle" (1845), "The Little Match Girl" (1845), and "The Shirt Collar" (1848). Although some of his tales end happily, Andersen often deviated from the "happily ever after" conclusion of the traditional fairy tale; death, for example, is the primary motif in more than three-fourths of his tales. Andersen's heroes and heroines get consumed by fire or die of cold or have to renounce their love or their ambitions. They often suffer painful ordeals in an ugly or frightening world, and even if they succeed or are transformed in a positive way, like the ugly duckling, it is often not through their own doing, as in a traditional fairy tale, but through the workings of fate or some other external agency. Among Andersen's most popular and best loved fairy tales is "The Ugly Duckling," the story of a homely cygnet who becomes the most beautiful of all swans; many biographers have commented on the autobiographical elements in the tale. In another departure from the traditional fairy tale, Andersen's stories introduce the adult theme of the role of the artist, with an emphasis on the plight of neglected artistic genius. The stories also reflect a division in Andersen between sympathy with ordinary people and distrust of authority, and a desire to be accepted by authority. In general, the stories work on several levels, combining a child-like surface and simplicity of language with serious, adult themes.

Critical Reception

During his lifetime, Andersen became celebrated for his tales not only in Denmark, but throughout Europe and beyond. His tales have remained popular since his death, leading many critics to comment on the universality of his themes. Early scholars, including Paul Hazard, have pointed out the realism inherent in Andersen's tales. According to Hazard, the world Andersen witnessed—which encompassed sorrow, death, evil, and man's follies—is reflected in his tales. Discussing the essential "humanness" of Andersen's tales, Niels Kofoed has found that since they involve everyday-life themes of love, death, nature, injustice, suffering, and poverty, they appeal to all races, ideologies, classes, and genders. Critic Celia Catlett Anderson has also noted that the appeal of the stories is based on their intrinsic optimism, which typically prevails over pessimism. Anderson has contended that Andersen's tales reaffirm the strength of spirit of the protagonists, who prove themselves worthy of triumph.

In recent years, one major trend in Andersen criticism has involved psychoanalytic studies seeking to draw connections between the suffering depicted in Andersen's stories and the troubles of Andersen's own life, including his various psychological problems and his own unrequited love affairs. Throughout his life, as biographers have recorded, Andersen was ashamed of his working-class background and as such, they claim, was plagued by a sense of inferiority. John Griffith has speculated that Andersen turned to writing fantasies as an outlet for his own frustration and embarrassment over his poverty-stricken youth and the immorality of his background. Some critics have even maintained that Andersen retold his own life story over and over again in his stories—portraying his own self as triumphing over evil, persecution, poverty, and scorn.

There has also been interest among modern critics in Andersen's divided role as both an "insider" and an "outsider" in the upper reaches of society. Believing that Andersen's tales reveal the author's desire to be accepted by the upper classes, Jack Zipes has argued that the tales also depict the humiliation, pain, and suffering that "dominated" members of society must endure in order to prove their virtuosity and nobility. According to Zipes, Andersen, during his lifetime, "was obliged to act as a dominated subject within the dominant social circles despite his fame and recognition as a writer." This led Andersen to form an ambivalent attitude toward the aristocracy—at once he aspired to join the ranks of the higher classes, and at the same time he disdained them. Other critics have commented on this feeling of Andersen's of being "miscast" or of not belonging. Noting that although Andersen rose from the working-class ranks to join the upper classes, Niels Ingwersen has pointed out that Andersen never became their equal; instead, he served those who assisted him. Andersen's tales are subversive, then, toward the audience as well as toward Andersen himself, who often despised his own efforts to gain their approval. Critics have also paid some attention to Andersen's neglected plays as well as to his novels and travel writings, and it has been suggested that travel was an important motif in both Andersen's life and his works. But the critics, like the general public, still focus primarily on the fairy tales.

William Makepeace Thackeray (essay date 1847)

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SOURCE: "A Grumble about the Christmas Books," in The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, Esq. and the Miscellaneous Papers Written between 1843 and 1847, edited by George Saintsbury, Oxford University Press, 1908, pp. 581-609.

[The following was originally published by Thackeray under the name Michael Angelo Titmarsh and appeared in Fraser's Magazine in 1847. In the excerpt below, Thackeray praises Andersen for his wit and playfulness, calling him a "delicate and charming … genius. "]

I have, I trust, been tolerably ill-humoured hitherto; but what man can go on grumbling in the presence of such an angelical spirit as Hans Christian Andersen? Seeing him praised in the Athenœum journal, I was straight put away from reading a word of Hans's other works: and it was only last night, when going to bed, perfectly bored with the beef-fed English fairies, their hob-nailed gambols, and elephantine friskiness, his Shoes of Fortune and his Wonderful Stories1 came under the eyes of your humble servant. Heaven bless Hans Christian! Here are fairies! Here is fancy, and graceful wit, and delicate humour, and sweet, naϊve kindness, flowing from the heart! Here is frolic without any labour! Here is admirable fooling without any consciousness or degradation! Though we have no sort of respect for a great, hulking, whiskered, red-faced, middle-aged man, who dresses himself in a pinafore and affects to frolic like a baby, may we not be charmed by the play and prattle of a child? And Hans Christian Andersen so affects me.

Every page of the volumes sparkles with delightful grace and genial fancy. Hans and you are friends for life after an hour's talk with him. I shake thy hands, Hans Christian, thou kindly prattler and warbler! A happy Christmas to thee, thou happy-minded Christian! You smile, dear Miss Smith! When we become acquainted with so delicate and charming a genius, have we no right to be thankful? Yes: let us respect every one of those friends whom Heaven has sent us—those sweet Christian messengers of peace and goodwill….


1Wonderful Stories for Children. By Hans Christian Andersen, Author of The Improvisatore, &c. Translated from the Danish by Mary Howitt. London, Chapman & Hall.

James O'Donnell Bennett (essay date 1927)

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SOURCE: "Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales," in Much Loved Books: Best Sellers of the Ages, Boni and Liveright, 1927, pp. 291-96.

[In the following excerpt, Bennett discusses the similarities between Andersen 's personal life and the events in his well-known fairy tale "The Ugly Duckling."]

"My life," said Hans Andersen in his serene old age, "is a lovely story, happy and full of incident. If, when I was a boy, and went forth into the world poor and friendless, a good fairy had met me and said, 'Choose now thine own course through life, and the object for which thou wilt strive, and then, according to the development of thy mind, and as reason requires, I will guide and defend thee to its attainment,' my fate could not, even then, have been directed more happily, more prudently, or better. The history of my life will say to the world what it says to me, 'There is a loving God, who directs all things for the best.'"

In its vicissitudes, its hardships, its triumphs that life was a fairy tale come true. The fourteen-year-old boy who came gawking into Copenhagen in 1819, clad in the confirmation suit that a small-town tailoress had made for him from his dead father's old overcoat, lived to be the man who could ride in the king's carriage when he wished to—once he made that wish known to his good-natured sovereign and it was granted—lived, also, to be the man whom almost every literary notable who visited Copenhagen during a period of forty years sought out and paid homage.

All that story this man wrote out in his old age in the most ingenuous and complacent spirit, and it is because of its spirit that his book is an authentic document among the world's masterpieces of autobiography. It has a right to a place on the shelf with the autobiographies of Benvenuto Cellini, Colley Cibber, Benjamin Franklin and Herbert Spencer. It is different from all those, lacking the excitement and shamelessness of Cellini's book, the spice of Cibber's, the pithiness of Franklin's and the wisdom of Mr. Spencer's, but it is an interesting narrative and important psychology because it is complete self-revelation by a man of genius. Such documents are of great value and of the greatest entertainment, and when one outgrows Hans Andersen's fairy tales, one still does not lose touch with Hans Andersen. The guileless, candid old man of The Story of My Life remains a friend whom one likes to hear purling on—and on—and on.

Thus the book of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen becomes one of the important lure-books. A child once introduced to the tales will soon come upon the lovely one called "The Ugly Duckling," and if his reading is being guided by an elder who knows something about anything the child may be so fortunate as to learn that the tale of the ugly duckling is a parable on Hans Andersen's life, with pages of autobiography crowded into it….

In the fifth line of "The Ugly Duckling" we are introduced in two and a half lines to the stork who "was walking around on his long red legs and talking Egyptian, because he had learned that language from his mother." When children grow old enough to be improved by prefaces they are not unlikely to be told that those two and a half lines about the stork and his talk are among the most characteristic of Hans Andersen's fleeting, unexpected touches by which, in a way that seems quite matter-of-fact but that is essentially poetic and delicate, he establishes poetic kinship between his readers and the creatures of his fancy.

Well, the stork was talking Egyptian, for the reason which you know now, and "the corn was yellow, the oats were green, the hay stood in stacks down in the green meadows, and … right in the sunshine lay an old manor, surrounded by deep canals, and from the wall down to the water grew big burdock leaves, so high that little children could stand upright under the tallest of them. It was just as wild there as in the thickest wood."

Children accept the first page of "The Ugly Duckling" as rather usual kind of writing, so easily does it move along, and so quietly does the picture it makes take shape before their eyes. No straining for an effect, no pretentiousness in it. But I suspect that such writing, with the wealth of soft color that it carries, is not easy, for if it were there would be more of it—the world so likes it and so treasures it.

Amid the sweet scene the Ugly Duckling was hatched—hatched into a world of trouble and snubs and unkind criticism, and of fun-making in which the source of the laughter was the pain it caused. Just such a world did Hans Andersen encounter when he, with ten Danish rigsdalers in a pocket of his confirmation suit, came to Copenhagen from the thriving manufacturing town of Odense, where in 1805 he was born.

"I think I will go out into the wide world," the Ugly Duckling had said. Hans Andersen had said that also. The Ugly Duckling saw the swans—"had never before seen anything so beautiful … dazzlingly white, they uttered a very strange cry, spread their large splendid wings and … mounted so high that the ugly little Duckling had a very strange sensation."

That "very strange sensation" was the beautiful bird's (for he was no ugly duckling, nor ever had been) sudden consciousness of his kinship with the beau tiful birds aloft, and mingled with that consciousness was the divine humility which is an attribute of heaven-dowered genius, as distinguished from the kind of genius that gets itself accepted by means of self-exploitation and self-assertion….

Principal Works

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Ungdoms-Forsøg [as Villiam Christian Walter] (novel) 1822

Fodrejse fra Holmens Canal til Østpynten af Arnager [Journey on Foot from Holmens Canal to the East Point of Amager] (travel essay) 1829

Kjœrlighed paa Nicolai Taarn, elle Hvad siger Parterret [Love on St. Nicholas Tower, or What Says the Pit] (drama) 1829

Bruden fra Lammermoor [The Bride of Lammermoor] (libretto; adapted from Sir Walter Scott's novel of the same name) 1832

Improvisatoren [The Lmprovisatore] (novel) 1835

Eventyr, Fortalte for Børn [Fairy Tales Told for Children] (fairy tales) 1835-42

O.T. (novel) 1836

Kun en Spillemand [Only a Fiddler] (novel) 1837

De to Baronesser [The Two Baronesses] (novel) 1838

Den Usynlige paa Sprogø [The Invisible Man on Sprogø] (drama) 1839

Mulatten [The Mulatto] (drama) 1840

En Digters Bazar [A Poet's Bazaar] (poetry, short stories, and travel essays) 1842

Nye Eventyr [New Fairy Tales] (fairy tales) 1844-48

Den nye Barselstue [The New Maternity Ward] (drama) 1845

Liden Kirsten [Little Kirsten] (libretto) 1846

Das Märchen Meines Lebens ohne dichtung [The Story of My Life] (autobiography) 1847

Eventyr [Fairy Tales] (fairy tales) 1850

I Sverigg [Pictures of Sweden] (travel essays) 1851

Historier [Stories] (fairy tales) 1852-55

Mit Livs Eventyr [The Fairy Tale of My Life] (autobiography) 1855

At vœre eller ikke vœre [To Be or Not To Be?] (novel) 1857

Nye Eventyr og Historier [New Fairy Tales and Stories] (fairy tales) 1858-60

Nye Eventyr og Historier [New Fairy Tales and Stories] (fairy tales) 1861-66

I Spanien [In Spain] (travel essays) 1863

Et Besøg i Portugal [A Visit to Portugal] (travel essays) 1868

Samlede voerker. 15 vols. (fairy tales, short stories, travel essays, novels, and poetry) 1876-80

*Levnedsbogen [The Book of My Life] (autobiography) 1926

The Complete Andersen. 6 vols. (fairy tales and short stories) 1942-48

The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories (fairy tales) 1974

The Diaries of Hans Christian Andersen (diaries) 1990

*Levnedsbogen was originally written in 1832.

Paul Hazard (essay date 1932)

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SOURCE: "Superiority of the North over the South," in Books, Children and Men, 5th ed., translated by Marguerite Mitchell, The Horn Book, Inc., 1983, pp. 77-110.

[In the following excerpt, originally written in 1932, Hazard celebrates the vitality and wisdom found in Andersen's tales, maintaining that the stories reflect the true meaning of life.]

Supposing that, by some stretch of imagination, we were called upon to choose the very prince of all story writers for children, my vote would go, not to a Latin, but to Hans Christian Andersen….

He is unexcelled because, within the slender framework of his tales, he brings in all the pageantry of the universe. It is never too much for children. You will find there not only Copenhagen and its brick houses, and its great reddish roofs and copper domes, and the golden cross of Notre-Dame that reflects the sun; Denmark with its marshes, its woods, its willows bent by the wind, its ever-present sea; Scandinavia, Iceland, snowy and frozen, but you will also find Germany, Switzerland, Spain flooded with sunshine, Portugal, Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome, Paris, city of the fine arts, city of revolutions. You will find there Egypt, Persia, China, the ocean to its very depths where the mermaids live; the sky where floats the whiteness of great wild swans.

It is a marvelous picture book that the moon makes in relating what she saw in the mountains, over the lakes, through the windows of human dwellings, in every place where her blue and melancholy light softly steals, plays and vanishes. If the present is not enough, evoke the past—Pompeian villas or the barbaric palaces of the Vikings. If reality is not enough, see magic scenes that the fairies build. If your eyes are not surfeited by nature's countless spectacles, close them; in your dreams will appear the luminous spirit of the truth, variable, ever changing, and more beautiful than the beauties of the waking day.

In these feasts of imagination, others will perhaps be capable of equalling him, but there are values he has revealed that are his very own sumptuous gift to children; enchanted scenes they will find only in him, the memory of which will charm them forever. Snow—Latin children hardly know it. Those at Naples or Granada never see it except from afar, way up high on the mountains. Scarcely does it appear before the eyes of small Parisians when it is changed into soot and mud. And where else would they get such another vision of icy vastness? Andersen opened up to them the fairylike domains of frost.

What strange beauty in his depiction of the glacial ocean where icebergs float like sea-faring monsters! What a sight is revealed to the fifth mermaid sister who becomes familiar with the world seen on the winter sea!

Now came the turn of the fifth sister. Her birthday, it happened, was in winter, and so she saw what the others had not seen on their first visit. The sea was all green to look at, and round about there floated large icebergs, every one looking like a pearl, she said, and yet they were far bigger than the church towers that men built. They showed themselves in the strangest shapes and were like diamonds.

Winter over the town, placing curtains on the window panes that the children must clear away with their breath if they wish to see the house opposite. Winter that turns the fingers blue, that numbs the limbs of the little match-seller, that causes Knud, the lover, to pass from his dream into eternal sleep. Winter that makes the snow man grow proud, thinking that his mere glance suffices to make the sun hurry down behind the horizon. Winter on the dunes, that the tempest seems to push back still further inland, making waves of sand that cover up the village chapels. The Winter King, as he rules in Lapland, almost burying animals and men, lord of stark immensity. These are some of the spectacles that Andersen offers and lavishes on children.

Thanks to him, we have seen through our own eyes the Snow Queen all in ice, her eyes shining like bright stars. With little Kay, we fastened our sledge to her white one. She let us sit beside her. We glided over the soft surface and were lifted into the air. We passed over forests and lakes, land and seas. Below us blew a glacial wind, wolves howled, snow sparkled. Above black crows were flying, cawing. And away up above shone the moon, large and bright. Thus we arrived at the Queen's Palace.

The walls of the Palace were made of drifting snow, and the windows and doors of biting winds. There were more than a hundred halls, shaped by the drifting of the snow. The largest of them stretched out for many miles, and all were lit up by the bright Northern Lights. These halls were tremendous—so empty, so icy-cold, so dazzling. There was never any gaiety here, not even the smallest dance for the bears, at which the storm winds could make the music, and the polar bears walk on their hind legs and show off their good manners. There was never a party where they played at muzzle-slapping and paw-clapping, and never did the white fox-girls forgather to enjoy a bit of gossip over their coffee. Empty, vast, and icy-cold were the Snow Queen's halls. The Northern Lights glowed at such regular intervals that one could reckon exactly when they would be at their highest and lowest. In the midst of the immense empty snow hall was a frozen lake, cracked into a thousand pieces, and each piece so resembled all the others that it looked like a real work of art. When at home the Snow Queen sat in the very center, and then she said she was sitting on the "Mirror of Reason," which according to her was the only one that counted in this world.1

Fortunate indeed if in all this snow, our heart was not frozen as happened to little Kay:

Little Kay was quite blue with the cold, indeed almost black, and his heart was practically a lump of ice. But he was not aware of it, because the Snow Queen had kissed away the icy chill. He was busy fitting together a few flat sharp-edged pieces of ice, and trying to shape them into some kind of pattern, for he wanted to make something out of them, just as we do when we make Chinese puzzles with little squares of wood. Kay was arranging patterns, and most intricate ones, in that game known as the "Puzzle of Ice-cold Reason." To him these figures appeared very remarkable and of the greatest importance because of the chip of glass in his eye. He put together patterns to form a written word, but he could never manage to spell out the one word he had in his mind—the word "Eternity."1

We should be fortunate indeed if, as in the tale, some little Gerda followed us to the end of the world, to the very palace of the Snow Queen, and with her warm tears made the block of ice melt. Fortunate if, through love, she permitted us to solve the puzzle and to recover the lost word.

Andersen is unique in his capacity for entering into the very soul of beings and of things.

That animals have an intelligible language, Andersen and children know better than anyone. When the cat says to little Rudy: "Come out on the roof; put one paw here, another a little higher; come on, hoist yourself up; see how I do it, nothing is easier," little Rudy understands perfectly. And the dog that, not satisfied with barking, expresses himself also with his eyes, his tail, and his whole body speaks a language that seems quite natural to the child. That plants talk is taken for granted also. After all, why should Mother Elder and Father Willow not exchange confidences like everybody else? Leaves are very talkative; they murmur for no reason at all.

But what is rarer and finer is to see objects become animated and to hear their voices. Not only the toys, not only the porcelain dancer on the mantelpiece so full of airs and graces, not only the grotesque Chinese figure on the console who shakes his head when looking at you. This innumerable folk, that the indifferent call "things," stirs, moves, speaks and fills the air with its complaints or its songs. Everything is alive: the ray of sunshine that dances through the window, the branch of apple tree in its spring frock, the salon furniture, the gardener's tools, the kitchen utensils, the pail, the broom, the basket, the plates and even the matches, although they are a bit stiff. Of all the objects that you can imagine, there is not one that does not want to chat with its neighbors and make merry. At night, you believe there is no longer any life. On the contrary, it is the moment when silent ones feel free to speak; when the motionless ones feel their limbs itching and gambol about gaily. The arithmetic problem fidgets about on its slate, the letters grow restless in the copy book and complain at having been badly traced.

When one is a child, and can hardly talk, one understands perfectly the language of the hens and ducks, dogs and cats. They speak to us as distinctly as father and mother. At that age we even hear grandfather's cane whinny; it has become our horse, and we see a head on it, legs and a tail. But once grown up this faculty is lost. However, there are children who keep it longer than others; we say of them that they remain big simpletons….

Big simpletons or geniuses. On this latter count, let us thank Heaven that Andersen remained a child.

If others shrivel up everything they touch by analyzing and dissecting, Andersen, on the contrary, animates and vivifies. On the summit of mountains, on the highest peaks, he is hypnotized by Vertigo who tries to make him totter and fall headlong into the abyss. In the depths of the crevices lives the Queen of the glaciers. She is asking for her victims, and you hear her voice. Andersen is never alone. He is surrounded by a multitude of little lives, by countless beings who observe and watch him. He is only one of them, perhaps a little better endowed, in the vast comedy in which thousands of actors take part. All the others, the oak, the house, the butterfly, the wave, the stick of wood, the gravestone, rejoice or suffer with him. Hallucination that is perhaps not altogether voluntary nor altogether false, if it does nothing more than translate the mystery of being and the constant vibration of things.

How conscious we are in all this of the powerful imagination of the North, instinct with sensitiveness! How different it is from the imagination of the South which etches everything sharply under the direct brilliance of the sun! Beneath this sky laden with mists, where the light remains timid and gray even on the fairest days, we grasp the significance of doubts and confusions. There the sharpness of a too clear vision will not belie the man who sees grimacing faces in the tree roots, who peoples the sea with phantoms delicately traced on its grayish expanse. When he expresses himself, as the law of our nature demands, he does so with less pride and authority. He is never entirely sure that the tricks of his imagination are really nothing more than imagination. He likes to pretend that the questions, the appeals which he attributes to the universe, come actually from the universe and not from himself. Uncertain of himself, he respects the essential character of things as though by raising them to his own sphere he were finding friends on his lonely and colorless horizon. Feeling deference for every living thing, he promotes animals to his own level. Why should they not have the right to be themselves? The storks, in appearance all alike, clothed in white and black and wearing red stockings, why should they not have their own personality? The birds of woods or field, why should they not have different characters as they have different feathers?

And, by a transition from the external to the hidden life, why should we not try to discover the individual soul of each object? If it is nothing but a diversion, at least it is generous and merciful. That old lantern which has shared existence with humans, which was useful to them for keeping off the dangers of the night, seems to have will power. It persists in struggling against the wind, against the rain. It seems to have intelligence, for it is interested in the adventures of the passers-by to whom it lends its reflection. And a sensibility, for it suffers when it sees the misfortunes around it. Its ambition is to endure, to persist in its being. It has a horror of annihilation. And so on, continuing the dream, multiplying it to infinity. The starched collar is proud of its rigid splendor. The teapot looks disgusted and will sing only when it is warm. And the silver shilling, if we tell it that it is only a counterfeit piece, shivers with indignation.

When we finish reading the Tales we are not entirely the same as we were when we began them. We would gladly become, as Rimbaud says, un opéra fabuleux. The wheat that bends, what emotion makes it tremble? Where do the white clouds go that are passing over us? Do they go in light attire to some celestial festival in the palace of Prince Azur?

But of all Andersen's claims to supremacy, the finest and noblest claim is the wisdom inherent in his tales, their inner life. There is much sorrow in the world, Andersen believes. The woman you love does not love you. She says she would like to be your sister. It is not the same thing. She becomes a great singer, or goes abroad, or marries someone else. She forgets you. There is also death, which is very badly planned. Parents die young and here are these little ones left alone; how they will suffer! We feel always insecure. Every second we are dying. Everything passes, the palaces of Caesar and the books of the poets. Animals are scarcely happier than we, and as the dog said when he was put on a chain, "Things are reasonably ordered neither for dogs nor for men."

If only one knew why, it would be a consolation, but the book of life is hard to read. The wise man may succeed in deciphering several chapters, but not the last that treats of the departure into the unknown. We would have to have the philosopher's stone to make the lines shine with a brighter light. Can we find such a stone? They tell us that all evil comes from the error of our first parents, but why should they have made any such mistake?

To all these doubts which work on your mind when you are taking a walk alone, or when you cannot sleep, is added the foolishness of man himself; for the number of fools is too great. Each one believes himself above his condition and swells with pride. The good old snow man, when evening comes, imagines, as we have said, that it is his imperious glance which has forced the sun to sink below the earth. The thistle claims descent from an illustrious Scottish family. The Portuguese duck believes herself of a superior species and despises those that are not Portuguese. The nettle proclaims that it is a distinguished plant since a delicate muslin is woven from it. And so forth, step by step, up to and including the fools who admire the Emperor's invisible clothes.

An excess of work not only makes hands callous, it may embitter the soul. Those who have no work to do risk becoming selfish and cruel. There are maidens, like the little Inger, who walk on bread to avoid soiling their slippers. "The Marsh King's Daughter" points out this double nature that is in us.

Some magic power had a terrible hold over the little one. In the daytime she was as beautiful as any fairy, but had a bad, wicked temper. At night, on the other hand, she became a hideous toad, quiet and pathetic, with sad, mournful eyes. There were two natures in her both in soul and body continually shifting.

In short, all that would not be a very pleasant sight if we saw nothing else in it. In the words of the gingerbread merchant:

I had two young gingerbread people in the window of my shop; one a man with a hat, the other a young lady without a hat. They had a human face only on one side and were not to be looked at from the other. What is more, men are like that and it is not kind to look at their wrong side.

That is what the storyteller in love with nature is thinking about, the animater of things who has himself known pain. Andersen is not one of those saints who, shivering, insist that it is always warm on this earth. He knows the meaning of life. He states resolutely the problem of evil, the problem of existence. But far from being discouraged by the truth, he seeks to release it, to face it. Truth distresses us only when we have a half knowledge of it.

Pondering over existence, he understands that we are in a transitory state from which we cannot escape except through will, faith, love. The human world is only a process of evolution, a chance for us to meet the supreme realities that await us, or at least to prepare ourselves for them. Love, true love, is stronger than absence, stronger than sorrow; it accomplishes all miracles, even that of resurrection. It is the divine spark, symbol of eternal life. Through love, spells are broken. As foretold by the oracle, the King of Egypt, through the power of his daughter's love, came back to life. "Love produces life; from the most ardent love is born the noblest life. It is love only that can save the king's life." Through love, through total sacrifice, having almost given up hope, the little mermaid won immortality. The real evil is the sin against the spirit, the lack of kindness, of humanity. The real good is the aspiration to a higher state to which men of good will shall be admitted and the animals, yes, the animals themselves. "The animal is, like man, a creature of God, and, I believe firmly, no life will be lost, each creature will receive the happiness that it is capable of receiving."

Once there was a hideous toad with a splendid diamond set in its head; always he aspired towards the best.

This precious stone, seek it in the sun, look at it if you can. You will not be able to, the light of the heavenly body is too bright. We have not yet the light that we need to recognize ourselves in the midst of the marvels that God has created. But we shall possess it some day. And then it will be the most beautiful of all the tales; it will be true.

It is this inner life that gives the Tales their deep quality. From it also comes that exaltation which spreads through the soul of the readers. From it comes, finally, a marked quality of serenity. I know only one other author who, all differences taken into consideration, creates a similar impression. Manzoni, like Andersen, admitting only as a human weakness the confusion into which the fact of evil throws him, overcomes this state of doubt, and through faith arrives at serenity. Both, before the world spectacle, possess peace. They even allow themselves humor, gaiety, because they hold the secret: "Have faith and hope; they will not deceive you." Both turn by choice towards the humble, because the hierarchy established in this transient world is only an illusion destined to be replaced by a higher law of justice. "The love of the Creator is infinite and embraces equally everything that lives and moves in Him." "All creatures are equal before the infinite love of the Almighty and the same justice governs all the universe." One feels the same Biblical inspiration moving through both Andersen and Manzoni.

The teller of tales stands at his window. He listens to the swallows and the storks that have returned to Denmark for the fine summer days. He listens to his friend the wind. Or, he mingles with the crowd and listens once more to what the gingerbread merchant is relating, to what the old eel fisherman is telling. He makes use of everything. He tells them again in his own way, these stories that provoke a smile or a tear. He gives them a lyrical style, dramatic and always simple, a style of which he alone is master. He adorns them with brighter and more delicate colors; and, lending them wings, he sends them to the very limits of the world. But he fills them also with intense feeling and therein, without doubt, added to all the other qualities, lies the final attainment which explains their great power.

The children are not mistaken. In these beautiful tales they find not only pleasure, but the law of their being and the feeling of the great role they have to fill. They themselves have been subjected to sorrow. They sense evil confusedly around them, in them; but this vivid suffering is only transitory and not enough to trouble their serenity. Their mission is to bring to the world a renewal of faith and hope. What would become of the human spirit if it were not refreshed by this confident young strength? The new generation arrives to make the world beautiful once more. Everything grows green again. Life funds its reasons for enduring. Andersen, imbuing his tales with an invincible belief in a better future, communes with the soul of children, harmonizes himself with their deep nature, allies himself with their mission. He upholds, with them and through them, the ideal forces which save humanity from perishing….


1 As translated from the Danish by Paul Leyssac in It's Perfectly True and Other Stories. Harcourt, 1938.

Further Reading

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Enquist, Per Olov. "The Hans Christian Andersen Saga." Translated by Joan Tate. First published, 1985. Reprinted in Scandinavian Review 74, 3 (Autumn 1986): 64-69.

Brief discussion of Andersen's troubled, poverty-stricken ancestors and his own unstable personality.

Grønbech, Bo. Hans Christian Andersen. Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1980, 171 p.

An extensive study of Andersen's life and works.

Pickard, P. M. "Hans Christian Andersen: Success and Failure." In I Could a Tale Unfold: Violence, Horror and Sensationalism in Stories for Children, pp. 67-93. London: Tavistock, 1961.

Provides psychological analyses of Andersen and discusses his life and career.

Spink, Reginald. Hans Christian Andersen and His World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1972, 128 p.

Pictonal biography of Andersen, including caricatures, reproductions of title pages, and various other illustrations.

Stirling, Monica. The Wild Swan: The Life and Times of Hans Christian Andersen. London: Collins, 1965, 384 p.

Popular and authoritative biography of Andersen.

Toksvig, Signe. The Life of Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1934, 289 p.

A personal approach to Andersen emphasizing his emotional growth throughout his career.


Dahlerup, Pil and others. "Splash!: Six Views of 'The Little Mermaid'." Scandinavian Studies 63, 2 (Spring 1991): 141-63.

Presents various analyses of Andersen's well-known tale.

De la Mare, Walter. "Hans Christian Andersen." In Pleasures and Speculations, pp. 14-23. London: Faber, 1940.

Discusses the child-like nature of Andersen and his tales.

Haugaard, Erik Christian. "Portrait of a Poet: Hans Christian Andersen and His Fairy Tales." First published, 1973. Reprinted in The Openhearted Audience: Ten Authors Talk about Writing for Children, edited by Virginia Haviland, pp. 68-81. Washington: Library of Congress, 1980.

Haugaard briefly reviews how he went about translating Andersen; the critic also discusses Andersen's life and his views on artists and religion.

Malmkjœr, 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. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1997.

Analyzes the differences between the punctuation Andersen used in Danish and the punctuation that appears in the English translations of his stories.

Mudrick, Marvin. "The Ugly Duck." In Books Are Not Life but Then What Is?, pp. 87-97. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Criticizes Andersen for sentimentality, finding the author "moony" and his stories full of "Victorian trash and tinsel." The critic also contends that "the best of the world's fairy tales have a symmetry and a cutting edge that are quite beyond even the best Andersen."

Nassaar, Christopher S. "Andersen's 'The Shadow' and Wilde's 'The Fisherman and His Soul': A Case of Influence." Nineteenth-Century Literature 50, 2 (September 1995): 217-24.

Sees Oscar Wilde's story "The Fisherman and His Soul" as a Christian response to the nihilistic vision in Andersen's "The Shadow."

Sanders, Karin. "Nemesis of Mimesis: The Problem of Representation in H. C. Andersen's 'Psychen'." Scandinavian Studies 64, 1 (Winter 1992): 1-25.

Studies narcissism and feminization as depicted in Andersen's tale "Psyche."

Additional coverage of Andersen's life and career is contained in the following sources published by The Gale Group: Short Story Criticism, Vol. 6; World Literature Criticism, 1500 to the Present; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 6; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults; and Yesterday's Authors of Books for Children, Vol. 1.

Frederick J. Marker (essay date 1971)

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SOURCE: "The Plays of H. C. Andersen," in Hans Christian Andersen and the Romantic Theatre: A Study of Stage Practices in the Prenaturalistic Scandinavian Theatre, University of Toronto Press, 1971, pp. 30-64.

[In the excerpt below, Marker discusses Andersen 's often-neglected dramatic works, focusing on Andersen's early dramatic influences and arguing that his works form part of a significant bridge between the romanticism of the early part of the Century and the realism that later followed.]

'In Denmark there is but one city and one theatre,' wrote Kierkegaard in 1848,1 and his characteristic comment suggests the central place occupied by the Royal Theatre in nineteenth-century Danish culture and society. Architecturally as well as intellectually, it dominated the daily life of Copenhagen; it was 'the most important daily and nightly topic of conversation,' Andersen declared, and it 'ranked among the finest in Europe.'2 It is no surprise, then, that Andersen's very existence revolved around the imposing playhouse on Kongens Nytorv. His lodgings were always within easy walking distance of it. On most evenings he could be found in the stalls together with the foremost figures of the Danish Golden Age—Oehlenschläger, Thorvaldsen, Heiberg, Kierkegaard—first as a young, promising author, eventually as the renowned mid-point of Scandinavian romanticism. As a dramatist, Andersen turned eagerly and early to the theatre as the best source of the personal admiration and financial support he so desperately sought. He regarded his plays very seriously in comparison with his other work; the stage to him was a 'mighty platform' from which it was possible to 'proclaim for hundreds what would hardly be read by ten.'3 As one of the most widely read novelists in Europe and as a world-renowned writer of fairy-tales, he continued to wage the struggle for acceptance and recognition in the theatre that he had begun long before as 'a musical servant' in Nina.

In Andersen's own pessimistic, persecuted view—although not in terms of production statistics or of theatrical history—his struggle ended in defeat. The Brandes myth of Andersen as 'the hunted animal in Danish literature' has persisted, and posterity has had little to add to this evaluation.4 However, as a playwright Andersen forms an important transition between two periods. He belongs among the younger exponents of romanticism, but at the same time points ahead toward the realism which eventually triumphed in the 1870s. The production history of his plays provides a microcosm of the exotic, historical, idyllic, and topical elements that were the popular components of the colourful, romantic stage picture. And it was to the Copenhagen theatre which Andersen's plays reflect that a young apprentice was sent from Bergen on a travelling scholarship in 1852 to learn his craft—an apprentice whose name was Henrik Ibsen.

Andersen's early puerile efforts in the 'tragic' genre were clearly bewildered products of his youthful encounters with the more sensational aspects of romantic theatre. His first complete play, a 'tragedy in five acts' entitled The Forest Chapel / Skovcapellet, was written at the age of sixteen in the hope that it would provide money with which he might continue his schooling.5 It is an example of hardboiled terror romanticism adapted from a German short story published in C.N. Rosenkilde's periodical Brevduen (nos 19 and 20, 1819); he was fortunately dissuaded from submitting it to the Royal Theatre. With his next effort, however, a 'patriotic tragedy' called The Robbers of Vissenberg / Røvene i Vissenberg, Andersen became bolder. It was written in two weeks and submitted anonymously to the Royal Theatre in 1822, which reacted by replying in a letter dated 16 June 1822 that it did not in future wish to receive 'plays which to such a degree as this display a lack of all elementary education.'6 Although only a single scene of this play, published in A.P. Liunge's magazine Harpen (XXXII, 1822), survives, the melodramatic dialogue in the robbers' den gives ample evidence of the drama's exaggerated sturm und drang tendencies. Yet a third 'tragedy' was finished by Andersen in 1822, a play entitled Alfsol which acquired its subject matter from the historian P.F. Suhm's Nordiske Noveller (1783) and its style from Oehlenschläger and the Danish novelist B.S. Ingemann. Although rejected for production, Alfsol marked the turning point in its author's life since it provided the impetus for the Royal Theatre's decision to support his further education. He expressed his gratitude by dedicating his first book, published at his own expense under the pseudonym William Christian Walter (his own middle name plus his two favourite authors, Shakespeare and Scott!) and containing Alfsol, to the 'exalted Royal Theatre management.' The few copies of the book still in existence belong among the costliest rarities of Scandinavian literature.7

Although any of these early, youthful gothic tragedies can be criticized on virtually every count, they nevertheless bear unmistakable evidence—as the Royal Theatre management also realized—of raw poetic talent. It is noteworthy that when Andersen, having completed his formal education, made his debut as a practising dramatist in 1829, it was in a genre which directly parodied the stiff, solemn, and sentimental style of these first tragedies.

For the most part, however, Andersen's uncompleted or unproduced plays have little bearing on his relation to the practical theatre of the nineteenth century. Similarly, four of his translations produced at the Royal Theatre, including Scribe's La quarantaine (as Skibet), Bayard's La reine de seize ans (as Dronningen paa 16 Aar), Dorvigny's La fête de campagne, ou L 'intendant comédien malgré lui (as En Comedie i det Grønne), and Meyerbeer's Le pardon de Ploërmel (as Dinorah), are only indirectly relevant to his personal artistic intentions as a playwright and assume only an incidental place in this discussion. Nevertheless, despite these exclusions, original plays and opera libretti by Andersen produced at the Royal Theatre between 1829 and 1865 account for a total of twenty-one works, embracing such widely diverse forms as vaudeville, opera or singspiel, romantic drama and fantasy, and romantic comedy…. Several of them were later performed at the private Casino Theatre, for which Andersen also wrote four additional dramatic fantasies, but no reliable production records of the Casino performances have survived.


Andersen wrote for a theatre where musical genres played an extremely important role in the repertory. A large number of its performers were talented both as singers and as actors, and it possessed an excellent orchestra with distinguished traditions. Therefore it is not surprising to discover that vaudeville, opera, and singspiel are dominant forms in his dramaturgy….

The successful production at the Royal Theatre in 1825 of Karl von Holtei's vaudeville-influenced 'musical farce' Die Wiener in Berlin led directly to the introduction of the Danish vaudeville with the performance in the same year of [J.L.] Heiberg's King Solomon. Andersen's enthusiastic discovery of the new genre has already been described, and he was not long in following Heiberg's example. In 1829 he made the first of several efforts in this genre with his vaudeville-parody, Love on St Nicholas Tower, or What Says the Pit / Kjœrlighed paa Nicolai Taarn, eller Hvad siger Parterret.

This short, delightful farce treats the star-crossed love affair of Ellen, daughter of the 'knight' (ie, watchman) of St Nicholas Tower, and the brave little tailor Søren Pind, about whom we learn:

A tailor is a rosebud here below,
A butterfly that flutters to and fro,
Too fragile, thin, and pale
To withstand the wild and stormy gale.

Together this engaging pair battle the stormy gales of destiny, embodied in the person of Peer Hansen, a watchman from a neighbouring tower who also seeks Ellen's hand in marriage. The play is a characteristic student parody of the romantic tragedy of destiny, in which watchmen and tailors assume heroic poses and speak stilted verse. The farcical element in the action was further heightened by means of numerous topical points of reference in the setting, the music, and the dialogue. Satirical jibes at actual persons, especially Adam Oehlenschläger, proved particularly upsetting to the more conservative elements; reviews in Maanedsskrift for Litteratur (1, 1829, 543) and Kjøbenhavnsposten (22 May 1829) both reproached the young playwright for having parodied 'our finest tragedies.' Three years later, Andersen was ready to express appropriate contrition for having 'really believed at that time that parody of something excellent, or use of something truly moving, might be permitted in jest without thereby having a bad heart.'13Mea culpa.

The Royal Theatre readers' report of Love on St Nicholas Tower, which has not previously been printed, is so characteristic of contemporary opinion regarding vaudeville and parody that it deserves to be cited at some length:14

That the vaudeville Love on St. Nicholas by no means corresponds to my ideas about the purpose and dignity of drama is hardly necessary to point out. Should it, however, despite my dissent, secure majority support, I must at least request that a fellow citizen is not mentioned on the stage in order to evoke a shameful laughter, as is the case on p. 35 and elsewhere.15 It is high time to stop the boyish foolishness that more and more dominates our stage, and which naturally finds all-too-ready support from the crowd of boys in the house … Furthermore, I feel that the Theatre would act ignobly and unwisely to parody, by favouring such examples as this, some of the most beautiful situations and scenes which adorn our theatre.

31 Dec. 1828 RAHBEK

If the author, as I do not doubt, observes with dutiful care the foregoing hints by my colleague, I do not believe that the present vaudeville should be rejected; the original turn at the end of the play, the fine, flowing verse, and the vigorous action throughout speak in its favour; at any rate I regard it as one of our best vaudevilles, and vote unconditionally for its acceptance.

5 Jan. 1829 G.H. OLSEN

Olsen, theatre manager, and Rahbek, author and critic, represented established, eighteenth-century conservatism; both were sixty-nine at this point, Olsen died the same year and Rahbek a year later. The conservative establishment triumphed, however. Despite the success of the play's unusual ending in which the audience is allowed to decide whether or not the tailor wins Ellen, its appearance at the close of the season, coupled with a heated controversy concerning the leading actress, resulted in a short run of only three performances.

Andersen's subsequent vaudevilles helped to shape the genre which Thomas Overskou later defined as 'a small, delicately drawn comedy stemming from local affairs, daily events, or piquant situations.'16 The theme of the love affair threatened by circumstances remained the predominant one. In his later vaudevilles, however, Andersen abandoned almost entirely the satirical, burlesque tone for which Love had been criticized. Thus in writing Parting and Meeting, which takes for its background the visit of Spanish troops to Odense in 1808, his aim, as he hastened to assure an acquaintance in a letter dated 11 April 1831, was now a sentimental, rather than a satirical, vaudeville. 'Do not imagine,' he declared, 'that my new vaudeville will ridicule the dear town of my birth; no, the play is sentimental, very serious, written from the heart. I read some scenes for Heiberg recently, and they pleased him greatly because of the melancholy tone.'17 Andersen benefited greatly in this vaudeville from the detailed, skilful dramaturgical hints on construction provided by Heiberg.18 Following a sharp initial rejection by the Royal Theatre in 1833, a revised version of Parting and Meeting consisting of two short, separate but related plays was accepted for production in November 1835.19 In the first playlet, Spaniards in Odense/Spanierne i Odense, Augusta falls in love with a dashing Spaniard, Francesco, who is stationed in Odense. However, her sense of duty persuades her to marry Ludvig, childhood sweetheart, as the Spanish troops march away in the distance. The sequel, 25 Years After / Fem og Tyve Aar derefter, presents the same characters 'twenty-five years later' in Elsinore—a novelty to which the actors, in the opinion of the critic for Dagen (19 April 1836), proved unequal in their depiction of the age changes. The sentimental conclusion to this romance unites the daughter of the now—widowed Augusta, Louise, to Diego, the son of a Spanish ambassador who proves to be none other than Augusta's sometime soldier, Francesco.

Lovers' intrigues also provided the main themes in two other Andersen vaudevilles. Mikkel's Parisian Love Stories / Mikkels Kjœrlighheds Historier i Paris is a brief vaudeville monologue composed for a benefit for the celebrated Danish comedian, Ludvig Phister, and performed twice in 1840. Mikkel, a character revived from an earlier Heiberg vaudeville, relates his amorous adventures in the French capital. In The Bird in the Pear-Tree / Fuglen i Pœretrœet the quarrel of two neighbours provides the comic background for the amorous intrigue of Herman and Henriette; here, too, love surmounts all obstacles, including a fence erected between the feuding neighbours' gardens and figuring prominently in the action. A high point in this atmospheric genre sketch is Andersen's rich characterization of Counsellor Arents, who in spite of his basically friendly nature becomes entangled in the neighbour dispute over the pear-tree. His outburst when he is finally compelled to recognize the fact that his daughter's heart has been captured by the son of the enemy suggests his nature:

Where is my daughter! Don 't look at me like that!
I know very well where she is! But it's a lie!

Following two successful summer performances in 1842, The Bird in the Pear-Tree was entered in the regular repertoire with Scandinavia's leading actress, Johanne Luise Heiberg, in the role of Henriette. Notwithstanding her services and the play's initial popularity, however, it was soon attacked by Andersen's opponents and, in the wake of polemical articles and hissing in the theatre, it was taken off the programme after four performances. 'For the past two weeks not a single sin has been commited in Denmark,' wrote Corsaren (11 Nov. 1842), one of the most vitriolic of the many polemically minded periodicals at this time; 'The Bird in the Pear-Tree is no longer applauded, on the contrary it was hissed.' Heiberg, the authoritative voice of Danish culture and intellectual endeavour, succeeded in elegantly damning the play with faint praise: 'It belongs to that species of small creatures,' he commented in his influential Intelligensblade (XIX, 1842), 'whose inclusion in our theatre-menagerie it would be pedantic to oppose, since it can be said of them that if they do no good, neither do they do any harm; they are too small for that, too insignificant, and too innocuous.'21 The bitterness caused by this hostility to his play pervades Andersen's diary entries for this period: one such entry notes that his depressed mood inspired him with the idea for his best-known fairy-tale, The Ugly Duckling.22

One of Andersen's most successful works for the stage, however, was the vaudeville farce The Invisible Man on Sprogø / Den Usynlige paa Sprogø, 'a dramatic jest in one act with chorus and songs' which he admittedly tailored to suit a particular landscape setting originally designed for Henrik Hertz's unsuccessful vaudeville, Flight to Sprogø / Flugten til Sprogø.23 Following a summer performance in 1839 which became a personal triumph for the actor C.M. Foersom in the title role of Blomme, the gullible merchant who is made 'invisible,' the play went on to become a popular favourite at the Royal Theatre, where it ran for twenty-two performances, and at Casino and Odense Theatre. 'Gulling' was another common subject in vaudeville. In The Bird in the Pear-Tree, Arents is gulled at the end in order that the lovers can be united. In The Invisible Man the entire dramatic situation is based on the 'gulling' of the central character, the enthusiastically credulous Agent Blomme ('I am a Sunday-child, am I! / O, I see more than meets the eye!') who is stranded with his family on the island of Sprogø, and is made to believe that three drops of liquid in a glass of wine together with a magic incantation have the power to render him invisible….

Despite Heiberg's relatively valid criticism that the songs in Parting and Meeting were undramatic, and the highly prejudiced criticism by Andersen's longtime adversary Christian Molbech that he 'under no circumstances understands how to write a Danish vaudeville such as we have become accustomed to that dramatic genre in Professor Heiberg's works,'31 he obviously displayed both considerable wit and dramaturgical finesse in this genre. One of the better-known examples from his plays of a scene which succeeds perfectly in capturing the elusive 'vaudeville tone' is the celebrated tour de force by Theodor, man-of-the-world and matchmaker in The Invisible Man, in which he describes his international experience in affairs of the heart. 'It would be odd if I wasn't able to do for others what I have so often done for myself—reach the goal in the kingdom of love,' he boasts to the audience. 'But here it's a question of arranging a wedding—it's true I've never tried that, but the preliminaries … yes, in most countries I've made acquaintances!' An engaging, Maurice Chevalier lead-in is hereby provided for the international catalogue of amorous escapades which follows. Theodor describes the girls he has known in a witty medley of 'national' songs: 'Lovely Minka,' Weyse's 'Dannemark! Dannemark!,' a Swedish folksong, 'God Save the King,' 'La Parisienne,' 'Of Spanish Girls' from the comedy Farinelli, and a Tyrolese melody; the medley is framed by the untranslatably charming verse:

To all the world' s four corners,
My heart with me I brought,
I left it with the lovely girls,
You give them what you 've got.

It was mainly in the 1830s that Andersen was occupied with the topical, lyrical vaudeville. A letter written from Leipzig and dated 3 July 1841 is indicative of his growing disinterest in this genre; 'this evening I was in the theatre,' he observed, 'to see the first and undoubtedly the only vaudeville … on my entire trip; I have almost forgotten this genre.'33 The following year saw his final vaudeville effort produced at the Royal Theatre. By then, however, he had already contributed in large measure to popularizing in Denmark the form which Heiberg had succeeded in proving, by a specious application of Hegelian dialectics, was the most suitable type of dramatic art for the stage of the day….

Romantic Drama and Fairy-Tale Fantasy

In the 1830s Andersen's concern as a playwright was chiefly with vaudevilles and with opera libretti featuring the gothic elements of Walter Scott romanticism. In the 1840s he took a new direction, as he consciously turned toward French romantic drama and the style of Victor Hugo. These two apparently found much in common on a personal basis as well. In March 1843 Andersen was a welcome guest of Hugo in Paris, attending Les Burgraves with the French dramatist only a few days after its tumultuous première.56

The strong interest during this period in local colour and ethnographic details spurred the popularity of 'exotic,' far-away environments and peoples on the stage. It is in direct relation to this theatrical convention that Andersen's two romantic verse dramas, The Mulatto / Mulatten and The Moorish Girl / Maurerpigen, must be seen. The increasing number of books which appeared on national customs, costumes, and mores served as an important stimulus for early nineteenth-century playwrights in presenting more convincing exotic surroundings and details in the theatre; Andersen's remark that in writing The Mulatto he 'swallowed all the available books on Africa and America' is characteristic. Moreover, in such dramas music was frequently included as accompaniment or as background to strengthen and deepen the impact of the romantic pathos and picturesque localities depicted.

The Mulatto, which Andersen himself felt would mark an epoch in his career, quickly became his greatest scenic triumph when produced at the Royal Theatre in February 1840. Audiences greeted the play with a storm of enthusiasm, and five sold-out houses were registered in the course of the first eleven performances.57 Much of this popular success was the result of the drama's piquant subject matter and the illusionistic presentation of its exotic milieu on the stage. The subject of The Mulatto, which Andersen clothed in lyrical rhymed verse 'in order to subjugate the theme to the music of language,'58 is reminiscent of Hugo's French romanticism and of numerous popular romantic dramas of the time. The play was adapted from a story by Fanny Reybaud, 'Les épaves,' which the dramatist read in the Revue de Paris (Feb. 1838).59 Both Eleonore and Cecilie, the wife and the ward of La Rebelliere, wealthy planter on Martinique, meet and fall in love with the young, cultivated mulatto, Horatio. However, La Rebelliere plots vengeance on the hero and, by unscrupulous means, has him imprisoned and offered for sale at a slave auction. Disaster seems imminent until a legal deus ex machina, in the form of Cecilie's declaration that she will marry Horatio, frees him from slavery and disgrace. Never far beneath the surface of the conflict is Andersen's perpetual preoccupation with the 'ugly duckling phenomenon,' his running apologia for the gifted but poor, persecuted, or 'different' individual, excluded from polite society but ultimately triumphant. The moral of Cendrillon [a stage adaptation of Cinderella in which Andersen had appeared as an actor] was carried forward by Andersen as a banner and a challenge.

Critical regard for The Mulatto was high. 'This widely admired author has,' wrote Dagen (4 Feb. 1840), 'again managed to grasp the tones which find response in the audience's breast.' In addition, fine acting by Johanne Luise Heiberg, for whom Andersen had written the role of Cecilie, and an exciting scenic representation of the exotic atmosphere, particularly in the dramatic juxtaposition of Horatio's dank prison with a glittering ballroom in the fourth act and in the sensational slave-auction scene of the last act, substantially aided the success of the play.

In marked contrast, generally wretched acting and apparent indifference toward the exotic Spanish setting in Andersen's romantic drama The Moorish Girl resulted in a disappointing run for this play of only three performances in December 1840.60 Countless difficulties prior to the opening of The Moorish Girl, including Johanne Luise Heiberg's pointed refusal to play the 'masculine' leading role, led to an open breach between the playwright and the powerful House of Heiberg. The apologia which the tormented author added as a preface to the play was particularly ill-timed. The 1840s marked the beginning of a new development in Danish theatrical criticism, characterized by the rise and eventual predominance of newspaper 'reviews' at the expense of the more sober evaluations of the critical journals. The domination of newspaper reporting in theatrical matters brought with it a wave of glib, slashing polemics, as publications like Figaro and Corsaren (The Corsair, which sported a Barbary marauder delivering a cannon salvo on its masthead!) spearheaded a reign of terror from which no dramatist or actor was safe. Seeking to vindicate The Moorish Girl, Andersen introduced it with a jeremiad which reproached such hostile treatment and which began: 'It is rather well known that I have suffered a miserable childhood, and even though the good God has since led me forward, I have, however, at each step had to survive many battles.'61 This document, judiciously omitted from his collected works, bore its own punishment in the form of devastating ridicule in the columns of Corsaren (1 Jan. 1841) and other papers.

Separating evidence from outraged sensibilities, however, The Moorish Girl is clearly inferior to most of Andersen's other plays. Although the dramatist styled this five-act verse drama a 'tragedy,' its theme and use of background music composed by Hartmann bring it closer to the category of conventional melodrama. Raphaella, a Spanish Saint Joan-figure who wins the love of the King of Cordova after saving his life in a battle against the Moors but who flees from his proposal of marriage on patriotic grounds, is basically a stock melodramatic heroine with 'ugly duckling' overtones. Although Raphaella discovers that she is in reality the daughter of the enemy King of the Moors, the King of Cordova nevertheless renews his proposal. She pretends to agree, only to take her own life on rather vague grounds of honour and decency. The play should, however, be seen from a theatrical rather than a literary vantage point; 'all is and must be calculated for the stage, for performance, thus it must be judged,' Andersen insisted in his preface.62 In this context, the picturesque exoticism in costuming, landscape, and architecture suggested in the text provided the concrete means by which the dramatist sought to invest the melodramatic story with an interesting and evocative atmosphere. His conference with the stage manager, the scene designer, and the costume designer which followed Heiberg's reading of the play in the greenroom on 20 Sept. 1840 was undoubtedly aimed at clarifying this objective.63 Hence when the Royal Theatre succumbed to the negative attitude of the Heibergs and neglected to provide a suitable physical exoticism in the production, the disappointing result was a foregone conclusion.

After the florid exoticism of The Mulatto and The Moorish Girl, Andersen turned closer to home and explored the areas of Danish history and Danish folk material for romantic subjects. Moreover, following the failure of his ballad dramatization, Agnete and the Merman, he sought refuge in anonymity, a common practice in Denmark during this decade marked by the 'reign of terror' of the newspaper polemic. The first of Andersen's anonymous productions was the one-act romantic drama performed in 1844, Dreams of the King, which treats the historic imprisonment of King Christjern II in Sønderborg Castle. In many ways this short play ranks among Andersen's most interesting theatrical productions; in his critique as dramaturge Heiberg praised the work for its originality and inventiveness—causing Edvard Collin to remark: 'Anonymity already begins to have its interesting sides.'64

Dreams of the King is based on Samsøe's eighteenth-century historical tragedy, Dyveke, and on Andersen's own youthful studies of Christjern II conducted in connection with an unfinished historical novel.65 The play depicts, by means of a 'flashback technique' which was effectively supported in production by Henrik Rung's dramatic music, Christjern's dreams of his mistress Dyveke, whom he meets in Bergen and subsequently allows to be poisoned in Copenhagen. The play's national-historical subject, verse treatment, and poetic-psychological contrast between the realms of fantasy and reality all make it a typical representative of the genre of romantic drama. The critical debate which greeted the production became essentially an aesthetic discussion of 'dramatic rules'; critics of the play's romanticism opposed its 'lack of dramatic action' and its violation of correct classical versification through an overabundance of caesura and hiatus.66 It was Heiberg, meanwhile, who, in a brilliant review in his Intelligensblade (1 March 1844), cut through the foggy theoretical discussion to demonstrate the effective theatricality of the play's situation, and the visually striking manner in which the dreams become a part of reality. The scenic treatment of these dream transitions, foreshadowing more modern techniques, comprises the essential core of Dreams of the King as theatre.

The Blossom of Happiness / Lykkens Blomst, which appeared the following year and which Andersen designated a 'fairy-tale comedy,' similarly transfers the main character to two dream situations, thereby poetically contrasting the realms of fantasy and reality. Although the basic tones of Dreams of the King and The Blossom of Happiness are very different, the subject matter of the latter play is again national-historical. Henrik, a forester, 'becomes,' by means of an elf's magic pearls, first the eighteenth-century Danish poet Johannes Ewald and next the mediaeval Prince Buris at the castle of King Waldemar. However, once he discovers that 'wishing will make it so' and experiences the terrible sorrows of the poet and the torments of the prince, the forester of Andersen's fable is happy to find that true happiness—the 'blessed peace of mind' of the wise Alidor in Cendrillon—is to be sought in his humble cottage together with his little family.

If the moral of the play was thus reminiscent of Andersen's own fairy-tales, its immediate theatrical model was most probably Heiberg's historical dream-play, Day of the Seven Sleepers / Syvsoverdag, first produced in 1840. In his role as the Royal Theatre's consultant, Heiberg charged (unjustly) that The Blossom of Happiness was a direct copy of the three spheres in his own play, the realistic as represented by Henrik and his wife Johanna, the fantastic as represented by the mischievous elf and the good fairy Kirsten Piil, and the ideal, depicted in the worlds of Johannes Ewald and King Waldemar. Heiberg found Andersen's unusual treatment of the material, particularly the fact that Henrik actually becomes Ewald and Prince Buris, 'absurd.'67 Andersen studied and followed historical reality closely in the Ewald episode, and the actor who played the poet tried to achieve 'a portrait likeness,' thereby discarding the character of Henrik entirely.68

Although the play was finally accepted in spite of Heiberg's hostile attitude, the difficulties were thereby far from being overcome. Andersen's utter disregard for 'rules' of form and propriety distressed his contemporaries greatly. Bournonville refused on the grounds of decorum to choreograph a scene in which Kirsten, Prince Buris's sweetheart, is forced to dance herself to death.69 Johanne Luise Heiberg temperamentally turned down the part of Kirsten; 'Fru Heiberg suggests that Kirsten's role be given to a dancer and not to her,' wrote Andersen in his diary on 10 Oct. 1844. 'In a furious rage! Would like to leave Denmark forever!' Finally, although the acting proved to be a strong point in the Royal Theatre's production in February 1845, the staging of the demanding poetic contrasts and transitions in this fantasy was beset by severe technical problems in performance.70 'The entire structure [of the play] conflicts with the existing and customary dramatic rules governing an ordinary (eg, Scribean) play,' declared the unimaginative reviewer for Dansk Album (23 Feb. 1845). While the play 'reveals a poetic genius' and 'a truly brilliant eye for scenic effect,' this critic advised Andersen to concentrate on a stricter and more 'well-made' construction.

In contrast to other prominent Danish authors such as Heiberg or Henrik Hertz, H.C. Andersen was immediately responsive when Casino Theatre, the first private theatre authorized in Copenhagen, opened in 1848 under the direction of W.H. Lange. Andersen was attracted from the outset by the idea of a smaller, popular theatre, and at Casino he found consolation for the unresponsiveness and high-handed treatment he was often forced to endure at the Royal Theatre. He became Casino's unofficial house dramatist, and for a time also functioned as its literary consultant and served on the board of directors. During the early 1850s he achieved considerable fame as a playwright at Casino with a series of fairy-tale fantasies similar in form to The Blossom of Happiness. His success in turn attracted other established dramatists to the new popular theatre and helped greatly to increase its prestige.

Following the production, five months after Casino's opening, of Andersen's one-act adaptation of Warin and Lefevre's Une chambre à deux lits, called A Night in Roskilde / En Nat i Roskilde, he turned for inspiration to the type of popular fairy-tale play perfected by the Austrian actor and dramatist Ferdinand Raimund, whose fantasies he later recommended for careful study to the young director Henrik Ibsen during his visit to Copenhagen in 1852.71 During his first trip to Vienna in 1834 Andersen had had an opportunity to see the special Viennese Zauberpossen at first hand. He was particularly enthusiastic about Karl Meisl's Das Gespenst auf der Bastei, which he saw at the Theater an der Wien on 2 July, noting in his diary that 'the whole light fantastic humour delighted me,' especially Johann Nestroy as the ghost 'who very humorously haunts the Bastei.'72 In 1838 Andersen tried unsuccessfully to secure a production at the Royal Theatre for his rather undistinguished translation of Der Verschwender, Raimund's saga of a reckless spendthrift. At Casino, however, he succeeded in capturing the unique style and flavour of the Viennese fairy-tale comedy. 'The talent which the world acknowledges in me as an author of fairy-tales must surely also bear some fruit in this direction,' he reasoned.73 His prediction proved correct. His fairy-tale fantasy More than Pearls and Gold / Meer end Perler og Guld, produced for the first time at Casino on 3 October 1849, played to a succession of capacity audiences in the 2500-seat playhouse and enjoyed no fewer than 162 performances in the repertory until 1888. The play is an adaptation of Raimund's Der Diamant des Geisterkönigs, the story of a young man promised a statue of diamond if he can find a girl who has never told a lie. The technique is pure Raimund, presenting a fantastic mixture of realistic scenes from contemporary life and frankly unreal, supernatural situations in order to demonstrate the worth of good, honest, simple integrity. A sincere and honest girl is 'the finest diamond,' worth 'more than pearls and gold.' To Raimund's play Andersen added ideas from The Arabian Nights and a piquantly localized Copenhagen flavour. The audience was treated to a stream of topical details woven into the action: Tivoli with Lumbye's popular orchestra, the amazing wonders of the new railroad to Roskilde, a balloon ascent, the newly formed Parliament, and even Andersen's publisher were mentioned. …

In concluding his review of More than Pearls and Gold, the novelist and critic M.A. Goldschmidt remarked on Raimund's 'flirtation' with the notion of fantastic wealth: 'Many a spectator of such a folk-comedy perhaps goes home to his simple parlor and finds it poorer than before, is even more dissatisfied with life than before going to the theatre. We believe that H.C. Andersen, when he creates an original play, will offer the public healthier nourishment for its imagination.'75 The play to which Goldschmidt alluded was Ole Shuteye / ole Lukøie, which appeared at Casino five months later and became Andersen's most solid success in the genre of fairy-tale fantasy. It is based on one of his own fairy-tale characters, Ole Shuteye, the Nordic sandman or god of sleep. Its moral is that implied in Goldschmidt's remark and dramatized by Raimund in, for example, Der Bauer als Millionär—'health, good humour, and peace of mind' are worth more than the world's riches. The method used to demonstrate this optimistic message was, of course, the technique of the Viennese Zauberpossen—the free intermingling of topical reality and supernatural fantasy—presented with calculated naïveté and witty dialogue.

The specific literary influences in Ole Shuteye are many.76 Raimund and Andersen's own fairy-tales have been mentioned. The basic dream structure of the play is clearly related to the framework of the powerful Der Traum, ein Leben by the Viennese dramatist Franz Grillparzer, a close friend of Andersen. In Der Traum, the Eastern hero dreams in such a way that his real life is influenced by what he has experienced when asleep. In Ole Shuteye, Christian, the honest but discontented chimney-sweep, wishfully dreams of acquiring limitless wealth—a dangerous fantasy in the fairy-tale genre! On Østergade in Copenhagen Christian encounters, in the dream which forms the play-within-the-play, the ghost of a vagabond 'dressed all in white with white cane and white cigar,' who allows the chimney-sweep the traditional three wishes. The genealogy of the figure in white is not difficult to discern: the very same character haunted the Bastei, the favourite promenade in old Vienna, in Meisl's Das Gespenst auf der Bastei, which Andersen had seen sixteen years earlier at the Theater an der Wien. Finally, Christian's plight closely resembles that of the charcoal-burner Peter Munk in Wilhelm Hauff's popular fairy-tale, Das kalte Herz. Both young heroes relinquish their hearts to the powers of evil in order to attain riches; the evil junk-dealer Blake replaces Christian's heartbeat with the tick of a costly gold watch. The ultimate moral of Hauff's tale is fully equivalent to the gospel of Ole Shuteye: 'Es ist doch besser, zufrieden sein mit wenigem, als Gold und Güter haben, und ein kaltes Herz' [Far better to be satisfied with little, than to have gold and goods and a cold heart].77

In the Viennese Zauberpossen the machinist was the dramatist's closest collaborator, and thus in Ole Shuteye spectacular theatricality played a major role. The audience was treated to surprising scene changes, lavish dance numbers, sudden transformations, and, not least, a scene of black magic in the second-hand shop of the wicked Blake, in which the furniture danced, portraits moved, and the fireiron performed pirouettes! Although no production records have survived, Andersen found that his spectacular fantasy was staged 'as properly as possible' on the 'small, narrow, oppressive stage at Casino.'78

Least successful of Andersen's fairy-tale fantasies was his one-act dramatization of another of his own tales, Mother Elder / Hyldemoer. Its production at Casino in December 1851 convinced him that most Danes had 'little appreciation for the fantastic,' preferring 'to nourish themselves honestly on wretched dramatic recipes right out of the cookbook.'79 Conservative critics found it difficult to accept Andersen's loosely structured and frankly impressionistic fantasy. 'The play lacks nearly all the conditions for being called a drama,' asserted Berlingske Tidende (2 Dec. 1851). 'Instead of a plot, the author gives us a series of isolated scenes which, since they lack all inherent connection, he has found necessary to paste together by means of "Phantasus," who at every turn must support poet and public with opinions and explanations.'


In marked contrast to the complexities of his fairy-tale fantasies, Andersen's charming short comedy, The New Maternity Ward / Den nye Barselstue, provided the Royal Theatre with an uncomplicated and immediate success when first performed there anonymously in March 1845. The popularity of Andersen's best-known play has also been permanent, and to date it has been given a total of 116 performances in the Royal Theatre repertory. The inspiration for this comedy was undoubtedly a capricious little publication by Søren Kierkegaard entitled Foreword / Forord, which had appeared the previous June and which suggested that someone should write a new, literary version of Holberg's classic comedy, The Maternity Ward / Barselstuen.80 Hence Andersen's comedy is a 'new' Maternity Ward in literary terms, written in the classical manner and presenting a cavalcade of amusing caricatures from the Copenhagen of Christian VIII. Its action follows Holberg's model. Doctor Wendel returns home after many years in America to find that his old friend Jespersen has just had a great success as the author of a comedy called Love. A group of foolish visitors therefore flocks to the 'maternity ward'—Jespersen's study—to pay homage to the new 'child.' Unlike Holberg's play, however, Jespersen is ironically not the father of the child, and it rapidly emerges that Doctor Wendel himself wrote the play as a poem of unrequited love for Jespersen's sister Christine, and gave it to his friend before going away. However, to the 'poet's' relief Wendel agrees to keep the secret, the latter decides to renew his suit to Christine, and the curtain falls on an ovation by the guests for the chastened Jespersen. If several of the comic portraits and coups de theâtre, such as Christine's opening speech about the guest list, were patterned directly on Holberg's play,. Andersen's satire nevertheless had a sharp topical and contemporary edge. 'Taken from raw reality' was Heiberg's phrase, but this fact by no means hampered its sweeping popularity as he had implied it would.81 The play's piquant salon tone represented a particular forte of the Royal Theatre personnel, led by its dominant spirit and chief artist Johanne Luise Heiberg, and the comic character portraits in the classical tradition afforded rewarding acting material.

Andersen's attempt a year later to reduplicate the witty tone, comic characterizations, and 'mistaken parenthood' intrigue of The New Maternity Ward in a comedy entitled Herr Rasmussen led, however, to his most resounding failure as a dramatist. Herr Rasmussen received a single, anonymous performance, after which it was, for very good reason, banished from the repertoire, ignored in Andersen's autobiography, and expunged from his collected works.82 Reviews of the debacle are short and to the point; 'this evening the audience in the Royal Theatre was obliged to hiss a new play off the stage,' wrote the critic for Kjøbenhavnsposten (20 March 1846), 'which would never have been put on the stage if the Royal Theatre management was not—the Royal Theatre management.' It is no surprise to find that production records for this play are few and meagre. 'Everything functioned in the proper order. The play was completely hissed off,' recorded the Theatre's Regiejournal tersely.83

Apart from his libretti for Wedding at Lake Como and The Nix, and the short prologue play The Bulwark of Art / Kunstens Dannevirke, a patriotic panegyric of Danish arts and letters commissioned for the Royal Theatre centennial on 18 December 1848, eighteen years passed after Herr Rasmussen before Andersen was represented by another new play at the theatre on Kongens Nytorv. This was the romantic comedy He is not well-born / Han er ikke født, which was produced in April 1864. In that year the attention of Andersen and of the Danish nation was focussed on the war with Germany in Slesvig-Holstein rather than on the stage of the national theatre. Under the circumstances, however, the production was relatively successful, due largely to the acting of romantic idol Michael Wiehe, whose tragic death in October put an end to further performances of the play. Although he found the plot of this comedy 'very slender,' Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson regarded He is not well-born as 'a delightful little work,' written with 'elegance and psychological, adept refinement.'84

The play contrasts the nobility of blood, of money, and of intellect, a contrast effectively conveyed in the dialogue and the characterization. Gathered within a rather loose framework of mistaken parenthood, a gallery of amusing character portraits surrounds the two lovers, Frederik and Elisabeth. The topicality of this romantic comedy lent itself of effective realization on the stage. Particularly the caricature of a sensitive and temperamental poet named Kluhd (Rag), author of an 'apocalyptic comedy in nine acts' entitled Death and Damnation, was drawn by Andersen with fine self-irony; 'they shall be all rotting in the ground when I am ripe fruit on the public tongue!' cries the vexed Kluhd vindictively, and when told that the company was concerned after he had rushed out in a rage he strikes an injured pose which epitomizes the Andersen whimsy: 'Let them worry! Let them torment themselves! Have they dragged for me in the canals?'

By this time Andersen's world renown had at last won him immunity from the vituperous domestic criticism that had previously dogged his steps as a dramatist. 'The public has realized,' wrote critic Erik Bøgh in Folkets Avis (29 April 1964), 'that although [Andersen] has never succeeded in forming a work for the stage according to the accepted rules of the art, he is a far greater poet than someone possessing the most complete talent for dramatic construction, and when he leaves his limitless realm in the world of the fairy-tale to visit the narrow stage with the slanting floor, upon which each step must be measured, he should be considered as a guest who brings rich gifts from another land, where art makes other demands.' In the eyes of the younger critics representing a new generation, Andersen's genius had already passed into legend. Yet their praise of his 'innocent—satirical, naïve-ingenious dialogue' tends somewhat to neglect his insights as a dramatist and the purely theatrical merits of his later comedies.

When the Spaniards were here / Da Spanierne var her, Andersen's last play, was a romantic comedy produced in April 1865 and written with his customary awareness of contemporary theatrical taste. Based on a rewriting of his vaudeville Parting and Meeting, the popular historical theme of the Spanish troops stationed in Odense in 1808 provided the scenic milieu. 'His picture has a large and brilliant ornamentation,' remarked the reviewer for Berlingske Tidende (7 April 1865), 'conveyed through scenic effect, the use of music, and the illumination of the spoken word. The scene is set in Middelfart and southern Jutland … the spectator has the Great Belt before him, where British warships cruise.' Andersen's diary entries for 15 and 16 June 1864 indicate that historical studies were made for the play, and the contemporary interest in historical 'accuracy' was also the basis for the rather pedantic objection, raised by the critic for Tilskueren (9 April 1865), that the Marseillaise heard at the end of the play had in reality been forbidden under Napoleon's emperorship from 1804 to 1814.

The Spanish element in this scenic environment was, however, projected through the ear rather than the eye: the sound of Spanish songs and castanets is heard but the Spaniards themselves are never shown, with the exception of three children dressed in uniform who appear at the close of the first scene. Unlike Francesco in Parting and Meeting, Hermania's Spanish soldier, Don Juan de Molina, never actually appears on stage; only his serenades are heard in the distance. Against this dim, idealized outline of the Spanish soldier, the character of the strong-willed and spirited Hermania stands out in yet bolder relief to dominate the action. Her attraction to and pursuit of the unseen Spanish lover assumes an added dimension and becomes in the play a flight towards a romanticized ideal which echoes the richest strains in Andersen's art:

I need to cross the rolling water! I have the swan's nature—I won't stay in this stagnant pond, nice enough for geese and ducks to swim in.85

Hence the sharply etched character portraits, the love affairs, happy or otherwise, the intrigues of mistaken parenthood, the fairy-tale transformations, and the quests for a romantic ideal which pervade Andersen's dramaturgy received expression in a wide variety of styles and an assortment of dramatic forms that included vaudeville, opera, singspiel, romantic drama, fairy-tale fantasy, and comedy. This chapter [in The Plays of H. C. Andersen] has tried to suggest some of the more significant influences on Andersen's plays—the Heiberg vaudeville, Walter Scott romanticism, exoticism, Danish history, and folk material. In each of the genres he attempted, he registered popular successes—The Invisible Man, The Mulatto, Dreams of the King, Little Kirsten, Ole Shuteye, and The New Maternity Ward, to mention the more obvious examples—although the myth of his totally fruitless career as a playwright prevails, nourished no doubt by his own misleading accounts. In reality, Andersen's plays were generally written with an acute awareness of the practical theatre of his time and a concrete image of that theatre constantly in mind. As such, they are remarkably informative reflections of the nineteenth-century theatrical context, the interplay of styles, methods, conventions, and techniques in staging, costuming, and acting which preceded the emergence of naturalism.


1 Søren Kierkegaard, Samlede Værker, XIV (Copenhagen 1963), 118

2Mit Livs Eventyr, 1, 215

3Ibid., 218

4 See H. Topsøe-Jensen, H.C. Andersen og andre Studier [Odense 1966], p. 35

5 The play is unpublished; the manuscript is in the Royal Library, Collinske Samling 18, 7, with corrections by Andersen's tutor.

6 E. Collin, H.C. Andersen [og det Collinske Huns, (Copenhagen 1882)], p. xv

7 See Cai M. Woel's facsimile edition of Gjenfærdet ved Palnatokes Grav (Copenhagen 1940)


12 Andersen, Samlede Skrifter, XII, 6

13 [H. Topsøe-Jensen (ed.),] H.C. Andersens Levnedsbog [1805-1831 (Copenhagen 1962)], p. 190

14 Loose sheet in the collection 'Det Kgl. Teater: Censurer 1821-29' (Rigsarkivet)

15 The reference is to Samlede Skrifter, XII, 14: 'She sits often in a corner, Humming me a song by Bay,' ie, composer Rudolph Bay (1791-1856).

16 [Thomas] Overskou, 'Johan Ludvig Heiberg og den danske Vaudeville,' Danmarks ill. Almanak for 1861, 90

17 [C.St.A.] Bille and [N.] Bøgh, Breve fra H.C. Andersen [(Copenhagen 1878) 1, 89; cf Mit Livs Eventyr, 1, 109

18 See Heiberg's letter to Jonas Collin dated 22 Nov. 1833 in Collin, H.C. Andersen, pp. 215-21; cf Bille and Bøgh, Breve til H.C. Andersen [(Copenhagen 1877)], pp. 109-10, and [H.] Topsøe-Jensen, Brevveksling med Jonas Collin d. Ældre [(Copenhagen 1945)], 1, 99-100

19 The reader's report is reproduced in G. Hetsch, H.C. Andersen og Musikken [(Copenhagen 1930)], pp. 33-7

20Samlede Skrifter, XI, 192. [B.] Jensen, 'H.C. Andersens dramatiske Digtning og det moderne Teater,' [Tilskueren XLIV (August 1927), 120-9] has presented a good evaluation of this vaudeville, to which Rostand's Les Romanesques (better known as The Fantasticks) bears some resemblances.

21 See [J.L.] Heiberg, Prosaiske Skrifter [(Copenhagen 1861-2)], VII, 287-90

22 4 July 1842, Collinske Samling 7, 1

23Mit Livs Eventyr, 1, 219


31 Collin, H.C. Andersen, p. 218, and Hetsch, H.C. Andersen, pp. 50-1

32Samlede Skrifter, XI, 128-9

33 Topsøe-Jensen, Brevveksling med Jonas Collin, 1, 185


56Mit Livs Eventyr, 1, 274

57 Overskou, Den danske Skueplads, [i dens Historie (Copenhagen 1854-76)] v, 405

58Mit Livs Eventyr, 1, 219

59 This provoked a hefty debate on originality in Fædrelandet (16 Feb. 1840); see P. Høybye, 'H.C. Andersen og Frankrig,' Anderseniana, ser. 2, 11 (1951-4), 146-7

60Fædrelandet, 28 Dec. 1840

61 Topsøe-Jensen, Omkring Levnedsbogen, [(Copenhagen 1943)] p. 216

62Ibid., p. 217

63 Two and a half weeks before the actual reading rehearsal on 8 Oct.; see Andersen's letter of 16 Sept. in Topsøe-Jenson, HCA og Henriette Wulff, [(Odense 1954-60)] 1, 276, and his diary for 20 Sept. Heiberg was dramatic consultant for the Royal Theatre and also led the reading of new scripts for the actors. See [M.] Borup, Johan Ludvig Heiberg, [(Copenhagen 1947-49)] II, 163-4

64 Bille and Bøgh, Breve til H.C. Andersen, p. 93

65 Cf [T.] Høeg, H.C. Andersens Ungdom, [(Copenhagen 1934)] pp. 271-304

66 For the various viewpoints see Kjøbenhavnsposten (15 Feb 1844), Berlingske Tidende (15 Feb.), Fædrelandet (17 Feb.), Journal for Litteratur og Kunst (1844), p. 129, and Ny Portefeuille for 1844, I, 187

67 Heiberg's hostile report is reprinted in Topsøe-Jensen, Brevveksling med Edvard og Henriette Collin, [(Copenhagen 1933-37)] v, 116-17. For Andersen's description of the production of Day of the Seven Sleepers see Topsøe-Jensen, H.C. Andersen og H. Wulff, I, 274

68Dansk Album, 23 Feb. 1845. For the Ewald episode Andersen studied F.C. Olsen's 'Digteren Johannes Ewalds Liv og Forholdene i Aarene 1774-77,' published in 1835 in Kjøbenhavns flyvende Post.

69 Bille and Bøgh, Breve til H.C. Andersen, p. 43

70Berlingske Tidende, 17 Feb. 1845

71 [Robert] Neiiendam, Gennem mange Aar, [(Copenhagen 1950)] p. 99

72 Topsøe-Jensen, H.C. Andersen og andre Studier, p. 169

73Mit Livs Eventyr, II, 111-12


75Nord og Syd, I (1849), 411

76 Topsøe-Jensen presents a perceptive analysis of this play in H.C. Andersen og andre Studier, pp. 153-72.

77Wilhelm Hauffs sämtliche Werke in sechs Bänden (Stuttgart: Cottasche Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, nd), VI, 322

78Mit Livs Eventyr, II, 112

79Ibid., 144

80 [F.J.] Billeskov Jansen, Danmarks Digtekunst [(Copenhagen 1947-58)], III, 195

81 Heiberg's official report appears in Collin, H.C. Andersen, p. 371.

82 Edvard Agerholm first edited the play, with a short introduction describing its bizarre history, in 1913. It might be noted that Andersen earned only 70 Rdl. for his labours (Theaterkassens Regnskaber, 7 April 1846, Rigsarkivet).

83Regiejournal Jan. 1837-April 1848, 16 March 1846 (Royal Theatre library)

84 Cf Bille and Bøgh, Breve til H.C. Andersen, p. 637

85Samlede Skrifter, XXXII, 46

Hans Mayer (essay date 1975)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4108

SOURCE: "Alternatives in the Nineteenth Century," in Outsiders: A Study in Life and Letters, translated by Denis M. Sweet, MIT Press, 1982, pp. 191-222.

[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1975, Mayer discusses Andersen's outsider status and sexual orientation as revealed in his novel Only a Fiddler and in his fairy tales.]

In chapter 7 of The Story of My Life,1 which deals with the period 1835-1837, Hans Christian Andersen reports a curious incident in his relations with Søren Kierkegaard. Andersen, born in 1805, was in his thirties. Kierkegaard, of the generation of 1813 along with Georg Büchner, Hebbel, and Richard Wagner, was still a student at the time, but he knew all manner of people in Copenhagen, among them the controversial Andersen, a child of poverty from the island of Fyn. Andersen had just published his third novel: The Improvisatore and O. T. were now followed by Only a Fiddler. This third novel (1837) in as many years was well known in Copenhagen to be filled with autobiographical detail.

Andersen reports the incident, looking back, of course, knowing exactly what had become of Kierkegaard or at least what had become of him in the eyes of the official circles of Danish church and crown. He says that his novel about the gifted and despised fiddler "made a strong impression for a short time on one of our country's young and highly gifted men, Søren Kierkegaard. Meeting him in the street, he told me that he would write a review of my book and that I should be more satisfied with that than I had been with the earlier, because, he said, they had misunderstood me!"2

Then some time went by, and Kierkegaard came to read the book anew, this time in a far less favorable light. "I must almost believe that the more seriously he examined the story, the more faults he found, and when the critique appeared it did not please me at all. It came out as a whole book, the first, I believe that Kierkegaard has written; and because of the Hegelian heaviness in the expression, it was very difficult to read, and people said in fun that only Kierkegaard and Andersen had read it through."

There is something of a patronizing tone when he then remarks of this work that it taught him he was no poet but himself a poetical figure that at some later date a real writer would be able to employ. In Andersen's constant striving to make no enemies, he provides the anecdote with a conciliatory finish: "Since that time I have had a better understanding with this author, who has always met me with kindness and discernment."

Did Andersen for a moment comprehend that Kierkegaard's book (it was, indeed, his first)3 negated the foundations of his creative work by exposing and denouncing as lies its kind of transformation of a wretched life into edifying literature? One doubts it. Andersen scarcely possessed the intellectual and literary requisites for understanding the full scope of Kierkegaard's work, which was in fact difficult, if not ponderous, and studded with classical citations. What he did grasp was that this young philosopher took him and his novel seriously only as a symptom of other matters and disgustedly rejected the work as a poetic creation.

The success of the novel Only a Fiddler was, indeed, symptomatic for that era of Weltschmerz. Otherwise it would be incomprehensible how such a prescient writer and connoisseur of literature as Robert Schumann could write Andersen on October 1, 1842, that the Fiddler was charming, certainly the best thing in modern literature, and could only be compared to Immermann.4

Andersen's critics centering around Johan Ludvig Heiberg in Copenhagen, with whom Kierkegaard had associated himself, rejected the literary parvenu: the man without language and a solid education. Their judgment derived from bourgeois vanity. In Kierkegaard's Andersen polemic this provincial arrogance is entirely ignored. For him a novel likeOnly a Fiddler represented an attempt by a writer to lie both to himself and the world—in an edifying and profitable way at that—that capitulation is fate, that failure to meet responsibilities is merely a bit of ill luck. Kierkegaard's work ("From the Papers of One Still Living. Published against His Will by S. Kierkegaard. About H. C. Andersen as a Novelist, with Special Reference to His Latest Work, Only a Fiddler") was a moral confrontation, not a literary one. Whoever sits down to read it today with Andersen's biography in mind finds all the moments already sketched out that make the case of Hans Christian Andersen an exemplary one: his attempt with the aid of seeming revelations to conceal the essential. And by that means he did, quite in fact, make himself over into a poetic figure time and time again: as the improvisatore lacking substance; as the musical genius doomed by circumstance; as the ugly duckling; as the little mermaid; as a miscast tin soldier. What did not quite succeed in the earlier novels came to life in the fairytales. It is not certain whether Kierkegaard recognized that. Nonetheless Kierkegaard's early criticism of an exemplary case of prevarication by means of literature is to this day the best means we have of unraveling Andersen and the make-believe constructions of his biographers.

This son of a mentally disabled shoemaker and an uneducated washerwoman seems all too willing to bare his insides. As the portraitist of his poverty and ugliness and the playstuff of his dreams, Andersen takes pleasure in portraying his defeats. How inclined he is to cry the tears of yesteryear all over again in the retelling! At the last, even, he makes allusions to the feminine elements of his nature. Writing of his lifetime friendship with Edvard Collin in "The Fairytale of My Life," ["Das Märchen meines Lebens," the commentary that Andersen wrote for the German edition of his writings (translator's note).], he says that "he was the antagonist to my almost girlish nature." When Collin decided to marry, Andersen wrote his famous fairytale, "The Story of the Little Mermaid." Nothing had ever moved him more in writing, he confessed later. Here he had not only dared to portray himself as outsider, but as a sexual outsider. Even a palliative biographer like Signe Toksvig, who tends to leave such matters undisclosed, can find no way to avoid the subject: "the little mermaid was himself—in her attempt to win the distant beloved mortal prince, though she was handicapped in every way; a foundling, a slave, an outsider…. She lost the prince, saw him wed another…. Rather a confession of weakness it was, this feminizing of himself."5

It was not a confession of weakness but one of the few documents of steadfast honesty, almost of an irrepressible urge to confess. Perhaps it was a mark of Andersen's true genius that he early recognized that his attempt to ward off scandal by dredging up everything in his past—except his revulsion at the female body and his love for young men—a tissue woven of lies and self-deception, could only endanger his life as a writer. That was exactly what Kierkegaard had said. The upshot was that Andersen created in his fairy stories the possibility of speaking about himself with a minimum of subterfuge; he had in them the opportunity to intimate that his loneliness was not the result of poverty, ugliness, low birth, lack of schooling, or even a self-isolating poetic genius, but that it had to do with an existential outsiderdom. Beings from another element, miscast, a swan among the ducks in the lake.

Andersen successfully attained a state of complete conformity in the nineteenth-century bourgeois social order. He can be compared only with the Jewish outsider Benjamin Disraeli in that. Toward the end of his life he had succeeded in establishing for public consumption a monumental stylization of his life—the authorized version, so to speak. Andersen was the author of fairytales, consequently a great friend of children, something that he actually was not. During his last illness, when he was concerned with plans for a monument to be erected in his honor, he forbade the addition of children's figures around his own. Even close friends took his tragicomic heart-throbbing intimations of love for women seriously, his feigned courting of Riborg Voigt or Louise Collin, which was wont to begin as soon as Andersen knew his lady was firmly committed to someone else. This women's courtier remained himself a virgin, as he is said to have confided in old age to a friend and physician. What was meant was a virgin in his relationships with women.

For the rest, this Danish child of poverty had discovered the possibilities of a double life. In Andersen it becomes a sundering of his existence into the moral and inconspicuous mode of life at home on the isle of Seeland, and the incessant erotic tours abroad of one always yearning to be on the move. And for Andersen too, as for Winckelmann, Platen, Tchaikovsky of the "Capriccio italien," the Englishmen who pilgrimage to Capri, the world of Italy becomes the landscape of happiness. Yet with the strange difference manifested in Andersen's letters, that he can see his fulfillment in the South only as a kind of substitute for the missing union with his friends in Denmark. Much complaint in his oftentimes whining letters home is stylized and subterfuge, meant to distract from the delights of being away. Behind his begging for letters, nonetheless, especially from Edvard Collin, there is a forlorn tornness seeking to unite the frustrating life in Denmark with the happiness of the South.

Andersen seems never to have been able to allay fears of discovery and scandal once he had embarked on his double life. From that comes his restless collecting of unimpeachable acquaintances and protectors, from ruling monarchs on down, which in the case of an actual scandal, as later was to be demonstrated with Oscar Wilde and Philipp, Prince of Eulenburg, would have been unavailing, perhaps even detrimental. Besides, he seems to have lived in a panicky anxiety of being taken for what he was, either by other homosexuals who were less constrained by total conformity or by strangers whom he was bound to fear as malicious spies. The sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen belonged to the first group, who received Andersen, his young fellow countryman (as Andersen reports in a self-congratulatory manner), amid a round of hugs and kisses and very likely acquainted him with bohemian Rome. In his letters, however, you feel how Andersen, though clearly flattered by his acquaintance of such a celebrity, nonetheless carefully shuns any deeper community. His coldness is embarrassing in an obituary he wrote for a Hamburg newspaper the night after Thorvaldsen's sudden death during a theater performance. Andersen and others had had dinner with him and then accompanied him to the theater before going off on their own. He died there of a heart attack. Andersen described this last meeting coldly, almost as if relieved. It was not a friend who wrote the obituary notice.

It is curious that in his autobiography, among the gigantic collection of celebrities who were all claimed as his friends, above all in Paris although he scarcely comprehended French, there is to be found listed the name of Heinrich Heine. In his letters home, on the other hand, he reports how he anxiously guarded himself against Heine's visits. For what reason? Did he fear the Jewish outsider? Scarcely. More likely he feared the polemicist and adversary of Count Platen. Andersen was acquainted with Heine's Baths of Lucca.

The older he got, the less he was inclined to play the poor, rejected suitor forever chasing after the favors of women. More and more, young men begin to people his travel accounts; he cannot suppress the happiness they bring. In Madrid a festive dinner is given in his honor. "One of my young friends from Manila," is there who "seems to have taken quite a fancy to me."6

Even in his correspondence with H. E. Scudder, his American publisher, he feels obliged to mention the young friend he found in Vienna; what makes this acquaintance all the more precious is that he is the son of the novelist Bulwer, Lord Lytton.7 On his sixty-fifth birthday he writes Scudder that he enjoys most the company of young people. This contradicts, of course, all the perorations of friendship in his letters to old friends, particularly old bosom friends like Signe Lässö, the mother of one of his boyhood chums, but is fully credible.

His Danish contemporaries were not deceived. The vehement attacks that Andersen experienced at the outset of his career were only mitigated by the worldwide fame of the fairytale composer; the tone of displeasure at so much stylization of life—stylization whereby the misogynist gives himself to appear as a praiser of women, the avaricious old man as a goodly benefactor, the egotistical hypochondriac as a friend of children—was always in the background. That he probably suffered a nervous shock as a boy in Rector Meisling's house in Copenhagen where he was supposed to make up for his missed schooling, a shock after repeated attempts to seduce him on the part of the mistress of the house and the parlor maid, is mentioned even in Elith Reumert's palliative biography, Hans Andersen the Man.8

Only with this in mind does it make any sense that when, in his older years, the high point of which doubtless was the ceremony making him an honorary citizen of Odense, he who was so much honored, he had an irrational fear before every ceremony that something would go awry. Even before the festival in Odense that concludes The Story of My Life and that he took to be evidence of a guiding providence, as he says at the start of his autobiography, the honored guest seems to have vividly anticipated the trauma of a sudden awakening in the midst of scandal. Signe Toksvig in her Andersen biography asserts that immediately after his "feminine" fairytale of the little mermaid, Andersen wrote a decidedly "masculine" and political fairytale, one of his most successful: "The Emperor's New Clothes."9 But like "The Ugly Duckling," "The Tin Soldier," "The Little Mermaid," this story too deals with the panic of conformity and being different. To be sure, the emperor parades his way amid pomp and honor; one could say he even goes back to Andersen's native Odense where they are going to memorialize him but where someone might suddenly say something, a child perhaps, allowing the truth to slip out so that everything will end in uncircumventable scandal.

In Denmark they awaited his passing away. Immediately thereafter the critic and dramatist Erik Bögh published an essay characterizing the man Andersen,10 the public man Andersen at that, by underscoring the connection between Andersen's "feminine" nature, as Bögh calls it, and his political indifference, indeed even conservative bootlicking. In point of fact, one is flabbergasted reading the innumerable wooing letters from his travels. Whoever takes the trouble to read through this correspondence receives not the slightest inkling that their author was living in a time between two European revolutions, in an epoch when patronage by the ruling nobility meant less and less, when Denmark was twice involved in war with the Germans, which in 1864 led to a national catastrophe and in which several of the writer's close friends lost their lives. That was what Bögh demonstrated in his analysis, precipitating a flood of literature that swept over the seeming favorite and forced the Collin family to realign the memorial. Conformity had failed in the end. It happened as in the "Emperor's New Clothes."

Looking back at Andersen's life and works, at his means of skirting all the conflicts of the time by going over to the side of those who seemed mighty, it seems all of it had been anticipated in Kierkegaard's analysis of 1838. One has to assume that Kierkegaard from the first moment on had divined in that writer a moral and existential phenomenon, not a literary one.

Kierkegaard's main thesis posits that "Andersen's own realness, his own person, takes refuge in poetical works, so much so that one is really tempted in certain moments to view Andersen as a figure that has run off from a group some writer has invented and not yet finished; it is certainly indisputable that Andersen could become a most poetical figure in a story."11 An object, then, not the creative subject of poetry. Yet the poetical figure that becomes delineated for Kierkegaard when reading and contemplating Andersen is that of a liar and self-deceiver.

"In consequence of the ill humor and unhappiness," as Kierkegaard writes in this first book of his, "which he feels in the real world, he seeks in the despondency of his own poetic creations a satisfaction as it were for his own despondency. Exactly like La Fontaine he sits there on that account and cries over his unhappy heroes who must perish, and why? Because Andersen is he who he is. The same joyless struggle that Andersen himself has to battle in life now repeats itself in his poetical works."12 That is a perception of remarkable acuity. Kierkegaard was acquainted with Andersen in those days only as the author of poems, little prose pieces, and three for him unbearable novels. He had yet to make the acquaintance of the fairytale writer. On that account he somewhat condescendingly calls Andersen "an author not disadvantageously known through a fairly significant literary activity."13 Nonetheless he compares him, surprisingly enough, with the fable writer La Fontaine. La Fontaine's heroes, however, over whom he ostensibly laments as he lets them fall to their doom, are above all figures of fable and appear in the form of animals. In a series of lectures on "The Five Temptations of La Fontaine," Jean Giraudoux relates how La Fontaine tried again and again to compete with the successful authors of his day in the lyric and verse epic, always unsuccessfully, until the animals came to him and he transformed himself into their darling and poet.14

Andersen, the author of what one must admit is the scarcely passable novel Only a Fiddler, against whom Kierkegaard mounted his attack, stood at the time at a crossroads—there where a mediocre and prodigious writer after so many lies to himself suddenly resolves to find a poetic form that admits some genuineness and honesty, and who then comes to his own identity as author of the fairytales—exactly as had La Fontaine thanks to the animals in his fables.

How that worked can be seen by comparing Andersen's typical fairytales with his novel about the poor tailor's apprentice and brilliant musician by the name of Christian who pitifully meets his ruin as "only a fiddler."15 This novel is a psychoanalyst's delight. That it was packed with autobiographical detail, even obtrusively so, was known to the reading public throughout Copenhagen, hence Kierkegaard's transferring to the author his conclusions about the figure in the novel. Andersen was generally equated with the fiddler. Yet the novel is constructed as the contrast of two life stories, one male, the other female—the female's rising, yet unhappy, the male's waning, yet subjectively, as Andersen would have it, liberating. It is in the female figure of Naomi that the author has disclosed himself far more than in the fiddler. She is the illegitimate daughter of a Jewish girl and a wild adventurer. Her Jewish blood soon surfaces. She runs off with a gypsy trick rider named Ladislaus, disguises herself as a man, and becomes this virile outsider's lover. She lets herself be chastised with a riding crop, is then taken back to the aristocratic world of her adoptive parents, marries a marquess, and is consumed by desire for her gypsy.

The novelist has rid his Naomi of any and all inhibitions: she lives out what Andersen does not allow himself. Yet her social conformity leads away from her own identity. That identity was to be found in the one episode where social outsiderdom was lived to the fullest, in scandal both enjoyed and provoked. Jewishness, illegitimacy, gypsy life, transvestism. All thrown together without any particular concern for plausibility. Andersen has summed up the phenotypes of outsiderdom. That he identifies himself erotically with Naomi will scarcely escape the modern reader. He composed here the authentic fairytale of his life.

The fiddler Christian is meant, as Andersen later claimed in "The Fairy Tale of My Life" (1847), to exemplify another variation of providence: that of Hans Christian Andersen misfortunate and without protectors. One might also add: without lies and conformity as well.

It was precisely this that embittered Kierkegaard the more he read the mediocre work and the more exactly he came to reflect on it: the equation of unhappiness with fate, genius with failure. The result of that equation is a feeble and immoral complaisance in the conduct of one's life. Kierkegaard was at the time still self-sufficiently Hegelian and conceived genius as action and transformation. This is also the reason he gives no credence to Andersen's assertion that his fiddler Christian is a failed musical genius. "This conclusion of Andersen's," the critic Kierkegaard replies, "contains a basic misunderstanding of the power of genius and its relation to untoward circumstance (for genius is not a little wick of light that goes out in the first wind, but an inferno that the storm only whips on), and is grounded in the fact that Andersen does not show a genius in battle but more nearly a weakling, of whom it is said that he be a genius, and who has in common with genius only the fact that he suffers a couple of unpleasantnesses, to which he in fact succumbs."16

Between Kierkegaard's first reading of the novel and repeated later readings there falls a decisive religious turningpoint. Andersen probably reported correctly that the young student Kierkegaard had at first been filled with enthusiasm for the work and then later came to think (and write) of it in quite a different vein. At any event, this novel of Andersen's of an identity refused became for the reader Kierkegaard the occasion for the finding of an identity. And so Søren Kierkegaard's first book resulted out of it; the ephemeral occasion of Andersen was needed to enable Kierkegaard to speak of Kierkegaard.

Hans Christian Andersen had, after many mendacious attempts, to arrive at his identity as an author not by describing conditions of happiness and unhappiness but conditions of total and incurable outsiderdom—of the little mermaid, the miscast tin soldier, the swan in the duck pond who has to go on living in a pond where swans are not recognized as a higher category. So that scandal always awaits behind the scenes and can be called up by a child who sees the emperor naked….


1 Andersen's letters reveal with dismaying clarity not only the vanity that was the butt of his contemporaries' wit, but also a fawning servility that takes the words of the partner of the moment into its own mouth and presses itself upon high aristocrats, as the grand duke of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, quite without conviction, always eager for equal status. See Hans Christian Andersen's Correspondence, ed. Frederick Crawford (London, 1891).

2 Hans Christian Andersen, The Story of My Life, author's ed. (Boston, 1871), p. 136-7.

3 "Af en endnu Levendes Papirer udgivet mod hans Villie af Søren Kierkegaard. Om Andersen som Romandigter med stadigt hensyn til hans sidste Vörk Kum en Spillemand," Samlede Vaerker, vol. 1 (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1962), p. 11 ff. ["From the Papers of One Still Living. Published against his will by S. Kierkegaard. About Andersen as a novelist with special reference to his last novel Only a Fiddler"] German ed. Søren Kierkegaard, Erstlingsschriften (Düsseldorf: E. Diederichs, 1960), p. 41ff; notes p. 176ff. See Emanuel Hirsch, Kierkegaard-Studien (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann, 1933), p. 13ff.

4Andersen's Correspondence, p. 155.

5 Signe Toksvig, The Life of Hans Christian Andersen (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1934), p. 185.

6 H. C. Andersen, In Spain and a Visit to Portugal, author's ed. (New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1870), p. 199.

7The Andersen-Scudder Letters, ed. Jean Hershold and Waldemar Westergaard (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949), pp. 59, 74.

8 Elith Reumert, Hans Andersen the Man, trans. Jessie Bröchner (London: Methuen, 1927), pp. 47-8.

9 Toksvig, Hans Christian Andersen, p. 186.

10 See the expositions in Reumert, Hans Andersen the Man, p. 15ff.

11 Kierkegaard, Erstlingsschriften, p. 62.

12 Ibid., p. 61.

13 Ibid., p. 55.

14 Jean Giraudoux, Les Cinq tentations de Lafontaine (Paris: Grasset, 1938).

15 An exact analysis of the novel, in connection with Kierkegaard's first publication, is provided in Hirsch's Kierkegaard-Studien, p. 26ff., and in his commentary in Kierkegaard, Erstlingsschriften, p. 177ff.

16 Kierkegaard, ibid., pp. 77-8….

Elias Bredsdorff (essay date 1975)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 16035

SOURCE: "The Range of Andersen's Tales," in Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of His Life and Work, 1805-75, Phaidon, 1975, pp. 308-32.

[In the following essay, Bredsdorff discusses the sources of some of Andersen's tales and proposes a system for grouping the tales.]

Today Andersen's fame rests entirely on his fairy tales and stories. They have been translated into well over a hundred languages and are still being published and republished in millions of copies all over the world; but it is important to realize that when people speak of Andersen's Fairy Tales they are not necessarily speaking of the same tales.

The total number of tales published in Denmark during Andersen's lifetime under the title Eventyr og Historier is 156; but although they have all been translated,1 many are unfamiliar in Denmark, and even fewer are well known abroad.

In the English-speaking world the early tales, those published between 1835 and 1850, are the ones best known. Judging by present-day editions the following thirty appear to be the most popular (the year of publication in Denmark being given in brackets): 'The Tinder Box', 'Little Claus and Big Claus', 'The Princess on the Pea',2 'Little Ida's Flowers', 'Thumbelina',3 'The Travelling Companion' (1835); 'The Little Mermaid', 'The Emperor's New Clothes' (1837); 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier',4 'The Wild Swans' (1838); 'The Garden of Eden', 'The Flying Trunk', 'The Storks' (1839); 'Willie Winkie' (Ole Lukøje),5 'The Swineherd', 'The Buckwheat' (1841); 'The Nightingale', 'The Top and the Ball',6 'The Ugly Duckling' (1843); 'The Fir Tree',7 'The Snow Queen' (1844); 'The Darning Needle', 'The Elf Hill',8 'The Red Shoes', 'The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep', 'The Little Match Girl' (1845); 'The Shadow' (1847); 'The Old House', 'The Happy Family' and 'The Shirt Collar' (1848).

If I were asked to select the sixty tales which I considered most characteristic and representative, I would probably include most of these thirty, but I would certainly not regard them as adequately representative of the many different aspects of Andersen's genius.9

Andersen was a creative writer, not just a collector of folk tales. It is therefore wrong to bracket him, as is often done, with the brothers Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, or with Asbjørnsen and Moe, the two Norwegian collectors of folk tales.

Nevertheless, a few of his tales, especially some of the early ones, were based on traditional Danish folk tales which he had heard as a child in Odense.10 Two months before the publication of his first four tales he wrote to Ingemann: 'I have given a few of the fairy tales I myself used to enjoy as a child and which I believe aren't well known. I have written them completely as I would have told them to a child.'

The inspiration for 'The Tinder Box', which is clearly in this category, appears to have come from two interdependent sources: partly from a Danish folk tale sometimes called 'The Spirit of the Candle', which again is based on the story of 'Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp' in the Arabian Nights, and partly from Adam Oehlenschläger's famous Romantic play Aladdin (1805), a work greatly admired by Andersen, who liked to identify himself with Aladdin as Oehlenschläger saw him: the genius predestined to move along the road from poverty to greatness and fame. In writing the opening story in his first volume of fairy tales Andersen must have had in mind both the crude plot of the folk tale he had heard as a child, and the philosophy of Oehlenschläger's poetic masterpiece; but it was a matter of great importance to him not to appear to be imitating the latter. As Hans Brix puts it: 'In his first tale, "The Tinder Box", he deliberately chooses the Aladdin story in its popular form. The very fact that it is exactly the same theme [as Oehlenschläger's] forced him to be entirely original: not a single detail must bear any resemblance. It is a true contest with Oehlenschläger.'

The three dogs appear to be Andersen's own invention—in the folk tale an 'iron man' (or a 'steel man') appears whenever the hero lights the candle, and the treasures in the cave are guarded by a sleeping troll. But the most important innovation was the style in which the tale was told, a narrative style, which was entirely Andersen's own, simple and straightforward, devoid of all the literary conventions of the time:

Down the country-road a soldier came marching. Left, right! Left, right! He had his knapsack on his back and a sword at his side, for he had been at the war, and now he was on his way home. But then he met an old witch on the road. Oh! she was ugly—her lower lip hung right down on her chest. 'Good evening, soldier,' she said. 'What a nice sword you've got, and what a big knapsack! You're a proper soldier! Now I'll show you how to get as much money as you want.'—'Thank you very much, old witch!' said the soldier.

Little Claus, the hero of 'Little Claus and Big Claus', is another Aladdin character, certainly not a moral hero, but a cunning David who cannot help beating Goliath in the end. Andersen's story was taken from a Danish folk tale called 'Big Brother and Little Brother', recorded in several parts of the country. There are many similarities to the folk tale, but it is also obvious that Andersen has made a number of deliberate changes. Thus in the folk tale Big Brother actually kills Little Brother's grandmother (believing that it is Little Brother he is killing), but Andersen has seen to it that Little Claus's grandmother was already dead when Big Claus 'gave her a great clump on the forehead'. 'The unfaithful wife', a stock character in adult folk tales and fabliaux, did not seem to Andersen to belong to a nursery tale, and so he explains why the farmer's wife had to hide the parish clerk in the chest when her husband returned unexpectedly, by saying: 'the farmer had the strange failing that he never could bear the sight of a parish clerk'—an explanation completely satisfactory to a child.

The nearest known equivalent for 'The Princess on the Pea' is a Swedish tale (related to Tieck's 'Puss in Boots') about a poor girl who goes out into the world accompanied by a cat (in some versions a dog), which advises her to present herself at the royal castle as a princess. Being suspicious the queen puts the alleged princess's sensitivity to the test by secretly placing some small objects (a bean, peas, a piece of straw) under her mattress; but on each occasion the cat (or dog) warns the girl so that next morning she can pretend to have slept very badly, thus proving her delicacy and sensitivity. In the Swedish version, therefore, the heroine wins by cheating, whereas in Andersen's version the heroine proves herself to be a real princess by actually being hypersensitive. 'The Travelling Companion' is based on a Danish folk tale called 'The Dead Man's Help', which contains all the basic features of Andersen's tale. As early as 1829 Andersen had used folk material for a story he called 'The Ghost', and it is interesting to compare it with 'The Travelling Companion'. In 'The Ghost' the language is precious and abounds with hackneyed literary clichés; in 'The Travelling Companion' this has been superseded by a much more directly spoken language—it is possible that Andersen tried out the story on children and found that it did not work in its first form.

In 'The Wild Swans' Andersen again followed a traditional folk tale fairly closely, and in this case he had access to a printed version published in Matthias Winther's Folkeeventyr (1823) (the same theme also occurs in Grimm's 'Die sechs Schwäne'). In a letter dated 5 October 1838 Andersen wrote: 'Please read Matthias Winther's fairy tale of 'The Wild Swans' and tell me whether my rewriting of it is good or bad.' Unlike the folk tale Andersen refrains from inflicting cruel punishment on the villains, who are, in his version, the evil stepmother (a witch) and the archbishop (a kind of Grand Inquisitor). He has superimposed a religious element: at the end Elise is depicted as a saint, saved in the nick of time from being burnt at the stake, and while her eldest brother explains her innocence, 'a perfume as of a million roses spread around, because every faggot from the stake had taken root and put out branches, and a high sweet-smelling hedge stood there with crimson roses. Right at the top was a single flower of the purest white, glittering like a star.'

In an explanatory note to 'The Swineherd' Andersen says that the tale on which it was based contained features, 'which could not decently be retold in the manner in which they were told to me as a child'. The folk tale in question, 'The Proud Maid', is the story of an arrogant girl who rejects her princely suitor, but ends by accepting him when he appears in the guise of a beggar whose possessions she happens to covet. In order to get hold of them she agrees to allow him to spend a night, first in her bed-chamber, and later in her bed. The tale is known internationally in a number of versions, but the part which Shakespeare used in The Taming of the Shrew has been omitted by Andersen, who discarded the happy ending. In 'The Swineherd' the haughty princess, who scorns genuine beauty (the rose and the nightingale), but is prepared to degrade herself by kissing the stranger for the sake of his trivial mechanical gadgets, is eventually banished from her father's kingdom, and the prince, who has come to despise her, rejects her.

Andersen specifically refers to 'The Garden of Eden' as being 'one of the many tales I heard related as a child'; he only wished it had been much longer, he says. The tale on which the first part is based is called 'The Isle of Bliss' and can be traced back to a story by Countess d'Aulnoy (1650-1705). It is about a prince, who loses his way and suddenly finds himself at the home of the four winds and their mother; one of the winds carries him to the beautiful fairy on the Isle of Bliss, where he stays for three centuries without noticing the passage of time; only on his return to his earthly home does it catch up with him. Further inspiration was the dramatic poem Lycksalighetens ö (1824-7) by the Swedish writer P. D. A. Atterbom, and some themes in the Arabian Nights.

'Simple Simon' is a humorous story without any fairy-tale element; it has various ancestors in folk-tale tradition. Simple Simon (by Andersen called Klods-Hans) is a kind of de-sentimentalized male Cinderella, and his two elder brothers, who are 'so clever that—well, the fact is they were too clever by half', correspond to the ugly sisters. While they ride off to propose to the princess on a coal-black and a milk-white horse respectively, Simple Simon rides on his billy-goat. Their useless knowledge does not help them win the princess, who cannot resist Simple Simon and admires his intrepid actions. Some of the objects the hero picked up on his way to the royal castle were such as could not be mentioned in decent company; so Andersen's hero collects less objectionable items, a dead crow, an old clog with the vamp missing, and mud straight out of the ditch. They all come in useful in his conversation with the princess, during which he is never at a loss for an answer.

This is how 'Dad's Always Right' begins:

Now listen! I'm going to tell you a story I heard when I was a boy. Since then the story seems to me to have become nicer every time I've thought about it. You see, stories are like a good many people—they get nicer as they grow older, and that is so pleasant.

The story which Andersen heard as a child is sometimes called 'The Praiseworthy Wife', because it is about a woman who always looks on the best side of her husband's bad bargains. In Andersen's story the husband, a poor Funen farmer, leaves home to sell his horse at the nearby market, but before getting to market he manages to swap the horse for a cow, the cow for a sheep, the sheep for a goose, the goose for a hen, and the hen for a bag of rotten apples. Having followed the folk tale thus far, Andersen then introduces two Englishmen. Now, what, everybody knew about the English was that they were tremendously rich and fond of betting; so on hearing the farmer's story the two Englishmen were immediately prepared to bet a bushel of gold that the farmer's wife will be angry when he returns and tells her about his bargains; but the farmer insists that she will give him a kiss and say: 'Dad's always right!' which is, of course, exactly what she does.

Whereas the above nine tales were based on folk tales Andersen had heard, but (apart from a single case) never read, three of his others have literary sources.

'The Naughty Boy', Andersen's story about Cupid, who shoots his arrows into the hearts of innocent people (including the poet himself), is based, as Andersen openly admits, on a poem by Anacreon.

In his commentary to the 1862 edition of Eventyr og Historier Andersen states that 'The Emperor's New Clothes' is of Spanish origin and mentions Prince don Juan Manuel as the author to whom he is indebted for the idea. Infante don Juan Manuel (1282-c. 1349) is famous for his Libro de Patronio or Conde Lucanor (1328-35), a collection of fifty-one cautionary tales, based on Jewish and Arabic literature. Andersen did not know the Spanish work but had read one of the stories in a German translation entitled 'So ist der Lauf der Welt'. He took the main plot from this, while at the same time giving it a universality which the Spanish version did not have.

The Moorish king of the original has been changed into an emperor, whose empire could be nowhere and anywhere in this world, and the swindlers have been reduced from three to two. But the most important change is in the magic quality of the clothes made by the fraudulent weavers. In the Spanish story they claim that the material is invisible to any man who is not the son of his presumed father; in Andersen's story the swindlers claim that 'the clothes made from their material had the peculiarity of being invisible to anyone who wasn't fit for his post or was hopelessly stupid'. It is this which makes Andersen's story universally applicable, ridiculing the snoberry of people who pretend to understand or appreciate things they do not really understand or appreciate, in order not to be considered ignorant or stupid.

'What's this?' thought the emperor. 'I can't see anything—this is appalling! Am I stupid? Am I not fit to be emperor? This is the most terrible thing that could happen to me…. Oh, it's quite wonderful,' he said to them; 'it has our most gracious approval.' And he gave a satisfied nod, as he looked at the empty loom; he wasn't going to say that he couldn't see anything.

In Andersen's original manuscript the story ends with everybody admiring the emperor's new clothes, the implied moral being that people willingly allow themselves to be deceived. Mundus vult decipi. The final paragraph ran as follows:

'I must put on that suit whenever I walk in a procession or appear before a gathering of people,' said the emperor, and the whole town talked about his wonderful new clothes.

Having sent the manuscript to the printer's Andersen had misgivings about this ending, and a few days later—on 25 May 1837—he wrote to Edvard Collin, who was responsible for the proof-reading:

The story 'The Emperor's New Clothes' ends with the following paragraph: 'I must put on that suit, etc' I want this to be deleted completely and the following inserted instead, as it will give everything a more satirical appearance:

'But he hasn't got anything on!' said a little child.

'Goodness gracious, do you hear what the little innocent says?' cried the father; and the child's remark was whispered from one to the other.

'He hasn't got anything on! There's a little child saying he hasn't got anything on!'

'Well, but he hasn't got anything on!' the people all shouted at last. And the emperor felt most uncomfortable, for it seemed to him that the people were right. But somehow he thought to himself: 'I must go through with it now, procession and all.' And he drew himself up still more proudly, while his chamberlain walked after him carrying the train that wasn't there.

It was this ending—probably added after Andersen had read the original version to a child—which gave Andersen's masterpiece its final touch.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the Rahmenerzählung or 'narrative frame' of 'The Flying Trunk' has been taken, with a few modifications and a complete change of style, from a story about Malek and Princess Shirine in A Thousand and One Days (1711-12) by Pétit de la Croix, which had been translated into Danish. The story within the story, however, is very much Andersen's own.

The remaining 144 tales are entirely his own invention, though this does not, of course, mean that he did not use themes or features from other sources.11

Andersen called his tales Eventyr og Historier, thus making a deliberate distinction between Eventyr (fairy tales, French contes de fées, German Märchen) and Historier (stories), the former with, the latter without a supernatural element in them. Thus 'The Little Mermaid' is a fairy tale, 'The Emperor's New Clothes' a story. But the dividing line is not always quite clear, nor is Andersen always consistent; in spite of its title 'The Story of a Mother', for instance, is not a'story' but a'fairy tale'; 'The Snow Queen' has the sub-title 'A Fairy Tale in Seven Stories'. He first used the term Historier in 1852; until then he had consistently used the term Eventyr. In Mit Livs Eventyr he explains that he had gradually come to regard the word Historier as better covering his tales in their full range and nature: 'Popular language puts the simple tale and the most daring imaginative description together under this common designation; the nursery tale, the fable and the narrative are referred to by the child as well as by the peasant, among all common or garden people, by the short term: stories.'

In the following discussion of Andersen's tales (a word I use to include both'fairy tales' and 'stones') I propose to divide them into seven groups: (1) fairy tales proper, in which the supernatural element is a dominating one, (2) tales mainly enacted in the natural world but containing an important element of magic, (3) tales in which the main characters belong to the animal world, (4) tales in which the main characters are trees or plants, (5) tales in which inanimate objects have become animated, (6)'realistic' tales set in a fantasy world, and (7) realistic stories, anecdotes or fabliaux set in a real world.

Fairy tales proper

In his book H. C. Andersens Eventyrverden Bo Grønbech describes the geography of Andersen's poetic universe in these words:

Our own geography has no validity. Immediately outside the typically Danish town in which Gerda grew up she arrives at'the river' during her wandering into the world she soon reaches a non-localized kingdom of the well-known fairy-tale type, and from there she goes to Lapland, whence she is again able to continue her wandering on foot to Spitzbergen. Travelling towards the East from human dwellings one reaches the Garden of Eden or to the splendid castle of the Sage. If one goes far enough through the wood one may end up at Death's hot-house. The mermaids and mermen live at the bottom of the sea, and the uncanny brewery of the marsh-woman is situated under the ground, as is the forecourt of hell. Heaven is the kingdom of God and the angels and not a cold and empty space.

In 'The Little Mermaid' the human world only exists in so far as it relates to the dreams, the longings and the love of the little mermaid, and the only human being who has a clear identity is the prince. The main emphasis is on the'sea people', especially the sea king, his mother and his six daughters. Living at the bottom of the sea as they do, their existence mirrors human existence: the sea king is a widower, looked after by his mother, who wears her status symbol,'twelve oysters on her tail, while the rest of the nobility had to put up with only six'. The sea king's palace corresponds in splendour to a royal palace on dry land:'It's walls are made of coral, and the long pointed windows of the clearest amber; but the roof is made of cockleshells that open and shut with the current.' Here little fishes fly in and out like swallows in a human dwelling, and outside the palace there is a lovely garden 'with trees of deep blue and fiery red'.

Just as the human world has its witches, so the world of the mermaids has its witch, living 'on the far side of the roaring whirlpools', and to get to her you have to pass over hot bubbling mud and go through a wood, whose trees and bushes are half animals, half plants. The sea witch sits in her house, built of the bones of shipwrecked humans, 'letting a toad feed out of her mouth, just as we might let a little canary come and peck sugar. She called the horrible fat water-snakes her little chicks and allowed them to sprawl about her great spongy bosom'.

Goodness and unselfish love also exist at the bottom of the sea, personified in the little mermaid who ultimately rejects the temptation to save her own life by stabbing the prince, whom she loves, with the knife, for which her sisters had paid the price of their beautiful hair. The main difference between the mermaid and the prince is that the latter has an immortal soul. By transforming the little mermaid in her dying moment into one of 'the daughters of the air', Andersen indicates that she may acquire an immortal soul in three hundred years time.

'The Snow Queen' has no clear dividing line between the natural and the supernatural world. The Snow Queen is first introduced as a fictional, fairy-tale character, but she materializes and takes Kay away to her kingdom of cold reason, because the splinter from the devil's glass had made him ripe for it. In his last, scared moment, before the Snow Queen's kisses make him forget everything, he wants to say the Lord's Prayer but can only remember the multiplication table.

Gerda preserves all the qualities of innocence and warmth which Kay has lost, and though she can be delayed in her search for Kay (by the old woman with the sun hat, by the mistaken identity of the prince, by the wild and spoilt little robber girl) nothing can prevent her from carrying on until she finds him. Having been carried by the reindeer to Lapland, Gerda continues to the Finmark, where she sees the Finn woman, who is so clever that she can tie up all the winds in the world with a thread of cotton and make a drink so potent that it would give Gerda the strength of twelve men; but that still won't be enough, the Finn woman says to the reindeer, explaining:

'I can't give her greater power than she has already. Don't you see how great it is? Don't you see how man and beast feel obliged to serve her, and how far she has come in the world in her bare feet? She mustn't learn of her power from us; it lies in her heart, in her being a dear innocent child. If she can't reach the Snow Queen and get rid of the glass from little Kay, then there's nothing we can do to help.'

In the end Gerda reaches the Snow Queen's palace. The walls are built of drifting snow, while the windows and doors are cutting winds. In the middle of the unending snow hall is a frozen lake called the Glass of Reason, where Kay is trying to make up the word ETERNITY out of flat pieces of ice. 'If you can find me that pattern, then you shall be your own master, and I'll make you a present of the whole world and a pair of new skates,' the Snow Queen had told him. Gerda's tears of joy when she finds Kay thaw out the lump of ice in his heart and dissolve the little bit of glass there, and Kay's own tears cause the splinter to trickle out of his eye. Such is their happiness that even the pieces of ice dance with delight and settle down to form the very word Kay had been unable to form.

While 'The Snow Queen' has a pure entertainment value for small children and a deeper symbolic significance for their elders, 'The Story of a Mother' may be called a purely allegorical fairy tale, or a poetic myth, with an appeal almost entirely for adults. Only the first paragraph describing the mother sitting by the bed of her dying child takes place in a recognizable world; from then on the allegory takes over. Disguised as an old man Death enters, and while the mother dozes off for a minute he vanishes with her child, and the clock stops—time ceases to exist. Then the desperate mother begins her search, which is entirely unlike Gerda's.

Out in the snow she meets Night, 'a woman in long black clothes', who requires her to sing all the songs she used to sing to her child as the price for telling her which way Death went with the child. Later, at a crossroads, a bramble bush 'with neither leaf nor blossom, for it was midwinter and the twigs were all frosted over', wants to be warmed at her breast before telling her which road to take. The thorns pierce her flesh, but 'the bramble shot out fresh green leaves and blossoms in the cold winter's night—such was the warmth from a sorrowing mother's heart'. At a lake she must weep out her eyes before being carried across 'to the great greenhouse where Death lives and looks after flowers and trees', and here the old woman who looks after the graves and the greenhouse reveals that 'every human being has his tree of life or his flower, each one according to his nature'; the old woman's price for her help is the mother's long black hair, in exchange for her own white hair.

Among millions the mother recognizes the heart-beat of her own child, 'a little blue crocus that stood there weakly and drooping'. Then Death arrives.

'How were you able to find your way?' asked Death. 'How could you get here more quickly than I did?'

'I am a mother,' she said.

In despair she threatens to pull up all the flowers unless Death gives her back her child; but then she realizes that she would make other mothers unhappy. Death gives her back her two eyes which he has fished out of the lake and shows her the future of two children, one whose life will be happy and one whose life will be miserable, and tells her that one of the two is her child. Terrified the mother asks Death to take away her child:' "Forget about my tears—my pleading—all that I have said and done!" And Death went away with her child into the unknown land.'

I have dealt at some length with these three tales because I consider them the three greatest of Andersen's fairy tales.12

'The Elf Hill', one of Andersen's most amusing fairy tales, takes place entirely in a world of supernatural beings, the occasion being the Elf King's party in honour of some prominent guests, the Norwegian Dovre Troll and his two ill-mannered sons. Only very select guests are to be invited, not even ghosts will be admitted, says the Elf King's housekeeper, enumerating the guests:

The merman and his daughters must first be invited, though I dare say they are not very keen on coming ashore; still I'll see that each of them gets a wet boulder or something better to sit on, so I rather fancy they won't say no this time. All old trolls of the first class with tails must be asked, and the river-sprite and the goblins; and then I don't see how we can leave out the grave-pig, the death-horse and the church-lamb. It's true that they really rank among the clergy, who don't belong to our people, but those are just their duties; they are nearly related to us, and they pay us regular calls.

The food is exquisite and suited to the occasion:

The kitchen was crammed with frogs on the spit, snake-skins stuffed with little children's fingers and salads of toadstool seeds, moist mouse-noses and hemlock, beer from the marsh-woman's brewery, sparkling saltpeter wine from the burial vault—all very substantial. Rusty nails and bits of stained-glass window were for nibbling in the sweet course.

The natural world only comes into the story through the comments of the lizards and the earthworm. After sunrise, when the banquet is over, one lizard says to another:

'Oh, I did enjoy the old Norwegian Troll!'

'I prefer the boys,' said the earthworm, but then of course he couldn't see, poor creature.

Another fairy tale full of humour is 'Willie Winkie', whose title character describes himself as an ancient heathen—'the Romans and Greeks call me the Dream God'. The fairy tale consists of seven stories which Willie Winkie tells a little boy called Hjalmar in his dreams during a whole week.

Nothing is impossible to Willie Winkie. He can turn flowers into trees, put Hjalmar's bad writing in the copybook through a drill, make the furniture talk and take Hjalmar on an excursion into the landscape picture on the wall. One night Hjalmar is out at sea, the next night at the wedding of two mice, for which he becomes so tiny that he can borrow a tin soldier's uniform and be transported to the party in his mother's thimble. Another night Hjalmar is taken to the wedding of his sister's two dolls, Herman and Bertha. The ceremony is performed by Willie Winkie, dressed in Hjalmar's granny's black petticoat, and they all sing a song, written by the pencil. On Saturday Willie Winkie explains that he must see to it that everything is ready for Sunday; for instance, all the stars must be taken down and given a thorough polish, with each star and the corresponding hole being numbered, so that they can find their right places again. At this point the portrait of Hjalmar's great-grandfather protests that Willie Winkie is muddling the boy with wrong ideas: 'A star is a globe, the same as the earth; that's just the beauty of it.' So next evening Willie Winkie takes the precaution of turning the portrait to the wall before continuing his stories.

In 'The Goblin at the Grocer's' the main character is the Danish nisse, a kind of benevolent hobgoblin, whose loyalty is divided between the grocer and the student, i.e., between material and poetic values; he wisely decides to share himself between the two.

Unlike most of the other fairy tales 'The Marsh King's Daughter' can be determined both in time and place. The time is the end of the Viking Age, the place partly North Jutland, partly Egypt. The commentators are a couple of storks who spend the summer in one place, the winter in the other. The title character is the daughter of the evil Danish Marsh King and an Egyptian princess; like another Thumbelma, she was found on the leaf of a water-lily, and the Viking's wife became her foster-mother. But because of the different character of her parents she is a beautiful girl with a wild and evil spirit during the day, and a toad with a kind though sad nature during the night—the Beauty and the Beast combined in one person. Eventually goodness conquers evil in her, and, finally united with her real mother, she flies back to Egypt, where she saves the life of the pharaoh. The ending is yet another version of the ancient legend about someone being allowed to spend three minutes in heaven—to find out on returning to earth that three hundred years have passed.

The time and place of 'The Ice Maiden' can also be stated exactly; the place is Switzerland (with various locations given) and the time the middle of the nineteenth century (Rudy's death by drowning took place in 1856). Behind the love story of Rudy and the Miller's daughter is the underlying theme of the Ice Maiden, the Queen of the Glaciers, a dedicated enemy of man, who is constantly trying to give those who venture into her territory the kiss of death.

The Ice Maiden is Fate; what she is determined to get, she will eventually get. She lives at the bottom of the glacier, in a torrent of melted ice and snow; it is her laughter people hear when an avalanche is falling. 'If I move my palaces the roar is more deafening than the rolling thunder,' she says. This is how Andersen describes her:

She, the slayer, the crusher, is partly the mighty ruler of the rivers, partly a child of the air. Thus it is that she can soar to the loftiest haunts of the chamois, to the towering summits of the snow-covered hills, where the boldest mountaineer had to cut footrests for himself in the ice; she sails on a light pine twig over the foaming river below and leaps lightly from one rock to another, with her long, snow-white hair fluttering about her, and her blue-green robe glittering like the water in the deep Swiss lakes.

Tales with an element of magic

This group of tales can hardly be described as fairy tales, for they include no supernatural beings. Their characteristic feature is that, at some crucial point in the tale, natural laws are broken.

'The Shadow', one of Andersen's most important tales, may serve as an example. The only violation of the laws of nature is that a man one day finds himself without a shadow; gradually, however, a new shadow grows out from his feet; 'the roots must still have been there'. The vanished shadow, which has become an independent being, turns up after several years, prosperous and well-dressed, at his former master's house and later invites his less prosperous master to a spa, where he pretends that the master is his shadow. By using the wisdom of the learned man (his former master) the shadow wins the heart of a beautiful princess, and when the former master refuses to act as the shadow's shadow he is executed on their wedding-day.

'The Shadow' begins in 'the hot countries', then moves back to a northern country and finally to an anonymous spa and to the anonymous kingdom of the princess. We are told that the learned man writes books about 'what is true and good and beautiful in the world' and in describing his reaction to having lost his shadow Andersen makes an oblique reference to Chamisso's Peter Schlemihl:

He was very annoyed, not so much because the shadow had disappeared, but because he knew there was a story, well known to everybody at home in the cold countries, about a man without a shadow; and if he went back now and told them his own story, they would be sure to say that he was just an imitator, and that was the last thing he wanted.

When the shadow first presents himself again to his former master he tells him about the time he vanished in the south. The learned man had been fascinated by a strange house opposite in which music was heard but from which no human being ever emerged, except on one occasion when he had a brief vision of a young girl coming out on to the balcony—only to vanish again. It was into that house the shadow went, and in that house Poetry herself lived. 'I was there for three weeks,' says the shadow, 'and it meant as much as living for three thousand years and reading all that man has imagined and written down.' But pressed to explain what he experienced there, the shadow keeps on repeating: 'I have seen everything and I know everything.'

The knowledge the shadow has acquired over the years turns out to be of a special kind:

'I saw what none are supposed to know—but what all are dying to know—trouble in the house next door…. If I had edited a newspaper, it would have had plenty of readers! But I used to write direct to the person in question, and there was panic wherever I went. They were terribly afraid of me—and, oh! so fond of me. The professors made me a professor, the tailors gave me new clothes; I was well provided for. The master of the mint made me coins, and the women said I was handsome. And that's how I became the man I am.'

While the shadow prospers, the learned man is in despair because no one bothers about the things he writes about, the true, the good and the beautiful.

What first impresses the princess when she meets the shadow is that he is able to tell her much about her own country she did not know, for 'he had peeped in at the windows on every floor and seen all sorts of things through them'. When she wants to test his wisdom the shadow tells her that her questions are so elementary that even his shadow—as he pretends the learned man to be—can answer them. 'He has now been with me so many years, listening to me all the time—I should imagine he can.' Impressed with the learned man's conversation the princess reflects: 'What a man this must be when his mere shadow is as wise as that.'

As a contrast to this pessimistic story about the victory of the parasite, about people preferring the shadow to the substance, there is 'The Bell', which also belongs to this category; for though the bell and its sounds are described in tangible, realistic terms, as an object which people try to locate and identify, always in vain, it is not a bell in any realistic sense; it is a romantic philosophy, a way of life, and a way of looking at life. There are for instance certain times when some people can hear this mystic bell:

It was as though the sound came from a church in the very depths of the silent, fragrant wood; and people looked in that direction and became quite solemn.

In their search for the bell grown-ups are either distracted by cheap imitation bells, or are preoccupied with elaborate theories about the origin of its sounds. Then young people take over; boys and girls coming from the solemnity of Confirmation Sunday feel drawn to the ringing of the unknown bell; but they too drop out from the search one by one, distracted by a variety of other things. In the end only two boys are left, a prince and a pauper. The prince goes to the left, the poor boy to the right, and their search becomes more and more difficult and hazardous. At sunset the prince finds himself facing the open sea, the sinking sun like a great shining altar:

Nature was a great holy cathedral, in which trees and hovering clouds were its columns, flowers and grass its altar-cloth of woven velvet, and the vault of heaven its mighty dome.

Here the poor boy meets the prince, for the road each of them has taken has led to the same goal:

They ran to meet each other, taking each other by the hand there in the great cathedral of nature and poetry. And above them sounded the sacred invisible bell, while blessed spirits hovered about it in joyful praise to God.

The magic elements in 'Something to Write About' are the spectacles and the ear-trumpet belonging to the wise woman, whom the young man, who wants to become a poet by Easter, consults. His trouble is that he cannot think of anything to write about, for it seems to him that every good idea has been used long before he came into the world. When the wise woman lends him her spectacles and her ear-trumpet he can see and hear all the prosaic everyday things telling their poetic tales, but when she takes back her glasses and her trumpet, he can no longer see or hear a thing.

'Very well, then you can't be a writer by Easter,' said the wise woman.

'No? But when can I?'

'Neither by Easter nor by Whitsuntide. You'll never learn to hit on anything.'

So the only thing left for him to do is to become a literary critic.

The trunk in 'The Flying Trunk' was of a very special kind—as soon as the lock was pressed the trunk could fly. In 'The Swineherd' the gadgets invented by the disguised prince defy the laws of nature: the pot which has the peculiarity that if one holds one's finger in its steam, one can at once smell what is being cooked on every fire in the town, and the rattle which, when swung round, plays 'all the waltzes and jigs and polkas that anybody had ever heard of.'

'Everything in its Right Place' is a completely realistic story up to the point when the young tutor begins to play the flute he has cut out of a historic old willow tree, which symbolized the brutal way in which the old aristocracy had oppressed the poor. The flute suddenly transforms the whole social order in such a way that everybody finds his place in the social scale, not according to his title, rank or fortune, but according to his true human value.

Tales in which animals are the main characters

Andersen's use of animals as characters differs essentially from that of Aesop, La Fontaine and Lessing. His animal tales are not anecdotal and hardly ever teach a moral lesson; unlike the classical fables they certainly do not serve a rationalistic philosophy. Andersen's animals have a psychological make-up which is very much like that of certain humans, and their conversation and general behaviour mirrors that of human beings. Among his favourite animal characters are the inhabitants of the farmyard—cocks and hens, ducks and drakes, geese, ganders and turkeys, and they are usually selfish and narrow-minded. Other favourites are storks, usually with a broader outlook, being birds of the world. A variety of other creatures—cats and dogs, rats and mice, fishes, birds, snails, insects—play prominent parts in Andersen's tales.

The best example of these stories is 'The Ugly Duckling', which begins with 'the stork on his long red legs, chattering away in Egyptian, for he had learnt that language from his mother', and then moves on to the manor-house park, where a tame duck is sitting on her nest. Coming out of the eggs one by one the little ducklings are amazed at how big the world is; but their mother tells them that what they see is not the whole world: 'Why, it goes a long way past the other side of the garden, right into the parson's field; but I've never been as far as that.' The ugly duckling, whose egg broke later than the others, does not conform to the rules of the farmyard but commits the unforgivable sin of being different:

'Ugh! What a sight that duckling is! We can't possibly put up with him'—and one duck immediately flew at him and bit him in the neck.

'Leave him alone,' said the mother. 'He's doing no one harm.'

'Yes, but he's so gawky and peculiar,' said the one that had pecked him, 'so he'll have to be squashed.'

Pecked and jostled and teased by all the other inhabitants of the farmyard, even by his own brothers and sisters, the duckling runs away to the great marsh where the wild ducks live. 'What a scarecrow you are!' they say, 'but that won't matter to us, as long as you don't marry into our family.' The wild geese, on the other hand, being young and perky have a Bohemian attitude to life.

'Look here, my lad!' they began. 'You are so ugly that we quite like you. Will you come with us and migrate? Not far off, in another marsh, are some very nice young wild-geese, none of them married, who can quack beautifully. Here's chance for you to make a hit, ugly as you are.'

During the big shoot the ganders are killed, but even the retrievers won't touch the duckling.

Then, towards evening he comes to a poor little farm cottage—'it was so broken-down that it hardly knew which way to fall, and so it remained standing'. Inside the house lives an old woman with her cat and her hen.

The cat, whom she called Sonny, could arch its back and purr; it could even give out sparks if you stroked its fur the wrong way. The hen had such short little legs that it was called Chickabiddy Shortlegs; it was a very good layer, and the woman loved it like her own child.

The house has its own social order and its strict conventions:

Now, the cat was master in the house and the hen was mistress, and they always used to say 'We and the world', because they fancied that they made up half the world—what's more, much the superior half of it. The duckling thought there might be two opinions about that, but the hen wouldn't hear of it.

'Can you lay eggs?' she asked.


'Well, then, hold your tongue, will you!'

And the cat asked: 'Can you arch your back or purr or give out sparks?'


'Well, then, your opinion's not wanted, when sensible people are talking.'

The duckling goes through all kinds of hardship until finally in the spring he sees some beautiful swans; bowing his head he expects to be killed by them—but then he sees a reflection of himself in the water, 'no longer a clumsy greyish bird, ugly and unattractive—no, he was himself a swan!' The moral of the tale, which has become proverbial, is that inborn qualities are more important than upbringing: 'It doesn't matter about being born in a duckyard, as long as you are hatched from a swan's egg.'

'Thumbelina' is full of animals, some of them nasty, others likable. On her way through life Thumbelina is first kidnapped by an ugly, slimy toad, who wants her son to marry her, then liberated by the fishes and the butterfly, and eventually caught by a cockchafer, whose family all find her ugly:

'Why, she's only got two legs,' they said.'What a pitiable sight!' 'She hasn't any feelers,' they went on. 'She's so pinched in at the waist—ugh! she might almost be a human. Isn't she ugly!' exclaimed all the cockchafers.

'It's Perfectly True!' begins in a hen-house, where a hen preening herself causes a little feather to come out and flutter down. The news of this event, whispered from hen to hen, is passed on to the owls and picked up by the pigeons until finally it returns to the very hen-house where it originally took place. The story by this time is that 'five hens have all plucked out their feathers to show which of them had got thinnest for love of the cock. Then they pecked at each other till the blood came and they all fell down dead, to the shame and disgrace of their family and the serious loss of their owner'.

'The Happy Family' is about two old snails living among the burdock leaves in the park of an old manor-house; they are convinced that the forest of burdocks has been planted entirely for their benefit:

They had never been outside it, though they realized that something else existed in the world called The Manor, where you got boiled and then turned black and were laid out on a silver dish; but what happened after that nobody knew. They couldn't anyhow imagine what it felt like to be boiled and to lie on a silver dish, but it must be delightful and very much the correct thing. Neither the cockchafer nor the toad nor the earthworm, when questioned, could reply; none of them had ever been boiled or laid on a silver dish.

The main characters in 'The High Jumpers' are the flea, the grasshopper and the skipjack (a toy made from a wishbone), who compete to see which of them can jump the highest. The flea has perfect manners; 'he had of course gentle blood in his veins and was accustomed to mix only with mankind, and that does make such a difference'. The grasshopper is wearing his native green uniform and boasts of his old family in Egypt and of his ability to sing. When the skipjack wins by jumping into the princess's lap, the flea goes abroad on foreign service, 'where he is said to have been killed', and the grasshopper goes and sits in a ditch, pondering on the way of the world.

Concerning the idea behind 'The Beetle' Andersen explained in 1862:

In an issue of Household Words Charles Dickens had collected a number of Arabian proverbs and idioms; among them he emphasized this one: 'When the Emperor's horse was shod with gold shoes the beetle also put out his leg.' We suggest, Dickens says in a note, that Hans Christian Andersen should write a tale about this subject. I wanted to do so, but no tale came forth. Only nine years later, during a visit to the Danish manor of Basnæs, where I happened to read Dickens' words again, did the tale of 'The Beetle' suddenly spring forth.

Deeply humiliated that the blacksmith refuses to give him gold shoes when the emperor's horse has got them, the beetle leaves the stable and on his way through the garden meets a variety of other creatures—some ladybirds, a caterpillar, two frogs, a couple of earwig families and some of his own relations. Self-important and arrogant as he is, the beetle despises the others for being different and therefore inferior. After having gone through various tribulations—being picked up by zoologists, caught by two children, who send him out sailing, tethered to the mast in an old broken clog—the beetle finally ends his journey by returning to the emperor's stable, where he finds himself sitting on the emperor's horse. And now he begins to understand: 'Why was the horse given gold shoes? He asked me that as well, the blacksmith did. Now I realize. It was because of me that the horse was given gold shoes.'

There is a paragraph at the beginning of 'The Ice Maiden' which is worth quoting. Rudy, who is still a small boy, has been learning a great deal from his conversations with Ajola, a dog, and a torn cat, who first taught him to climb:

'Come up here on the roof,' the cat had said to him quite clearly, 'for when you're still a child and cannot yet talk you have no difficulty in understanding the language of hens and ducks, cats and dogs; they speak as plainly to children as their parents do if only the children are small enough; then even grandfather's walking-stick can neigh and become a horse with a head, legs and a mane. Some children lose this gift later than others, and then the grown-ups say that they are slow in developing and that they remain children for too long. Grown-ups say a lot of silly things.'

Andersen remained a child the whole of his life in that he never lost this understanding.

Tales in which trees and plants are the main characters

I shall choose 'The Fir Tree' and 'Little Ida's Flowers' as examples of this category.13

We follow the fate of the fir tree from its childhood in the wood to its death as a withered and discarded Christmas tree. In all its life it had never had a happy moment, for either it was looking forward to something better than the present, or it was thinking nostalgically of the past.

When it was small it was in a hurry to grow big, hated being called 'a dear little tree', and never felt able to enjoy the warmth of the sun or the sweetness of the air. It was envious of the big fir trees which were felled to make masts for splendid ships, and its impatience increased when it saw its friends being taken away before Christmas and heard the sparrows describing the glory and splendour in store for them as Christmas trees. But when its own turn came and it was the first to be felled, it had no thoughts of happiness, being 'so sad at parting from its home, from the place where it had grown up'.

The fir tree is taken into a house and decorated for the great event.

'Tonight,' they all said, 'tonight it's going to sparkle—you see!'

'Oh, if only tonight were here!' thought the tree. 'If only the candles were already lit! What happens then, I wonder? Do trees come from the woods to look at me? Will the sparrows fly to the window-panes? Shall I take root here and keep my decorations winter and summer?'

From sheer longing the tree gets barkache, 'and barkache is just as bad for a tree as headache is for the rest of us'. When the great moment comes and the candles are lit, the fir tree is so tense that it is unable to enjoy the moment but looks forward to a repetition the next night. Instead it is put up in the attic, where it entertains the mice with nostalgic memories of its early youth and retells the story of Humpty-Dumpty it heard on Christmas Eve. The rats, however, are less easy to please than the mice:

'Is that the only story you know?' asked the rats.

'Only that one,' replied the tree. ' I heard it on the happiest evening of my life, but I never realized then how happy I was.'

'It's a fearfully dull story. Don't you know any about pork and tallow candles? One about the larder?'

'No,' said the tree.

'Well, then, thank you for nothing,' answered the rats and went home again.

In the end the tree is taken out into the yard, all withered and yellow, and is trampled on by the children.

And the tree looked at the fresh beauty of the flowers in the garden and then at itself, and it wished it had stayed in that dark corner up in the attic. It thought of the fresh days of its youth in the wood, of that merry Christmas Eve, and of the little mice who had listened with such delight to the story of Humpty-Dumpty.

'All over!' said the poor tree, 'if only I had been happy while I could. All over!'

In 'Little Ida's Flowers' it is the student, 'who knew the most lovely stories and could cut out such amusing pictures', who tells Ida that when the flowers hang their heads and look quite withered it is because they have been at a dance on the previous night. 'When it's dark and we are all asleep,' he explains, 'they go hopping round quite gaily; almost every night in the year they have a dance.' He also tells her how the flowers communicate with each other by signs: 'Surely you've noticed them when it's a bit windy—how the flowers keep nodding and fluttering their green leaves; that means as much to them as if they talked.' This annoys the grumpy old councillor. 'Fancy filling a child's head with such rubbish,' he says. 'All stuff and nonsense!'

One night Ida wakes up in the middle of the night, hears music coming from the next room, and when she peeps in, this is what she sees:

All the hyacinths and tulips were standing on the floor in two long rows; there wasn't one left in the window, where the pots stood empty. Down on the floor all the flowers were dancing round so nicely together, actually doing the Grand Chain, and holding each other by their long green leaves as they swung round. But over at the piano sat a tall yellow lily, which little Ida was sure she had seen last summer; for she remembered the student saying: 'Isn't it like Miss Lena!' Everybody had laughed at him, but now Ida, too, thought that the long yellow flower really was like Miss Lena. It had just the same way of sitting at the piano, and of turning its sallow oval face first to one side and then to the other, while it nodded time to the pretty music.

The climax of the evening is when suddenly the drawing-room door opens and a whole throng of beautiful flowers comes in:

Two lovely roses, wearing little crowns of gold, led the way; they were the king and queen. Next came the most charming stocks and carnations, bowing in every direction. There was a band playing, too—great poppies and peonies blowing away on pea-shells till they were purple in the face, and harebells and little white snowdrops tinkling away as if they had real bells. It was such funny music. After that came a lot of other flowers, and they all danced together—the blue violets and the red daisies, the ox-eyes and the lilies-of-the-valley. And it was pretty to see how the flowers all kissed each other. At last they said good-night to one another, and little Ida also crept away to bed, where she dreamt of all she had seen.

Tales in which inanimate things become animated

Andersen's ability to give life to inanimate objects was one of the most striking innovations of the nursery tale. The following is a quotation from Chambers's Journal, 13 October 1855:

In many a nursery, the warlike 'tin-soldier' (now invariably a Russian, as he used to be a Frenchman), the top, the ball, and even Nurse's darning-needle, have all become so many deathless heroes of romance, through the magic touch of this gentle Scandinavian enchanter.

In an essay entitled 'Hamlet and the Danes'14 G. K. Chesterton writes about Andersen:

His treatment of inanimate things as animate was not a cold and awkward allegory: it was a true sense of a dumb divinity in things that are. Through him a child did feel that the chair he sat on was something like a wooden horse. Through him children and the happier kind of men did feel themselves covered by a roof as by folded wings of some vast domestic fowl; and feel common doors like great mouths that opened to utter welcome. In the story of 'The Fir Tree' he transplanted to England a living bush that can still blossom into candles. And in his tale of 'The Tin Soldier' he uttered the true defence of romantic militarism against the prigs who would forbid it even as a toy for the nursery. He suggested, in the true tradition of the folk tales, that the dignity of the fighter is not in his largeness but rather in his smallness, in his still loyalty and heroic helplessness in the hands of larger and lower things.

The first tale in which Andersen gave life to inanimate objects was in fact 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier', again about someone who is different—unlike all the other tin soldiers he only has one leg. Whatever happens to him he always behaves with the decorum of a man in uniform. He falls in love with the little dancer cut out of paper, but does not betray his feelings, and when the search goes on for him in the street after he has fallen out of the window, he is still following the rules:

If only the tin soldier had called out 'Here I am!' they would have found him easily enough; but he didn't think it would be right to shout out, as he was in uniform.

He keeps a stiff upper lip even when faced with terrible dangers, as when the paper boat into which two street-boys have put him drifts from the gutter in under a broad culvert, where a water-rat asks for his passport and pursues him in raging fury. In the open sea he is swallowed by a large fish but is still shouldering arms while lying at full length inside the fish. The fish is caught, cut open, and out comes the tin soldier—back in the same house as before:

There they were—the same children, the same toys on the table, the same beautiful castle with the pretty little dancer who still stood on one leg and kept the other one high in the air—she, too, had been steadfast. This touched the tin soldier, who could have wept tears of tin, only that would hardly have done!

Only in death is the tin soldier united with the dancer, in the glowing stove:

The tin soldier was melted down to a lump and, when the maid cleared out the ashes next morning, she found him in the shape of a little tin heart; but all that was left of the dancer was her spangle, and that was burnt as black as coal.

Another famous example of this category15 is 'The Darning Needle', about which tale Andersen wrote the following explanatory note in 1862:

In the summer of 1846, during a fairly long visit to Nysø together with Thorvaldsen, who enjoyed 'The Top and the Ball' and 'The Ugly Duckling', he said one day: 'Well, why don't you write us a new amusing tale? You're capable of writing even about a darning needle!'—and then I wrote 'The Darning Needle'.

This explanation is amusing but cannot be quite true, for Thorvaldsen died in March 1844, and 'The Darning Needle' was written at the manor of Bregentved in 1845 and published in 1846. The germ of it is to be found in 'Willie Winkie' (1841), in which Hjalmar asks Willie Winkie to tell him 'the story about the darning needle who was so stuck-up that she fancied she was a sewing needle'—almost verbatim the opening of 'The Darning Needle': 'There was once a darning needle who was really so fine that she fancied she was a sewing needle.'

In spite of having warned the fingers (the only human element in the story) to handle her carefully the darning needle breaks when being forced to try to mend the cook's slippers. Put together with a drop of sealing-wax she is stuck in the front of a scarf.

'Look, now I'm a brooch,' said the darning needle. 'I was certain I should make my way in time. One who is something will always go far.' And she laughed inside her, for you can never tell from the outside whether a darning needle is laughing.

She talks to her neighbour, a pin, with a mixture of flattery and condescension, and holding herself up proudly she falls into the washtub and gets lost:

'I'm too fine for this world,' she said as she sat in the gutter. 'Still, my conscience is clear, and that's always a comfort.' And the darning needle held herself straight and kept up her spirits.

In the gutter all sorts of things go floating over her—sticks, straws, bits of newspaper, and she is appalled at their egocentricity:

'Look at the way they go sailing along,' said the darning needle. 'Little do they realize what is at the bottom of it all. I am at the bottom here I sit…. Look, there goes a stick that thinks of nothing but "stick", and that's what he is. There goes a straw—see how he twists and turns! Don't think so much about yourself, or you'll bump into the kerb…. There goes a bit of newspaper-the news in it is all forgotten, and yet it still spreads itself…. I stay patient and quiet. I know what I am, and I shan't change.'

The title character in 'The Shirt Collar' is a kind of male counterpart to the darning needle. The story begins:

There was once a swell gentleman whose entire kit consisted of a bootjack and a comb—though he had the neatest shirt collar you ever saw, and it's about this collar that our story is to be.

Being old enough to think about getting married the collar first proposes to a garter he meets in the wash, but though he flatters her by calling her 'a girdle, a kind of understrap', she won't have anything to do with him. Next he proposes to a hot iron going over him:

'Madam,' said the collar,'dear widow lady, I'm getting so hot, I shall soon be quite another person; I'm losing all my creases. Ugh! You're burning a hole in me—oh! will you marry me?'

'You rag!' said the iron, going disdainfully over the collar; for she fancied she was a steam-engine meant to draw trucks on the railway.

Being a bit frayed at the edges the collar has to be cut by the pair of scissors, to whom he next proposes, calling her a great ballerina. But the scissors give him such a jag that he has to be thrown away. Lastly the collar proposes to the comb—only to find that she is already engaged to the bootjack.

'Engaged,' sighed the collar. Now there was no one left to propose to, and so he came to despise the whole idea.

At last the collar finds himself in a bag at the paper-mill, together with a lot of other rags, to whom he brags about his past, turning all his defeats into conquests. His punishment is that he is made into paper, into that very bit of paper on which the story is printed.

One of Andersen's most sophisticated stories about inanimate objects has no title, for it is a story within a story: it is the tale told by the owner of the flying trunk to the King and Queen of Turkey to prove to them that he is worthy of marrying their daughter. It is a very amusing domestic conversation-piece which takes place in the kitchen. In order of appearance the characters are: a bundle of matches, the saucepan, the tinder box, the earthenware jar, the plates, the broom, the bucket, the tongs, the tea urn, an old quill pen, the tea kettle, and the market basket. The personality of each of the characters comes out in their contributions to the conversation, and they are all extremely human. This gem of a story is Andersen at his malicious best.

In an essay about Andersen in Books and Authors, 1922, Robert Lynd wrote:

Andersen's genius as a narrator, as a grotesque inventor of incident and comic detail, saves his gospel from commonness. He may write a parable about a darning-needle alive, like a dog or a schoolboy. He endows everything he sees—china shepherdesses, tin soldiers, mice and flowers—with the similitude of life, action and conversation. He can make the inhabitants of one's mantelpiece capable of epic adventures, and has greater sense of possibilities in a pair of tongs or a door-knocker than most of us have in men and women. He is the creator of a thousand fancies.

Realistic tales set in a fantasy world

As the best example of this category I shall discuss 'The Nightingale', universally considered to be one of Andersen's masterpieces.16

Although this tale is set in China, it soon becomes clear that it is a fictitious and fantastic China. With the exception of the nightingale and Death towards the end of the tale, all the characters are very human, for better or worse.17

'The Nightingale' is basically the story of nature versus artificiality, and this conflict is illustrated not only by the contrast between the real nightingale and the mechanical bird, but also by the contrast between the ordinary Chinese people (represented by the fishermen and the poor kitchen-maid) on one hand, and by the Chinese imperial palace, its courtiers and civil servants, on the other. The difference is to be found even in the palace gardens; in the remote parts, where the inhabitants of the palace never go, there are deep lakes and glorious woods going right down to the sea; in the garden immediately outside the palace only rare and precious flowers, with silver bells attached in order to draw attention to them. Above these differences sits the Chinese emperor himself, almost a prisoner of his surroundings, but with an appreciation of real values when he has a chance to see or hear them.

The remoteness of China allowed Andersen to invent a world full of chinoiserie and stiff, formal rules. The palace itself is made of porcelain, and on special occasions it is polished so that the china walls and floors glitter in the lights of thousands and thousands of gold lamps. The emperor sits in a gold chair when reading, and we are told that his gentleman-in-waiting 'was so grand that, whenever anyone of lower rank than himself ventures to speak to him or ask a question, he only answers "P!"—and that means nothing at all'. The punishment for a courtier who falls into disgrace is that he shall be punched in the stomach after supper, and the reward for the kitchen-maid for finding the nightingale is that she shall have a regular situation in the kitchen and be allowed to watch the emperor eat his dinner. The courtiers' ignorance of the natural world is such that when they hear a cow mooing or frogs croaking they believe these sounds to be the nightingale's song. When they first see the nightingale they are disappointed because she looks so ordinary. 'I expect she's off colour through having so many distinguished visitors,' the gentleman-in-waiting says.

A golden perch is provided for the nightingale, and the reward for her beautiful singing is the offer of a gold slipper to wear round her neck. The social order inside the palace is described: the court ladies show their approval by gurgling whenever anyone speaks to them; and at the bottom of the scale: 'Even the lackeys and lady's maids expressed their approval; and that's saying a good deal, for they are the most difficult of all to satisfy.'

Into this kind of artificiality the nightingale is supposed to fit:

She was now to remain at court and have her own cage, with leave to go out for two walks in the daytime and one at night. She was given twelve attendants, who each held on tightly to a silk ribbon fastened round her leg. There was absolutely no fun in a walk like that.

The arrival of the artificial nightingale, covered all over with diamonds, rubies and sapphires, results in complete chaos, for the two birds cannot sing together. The Master of the Emperor's Music declares that it is not the fault of the artificial bird: 'It keeps perfect time and follows my methods exactly.' The real nightingale flies away and is regarded as being ungrateful and banished from the Chinese empire. The Master of Music explains why the artificial bird is preferable to the real one:

'You see, ladies and gentlemen and, above all, Your Imperial Majesty, with the real nightingale there's no telling what's going to happen. But with the artificial bird everything is fixed beforehand. Such-and-such will be heard and no other. One can account for it all: one can open it up and show the cylinders, how they go round, and the way in which one thing follows from another!'

The artificial bird is promoted to be Chief Imperial Bedside Minstrel of the First Class on the Left, and the Master of Music writes a work in twenty-five volumes about it. 'It was very long and learned, full of the most difficult Chinese words, and everyone pretended they had read and understood it, or else of course they would have been thought stupid and got punched in the stomach.'

Then one evening the mechanism inside the bird goes wrong, the bearings being almost worn out, and from then on it is only allowed to sing once a year.

Five years later, as the emperor lies dying, longing for music to take his thoughts away from death, he appeals to the artificial bird, but in vain, and it is the real nightingale singing in the tree outside who wrestles with Death in an effort to save the emperor's life:

She had heard of her emperor's distress and had therefore come to sing him consolation and hope; and as she sang, the shapes grew fainter and fainter, the blood in the emperor's weak limbs ran faster and faster, and Death himself listened and said, 'Go on, little nightingale, go on!'

The nightingale goes on, and for each song she sings Death gives up one of the treasures he had taken from the emperor until, longing for his garden, Death floats like a cold white mist out of the window.

Realistic stones set in a recognizable world

As a good example of this category I have chosen a story which is relatively little known internationally, 'The Gardener and the Squire'.18

It is set in an old Danish manor house owned by a rich nobleman and his wife. To keep the large garden they employ a clever gardener, Mr Larsen, and it is a pleasure to see how nice and tidy he keeps it. Two big half-dead trees swarming with rooks and crows, who have built their nests in them, are an eyesore to the gardener, who wants to get rid of them; but to the squire and his wife both the trees and the birds represent the romantic past, and they will not hear of Larsen's suggestion that the old trees should be cut down to make way for something better:

'My dear Larsen, haven't you enough room already? With your flower-garden, glass-houses and kitchen garden?'

Yes, he had all these, and he tended and looked after them with great attention and skill. His master and mistress admitted this, but they were afraid they had to tell him that at other people's houses they often ate fruit or saw flowers which were better than anything in their own garden. The gardener was sorry to hear this, for he did his best that the best should be done. He was good at heart and good at his job.

One day the squire tells Mr Larsen that in the house of some distinguished friends they had had some excellent fruit and suggests that Larsen should cultivate this particular species. When it emerges that in fact the fruit came from their own orchard, they refuse to believe it until Mr Larsen produces a written statement from the fruiterer.

'How very odd!' said the squire.

And now every day at the manor huge bowls of these magnificent apples and pears from their own garden appeared on the table. Bushels and barrels of the fruit were sent to friends in and out of the town, and even abroad, bringing no end of pleasure. Still, they had to admit that of course there had been two unusually good summers for fruit trees; these had done well all over the country.

After the squire and his wife have dined at court they send for the gardener and tell him to get some melon seeds from their majesties' greenhouse, for they had such delicious melons at court. Again it turns out that the melons came from Larsen's greenhouse, and again he can produce a statement to that effect.

This was indeed a surprise for the squire, and he made no secret of the incident, but showed people the certificate and even had melon seeds sent out far and wide just as previously the cuttings had been.

Then news came back that the seeds were striking and setting admirably and the plant was called after the squire's manor, so that in this way its name could now be read in English, German and French. That was something never dreamed of before. 'I do hope the gardener won't begin to think too much of himself,' said the squire.

Mr Larsen's ambition, however, is to establish himself as one of the leading gardeners in the country, and he does produce some first-rate gardening.

But, all the same, he often heard it said that his very first fruit, the apples and the pears, were really his best; all that came after was much inferior. The melons were no doubt extremely good, but they were of course something quite different. His strawberries might be called excellent, and yet no better than those to be found on other estates; and when one year the radishes were a failure, it was only the unfortunate radishes that they talked about and not a word about anything else that turned out well. It was almost as though the squire felt relieved to be able to say, 'Well, Larsen, rather a poor year, eh?' They quite enjoyed saying, 'Rather a poor year.'

When Mr Larsen brings in beautifully arranged flowers he is told: 'You have taste, Larsen. That's a gift, not of your own, but of God.'

One day he brings in a big crystal bowl with a leaf of a water-lily and on top of this a brilliant blue flower, which the squire and his wife take to be an Indian water-lily. It is admired by everybody who sees it, including a princess. But the squire and his wife are appalled when they find out that the blue flower came from the kitchen garden, being the blossom of an artichoke.

'You should have told us that straight away,' said the squire. 'We couldn't help thinking it was a rare foreign flower. You've made us look ridiculous in the eyes of the young princess.'

But when they apologize to the princess and assure her that Mr Larsen has been told off, she says: 'How unfair! Why, he has opened our eyes to a splendid flower we had never noticed; he has shown us beauty where we never dreamed of looking.' So Mr Larsen may again bring a fresh artichoke blossom.

'It's really quite handsome,' the squire said; 'altogether remarkable.' And the gardener was praised.

'That's what Larsen enjoys,' said the squire. 'He's a spoilt child.'

An autumn gale blows down the two half-dead trees, and in their place Mr Larsen makes a most unusual and varied extension of the garden and puts up a flagstaff flying the Danish flag and nearby a pole, round which the hops twine their clusters in the summer and autumn and in winter a sheaf of oats is hung to feed the birds.

Our good Larsen is getting sentimental in his old age,' said the squire. 'But he's faithful and devoted to us.'

With the New Year there appeared in one of the capital's illustrated papers a picture of the old manor house, showing the flagstaff and the sheaf of oats for the birds at Christmas, and emphasis was laid on the happy idea of keeping up a time-honoured custom in this way—an idea so very characteristic of the old place.

'They beat the big drum for every mortal thing that Larsen does,' said the squire.

'He's a lucky man. I suppose we ought almost to be proud of having him.'

But they weren't in the least proud of it. They felt that they were the master and mistress and could give Larsen a month's notice if they liked, but they didn't do that. They were kind people, and there are so many kind people of that sort. What a good thing that is for all the Larsens!

I have tried … to show the wide range of Andersen's Eventyr og Historier. The grouping into seven identifiable categories is my own, and, admittedly, only one among several possible ways of looking at them. Another useful way might be to divide them into two groups: tales with a special appeal to children and tales with a special appeal to adults. The best of them, however, would fall into both categories: children will understand them in their way, and adults in theirs.

In 1861 Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote in a letter to Jonas Collin junior:

It is quite wrong to speak of what Andersen is writing now as 'fairy tales'. That was the name of his very first what you might call little bits of things, that could be put into a nutshell and then taken out again to span the world. Moreover, the form in which these tales were cast was quite perfect, concerned as it was solely with the very core of his subject. But now that Andersen has, often unjustly, been hustled out of the domain of the novel, of the drama and of philosophic narrative, the result has merely been that these thwarted suckers have thrust their own way out through the rock at some other point, and that he now has—God help us!—the novel, the drama and his philosophy all turning up in the fairy tale! That this is no longer a fairy tale, is obvious. It is something that is Andersenian, that is anyhow not generally dispensed by a literary pharmacist…. It is something that has no limits above or below, and so none in its shape—which, therefore, only a perfect genius can keep in hand…. But that freedom from all restraint—that assumption that all form and a whole world of tragic, comic, lyric and epic speculation, all singing, preaching, jesting, the animate and the inanimate, merge together as though in paradise—all this makes one tremble for the appearance of his next work. What secret is he going to solve? What journey must we make? And will it succeed or fail?


1 The most recent English translation is Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories. Translated from the Danish by Erik Christian Haugaard. (New York, foreword by Virginia Haviland, and London, foreword by Naomi Lewis, 1974).

2 Sometimes called 'The Real Princess' or 'The Princess and the Pea'.

3 In Haugaard's translation called 'Inchelina'.

4 Sometimes called 'The Dauntless [or Constant or Staunch] Tin Soldier'.

5 Having failed to realize that 'Ole' in the title 'Ole Lukøie' is a Christian name, some of the English translators have called this story 'Old Luke' or 'Old Luke, the Sandman'. In other versions the title is given as 'The Sandman' or 'The Little Sandman' or 'Ole Lucköie', or 'The Dustman'.

6 Sometimes (as a correct translation of the Danish title, 'Kærestefolkene') called 'The Sweethearts' or 'The Lovers'.

7 Sometimes called 'The Pine Tree'.

8 Sometimes called 'The Hill of the Elves' or 'The Elfin Hill' or 'The Elfin Mound'.

9 Among the tales I would include in such a collection would be 'The Naughty Boy' (1835), 'The Goloshes of Fortune' (or 'The Magic Galoshes') (1838), 'The Bell' (1845), 'The High Jumpers' (or 'The Leaping Match' or 'The Jumping Competition') (1845), 'The Drop of Water' (1848), 'The Story of a Mother' (1848), 'There's a Difference' (1851), 'It's Perfectly [or Quite or Absolutely] True!' (1852), 'A Good Temper' (or 'A Happy Disposition') (1852), 'Heartbreak' (or 'Grief') (1852), 'Everything in its Right Place' (1852), 'The Goblin at the Grocer's' (or 'The Pixy and the Grocer') (1852), 'In a Thousand Years Time' (or 'The Millenium') (1852), 'She was no good' (1852), 'Simple Simon' ('Klods-Hans') (or 'Clod-poll' or 'Clumsy Hans' or 'Clod Hans' or 'Numskull Jack') (1855), 'Soup from a Sausage-Stick' (or 'How to Cook Soup on a Sausage Pin') (1858), 'The Marsh King's [or Bog King's] Daughter' (1858), 'Pen and Inkpot' (1859), 'The Beetle' (or 'The Dung Beetle') (1861), 'Dad's Always Right' (or 'What the Old Man Does is Always Right' or 'Father Always Does What's Right') (1861), 'The Snow Man' (1861), 'The Ice Maiden' (1861), 'The Snail and the Rose Tree' (1861), 'The Storm Moves Signposts' (or 'How the Storm Changed the Signs') (1865), 'Auntie' (1866), 'The Rags' (1868), 'Something to Write About' (or 'What One Can Invent' or 'Hitting on an Idea' or 'A Question of Imagination') (1869), 'The Gardener and the Squire' (or 'The Gardener and his Master') (1872), 'Old Johanna's Tale' (or 'The Story Old Johanna Told') (1872), 'The Cripple' (1872), and 'Auntie Toothache' (1872).

10 According to Andersen himself the tales in this category are 'The Tinder Box', 'Little Claus and Big Claus', 'The Princess on the Pea', 'The Travelling Companion', 'The Wild Swans', 'The Garden of Eden', 'The Swineherd', 'Simple Simon' and 'Dad's Always Right'.

The complicated question of Andersen's dependence on Danish folk tales has been dealt with in an important essay by Georg Christensen published in 1906. Since we are here dealing with an oral tradition it is not possible to know which particular versions Andersen heard as a child; we can only draw comparisons with versions recorded in other parts of Denmark.

11 Themes from Danish legends are incorporated in several tales, e.g., 'Mother Elder', 'The Elf Hill', 'Holger the Dane', 'The Goblin at the Grocer's' and 'The Bishop of Børglum'. Elements from some of Hoffmann's tales (especially 'Nussknacker und Mäusekönig', 'Meister Floh' and 'Abenteuer eines Sylvesternacht') are to be found in 'Little Ida's Flowers', 'The Snow Queen' (the devil's looking-glass), 'The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep' and 'The Shadow'. There are loans from Musäus and Njáls Saga in 'The Marsh King's Daughter'. Chamisso's Peter Schlemihl has had an influence on both 'The Goloshes of Fortune' and 'The Shadow'; one of the inspirations for 'The Little Mermaid' is de la Motte Fouqué's Undine; features borrowed from Grimm and Brentano may be found in 'The Red Shoes', and elements in other tales may be traced back to Boccaccio's Decameron and to the Arabian Nights.

12 To the group of fairy tales proper also belong five of the tales previously mentioned, 'The Tinder Box', 'The Travelling Companion', 'The Wild Swans', 'The Naughty Boy' and 'The Garden of Eden', and such tales as "The Elf of the Rose', the sentimental 'The Angel', and the strange and to me unpleasant and cruel story of vanity, punishment and atonement, 'The Red Shoes'.

13 Others are: 'There's a Difference', a tale about class distinction in the plant world; the aristocratic apple blossom versus the despised dandelion; the message being that they are both beautiful but in different ways. 'Five Peas from one Pod' is the tale of five pea-siblings, one of which succeeds in bringing great happiness to a sick person. 'The Daisy' and 'The Flax' are stories of flowers whose attitude to life is exactly the opposite of that of the fir tree. The daisy enjoys every moment of its day and knows no envy. 'The sun shines upon me, and the wind kisses me. Oh! What gifts are given me!' The flax, too, is able to look on the best side of things in its transformation from a plant to linen which is woven and made into underwear, and finally discarded and burnt. 'The Buckwheat' is really a parable, and it could be said to illustrate one of the Proverbs, 'Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.' (On 13 November 1845 Andersen noted in his diary that one of his acquaintances had drawn his attention to Jotham's parable of the trees in The Old Testament (Judges, IX): 'the only parable or what is similar to my fairy tales, the Greek Einos'.)

Trees and plants are also the main characters in 'The Last Dream of the Old Oak Tree', and 'What the Thistle Found Out'. The part flowers play in 'The Snow Queen' should be mentioned. While Gerda is staying with the old woman with the large sun hat, six flowers tell their stories—the tiger-lily, the convolvulus, the snowdrop, the hyacinth, the buttercup, and the narcissus. These six stories are really prose poems, in which Andersen has attempted to express in words the soul of each flower.

14 Included in The Crimes of England (London 1915).

15 For 'The Top and the Ball' see p. 162. 'The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep' tells the story of how these two china figures elope, because an old nodding porcelain Chinaman who claimed to be the Shepherdess's guardian, wanted her to marry a carved satyr whom the children called 'Major-and-Minor-General-Company-Sergeant Billygoatlegs'. They escape to the top of the chimney but then return, and as he has been riveted after a fall the Old Chinaman is unable to nod his consent to the satyr any more, and so the two lovers are able to stay together.

A sad and lonely tin soldier is one of the main characters in 'The Old House'; unlike the other tin soldier this one does cry tin tears. The title character in 'The Snow Man' suffers from a longing for the warmth of the fireplace in the room into which he can see; and when he melts the reason is clear: there was a poker inside him, round which his snow body had been built. 'The Teapot' and 'The Rags' also belong to this category; the former being the reminiscences of a teapot who began her life as queen of the tea table and ended, her handle and spout broken off, as a flower-pot with a bulb in it. 'The Rags' records a dialogue between a Norwegian and a Danish rag, a witty satire on the presumed national characteristics of both nations. In 'Pen and Inkpot' the two characters quarrel about which of them is the real genius responsible for poetry being put on paper.

16 To this category of tales set in a kind of real, yet fantastic world belong some of those discussed previously … 'The Princess on the Pea', 'The Emperor's New Clothes' and 'Simple Simon'. None of them contain any supernatural or magic elements, and they all take place in a human, though hardly in an ordinary or recognizable world.

'The Drop of Water' may also be regarded as belonging in this group, for though old Creepy-Crawley ('for that was his name') and his nameless colleague are both referred to as 'magicians', the point is, of course, that they are natural scientists, the drop of witch's blood ('the very finest kind at twopence a drop') a chemical substance, and the terrifying humans wrestling, wrangling, snapping and snarling which they see through the magnifying giass are in reality the kind of unicellular animals—the so-called animalcules—which could be seen at that time through a microscope.

'The Flea and the Professor' moves from Europe to Africa and back again, and however fantastic this amusing story is, it contains no elements which remove it from the real world.

Forty years before the invention of the first flying machines Andersen wrote the story he called 'In a Thousand Years Time', which must have appeared quite fantastic to his contemporaries, though in fact it foreshadowed, with a surprising amount of precision, the invention of the aeroplane, which, as he predicted, has enabled Americans to 'see Europe in one week'.

17 In spite of its title and the fact that the nightingale is capable of speaking (though its power lies in its singing) 'The Nightingale' certainly does not quite belong in the category of Andersen's animal tales. It would be possible to argue, on the other hand, that the appearance of Death as a character makes it into a fairy tale proper. However, it seems to me that the 'realistic' (though fantastic) elements in the tale are so important that in this, admittedly arbitrary, grouping of Andersen's tales I have found it reasonable to include this story here.

18 Two of the fabliaux belonging to this category have already been mentioned as having their origin in Danish folk tales, 'Little Claus and Big Claus' and 'Dad's Always Right'; in both of these the milieu is that of a Danish fanning community.

Another well-known example is the sentimental story 'The Little Match Girl'. Here a poor little match girl in the streets of Copenhagen on a cold New Year's Eve lights one by one three of the matches she could not sell. Every time she lights a match she has a dream-like vision, and with the last match she dies.

'A Good Temper' contains the quaint philosophy of a man whose favourite place for wondering about the strange ways of man is the churchyard; he has inherited his wonderful sense of humour from his father, whose profession was to drive a hearse. 'Heartbreak', a story in two parts, both of which are undoubtedly based on personal experience, contains a very Andersenian mixture of humour and genuine emotion in its sympathy for the outsider. 'She was no good' and 'Old Johanna's Tale' are both clearly based on memories of Andersen's childhood in Odense; the former is an attempt to show his mother in a better and probably truer light in a description of a washerwoman who became addicted to alcohol. 'Auntie' is an amusing story of a spinster who was mad about the theatre. It is a composite picture, to some extent based on the memory of people Andersen knew.

Two stories fall into a group of their own within this category, 'The Wind Tells the Story of Valdemar Daa and his Daughters' and 'Chicken-Grethe's Family', for apart from the fact that Andersen has chosen to use the wind as the narrator in the former, they both relate stories based on historical facts. Valdemar Daa was a Danish seventeenth-century nobleman and alchemist, who spent everything he owned in his vain search for gold, and Marie Grubbe, the chief character in 'Chicken-Grethe's Family', was a noble lady of about the same period, whose life also ended in poverty, if for other reasons.

'The Cripple', one of Andersen's last tales, may be seen as a tribute to the art in which he himself became the supreme master; for it is a book of fairy tales which is the indirect cause that enables Hans, the paralysed cripple, to walk again.

19 Truisms with a humorous effect appear quite frequently in Andersen's tales, e.g., 'there were many people, and twice as many legs as heads'; 'when they travelled by train they went third class—that gets there just as quickly as first class'; 'two will-o'-the-wisps came hopping in, one faster than the other, and therefore he came in first'; ' "The sixth comes before the seventh," said the Elf King, for he could do arithmetic'

20 His own comments give some, if not reliable, information. He says 'Little Ida's Flowers' was written after telling the little Ida Thiele about the flowers in the Botanical Gardens and that her father suggested he write about a flute which could blow 'Everything in Its Right Place'. J. M. Thiele also gave the idea for 'The Bottleneck'.

Peter Brask (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3770

SOURCE: "Andersen on Love," in The Nordic Mind: Current Trends in Scandinavian Literary Criticism, edited by Frank Egholm Andersen and John Weinstock, translated by Turid Sverre, University Press of America, 1986, pp. 17-35.

[In the following excerpt, originally presented on Radio Denmark in 1979, Brask discusses the obstacles in Andersen's tales to realizing true love.]

"The Swineherd" ("Svindrengen") and "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep" ("Hyrdinden og Skorsteensfeiren") are among Andersen's best-known fairy tales, and when we reread them, they seem so natural. They simply could not be different! Is it just habit, or is it because they are so well narrated, with such power and energy?

What does this mean? After all, they are sad stories; you'd have to look long and hard to find such embarrassing love stories. And yet, they are so funny! How can this be? If you were to ask why Andersen wrote them, there are so many possible answers. For example, you could try to find out whether the poor man had recently been in love and whether, in that case, he had fared as badly as the men in the fairy tales. You will, of course, find that the poet had been unhappy in love, but this doesn't really tell us very much. The interesting thing, after all, is not that the poet fell in love and was unsuccessful in his love, but that he wrote the fairy tales. What actually happens in them? What is it that the poet does with his sad experiences in love when he uses them as a basis for his writing?

The fairy tales just mentioned were written five years apart, but when we hear them one after the other, we are struck by how closely they resemble each other. In a way we are being told the same story. This is true for a great number of tales written by Andersen during the same period, that is, within ten years' time: "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" ("Den standhaftige Tinsoldat") is from 1838, "The Swineherd" is from 1839, and "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep" is from 1844. Between the latter two comes the long fairy tale "The Nightingale" ("Nattergalen"), which to a large degree is also "the same story" and which therefore also belongs to the group of stories we are trying to understand here.

After "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep" we have "The Bell" ("Klokken") from 1845, "The Shadow" ("Skyggen") from 1846, and "The Collars" ("Flipperne") from 1848. Within the same ten-year period Andersen also wrote many other things, but there is a close connection between the fairy tales I have just mentioned. In their own way, they all work with the same story—the same problem of love, of woman, of sexuality, and of the importance of money in the game of love. We cannot deal with all of them here, but I will try to show some of their common features. I will also try to show that there is a gradual change in the situation. For although it is the same story that continues to be repeated, something happens to it—little by little, something changes.

If we try to determine what it is that changes and how it changes, then we are on our way toward learning why Andersen wrote these fairy tales. His negative experiences continue to play freely in his mind; they continue to torment and torture him until he gets them worked out and put into a meaningful context. The fairy tales are a direct expression of this dogged and ardent endeavor. When Andersen writes his fairy tales, he is laboring with his mind, working on and changing his consciousness. Naturally, this process also leads him to pass quite a few judgments on his surroundings, for his experiences do, after all, stem from his confrontations with these surroundings. Thus it is not so strange that the fairy tales are full of derision and biting satire toward the bourgeois world, to which he himself belonged but in which he never felt quite at home. He was a son of the proletariat as well as a refined man of the bourgeoisie; he knew poverty, but when he died, he was a millionaire with decorations and titles. Despite this, he never felt really accepted. He was grateful for his successes but always furious that, in spite of them, somehow he was not wholly recognized as the genius he was.

"The Swineherd" is full of scorching satirical remarks on life at the emperor's court—that is, among society's highest strata. And yet, this is not the main point. The core of the action is a story of revenge. Let's examine it more closely.

The court in "The Swineherd" is characterized by superficial mannerisms, power struggles, double standards, and class-determined tyranny. When the ladies-in-waiting speak French, each one worse than the other, when the princess's musical knowledge encompasses one melody and her performance at the piano is on the one-finger level, then these are signs of that same superficial mannerism that causes the court to prefer pot and rattle to rose and nightingale.

The emperor is tyrannized by the capricious princess; he will tolerate quite a lot before he gets so angry that she will feel the slipper. A power struggle, in other words. When the princess orders her ladies-in-waiting to kiss the swineherd, they resist, but the princess reminds them that she is their employer, after all. As swineherd, the prince must be content with a wretched little room by the pigsty. In other words, class difference and class tyranny.

When the lady-in-waiting will not repeat the naughty swineherd's price for the rattle, the princess says she may whisper it. The princess doesn't really mind paying the swineherd's exorbitant prices as long as no one finds out. "I am the emperor's daughter!" she actually says (p. 196).1 In other words, a double standard. To be sure, the framework around all this is the code that Andersen got from the child's fairy tale, but he is only pretending—we must listen beyond the seemingly childish features and understand, among other things, that one hundred kisses from the princess is, within such a fairy tale, quite the same thing as going to bed with her outside the fairy tale, in adult reality.

This is the milieu, but what, then, is the plot? It is presented in the form of opposites: the princess's rejection of the prince opposite her acceptance of his opposite, the swineherd; her rejection of his offer of true love, the rose and the nightingale, opposite her acceptance of sexuality as something to be bought and sold; the rejected prince opposite the revenging prince; the arrogant princess opposite the humiliated princess; the henpecked emperor opposite the disciplining father. The central point of all these opposites in the action is where the prince disguises himself as a swineherd. This has its own opposite in the scene at the very end, when he sheds his lowly disguise and again appears as the handsome prince that he is.

The whole world here is two-faced and divided. The two gifts that the prince sends to the princess when he proposes are the rose and the nightingale. The rose's opposite is the pot; the nightingale's opposite is the rattle. What does this mean? The remarkable thing about the prince and the princess is that his father is dead and her mother is dead. Perhaps this could be taken to mean that they should unite and together form a new father-mother pair. The prince got the rose from his father's grave—it stands for true love—and this is why it blooms so rarely, only once every five years. It can, however, perform miracles: its fragrance can make anyone who smells it forget all his sorrows and troubles. We don't learn very much about the nightingale, but it knows all the lovely melodies ever composed, as opposed to the princess, who knows only a single one. The rose and the nightingale are real and genuine, but the princess lives in a world of pretension and fads. To her, something is good when it is "interesting" and "artificial." This is why she plays children's games with the ladies-in-waiting, who of course don't really have anything to do, as opposed to the swineherd, who didn't let a day go by without accomplishing something. They play house; you leave the room and get all dressed up and come back and make yourself interesting by pretending to be someone you're not. What makes the game interesting is the piquancy and dishonesty, the thrill of merely acting out parts. When the prince's honest love is turned away, he seeks his revenge by acting the way the court does. He plays a part; he dresses as the opposite of what he is. He appears as his own shadow, so to speak.

These patterns are paralleled by the work given him by the emperor: tending the pigs. The pigs are symbols of drives in their base and misshapen forms. The emperor, poor man, says of the pigs: "We have such an awful lot of them" (p. 194). The emperor himself is not depraved, even though he is cowed by the infantile and demonic princess. When he hears the nightingale the prince has sent, he relives his feelings for his deceased wife, the dead queen, and he cries honest tears, or, in the language of fairy tales, he "cried like a baby" (p. 194). Since he is doing the crying, he cannot at the same time be used to inform the reader of why he is crying—he is too moved for that—but we do have very handy another old gentleman, "an old courtier," and he says that the nightingale reminds him of the late empress's music box. This is precisely where we can see how complex the fairy tales really are. On the one hand, the courtier is employed to express the emperor's feelings. On the other hand, satire creeps in here, too, for the fact that the courtier thinks that the living nightingale sounds like the artificial music box is, of course, a reflection of the stupidity of the court. The difference between them will be elaborated on later in the fairy tale "The Nightingale."

What is ingenious and difficult in the fairy tale code is, generally, that it allows the presence of many different viewpoints all at once, even in one and the same sentence, in one and the same remark. Seen from the outside, the court is merely ridiculous, but for those inside and dependent upon it, it is not so amusing; to them, the stupid appears demonic, like a diabolical degradation of life's values. In short, it is like a piggish world, and if you care to get along in it, you must make yourself into a pig, or into a demon, like the shadow in the fairy tale that most directly deals with the demonic. In "The Swineherd" it is still one and the same person, the prince, who assumes both the positive and the negative figure; he is and remains a prince, a positive, "a prince whom everyone thought was a swineherd," the narrator assures us (p. 196).

In "The Shadow" they are, however, separated into the scholar, who perishes, and the shadow, who is successful—like Andersen himself, one might say. While the princess in "The Swineherd" is and remains a little pig, there are two aristocratic women in "The Shadow"—namely the positive, which is poetry, and the negative, a demonic princess who can so easily marry the shadow. They share the ability to see through the roles in the world around them and see all the bad and evil behind them, even in children. This is, however, all they can see. It is interesting that the scholar, whom they kill, is not presented as merely an innocent victim, for he is not entirely in the right. He knows a lot, but he understands far too little. Thus there is a giant leap from "The Swineherd" to "The Shadow." The former story is in total sympathy with the prince and puts the entire blame on the princess, who must in the end suffer the entire punishment: to be excluded from both the emperor's realm and from that of the prince. In the latter story no one is right, and there is nothing but disharmonious opposites. Between "The Swineherd" and "The Shadow" there are also almost ten years of literary activity.

One step along the way is "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep," and another and higher plateau is reached in "The Nightingale." The nightingale is the positive counterpart to the shadow. In "The Nightingale," a remarkable thing happens: the positive forces—which in the previous fairy tales are associated with woman and which are so terribly difficult to release because woman is in turn bound by many other negative forces: above all, sexuality, economy, and the class difference—are separated from the feminine and presented in an entirely abstract form, namely as the nightingale itself….

In "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep," this separation has not yet occurred, but the attitude toward it is already completely different from that of "The Swineherd." There are, as stated earlier, five years between them. In "The Swineherd," the narrator simply sides with the prince throughout; everything is seen from the prince's perspective, at least where matters of judgment are concerned. In "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep," the narrator stands on the outside. He can do so because this fairy tale is staged in a world of things, not people. With incredible artistic economy, the things are equipped with exactly the qualities they must have in order to express some very definite human qualities, no more and no less.

In "The Swineherd," we saw that the stupid world is a demonic world to those who are forced to live on its terms. The same is true for the world in "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep." Here there are tyrants and authority figures, but their status is remarkably ambiguous. The main characters are the two young procelain people, who aren't real people yet but rather artificial. When they undertake the most daring expedition of their lives, out into reality, and the shepherdess is overwhelmed by it, she cries "so hard that the gold in her waistband began to chip" (p. 300). The artificial, the porcelain role, is beginning to fall off her. The chimney sweep, on the other hand, fares better from the beginning; this is evident from his profession as chimney sweep. He has the ladder, and he has the necessary courage for the dark, narrow road out into the real world.

But where do they really come from? What is it that they must escape from? Two forces are against them: the old Chinese mandarin and "Mr. Goat-legged Commanding-General-Private-War-Sergeant." Who are they? To begin with, they are typically characters who cannot move. The Chinese mandarin is rounded at the bottom, and the goat is carved in the wood of the old cabinet. Like the whole room, the cabinet is "an heirloom that had been in the family for four generations" (p. 297). This is the inherited world, the given society with all its roles and rules.

Within this world it is the Chinese mandarin who rules. He is quite cynical. The shepherdess doesn't want to marry the goat; she has heard that he has eleven porcelain wives in the cabinet already! The Chinese mandarin's justification for the marriage is purely economical: "You will have a husband who I am almost certain is made of mahogany" (p. 298). Mahogany was the preferred wood for fine furniture at that time, a sign of affluence, in other words. However, a mahogany man was—in the slang of those days—a dandy, a fop, a bon vivant, so it is probably correct that he has girls by the dozen. Here again, we see Andersen's artistic economy; in the world of human beings, the explanation for a total of twelve porcelain girls is, of course, found in the fact that you could buy such table decorations and knickknacks by the dozen, just like the silverware in the cabinet. Again, several worlds are layered on top of each other, so to speak. Another example of economy is that the Chinese mandarin and the goat cannot go anywhere; they are completely bound to this world of convention in which young girls are married off for money and in which it is considered comme il faut that the rich man should keep a harem, hidden in the cabinet. When the shepherdess and the chimney sweep are on the run, they jump into the drawer by the window. At the window, we are told, there was a seat where you could sit with your sewing and have enough light for your work and look out on the street at the same time, and the empty space below had thriftily been filled with a drawer for the childrens' toys. Now we are in the world of toys, and plays are being performed. The audience is a deck of cards, and the knaves show that they have heads at both ends—again there is economy in the symbolism. It isn't so good to have a head in both ends, to turn love into economy rather than passion. The play being performed in the drawer is, of course, about love having to become tragedy in this world. The shepherdess cannot bear it, so they continue their flight.

It occurs to the chimney sweep that they might find refuge in the potpourri jar. It is full of salted, dried rose leaves, so they could lie on a bed of roses and throw salt in the eyes of the others. What does this mean? Perhaps it means that you will remain within the real world but relate to it ironically (i.e., the salt) and otherwise enjoy as best you can your lusts and passions—the rose leaves. However, the shepherdess knows there is a connection between the potpourri jar and the Chinese mandarin; they were once engaged, she says. The only solution is to make a complete break with this world, which they try to do but with no success. To be sure, the shepherdess manages the dangerous journey through the black stove and the chimney, but faced with the real, wide world, she cannot bear it any longer: "The world is much too big," she says, as if it isn't she who is too little (p. 300). The chimney sweep cannot help but feel a bit peeved, but her mind is made up and she even lies a little: "I followed you out into the wide world, now you must take me home, if you care for me at all" (p. 300). That isn't right; she was the one who first wanted to see the big wide world, and the chimney sweep had not felt too confident that she could handle it. He was right.

The love between them is also a bit questionable. Actually, their passion does not seem to be too fiery. The reason is said to be that "they had been standing close together, for that was the way they had always been placed; and so they thought it was natural that they be engaged" (p. 298). This is then followed by some bourgeois reasoning: they were both young and made from the same clay—that is, of the same class—but the narrator immediately manages to inject another point of view as well: they were "both breakable" (p. 298).

The Chinese mandarin really has no other power over the shepherdess than what she herself will grant him. He has insisted that he is her grandfather, "although he couldn't really prove that he was related to her at all" (p. 298). She proves it to him when she, frightened by reality, finds her way back to the little table beneath the mirror, to that narrow world in which the mirror reflects only one's own role, one's outer costume. She proves it the moment she sees the Chinese mandarin lying on the floor. One should expect her to be happy to see the tyrant toppled, but her first thought is to have him riveted, and the next one is how much it might cost. She has a housewife's tone of voice already, and the lovers have their first row: "Don't carry on so," he says (p. 300). Coincidences keep them together now: the Chinese mandarin gets a rivet in his neck and can no longer nod to Mr. Goatlegged. So they stay together. But unlike the good old fairy tales in which the lovers live happily ever after, this one says that "they loved each other until they broke" (p. 301)—which is to say that they never became real people.

The Chinese mandarin represents society's norms, but what does the goat with the difficult name represent? The fairy tale does not say in so many words, for that is not possible in this language. However, it can still be conveyed in code language. The narrator shows disdain over the fact that Mr. Goat-legged is there. He describes him: he has horns on his forehead and the legs of a goat, and we learn that he keeps a harem "and is the most amazing figure in the central panel" (p. 297). Mr. Goat-legged is sexuality incarnate, that which remains when love becomes merchandise. Additional evidence of this interpretation is found in Andersen's draft, in which the "War-Sergeant" was initially called "the satyre."

Thus there are at least two things that will prevent true love from being realized. One is sexuality as naked, urgent drive, a War-Sergeant who will not be ignored—the drive is there, and somehow it must be included in the world, for one cannot be rid of it. The other hindrance is society's narrow rules and conventions, and these appear above all as money matters, as economy. In practice, these things are interwoven, for the realization of love in an acceptable manner would be synonymous with marriage. A precondition for marriage was, however, an acceptable economy and a steady income, and in order to provide himself with this, Andersen had to make himself a successful author first. Therefore the entire matter is woven into an almost Gordian knot; the precondition for success as an author was inspiration, and it, in turn, demanded an emotional life and thus a relationship to women. These are the interrelationships that the texts seek to untangle….


1 Page citations, unless otherwise indicated, are to Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, translated by Erik Christian Haugaard (New York: Doubleday, 1974).—TRANS.

Jack Zipes (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11480

SOURCE: "Hans Christian Andersen and the Discourse of the Dominated," in Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization, Heinemann, 1983, pp. 71-96.

[In the following essay, Zipes points to ambivalence in Andersen's tales, finding its roots in the conflict between Andersen's identification with the lower classes and his simultaneous efforts to legitimize Denmark's hierarchical social structure and particularly its powerful upper classes, which in essence controlled his literary success.]

If the Grimm Brothers were the first writers in the nineteenth century to distinguish themselves by remolding oral folk tales explicitly for a bourgeois socialization process, then Hans Christian Andersen completed their mission so to speak and created a canon of literary fairy tales for children between 1835 and 1875 in praise of essentialist ideology. By infusing his tales with general notions of the Protestant Ethic and essentialist ideas of natural biological order, Andersen was able to receive the bourgeois seal of good housekeeping. From the dominant class point of view his tales were deemed useful and worthy enough for rearing children of all classes, and they became a literary staple in western culture. Fortunately for Andersen he appeared on the scene when the original middle-class prejudice against imaginative fairy tales was receding. In fact, there was gradual recognition that fantasy could be employed for the utilitarian needs of the bourgeoisie, and Andersen proved to be a most humble servant in this cause.

But what was at the heart of Andersen's mode of service? In what capacity did his tales serve children and adults in Europe and America? What is the connection between Andersen's achievement as a fairy-tale writer, his servile demeanour, and our cultural appreciation of his tales? It seems to me that these questions have to be posed even more critically if we are to understand the underlying reasons behind Andersen's rise to fame and general acceptance in the nineteenth century. In fact, they are crucial if we want to grasp the continual reception, service, and use of the tales in the twenitieth century, particularly in regard to socialization through literature.

Despite the fact that Andersen wrote a great deal about himself and his tales and was followed by scholars who have investigated every nook and cranny of his life and work, there have been very few attempts to study his tales ideologically and to analyze their function in the acculturation process. This is all the more surprising when one considers that they were written with a plump didactic purpose and were overloaded with references to normative behavior and ideal political standards. Indeed, the discourse of his narratives has a distinct ideological bias peculiarly 'marred' by his ambivalent feelings toward his social origins and the dominant classes in Denmark that controlled his fortunes. It is this 'marred ambivalence' which is subsumed in his tales and lends them their dynamic tension. Desirous of indicating the way to salvation through emulation of the upper classes and of paying reverence to the Protestant Ethic, Andersen also showed that this path was filled with suffering, humiliation, and torture—and that it could even lead to crucifixion. It is because of his ambivalent attitude, particularly toward the dominance of essentialist ideology, that his tales have retained their basic appeal up through the present day. But before we re-evaluate this appeal as constituted by the socializing elements of the tales, we must first turn to reconsider Andersen in light of the class conflict and conditions of social assimilation in his day.


Son of a poor cobbler and a washerwoman, Andersen was embarrassed by his proletarian background and grew to insist on notions of natural nobility. Once he became a successful writer, he rarely mingled with the lower classes. If anything, the opposite was the case: he was known to kowtow to the upper classes throughout all of Europe—quite an achievement when one considers his fame! However, his success then and now cannot be attributed to his opportunism and conformism. That is, he cannot simply be dismissed as a class renegade who catered to the aesthetic and ideological interests of the dominant classes. His case is much more complex, for in many respects his tales were innovative narratives which explored the limits of assimilation in a closed social order to which he aspired. Despite all the recognition and acceptance by the nobility and bourgeoisie in the western world, Andersen never felt himself to be a fully fledged member of any group. He was the outsider, the loner, who constantly travelled in his mature years, and his wanderings were symptomatic (as the wanderers and birds in his tales) of a man who hated to be dominated though he loved the dominant class.

As Elias Bredsdorff, the leading contemporary biographer of Andersen, maintains:

Speaking in modern terms Andersen was a man born in the 'Lumpenproletariat' but completely devoid of class 'consciousness'. In his novels and tales he often expresses an unambiguous sympathy for 'the underdog,' especially for people who have been deprived of their chance of success because of their humble origins, and he pours scorn on haughty people who pride themselves on their noble birth or their wealth and who despise others for belonging to, or having their origin in, the lower classes. But in his private life Andersen accepted the system of absolutism and its inherent class structure, regarded royalty with awe and admiration and found a special pleasure in being accepted by and associating with kings, dukes and princes, and the nobility at home and abroad.1

Though Andersen's sympathy did lay with the downtrodden and disenfranchised in his tales, it was not as unambiguous as Bredsdorff would have us believe, for Andersen's fawning servility to the upper classes also manifested itself in his fiction. In fact, as I have maintained, the ambivalent feelings about both his origins and the nobility constitute the appeal of the tales. Andersen prided himself on his 'innate' gifts as poet (Digter), and he devoutly believed that certain biologically determined people were chosen by divine providence to rise above others. This belief was his rationalization for aspiring toward recognition and acceptance by the upper classes. And here an important distinction must be made. More than anything else Andersen sought the blessing and recognition of Jonas Collin and the other members of this respectable, wealthy, patriarchal family as well as other people from the educated bureaucratic class in Denmark like Henriette Wulff. In other words, Andersen endeavored to appeal to the Danish bourgeois elite, cultivated in the arts, adept at commerce and administration, and quick to replace the feudal caste of aristocrats as the leaders of Denmark.

The relationship to Jonas Collin was crucial in his development, for Collin took him in hand, when he came to Copenhagen, and practically adopted him as a son. At first he tried to make a respectable bourgeois citizen out of the ambitious 'poet' but gradually relented and supported Andersen's artistic undertakings. In due course Andersen's primary audience came to be the Collin family and people with similar attitudes. All his artistic efforts throughout his life were aimed at pleasing them. For instance, on Jonas Collin's birthday in 1845 he wrote the following:

You know that my greatest vanity, or call it rather joy, consists in making you realize that I am worthy of you. All the kind of appreciation I get makes me think of you. I am truly popular, truly appreciated abroad, I am famous—all right, you're smiling. But the cream of the nations fly towards me, I find myself accepted in all families, the greatest compliments are paid to me by princes and by the most gifted of men. You should see the way people in so-called High Society gather round me. Oh, no one at home thinks of this among the many who entirely ignore me and might be happy to enjoy even a drop of the homage paid to me. My writings must have greater value than the Danes will allow for. Heiberg has been translated too, but no one speaks of his work, and it would have been strange if the Danes were the only ones to be able to make judgments in this world. You must know, you my beloved father must understand that you did not misjudge me when you accepted me as your son, when you helped and protected me.2

Just as important as his relationship to the father Collin was his relationship to his 'adopted' brother Edvard, who served as Andersen's super-ego and most severe critic. Not only did Edvard edit Andersen's manuscripts and scold him for writing too fast and too much to gain fame, but he set standards of propriety for the writer through his cool reserve, social composure, and business-like efficiency. In his person Edvard Collin, a Danish legal administrator like his father, represented everything Andersen desired to become, and Andersen developed a strong homo-erotic attachment to Edvard which remained visibly powerful during his life. In 1838 Andersen wrote a revealing letter which indicates just how deep his feelings for Edvard were:

I'm longing for you, indeed, at this moment I'm longing for you as if you were a lovely Calabrian girl with dark blue eyes and a glance of passionate flames. I've never had a brother, but if I had I could not have loved him the way I love you, and yet—you do not reciprocate my feelings! This affects me painfully or maybe this is in fact what binds me even more firmly to you. My soul is proud, the soul of a prince cannot be prouder. I have clung to you, I have—bastare! which is a good Italian verb to be translated in Copenhagen as 'shut up!' … Oh, I wish to God that you were poor and I rich, distinguished, a nobleman. In that case I should initiate you into the mysteries, and you would appreciate me more than you do now. Oh! If there is an eternal life, as indeed there must be, then we shall truly understand and appreciate one another. Then I shall no longer be the poor person in need of kind interest and friends, then we shall be equal.3

The fact is that Andersen never felt himself equal to any of the Collins and that he measured his worth by the standards they set. Their letters to him prescribe humility, moderation, asceticism, decorum, economy of mind and soul, devotion to God, loyalty to Denmark. On the one hand, they provided Andersen with a home, and on the other, their criticism and sobriety made him feel insecure. They were too classical and refined, too 'grammatically' correct, and he knew he could never achieve full recognition as Digter in their minds. Yet that realization did not stop him from trying to prove his moral worth and aesthetic talents to them in his tales and novels. This is not to suggest that all the fairy tales are totally informed by Andersen's relationship to the Collins. However, to understand their vital aspect—the ideological formation in relationship to the linguistic and semantic discourse—it is important to grasp how Andersen approached and worked through notions of social domination.

Here Noëlle Bisseret's study, Education, Class Language and Ideology, is most useful for my purposes since she endeavors to understand the historical origins of essentialist

ideology and concepts of natural aptitudes which figure prominently in Andersen's tales. According to her definition,

essentialist ideology, which originates along with the establishment of those structures constituting class societies, is a denial of the historical relations of an economic, political, juridical and ideological order which preside over the establishment of labile power relationships. Essentialist ideology bases all social hierarchy on the transcendental principle of a natural biological order (which took over from a divine principle at the end of the eighteenth century). A difference in essence among human beings supposedly predetermines the diversity of a psychic and mental phenomena ('intelligence,' 'language,' etc.) and thus the place of individual in a social order considered as immutable.4

By analyzing how the concepts of aptitude and disposition were used to designate a contingent reality in the late feudal period, Bisseret is able to show a transformation in meaning to legitimize the emerging power of the bourgeoisie in the nineteenth century: aptitude becomes an essential hereditary feature and is employed to justify social inequalities. In other words, the principle of equality developed by the bourgeoisie was gradually employed as a socializing agent to demonstrate that there are certain select people in a free market system, people with innate talents who are destined to succeed and rule because they 'possess or own' the essential qualities of intelligence, diligence, and responsibility.

We must remember that the nineteenth century was the period in which the interest in biology, eugenics, and race became exceedingly strong.5 Not only did Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer elaborate their theories at this time, but Arthur de Gobineau wrote his Essai sur l'inegalité des races humaines (1852) and Francis Galton wrote Hereditary Genius (1869) to give a seemingly scientific veneer to the middle-class social selection process. Throughout the western world a more solidified bourgeois public sphere was establishing itself and replacing feudal systems, as was clearly the case in Denmark.6 Along with the new institutions designed for rationalization and maximation of profit, a panoptic principle of control, discipline, and punishment was introduced into the institutions of socialization geared to enforce the interests and to guarantee the domination of the propertied classes. This is fully demonstrated in Michel Foucault's valuable study Discipline and Punish,7 which supports Bisseret's thesis of how the ideological concept of attitudes became the 'scientific' warrant of a social organization which it justified.

The ideology of natural inequalities conceived and promoted by a social class at a time when it took economic, and later on political, power gradually turned into a scientific truth, borrowing from craniometry, then from anthropometry, biology, genetics, psychology, and sociology (the scientific practice of which it sometimes oriented); the elements enabling it to substantiate its assertions. And by this very means, it was able to impose itself upon all the social groups which believed in the values presiding over the birth of aptitude as an ideology: namely Progress and Science. It now appears that well beyond the controversies, which oppose the different established groups, this general ideology directs the whole conception of selection and educational guidance: the educational system aims at selecting and training an 'elite,' which by its competence, merit, and aptitude is destined for high functions, the responsibility of which entails certain social and economic advantages.8

If we look at the case of Andersen in light of Bisseret's thesis at this point, two factors are crucial for his personal conception of an essentialist ideology. First, Denmark was a tiny country with a tightly knit bureaucratic feudal structure which was rapidly undergoing a transformation into a bourgeois dominated society. There were less than 200,000 people in the country, and 120,000 in Copenhagen. Among the educated bourgeoisie and nobility everyone knew everyone else who was of importance, and, though the country depended on the bourgeois bureaucratic administrators and commercial investors, the king and his advisors made most of the significant decisions up until the early 1840s when constitutive assemblies representing the combined interests of industry, commerce, and agriculture began assuming more control. Essentially, as Bredsdorff has aptly stated, 'in Danish society of the early nineteenth century it was almost impossible to break through class barriers. Almost the only exceptions were a few individuals with unusual artistic gifts: Bertel Thorvaldsen, Fru Heiberg and Hans Christian Andersen. And even they had occasionally to be put in their place and reminded of their low origin.'9 Here it is difficult to talk about a real breakthrough. Throughout his life Andersen was obliged to act as a dominated subject within the dominant social circles despite his fame and recognition as a writer.

Even to reach this point—and this is the second crucial factor—he had to be strictly supervised, for admission to the upper echelons had to be earned and constantly proved. And, Andersen appeared to be a 'security risk' at first. Thus, when he came to Copenhagen in 1819 from the lower-class and provincial milieu of Odense, he had to be corrected by his betters so that he could cultivate proper speech, behavior, and decorum. Then for polishing he was also sent to elite private schools in Slagelse and Helsingör at a late age from 1822 to 1827 to receive a thorough formal and classical education. The aim of this education was to curb and control Andersen, especially his flamboyant imagination, not to help him achieve a relative amount of autonomy.

Jonas Collin's purpose in rescuing Andersen and sending him to a grammar school was not to make a great writer out of him but to enable him to become a useful member of the community in a social class higher than the one into which he was born. The grammar-school system was devised to teach boys to learn property, to mould them into the desired finished products, to make them grow up to be like their fathers.10

As Bredsdorff remarks, the system was not so thorough that Andersen was completely broken. But it left its indelible marks. What Andersen was to entitle The Fairy Tale of My Life—his autobiography, a remarkable mythopoeic projection of his life11—was in actuality a process of self-denial which was cultivated as individualism. Andersen was ashamed of his family background and did his utmost to avoid talking or writing about it. When he did, he invariably distorted the truth. For him, home was the Collin family, but home, as Andersen knew quite well, was unattainable because of social differences.

It was through his writings and literary achievement that Andersen was able to veil his self-denial and present it as a form of individualism. At the beginning of the nineteenth century in Denmark there was a literary swing from the universality of classicism to the romantic cult of genius and individuality, and Andersen benefited from this greatly. As a voracious reader, Andersen consumed all the German romantic writers of fairy tales along with Shakespeare, Scott, Irving, and other writers who exemplified his ideal of individualism. Most important for his formation in Denmark, the romantic movement was

accompanied by what is known as the Aladdin motif, after the idea which Oehlenschläger expressed in his play Aladdin. This deals with the theory that certain people are chosen by nature, or God, or the gods, to achieve greatness, and that nothing can succeed in stopping them, however weak and ill-suited they may otherwise seem…. The twin themes of former national greatness and of the possibility of being chosen to be great, despite all appearances, assumed a special significance for Denmark after 1814. Romantic-patriotic drama dealing with the heroic past appealed to a population looking for an escape from the sordid present, and served as a source of inspiration for many years. At the same time the Aladdin conception also took on new proportions: it was not only of use as a literary theme, but it could be applied to individuals—Oehlenschläger felt that he himself exemplified it, as did Hans Christian Andersen—and it was also possible to apply it to a country.12

Andersen as Aladdin. Andersen's life as a fairy tale. There is something schizophrenic in pretending that one is a fairy-tale character in reality, and Andersen was indeed troubled by nervous disorders and psychic disturbances throughout his life. To justify his schizophrenic existence, he adopted the Danish physicist Hans Christian Orsted's ideas from The Spirit of Nature and combined them with his animistic belief in Christianity.13 Orsted believed that the laws of nature are the thoughts of God, and, as the spirit of nature becomes projected, reality assumes the form of a miracle. Moreover, Andersen felt that, if life is miraculous, then God protects 'His elect' and gives them the help they need. Such superstition—his mother was extraordinarily superstitious—only concealed Andersen's overwhelming desire to escape the poverty of his existence and his indefatigable efforts to gain fame as a writer. Certainly, if providence controlled the workings of the world, genius was a divine and natural gift and would be rewarded regardless of birth. Power was located in the hands of God, and only before Him did one have to bow. However, Andersen did in fact submit more to a temporal social system and had to rationalize this submission adequately enough so that he could live with himself. In doing so, he inserted himself into a socio-historical nexus of the dominated denying his origins and needs to receive applause, money, comfort, and space to write about social contradictions that he had difficulty resolving for himself. Such a situation meant a life of self-doubt and anxiety for Andersen.

Again Bisseret is useful in helping us understand the socio-psychological impact on such ego formation and perspectives:

Dominant in imagination (who am I?), dominated in reality (what am I?), the ego lacks cohesion, hence the contradiction and incoherence of the practices. Dominated-class children think in terms of aptitudes, tastes and interests because at each step in their education their success has progressively convinced them that they are not 'less than nothing' intellectually; but at the same time they profoundly doubt themselves. This doubt is certainly not unrelated to the split, discontinuous aspects of their orientations, as measured by the standards of a parsimonious and fleeting time. Their day-to-day projects which lead them into dead ends or which build up gaps in knowledge which are inhibitory for their educational future, reinforce their doubts as to their capacities.14

In the particular case of Andersen, the self-doubts were productive insofar as he constantly felt the need to prove himself, to show that his aptitude and disposition were noble and that he belonged to the elect. This is apparent in the referential system built into most of his tales which are discourses of the dominated. In analyzing such discourse, Bisseret makes the point that

the relationship to his social being simultaneously lived and conceived by each agent is based on unconscious knowledge. What is designated as the 'subject' (the 'I') in the social discourse is the social being of the dominant. Thus in defining his identity the dominated cannot polarize the comparison between the self/the others on his 'me' in the way the dominant does … There cannot be a cohesion except on the side of power. Perhaps the dominated ignore that less than the dominant, as is clear through their accounts. Indeed, the more the practices of the speaker are the practices of power, the more the situation in which he places himself in the conceptual field is the mythical place where power disappears to the benefit of a purely abstract creativity. On the other hand, the more the speaker is subjected to power, the more he situates himself to the very place where power is concretely exercised."

Though Bisseret's ideas about the dominated and dominant in regard to essentialist ideology are concerned with linguistic forms in everyday speech, they also apply to modes of narration used by writers of fiction. For instance, Andersen mixed popular language or folk linguistic forms with formal classical speech in creating his tales, and this stylistic synthesis not only endowed the stories with an unusual tone but also reflected Andersen's efforts to unify an identity which dominant discourse kept dissociating. Andersen also endeavored to ennoble and synthesize folk motifs with the literary motifs of romantic fairy tales, particularly those of Hoffmann, Tieck, Chamisso, Eichendorff, and Fouqué. His stylization of lower-class folk motifs was similar to his personal attempt to rise in society: they were aimed at meeting the standards of 'high art' set by the middle classes. In sum, Andersen's linguistic forms and stylized motifs reveal the structure of relationships as they were being formed and solidified around emerging bourgeois domination in the nineteenth century.

With a few exceptions, most of the 156 fairy tales written by Andersen contain no 'I,' that is, 'I,' is sublimated through the third person, and the narrative discourse becomes dominated by constant reference to the location of power. The identification of the third-person narrator with the underdog or dominated in the tales is consequently misleading. On one level, this occurs, but the narrator's voice always seeks approval and identification with a higher force. Here, too, the figures representing dominance or nobility are not always at the seat of power. Submission to power beyond the aristocracy constituted and constitutes the real appeal of Andersen's tales for middle-class audiences: Andersen placed power in divine providence, which invariably acted in the name of bourgeois essentialist ideology. No other writer of literary fairy tales in the early nineteenth century introduced so many Christian notions of God, the Protestant Ethic, and bourgeois enterprise in his narratives as Andersen did. All his tales make explicit or implicit reference to a miraculous Christian power which rules firmly but justly over His subjects. Such patriarchal power would appear to represent a feudal organization but the dominant value system represented by providential action and the plots of the tales is thoroughly bourgeois and justifies essentialist notions of aptitude and disposition. Just as aristocratic power was being transformed in Denmark, so Andersen reflected upon the meaning of such transformation in his tales.

There are also clear strains of social Darwinism in Andersen's tales mixed with the Aladdin motif. In fact, survival of the fittest is the message of the very first tale he wrote for the publication of his anthology—"The Tinderbox." However, the fittest is not always the strongest but the chosen protagonist who proves himself or herself worthy of serving a dominant value system. This does not mean that Andersen constantly preached one message in all his tales. As a whole, written from 1835 to 1875, they represent the creative process of a dominated ego endeavoring to establish a unified self while confronted with a dominant discourse which dissociated this identity. The fictional efforts are variations on a theme of how to achieve approbation, assimilation, and integration in a social system which does not allow for real acceptance or recognition if one comes from the lower classes. In many respects Andersen is like a Humpty-Dumpty figure who had a great fall when he realized as he grew up that entrance into the educated elite of Denmark did not mean acceptance and totality. Nor could all the king's men and horses put him back together when he was humiliated and perceived the inequalities. So his fairy tales are variegated and sublimated efforts to achieve wholeness, to gain vengeance, and to depict the reality of class struggle. The dominated voice, however, remains constant in its reference to real power.

Obviously there are other themes than power and domination in the tales and other valid approaches to them, but I believe that the widespread, continuous reception of Andersen's fairy tales in western culture can best be explained by understanding how the discourse of the dominated functions in the narratives. Ideologically speaking Andersen furthered bourgeois notions of the self-made man or the Horatio Alger myth, which was becoming so popular in America and elsewhere, while reinforcing a belief in the existing power structure that meant domination and exploitation of the lower classes. This is why we must look more closely at the tales to analyze how they embody the dreams of social rise and individual happiness which further a powerful, all-encompassing bourgeois selection process.


Bredsdorff notes that, among the 156 tales written by Andersen, there are 30 which have proven to be the most popular throughout the world.'6 My analysis will concentrate first on these tales in an effort to comprehend the factors which might constitute their popularity in reception. Since they form the kernel of Andersen's achievement, they can be considered the ultimate examples of how the dominated discourse can rationalize power in fairy tales written for children and adults as well. Aside from examining this aspect of these tales, I shall also analyze those features in other significant tales that reveal the tensions of a life which was far from the fairy tale Andersen wanted his readers to believe it was. Ironically, the fairy tales he wrote are more 'realistic' than his own autobiographies, when understood as discourses defined by dominance relationships in which the narrator defines what he would like to be according to definitions of a socially imposed identity.

Since there is no better starting point than the beginning, let us consider Andersen's very first tale "The Tinderbox" as an example of how his dominated discourse functions. As I have already mentioned, the basic philosophy of "The Tinderbox" corresponds to the principles of social Darwinism, but this is not sufficient enough to understand the elaboration of power relations and the underlying message of the tale. We must explore further.

As the tale unfolds, it is quite clear that the third-person narrative voice and providence are on the young soldier's side, for without any ostensible reason he is chosen by the witch to fetch a fortune. Using his talents, he not only gains a treasure but immense power, even if he must kill the witch to do so. Here the murder of the witch is not viewed as immoral since witches are evil per se. The major concern of Andersen is to present a young soldier who knows how to pull himself up by the bootstraps when fortune shines upon him to become a 'refined gentleman.'17 The word refined has nothing to do with culture but more with money and power. The soldier learns this when he runs out of coins, is forgotten by fair-weather friends, and sinks in social status. Then he discovers the magic of the tinderbox and the power of the three dogs which means endless provision. Here Andersen subconsciously concocted a socio-political formula which was the keystone of bourgeois progress and success in the nineteenth century: use of talents for the acquisition of money, establish a system of continual recapitalization (tinderbox and three dogs) to guarantee income and power, employ money and power to achieve social and political hegemony. The soldier is justified in his use of power and money because he is essentially better than anyone else—chosen to rule. The king and queen are dethroned, and the soldier rises through the application of his innate talents and fortune to assume control of society.

Though it appears that the soldier is the hero of the story, there is a hidden referent of power in this dominated narrative discourse. Power does not reside in the soldier but in the 'magical' organization of social relations that allows him to pursue and realize his dreams. Of course, these social relations were not as magical as they appear since they were formed through actual class struggle to allow for the emergence of a middle class which set its own rules of the game and established those qualities necessary for leadership: cleverness, perseverence, cold calculation, respect for money and private property. Psychologically Andersen's hatred for his own class (his mother) and the Danish nobility (king and queen) are played out bluntly when the soldier kills the witch and has the king and queen eliminated by the dogs. The wedding celebration at the end is basically a celebration of the solidification of power by the bourgeois class in the nineteenth century: the unification of a middle-class soldier with a royal princess. In the end the humorous narrative voice appears to gain deep pleasure and satisfaction in having related this tale, as though it has been ordained from above.

In all the other tales published in 1835 there is a process of selection and proving one's worth according to the hidden referent of bourgeois power. In "Little Claus and Big Claus" the small farmer must first learn the lesson of humility before providence takes his side and guides him against the vengeful big farmer. Again, using his wits without remorse, an ordinary person virtually obliterates a rich arrogant landowner and amasses a small fortune. "The Princess and the Pea" is a simple story about the essence of true nobility. A real prince can only marry a genuine princess with the right sensitivity. This sensitivity is spelled out in different ways in the other tales of 1835: "Little Ida's Flowers," "Thumbelina," and "The Travelling Companion" portray 'small' or oppressed people who cultivate their special talents and struggle to realize their goals despite the forces of adversity. Ida retains and fulfills her dreams of flowers despite the crass professor's vicious attacks. Thumbelina survives many adventures to marry the king of the angels and become a queen. Johannes, the poor orphan, promises to be good so that God will protect him, and indeed his charitable deeds amount to a marriage with a princess. The Taugenichts who trusts in God will always be rewarded. All the gifted but disadvantaged characters, who are God-fearing, come into their own in Andersen's tales, but they never take possession of power which resides in the shifting social relations leading to bourgeois hegemony.

In all of these early tales Andersen focuses on lower-class or disenfranchised protagonists, who work their way up in society.18 Their rise is predicated on their proper behavior which must correspond to a higher power that elects and tests the hero. Though respect is shown for feudal patriarchy, the correct normative behavior reflects the values of the bourgeoisie. If the hero comes from the lower classes, he or she must be humbled if not humiliated at one point to test obedience. Thereafter, the natural aptitude of a successful individual will be unveiled through diligence, perseverence, and adherence to an ethical system which legitimizes bourgeois domination. Let me be more specific by focusing on what I consider the major popular tales written after 1835: "The Little Mermaid" (1837), "Steadfast Tin Soldier" (1838), "The Swineherd" (1841), "The Nightingale" (1843), "The Ugly Duckling"(1843) "The Red Shoes " (1845), and "The Shadow" (1847).

There are two important factors to bear in mind when considering the reception of these tales in the nineteenth century and the present in regard to the narrative discourse of the dominated. First, as a member of the dominated class, Andersen could only experience dissociation despite entrance into upper-class circles. Obviously this was because he measured his success as a person and artist by standards which were not of his own social group's making. That ultimate power which judged his efforts and the destiny of his heroes depended on the organization of hierarchical relations at a time of socio-political transformation which was to leave Denmark and most of Europe under the control of the bourgeoisie. This shift in power led Andersen to identify with the emerging middle-class elite, but he did not depict the poor and disenfranchised in a negative way. On the contrary, Andersen assumed a humble, philanthropic stance—the fortunate and gifted are obliged morally and ethically to help the less fortunate. The dominated voice of all his narratives does not condemn his former social class, rather Andersen loses contact with it by denying the rebellious urges of his class within himself and making compromises that affirmed the rightful domination of the middle-class ethic.

A second factor to consider is the fundamental ambiguity of the dominated discourse in Andersen's tales: this discourse cannot represent the interests of the dominated class; it can only rationalize the power of the dominant class so that this power becomes legitimate and acceptable to those who are powerless. As I have noted before, Andersen depersonalizes his tales by using the third-person stance which appears to universalize his voice. However, this self-denial is a recourse of the dominated, who always carry references and appeal to those forces which control their lives. In Andersen's case he mystifies power and makes it appear divine. It is striking, as I have already stressed, when one compares Andersen to other fairy-tale writers of his time, how he constantly appeals to God and the Protestant Ethic to justify and sanction the actions and results of his tales. Ironically, to have a soul in Andersen's tales one must sell one's soul either to the aristocracy or to the bourgeoisie. In either case it was the middle-class moral and social code which guaranteed the success of his protagonists, guaranteed his own social success, and ultimately has guaranteed the successful reception of the tales to the present.

Speaking about lost souls, then, let us turn to "The Little Mermaid" to grasp how the dominated seemingly gains 'happiness and fulfillment' while losing its voice and real power. This tale harks back to the folk stories of the water urchin who desires a soul so she can marry a human being whom she loves. Andersen was certainly familiar with Goethe's Melusine and Fouqué's Undine, stories which ennobled the aspirations of pagan sprites, but his tale about the self-sacrificing mermaid is distinctly different from the narratives of Goethe and Fouqué, who were always part of the dominant class and punished upper-class men for forgetting their Christian manners. Andersen's perspective focuses more on the torture and suffering which a member of the dominated class must undergo to establish her true nobility and virtues. Characteristically, Andersen only allows the mermaid to rise out of the water and move in the air of royal circles after her tongue is removed and her tail is transformed into legs described as 'sword-like' when she walks or dances. Voiceless and tortured, deprived physically and psychologically, the mermaid serves a prince who never fully appreciates her worth. Twice she saves his life. The second time is most significant: instead of killing him to regain her identity and rejoin her sisters and grandmother, the mermaid forfeits her own life and becomes an ethereal figure, blessed by God. If she does good deeds for the next 300 years, she will be endowed with an immortal soul. As she is told, her divine mission will consist of flying through homes of human beings as an invisible spirit. If she finds a good child who makes his parents happy and deserves their love, her sentence will be shortened. A naughty and mean child can lengthen the 300 years she must serve in God's name.

However, the question is whether the mermaid is really acting in God's name. Her falling in love with royalty and all her future actions involve self-denial and a process of rationalizing self-denial. The mermaid's ego becomes dissociated because she is attracted to a class of people who will never accept her on her own terms. To join her 'superiors' she must practically cut her own throat, and, though she realizes that she can never express truthfully who she is and what her needs are, she is unwilling to return to her own species or dominated class. Thus she must somehow justify her existence to herself through abstinence and self-abnegation—values preached by the bourgeoisie and certainly not practiced by the nobility and upper classes. Paradoxically Andersen seems to be preaching that true virtue and self-realization can be obtained through self-denial. This message, however, is not so paradoxical since it comes from the voice of the dominated. In fact, it is based on Andersen's astute perception and his own experience as a lower-class clumsy youth who sought to cultivate himself: by becoming voiceless, walking with legs like knives, and denying one's needs, one (as a non-entity) gains divine recognition.

Andersen never tired of preaching self-abandonment and self-deprivation in the name of bourgeois laws. The reward was never power over one's life but security in adherence to power. For instance, in "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," the soldier falls in love with a ballerina and remarks: 'She would be a perfect wife for me … but I am afraid she is above me. She has a castle, and I have only a box that I must share with twenty-four soldiers; that wouldn't do for her. Still, I would like to make her acquaintance.'19 He must endure all sorts of hardships in pursuit of his love and is finally rewarded with fulfillment—but only after he and the ballerina are burned and melted in a stove. Again, happiness is predicated on a form of self-effacement.

This does not mean that Andersen was always self-denigrating in his tales. He often attacked greed and false pride. But what is interesting here is that vice is generally associated with the pretentious aristocracy and hardly ever with bourgeois characters. Generally speaking, Andersen punished overreachers, that is, the urge within himself to be rebellious. Decorum and balance became articles of faith in his philosophical scheme of things. In " The Swineherd" he delights in depicting the poor manners of a princess who has lost her sense of propriety. Andersen had already parodied the artificiality and pretentiousness of the nobility in "The Tinderbox and " "Emperor's Clothes." Similar to the 'taming of the shrew' motif in the folk tale King Thrushbeard, Andersen now has the dominant figure of the fickle, proud princess humiliated by the dominated figure of the prince disguised as swineherd. However, there is no happy end here, for the humor assumes a deadly seriousness when the prince rejects the princess after accomplishing his aim: ' "I have come to despise you", said the prince, "You did not want an honest prince. You did not appreciate the rose or the nightingale, but you could kiss a swineherd for the sake of a toy. Farewell!" '20

The oppositions are clear: honesty vs. falseness, genuine beauty (rose/nightingale) vs. manufactured beauty (toys), nobility of the soul vs. soulless nobility. Indirectly Andersen argues that the nobility must adapt to the value system of the emerging bourgeoisie or be locked out of the kingdom of happiness. Without appreciating the beauty and power of genuine leaders—the prince is essentially middle-class—the monarchy will collapse.

This theme is at the heart of "The Nightingale," which can also be considered a remarkable treatise about art, genius, and the role of the artist. The plot involves a series of transformations in power relations and service. First the Chinese Emperor, a benevolent patriarch, has the nightingale brought to his castle from the forest. When the chief courtier finds the nightingale, he exclaims: "I had not imagined it would look like that. It looks so common! I think it has lost its color from shyness and out of embarrassment at seeing so many noble people at one time.'21 Because the common-looking bird (an obvious reference to Andersen) possesses an inimitable artistic genius, he is engaged to serve the Emperor. The first phase of the dominant-dominated relationship based on bonded servitude is changed into neglect when the Emperor is given a jeweled mechanical bird that never tires of singing. So the nightingale escapes and returns to the forest, and eventually the mechanical bird breaks down. Five years later the Emperor falls sick and appears to be dying. Out of his own choice the nightingale returns to him and chases death from his window. Here the relationship of servitude is resumed with the exception that the nightingale has assumed a different market value: he agrees to be the emperor's songbird forever as long as he can come and go as he pleases. Feudalism has been replaced by a free market system; yet, the bird/artist is willing to serve loyally and keep the autocrat in power. 'And my song shall make you happy and make you thoughtful. I shall sing not only of the good and of the evil that happen around you, and yet are hidden from you. For a little songbird flies far. I visit the poor fisherman's cottages and the peasant's hut, far away from your palace and your court. I love your heart more than your crown, and I feel that the crown has a fragrance of something holy about it. I will come! I will sing for you!'22

As we know, Andersen depended on the patronage of the King of Denmark and other upper-class donors, but he never felt esteemed enough, and he disliked the strings which were attached to the money given to him. Instead of breaking with such patronage, however, the dominated voice of this discourse seeks to set new limits which continue servitude in marketable conditions more tolerable for the servant. Andersen reaffirms the essentialist ideology of this period and reveals how gifted 'common' individuals are the pillars of power—naturally in service to the state. Unfortunately, he never bothered to ask why 'genius' cannot stand on its own and perhaps unite with like-minded people.

In "The Ugly Duckling" genius also assumes a most awe-inspiring shape, but it cannot fly on its own. This tale has generally been interpreted as a parable of Andersen's own success story because the naturally gifted underdog survives a period of 'ugliness' to reveal its innate beauty. Yet, more attention should be placed on the servility of genius. Though Andersen continually located real power in social conditions which allowed for the emergence of bourgeois hegemony, he often argued—true to conditions in Denmark—that power was to be dispensed in servitude to appreciate rulers, and naturally these benevolent rulers were supposed to recognize the interests of the bourgeoisie. As we have seen in "The Nightingale," the artist returns to serve royalty after he is neglected by the emperor. In "The Ugly Duckling," the baby swan is literally chased by coarse lower-class animals from the henyard. His innate beauty cannot be recognized by such crude specimens, and only after he survives numerous ordeals, does he realize his essential greatness. But his self-realization is ambivalent, for right before he perceives his true nature, he wants to kill himself: "I shall fly over to them, those royal birds! And they can hack me to death because I, who am so ugly, dare to approach them! What difference does it make! It is better to be killed by them than to be bitten by the other ducks, and pecked by the hens, and kicked by the girl who tends the henyard; or to suffer through the winter.'23

Andersen expresses a clear disdain for the common people's lot and explicitly states that to be humiliated by the upper class is worth more than the trials and tribulations one must suffer among the lower classes. And, again, Andersen espouses bourgeois essentialist philosophy when he saves the swan and declares as narrator: 'It does not matter that one has been born in the henyard as long as one has lain in a swan's egg.'24 The fine line between eugenics and racism fades in this story where the once-upon-a-time dominated swan reveals himself to be a tame but noble member of a superior race. The swan does not return 'home' but lands in a beautiful garden where he is admired by children, adults, and nature. It appears as though the swan has finally come into his own, but, as usual, there is a hidden reference of power. The swan measures himself by the values and aesthetics set by the 'royal' swans and by the proper well-behaved children and people in the beautiful garden. The swans and the beautiful garden are placed in opposition to the ducks and the henyard. In appealing to the 'noble' sentiments of a refined audience and his readers, Andersen reflected a distinct class bias if not classical racist tendencies.

What happens, however, when one opposes the structures of the dominant class? Here Andersen can be merciless, just as merciless as the people who reprimanded and scolded him for overreaching himself. In "The Red Shoes," Karen, a poor little orphan, mistakenly believes that she is adopted by a generous old woman because she wears red shoes, a symbol of vanity and sin. This red stigma is made clear as she is about to be baptized in church: 'When the bishop laid his hands on her head and spoke of the solemn promise she was about to make—of her convenant with God to be a good Christian—her mind was not on his words. The ritual music was played on the organ; the old cantor sang, and the sweet voices of the children could be heard, but Karen was thinking of her red shoes.'25 Although she tries to abandon the red shoes, she cannot resist their red lure. So she must be taken to task and is visited by a stern angel who pronounces sentence upon her: ' "You shall dance," he said, "dance in your red shoes until you become red and thin. Dance till the skin on your face turns yellow and clings to your bones as if you were a skeleton. Dance you shall from door to door, and when you pass a house where proud and vain children live, there you shall knock on the door so they will see you and fear your fate." '26 The only way Karen can overcome the angel's curse is by requesting the municipal executioner to cut off her feet. Thereafter, she works diligently for the minister of the church. Upon her death, Karen's devout soul 'flew on a sunbeam up to God.'27 This ghastly tale—reminiscent of the gory German pedagogical best-seller of this time, Heinrich Hoffmann's Struwwelpeter (1845)—is a realistic description of the punishment which awaited anyone who dared oppose the powers that be.

Though Andersen acknowledged the right of the Danish ruling class to exercise its power, he knew how painful it was to be at their mercy. The most telling tale about the excrutiating psychological effects of servility, the extreme frustration he felt from his own obsequious behavior, was "The Shadow." As many critics have noted, this haunting narrative is highly autobiographical; it stems from the humiliation that Andersen suffered when Edvard Collin adamantly rejected his proposal to use the 'familiar you' (du) in their discourse—and there was more than one rejection. By retaining the 'formal you' (De), Collin was undoubtedly asserting his class superiority, and this distance was meant to remind Andersen of his humble origins. Though they had come to regard each other as brothers during their youth, Collin lorded his position over Andersen throughout their lives and appeared to administrate Andersen's life—something which the writer actually desired but feared. In "The Shadow" Andersen clearly sought to avenge himself through his tale about a philosopher's shadow who separates himself from his owner and becomes immensely rich and successful. When the shadow returns to visit the scholar, his former owner wants to know how he achieved such success. To which the shadow replies that he will reveal 'everything! And I'll tell you about it, but … it has nothing whatsoever to do with pride, but out of respect to my accomplishments, not to speak of my social position, I wish you wouldn't address me familiarly.'

'"Forgive me!" exclaimed the philosopher. "It is an old habit, and they are the hardest to get rid of. But you are quite right, and I'll try to remember.'"28

Not only does the shadow/Andersen put the philosopher/Collin in his place, but he explains that it was Poetry which made a human being out of him and that he quickly came to understand his 'innermost nature, that part of me which can claim kinship to poetry.'29 Human-like and powerful, the shadow can control other people because he can see their evil sides. His own sinister talents allow him to improve his fortunes, while the philosopher, who can only write about the beautiful and the good, becomes poor and neglected. Eventually, the philosopher is obliged to travel with his former shadow—the shadow now as master and the master as shadow. When the shadow deceives a princess to win her hand in marriage, the philosopher threatens to reveal the truth about him. The crafty shadow, however, convinces the princess that the old man himself is a deranged shadow, and she decides to have him killed to end his misery.

The reversal of fortunes and of power relations is not a process of liberation but one of revenge. Nor can one argue that the shadow possesses power, for power cannot be possessed in and of itself but is constituted by the organization of social classes and property. One can gain access to power and draw upon it, and this is what the shadow does. Aside from being Andersen's wish-fulfillment, the fantastic projection in this story is connected to the Hegelian notion of master/slave (Herr/Knecht). The shadow/slave, who is closer to material conditions, is able to take advantage of what he sees and experiences—the underpinnings of social life—to overthrow his master, whereas the master, who has only been able to experience reality through the mediation of his shadow, is too idealistic and cannot defend himself. In Andersen's tale it should be noted that the shadow does not act in the interests of the dominated class but rather within the framework of institutionalized power relationships. Therefore, he still remains servile and caters to the dominant class despite the reversal of his circumstances. In this regard Andersen's heroes, who rise in class, do not undergo a qualitative change in social existence but point more to manifold ways one can accede to power.

As we have seen, the major theme and its variations in Andersen's most popular tales pertain to the rise of a protagonist under conditions of servitude. Only if the chosen hero complies with a code based on the Protestant Ethic and reveres divine providence does he advance in society or reach salvation. Though this is not explicitly spelled out, the references to real power reveal that it resides in the social organization of relations affirming bourgeois hegemony of a patriarchal nature. Even the benevolent feudal kings cannot maintain power without obeying sacrosanct bourgeois moral laws. Obviously this applies to the members of the lower classes and circumscribes their rise in fortunes. Limits are placed on their position in acceptable society. In most of the other 126 tales, which are not as widely circulated as the best known Andersen narratives, the dominated voice remains basically the same: it humbly recognizes the bourgeois rules of the game, submits itself to them as loyal subject and has the fictional protagonists do the same.


What saves Andersen's tales from simply becoming sentimental homilies (which many of them are) was his extraordinary understanding of how class struggle affected the lives of people in his times, and some tales even contain a forthright criticism of abusive domination—though his critique was always balanced by admiration for the upper classes and a fear of poverty. For instance, there are some exceptional tales of the remaining 126 which suggest a more rebellious position. Such rebelliousness, perhaps, accounts for the fact that they are not among the 30 most popular. Indeed, the dominated discourse is not homogenous or univocal, though it constantly refers to bourgeois power and never seeks to defy it. In 1853, shortly after the revolutionary period of 1848-1850 in Europe, Andersen reflected upon the thwarted rebellions in a number of tales, and they are worth discussing because they show more clearly how Andersen wavered when he subjected himself to bourgeois and aristocratic domination.

In "Everything in its Right Place" (1853) the arrogant aristocratic owner of a manor takes pleasure in pushing a goose-girl off a bridge. The peddler, who watches this and saves the girl, curses the master by exclaiming 'everything in its right place.'30 Sure enough, the aristocrat drinks and gambles away the manor in the next six years. The new owner is none other than the peddler, and, of course, he takes the goose girl for his bride and the Bible as his guide. The family prospers for the next hundred years with its motto 'everything in its right place.' At this point the narrator introduces us to a parson's son tutoring the humble daughter of the now wealthy enobled house. This idealistic tutor discusses the differences between the nobility and bourgeoisie and surprises the modest baronness by stating:

"I know it is the fashion of the day—and many a poet dances to that tune—to say that everything aristocratic is stupid and bad. They claim that only among the poor—and the lower you descend the better—does pure gold glitter. But that is not my opinion; I think it is wrong, absolutely false reasoning. Among the highest classes one can often observe the most elevated traits…. But where nobility has gone to a man's head and he behaves like an Arabian horse that rears and kicks, just because his blood is pure and he has a degree, there nobility has degenerated. When noblemen sniff the air in a room because a plain citizen has been there and say, "It smells of the street," why then Thespis should exhibit them to the just ridicule of satire.'31

This degradation is, indeed, what occurs. A cavalier tries to mock the tutor at a music soiree, and the tutor plays a melody on a simple willow flute which suddenly creates a storm with the wind howling 'everything in its right place!' In the house and throughout the countryside the wind tosses people about, and social class positions are reversed until the flute cracks and everyone returns to their former place. After this scare, Andersen still warns that 'eventually everything is put in its right place. Eternity is long, a lot longer than this story.'32 Such a 'revolutionary' tone was uncharacteristic of Andersen, but given the mood of the times, he was prompted time and again in the early 1850s to voice his critique of the upper classes and question not only aristocratic but also bourgeois hegemony.

In "The Pixy and the Grocer" (1853) a little imp lives in a grocer's store and receives a free bowl of porridge and butter each Christmas. The grocer also rents out the garret to a poor student who would rather buy a book of poetry and eat bread for supper instead of cheese. The pixy visits the student in the garret to punish him for calling the grocer a boor with no feeling for poetry. Once in the garret, however, the pixy discovers the beauty and magic of poetry and almost decides to move in with the student. Almost, for he remembers that the student does not have much food, nor can he give him porridge with butter. So he continues to visit the garret from time to time. Then one night a fire on the street threatens to spread to the grocer's house. The grocer and his wife grab their gold and bonds and run out of the house. The student remains calm while the pixy tries to save the most valuable thing in the house—the book of poetry. 'Now he finally understood his heart's desire, where his loyalty belonged! But when the fire in the house across the street had been put out, then he thought about it again. "I will share myself between them," he said, "for I cannot leave the grocer altogether. I must stay there for the sake of the porridge." '33 'That was quite human,' the dominated narrator concludes, 'after all, we, too, go to the grocer for the porridge's sake.'34

This tale is much more ambivalent in its attitude toward domination than "Everything in Its Right Place," which is open-ended and allows for the possibility of future revolutions. Here, Andersen writes more about himself and his own contradictions at the time of an impending upheaval (i.e., fire = revolution). Faced with a choice, the pixy/Andersen leans toward poetry or the lower classes and idealism. But, when the fire subsides, he makes his usual compromise, for he knows where his bread is buttered and power resides. The narrative discourse is ironic, somewhat self-critical but ultimately rationalizing. Since everyone falls in line with the forces that dominate and provide food, why not the pixy? Who is he to be courageous or different? Nothing more is said about the student, nor is there any mention of those who do not make compromises. Andersen makes it appear that servility is most human and understandable. Rarely does he suggest that it is just as human to rebel against inequality and injustice out of need as it is to bow to arbitrary domination.

The tales of 1853 demonstrate how Andersen was not unaware of possibilities for radical change and questioned the conditions of bourgeois/aristocratic hegemony. In one of his most remarkable tales "The Gardner and His Master," written toward the very end of his life in 1871, he sums up his views on servitude, domination, and aptitude in his brilliantly succinct, ambivalent manner. The plot is simple and familiar. A haughty aristocrat has an excellent plain gardener who tends his estate outside of Copenhagen. The master, however, never trusts the advice of the gardener nor appreciates what he produces. He and his wife believe that the fruits and flowers grown by other gardeners are better, and, when they constantly discover, to their chagrin, that their very own gardener's work is considered the best by the royal families, they hope he won't think too much of himself. Then, the storyteller Andersen comments, 'he didn't; but the fame was a spur, he wanted to be one of the best gardeners in the country. Every year he tried to improve some of the vegetables and fruits, and often he was successful. It was not always appreciated. He would be told that the pears and apples were good but not as good as the ones last year. The melons were excellent but not quite up to the standard of the first ones he had grown.'35

The gardener must constantly prove himself, and one of his great achievements is his use of an area to plant 'all the typical common plants of Denmark, gathered from forests and fields'36 which flourish because of his nursing care and devotion. So, in the end, the owners of the castle must be proud of the gardener because the whole world beat the drums for his success. 'But they weren't really proud of it. They felt that they were the owners and that they could dismiss Larsen if they wanted to. They didn't, for they were decent people, and there are lots of their kind, which is fortunate for the Larsens.'37

In other words, Andersen himself had been fortunate, or, at least this was the way he ironically viewed his career at the end of his life. Yet, there is something pathetically sad about this story. The gardener Larsen is obviously the storyteller Andersen, and the garden with all its produce is the collection of fairy tales which he kept cultivating and improving throughout his life. The owners of the garden are Andersen's patrons and may be associated with the Collin family and other upper-class readers in Denmark. We must remember that it was generally known that the Collin family could never come to recognize Andersen as a Digter but thought of him as a fine popular writer. Andersen, whose vanity was immense and unquenchable, was extremely sensitive to criticism, and he petulantly and consistently complained that he felt unappreciated in Denmark while other European countries recognized his genius. Such treatment at home despite the fact he considered himself a most loyal servant, whether real or projected, became symbolized in this tale. The reference to the common plants, which the gardener cultivates, pertains to the folk motifs he employed and enriched so they would bloom aesthetically on their own soil. Andersen boasts that he, the garden has made Denmark famous, for pictures are taken of this garden and circulated throughout the world. Yet, it is within the confines of servitude and patronage that the gardener works, and the dominated voice of the narrator, even though ironic, rationalizes the humiliating ways in which his masters treat Larsen: they are 'decent' people. But, one must wonder—and the tension of the discourse compels us to do so—that, if the gardener is superb and brilliant, why doesn't he rebel and quit his job? Why does the gardener suffer such humiliation and domination?

Andersen pondered these questions often and presented them in many of his tales, but he rarely suggested alternatives or rebellion. Rather he placed safety before idealism and chose moral compromise over moral outrage, individual comfort and achievement over collective struggle and united goals. He aimed for identification with the power establishment that humiliates subjects rather than opposition to autocracy to put an end to exploitation through power. The defects in Andersen's ideological perspective are not enumerated here to insist that he should have learned to accept squalor and the disadvantages of poverty and struggle. They are important because they are the telling marks in the historical reception of his tales. Both the happy and sad endings of his narratives infer that there is an absolute or a divine, harmonious power, and that unity of the ego is possible under such power. Such a projection, however, was actually that of a frustrated and torn artist who was obliged to compensate for an existence which lacked harmonious proportions and a center of autonomy. Andersen's life was one based on servility, and his tales were endeavors to justify a false consciousness: literary exercises in the legitimation of a social order to which he subscribed.

Whether the discourse of such a dominated writer be a monologue with himself or dialogue with an audience who partakes of his ideology, he still can never feel at peace with himself. It is thus the restlessness and the dissatisfaction of the dominated artist which imbues his work ultimately with the qualitative substance of what he seeks to relate. Ironically, the power of Andersen's fairy tales for him and for his readers has very little to do with the power he respected. It emanates from the missing gaps, the lapses, which are felt when the compromises are made under compulsion, for Andersen always painted happiness as adjusting to domination no matter how chosen one was. Clearly, then, Andersen's genius, despite his servility, rested in his inability to prevent himself from loathing all that he admired.


1Hans Christian Andersen. The Story of his Life Work (London: Phaidon, 1975), p. 152.

2Ibid., p. 179. Many more statements like this can be found in Andersen's letters and journals. See Hans Christian Andersen, Das Märchen meines Lebens. Briefe. Tagebucher, ed. by Erling Nielsen (Munich: Winkler, 1961). Unfortunately, the letters and journals have not been translated into English.

3Ibid., pp. 132-3.

4 London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979, pp. 1-2.

5 See Jeffrey M. Blum, Pseudoscience and Mental Ability (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978) and Stephan L. Chorover, From Genesis to Genocide: The Meaning of Human Nature and the Power of Behavior Control (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1979).

6 For the general development in Europe, see Jürgen Habermas, Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit. Untersuchungen zu einer Kategorie der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. (Neuwied: Luchterhand, 1962) and Charles Morazé, The Triumph of the Middle Classes. A Political and Social History of Europe in the Nineteenth Century (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966). For Denmark, see W. Glyn Jones, Denmark (New York: Praeger, 1970), pp. 17-129.

7 New York: Pantheon, 1968.

8Education, Class Language and Ideology, p. 26.

9Hans Christian Andersen, p. 154.

10Ibid., p. 69.

11 Cf. The Fairy Tale of My Life, trans. by W. Glyn Jones (New York: British Book Centre, 1955.) Andersen wrote three major autobiographies during his life, and each one is filled with distortions and amplifications of fact.

12Denmark, pp. 66-7.

13 Cf. Paul V. Rubow, 'Idea and form in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales,' in A Book on the Danish Writer Hans Christian Andersen, ed. by Svend Dahl and H.G. Topsoe-Jensen (Copenhagen: Det Berlingske Bogtrykkeri, 1955), pp. 97-136.

14Education, Class Language and Ideology, pp. 63-4.

15Ibid., p. 65.

16Hans Christian Andersen, p. 308. They are as follows: The Tinder Box, Little Claus and Big Claus, The Princess and the Pea, Little Ida's Flowers, Thumbelina, The Travelling Companion (1835); The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes (1837); The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Wild Swans (1838); The Garden of Eden, The Flying Trunk, The Storks (1839); Willie Winkie, The Swineherd, The Buckwheat (1841); The Nightingale, The Top and the Ball, The Ugly Duckling, (1843); The Fir Tree, The Snow Queen (1844); The Darning Needle, The Elf Hill, The Red Shoes, The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep, The Little Match Girl (1845); The Shadow (1847); The Old House, The Happy Family, The Shirt Collar (1848). Interestingly, the most popular tales are the earlier tales when Andersen tended to be less critical of social conditions and wrote more expressly for children.

17 Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, trans. by Erik Christian Haugaard (New York: Doubleday, 1974), p. 3.

18 This is also true of the novels written during this time: The Improvisatore (1835), O.T. (1836), and Only a Fiddler (1837).

19The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, p. 113.

20Ibid., p. 197.

21Ibid., p. 205.

22Ibid., p. 211.

23Ibid., pp. 223-4

24Ibid., p. 224.

25Ibid., p. 290.

26Ibid., p. 292.

27Ibid., p. 294.

28Ibid., p. 339.


30Ibid., p. 417.

31Ibid., pp. 420-1.

32Ibid., p. 423.

33Ibid., p. 427.


35Ibid., p. 1018.

36Ibid., p. 1020.

37Ibid., p. 1021.

John Griffith (essay date 1984)

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SOURCE: "Personal Fantasy in Andersen's Fairy Tales," in Kansas Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3, Summer, 1984, pp. 81-88.

[In the following essay, Griffith contends that Andersen depicted death as a welcome escape for the innocent from the frightening sexuality of the world.]

"We can begin by saying that happy people never make fantasies, only unsatisfied ones," Freud wrote in his essay on the relation between imaginative writing and day-dreaming. "Unsatisfied wishes are the driving power behind fantasies; every separate fantasy contains the fulfillment of a wish, and improves on unsatisfactory reality. The impelling wishes may vary according to the sex, character and circumstances of the creator; they may be easily divided, however, into two principal groups. Either they are ambitious wishes, serving to exalt the person creating them, or they are erotic."1

There is little doubt that unsatisfied wishes inspired Hans Christian Andersen to write, and to write what he did. Neurotic, vain, skittish, inclined toward hysteria and melancholy, Andersen lived a life of yearning and self-denial, of awkward advances and embarrassed retreats. His fairy tales were an outlet for feelings of frustration that troubled him all his life.

His biographer Elias Bredsdorff summarizes the conditions of his earliest years this way: "In a candid letter to a friend who knew him better than most, Andersen once described himself as 'a swamp plant.' It is a valid description. Andersen's background was, from a social point of view, the lowest of the low: grinding poverty, slums, immorality and promiscuity. His grandmother was a pathological liar, his grandfather insane, his mother ended by becoming an alcoholic, his aunt ran a brothel in Copenhagen, and for years he was aware that somewhere a half-sister existed who might suddenly turn up and embarrass him in his new milieu—a thought which haunted his life and dreams."2 From the beginning, Andersen turned to fantasy and make-believe to escape this reality. "I was a curiously dreamy child," he recalled. "As I walked about, I kept my eyes closed as often as not, so that people finally believed I had poor vision, despite the fact that this one of my senses was and is especially keen." He remembered being permitted to lie in his parents' bed for hours "in a waking dream, as if the actual world did not concern me."3 He liked to sit at home alone, playing with the puppet-theater his father made him, sewing clothes for his dolls and making up stories about his dolls and himself. "I told the boys curious stories in which I was always the chief person," even though "I was sometimes rallied for that."4 In particular, he recalled telling a little girl at school that he owned a castle, that he was a changeling child "of high birth, and that the angels of God came down and spoke to me."5

As a child, Andersen was squeamish about women, sex, and sensuality, and he never really outgrew that feeling. "I felt a strange dislike for grown-up girls, or for girls of more than twelve," he later wrote; "they really made me shudder; in fact, I used the expression about anything which I did not like touching that it was very 'girlish.'"6 When he was 29, and his more worldly friends encouraged him to frequent houses of prostitution in Naples, Andersen wrote in his journal, "It made me very sensual and passionate, but I resisted the temptation all the same. If I get home without having lost my innocence I shall never lose it…. I am still innocent, but my blood is burning, in my dreams everything inside me is boiling…. I'm sure experienced people will laugh at my innocence, but it isn't really innocence, it is an abhorrence of this thing for which I have such a dislike."7

As did his feeling about sex, Andersen's fiction grew directly out of his childhood. Many of his stories are like free-form children's fantasies—improvised, unplanned, exaggerated, as free as dreams and as compulsive. And they serve many of the same psychological purposes that the child's fantasies serve, in that they talk of ambition and romance in narratives whose only rules are the requirements of wishes and fears.

But the stories Andersen wrote as a man are not free-hearted celebrations of ego and eros. They begin in normal desires for self-exaltation and love; they address themselves to those subjects, and they expand with an energy, a sheer force of invention that apparently comes from Andersen's deep feelings. But the stories are shot through, too, with the fears and aversions and inhibitions Andersen felt as a child. From the horror he first felt at the world of his childhood, and at the poor figure he himself cut in it, Andersen created dreams not of unfettered pride and passion but of their opposites, humility and chastity. Ordinary instincts for self-aggrandizement are present in his tales, but the tales themselves are devoted to censoring those instincts rather than fulfilling them. The heroes and heroines of his imaginings are brave fugitives from carnality—meek and humble adventurers who win by renouncing victory, lovers whose sensibilities are so untuned to crudity that their failing to find happiness becomes a mark of their superiority. In his tales, Andersen declared himself the champion of innocence and the enemy of pride, desire, and ambition.

He wrote love-stories by the dozen—"The Little Mermaid," "Thumbelina," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep," "The Sweethearts" and "The Bog King's Daughter" are perhaps the most famous. Through them all runs one story, the basic Andersen fantasy. The central character is small, frail, more likely to be female than male—above all, delicate, an embodiment of that innocence which is harmlessness, that purity which is incapacity for lust. He/she is usually incapable of ordinary motion, physically unsuited to pursuit and consummation: the tin soldier has only one leg, the mermaid has no legs at all, Thumbelina is carried from place to place as if she were crippled. Andersen's imagination is much taken with statues as the emblem of chaste erotic feeling: the tin soldier and his ballerina are inanimate figurines, the shepherdess and the chimney sweep are made of porcelain, the little mermaid falls in love with a marble statue before she ever sees the prince in the flesh. (It is fitting that Copenhagen has immortalized the little mermaid herself as a statue.) In another story, "Psyche," the hero creates a statue of the girl he loves, the pristine symbol of his devotion. The girl herself rejects him.

Andersen's ideal lovers are often rejected. A few of the folk-tales he retold—such as "The Tinderbox"—end with the hero married and living happily ever after; but the stories he made up himself do not. Usually something prevents marriage—rejection, misunderstanding, snobbery, fate. At the end of "The Bog King's Daughter," the heroine steps out onto a balcony on her wedding night and just disappears. Andersen doesn't care very much if love is satisfied in this world, since the conclusion his fantasy really works toward is splendid, mystical death—the launching out of the soul into the infinite, leaving troublesome flesh behind. "It is lovely to fly from love to love, from earth into heaven," says Andersen, describing the death of the hero in "The Ice Maiden." "A string snapped, a mournful tone was heard. Death's kiss of ice was victorious against corruption."8 Similarly, the little mermaid leaves her body behind and becomes a daughter of the air. The tin soldier and the ballerina die together in flames, he melting into a tin heart and she reduced to a bright spangle. The shepherdess and the chimney sweep "loved each other until they broke" (301). Thumbelina dons white wings and flies away with her fairy-lover, who is "almost transparent, as if he were made of glass" (37). The bog king's daughter becomes "one single beautiful ray of light, that shot upward to God" (584).

Physical sensuality in these stories tends to be pictured as grasping, slimy, and disgusting. Thumbelina is coaxed, abducted, clutched at by a toad and her son, a fat black mole, and an ugly insect before she flies away to the fairy-king; the shepherdess is pursued by a satyr who had "a long beard, … little horns sticking out of his forehead and the legs of a goat" (297). The princess in "The Bog King's Daughter" is shudderingly embraced by an "ancient king; a mummy, black as pitch, glittering like the black slugs that creep in the forest" (574). Frequently the physical ordeal Andersen's lovers must go through in pursuit of transcendent love is a descent into dark, close, filthy places—the tin soldier floats down a gutter into a sewer and is swallowed by a fish; the shepherdess and the chimney sweep have to creep up and down a chimney flue; the ball and the top met in a garbage bin where "all kinds of things were lying: gravel, a cabbage stalk, dirt, dust, and lots of leaves that had fallen down from the gutter" (214).

Andersen's sharpest vision of sensual horror is in "The Little Mermaid." There the heroine, smitten with love for a human prince, sets out to find what she must do to make him love her in return. The grotesque ordeal Andersen contrives for her is a direct fantasy-enactment of the idea that, in order to be a wife, a girl must submit to rape. She must "divide her tail," and the experience is an excruciating one. She has to travel down to a terrible forest in the deepest part of the ocean, through polyps "like snakes with hundreds of heads," with "long slimy arms, and they had fingers as supple as worms" that reach out to grab her as she "held both her hands folded tightly across her breast" and hurries past (67, 68).

At last she came to a great, slimy open place in the middle of the forest. Big fat eels played in the mud, showing their ugly yellow stomachs…. Here the witch … sat letting a big ugly toad eat out of her mouth, as human beings sometimes let a canary eat sugar candy out of theirs. The ugly eels she called her little chickens, and held them close to her spongy chest. (68)

The witch tells her that if the prince is to love her, she must lose her tail with a sensation of having her body pierced by a sword. "The little mermaid drank the potion, and it felt as if a sword were piercing her body. She fainted and lay as though she were dead." (70)

Nowhere else in classic children's literature is there so terrified a vision of sex, seen through the eyes of innocence. The scene in "The Ice Maiden" where Rudy accepts death as his lover is calm by comparison:

He threw his arms around her and looked into her marvelous clear eyes for a second. Only for a second! And how is one to describe, to tell in words, what he saw in that fraction of a moment? What was it that overpowered him—a ghost? Or was it a bit of life that exists in death? Had he been lifted upward or had he been plunged into a deep, death-filled world of ice?

When she kisses him, "the eternal coldness penetrated his backbone and touched his forehead" (772). Here, as elsewhere, Andersen compresses into one scene the contradictory ideas that death is erotic, and that one can escape eroticism by dying. Something of that same paradox is present in another Andersen story, "The Garden of Eden," which posits sex as original sin. A young prince falls from innocence by kissing the lips of a beautiful naked woman, and death is both the reward and punishment for his action.

A fearful clap of thunder was heard, deeper, more frightening than any ever heard before. The fairy vanished and the garden of Eden sank into the earth: deep, deep down. The prince saw it disappear into the dark night like a far distant star. He felt a deathly coldness touch his limbs; his eyes closed, and he fell down as though he were dead. (143)

This troubled view of sex is important even in Andersen stories which are not explicitly about erotic subjects, for it explains his obsession with innocence in many forms. Innocence is the watchword in Andersen's fantasies. No virtue rates so high with him as child-like purity, by which he means freedom from adult desire, ambition, and thought. He found inspiration of a sort in folk-tales, because they often begin with heroes who are simple, humble and childlike. But he had to change the folk-tale pattern in order to bring out his personal fantasies. The traditional folk-tale shows its protagonist's growth and happiness directly; he gets money, love and power—as for instance in Andersen's own re-telling of "The Tinderbox," in which a soldier seizes a princess, kills her father, and ascends to the throne; or "Little Claus and Big Claus," in which an underdog-hero kills his rival and gets rich. The stories that Andersen made up himself turn this pattern inside out. Like folk-tale heroes, Andersen's start poor—but his stories demonstrate that the poor in spirit are blessed. Like them, Andersen's heroes hurl themselves into life—but discover that they would do better to die and be with God. In an Andersen story, it is better to be the peasant girl who can hear the nightingale than the chamberlain who cannot ("The Nightingale"); better to be little Gerda, who trusts and believes and wants to stay at home than Kay, who "gets a piece of the Devil's glass in his eye" and questions and criticizes and explores ("The Snow Queen").

In story after story, Andersen makes fun of and punishes people who care about money and power and artifice and prestige and critical judgment; he celebrates the humble and long-suffering and credulous and sentimental. His attitude belongs partly to Christian asceticism, and partly to nineteenth-century Romantic primitivism, sentimentalism, and anti-intellectualism, and no doubt takes many of its forms and phrases from those philosophies. But for Andersen personally the value of innocence is closely tied to his nightmarish view of sex, a fact which is easily discernible in several of his most famous stories. For him, to be innocent is, first and foremost, to expunge or repress one's sexual urges.

One especially graphic case in point here is his tale "The Red Shoes," a story Andersen found to be a particular favorite in the Puritan strongholds of Scotland, Holland, and the United States. Read in the loosest, most abstract terms, the story is a parable on the idea that pride goeth before a fall: a pretty girl, preoccupied with beauty and finery, shows her vanity, is punished for it, and learns her lesson. But given the concrete details of Andersen's personal fantasy, the story vibrates with sexual panic, celebrating innocence that is won through the repression of sexuality.

Andersen records that "The Red Shoes" was inspired by a memory from his youth: "In The Fairy Tale of My Life, I have told how I received for my confirmation my first pair of boots; and how they squeaked as I walked up the aisle of the church; this pleased me no end, for I felt that now the whole congregation must know that my boots are new. But at the same time my conscience bothered me terribly, for I was aware that I was thinking as much about my new boots as I was about our Lord."9 Out of that bothersome conscience came Andersen's story, with the new boots transformed to red shoes, and Andersen, the boy wearing them, transformed to a pretty girl named Karen.

What Andersen consciously thinks of as an emblem of pride and vanity, he unconsciously imbues with sexual significance in a number of ways. First, he gives his heroine the name of his scandalous half-sister, the one who disappeared into the red-light districts of Copenhagen and later embarrassed her brother by turning up with a common-law husband. Shoe and foot-symbolism tends to be sexual in many uses—the Old Testament and other folk-literatures often say "feet" as a euphemism for sexual organs, and foot-fetishism is a common neurotic device for expressing forbidden interest in the genitals. That "The Red Shoes" emanates from Andersen's memory of a ritual of puberty, and of his flaunting the new boots he had for that occasion, also helps to place it psychologically. Andersen emphasizes the sexual quality by making Karen's shoes red, the traditional color of unruly passion, and by making them dancing shoes, with a power to catch her up and carry her away against her conscious will: "Once she had begun, her feet would not stop. It was as if the shoes had taken command of them…. her will was not her own." (291) Giving herself over to their excitement, she faces the debility Andersen associated with sexual excess: "You shall dance in your red shoes until you become pale and thin. Dance till the skin on your face turns yellow and clings to your bones as if you were a skeleton." (292)

She must first acquire the red shoes against her mother's wishes; it is a man who sets them doing their fearful, orgiastic dancing, an old soldier with "a marvelously long beard that was red with touches of white in it" (291). When he touches them, they begin dancing.

The shoes "grow fast" to Karen's feet and will not come off—they are part of her body. The only way she can purge their evil is to cut off the offending members. "Do not cut off my head," she begs the executioner, "for then I would not be able to repent. But cut off my feet!" (293) He does as she asks, and she becomes like Andersen's other acceptable lovers: crippled. For a time thoughts of the lost sexuality still linger—she sees the red shoes dancing before her when she tries to go to church. Finally, in an agony of contrition and self-reproach, she wins God's mercy, and He sends His sunshine: "The sunshine filled Karen's heart till it so swelled with peace and happiness that it broke. Her soul flew on a sunbeam up to God; and up there no one asked her about the red shoes." (294)

"The Red Shoes" is a harrowing, gothic little tale, to be sure, and that may help explain its popularity. Actually, it doesn't succeed very well in advancing the dry moral idea that we should be humble and love God better than ourselves. What the solid events of the story convey is rather the idea that there is something we are tempted to do with our feet, but old ladies and ministers and angels don't want us to do it. If we refuse to listen to their warnings, a leering old man will touch our feet and set them working and we won't be able to stop. Then we'll be glad to have the grown-ups chop them off, and to be allowed to die and go to God. I suppose there is more than one way to say what that fantasy means; but any description which fails to account for the evocative image of the red-bearded man touching the girl's feet and setting them dancing uncontrollably has hardly done it justice.

Andersen himself was aware—at least partly—of the psychological links between his inhibited sexuality and his artistic creativity, his wish for fame as an artist, and his longing for death. The story "Psyche" shows clearly that he believed that his pursuit of ideal beauty and immortality through art and religion sprang from sexual longings that he could not allow himself to fulfill.

"Psyche" is the story of a young artist, poor and unknown, who strives for perfection in his art, but cannot produce anything that satisfies him. His worldly friends tell him he is too much the dreamer: "You have not tasted life. You ought to take a big healthy swallow and enjoy it." (786) They invite him to join them in their orgies and he is excited—"his blood ran swiftly through his body, his imagination was strong" (786). But he cannot bring himself to go with them—he feels "within himself a purity, a sense of piety" that stops him, and turns him toward working in clay and marble instead, as a superior alternative to physical lust. "What he wanted to describe [in his sculpture] was how his heart sought and sensed infinity, but how was he to do it?" (786)

The answer is that he sees a girl, just in passing, and falls in love. At first he makes no attempt to approach her; he turns his attention to a mental image he has of her, as she becomes "alive in his mind." He sets to work on a statue of her, made from marble he has to dig out from heaps of "broken glass," "discarded vegetables," "the tops of fennel and the rotten leaves of artichokes" (787). With these materials—a fantasy-image snatched from a passing glimpse of a beautiful girl, and white marble extracted from the filth of ordinary life—the artist constructs an image of perfect beauty.

He wants to believe that he now has what his friends have—only better. "Now I know what life is," he rejoices. "It is love! It is to be able to appreciate loveliness and to delight in beauty. And what my friends call 'life' is nothing but empty vanity, bubbles from the fermentation of the dregs, instead of the pure wine, drunk at the altar to consecrate life." (787) But despite this brave speech, he finds that his feelings for the statue are rooted in those "dregs" of erotic passion. He desires not just the idea of beauty, but the girl herself. "Soon both God and his tears were forgotten; instead he thought of his Psyche, who stood before him, looking as if she had been cut out of snow and blushing in the light of the dawn. He was going to see her: the living, breathing girl who stepped so lightly, as if she walked on air, the girl whose innocent words were music." (788)

His attempt to make love to the girl is a disaster. "He grabbed her hand and kissed it, and he thought it was softer than a rose petal and yet it inflamed him. He was so excited, so aroused, that he hardly knew what he was saying; words gushed out of his mouth and he could no more control their flow than the crater can stop the volcano from vomiting burning lava. He told her how much he loved her." (789) Contemptuously she spurns him.

His lust aroused, the young artist yields to his friends' coaxing and spends a riotous night with some beautiful peasant girls. Andersen's metaphors convey the sexual excitement, release, and disappointment he feels: "The flower of life … bloomed, bent its head, and withered. A strange, horrible smell of corruption blended itself with the odor of roses, it lamed his mind and blinded his sight. The fireworks of sensuality were over and darkness came." (791) Sickened with guilt, he buries the beautiful statue, enters a monastery, and begins a lifelong struggle to suppress the "unclean, evil thoughts" that spring up inside. "He punished his body, but the evil did not come from the surface but from deep within him" (793). He dies at last, his body and bones rot away, and the centuries pass over the unmarked grave of the statue which his love inspired him to make. At last, workmen digging a grave in a convent unearth the statue. No one knows the name of its creator. "But his gain, his profit from his struggle, and his search, the glory that proved the godliness within him, his Psyche, will never die. It will live beyond the name of its creator. His spark still shines here on earth and is admired, appreciated, and loved." (795)

What Andersen says in this elaborate parable is that the erotic hunger which other men feed with "a big healthy swallow of life"—"not only the bread, but the baker woman"—has for him been diverted to a hunger for ideal beauty and fame and spirituality. But he can find no satisfaction in these ideals; he goes to his grave cursing "the strange flames that seemed to set his body on fire." The statue he has made is beautiful, perfect, and his own, a product of his imagination inspired by passion. But there is no primary gratification to be had from it—only highly theoretical pleasure in the hope that this embodied fantasy would constitute a "gain, his profit from his struggle and his search, the glory that proved the godliness within him." Andersen's stories are like the artist's statue—mined from the "dregs" and "filth" of ordinary life, with energy that might otherwise have been spent in sensual revels. Their substance is the stuff of desire, the drive for love and power; but the art that shapes them is self-doubt and anxiety and troubled conscience. So they become in the end monuments to chastity and innocence, a marble statue in a nun's grave: no abiding satisfaction to their creator, but still something to be admired by others, "his spark that still shines here on earth and is admired, appreciated, and loved." Thus, finally, and by a most circuitous route, is the desire for love and eminence to be fulfilled, for Andersen.


1 Sigmund Freud, "On the Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming," trans. Joan Riviere, et al., in On Creativity and the Unconscious, ed. Benjamin Nelson (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), 47.

2 Elias Bredsdorff, Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of His Life and Work 1805-1875 (New York; Scribner's, 1975), 16.

3 Hans Christian Andersen, The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography, trans. Horace E. Scudder (1871; rpt. New York: Paddington, 1975), 8.

4The Fairy Tale of My Life, 21.

5The Fairy Tale of My Life, 9.

6 Quoted by Bredsdorff, 20.

7 Quoted by Bredsdorff, 281.

8 Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, trans. Erik Christian Haugaard (New York: Doubleday, 1974), 772. All quotations from Andersen's stories are from this edition, with page numbers cited parenthetically in the text.

9 Andersen's note on "The Red Shoes," The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, 1075.

Celia Catlett Anderson (essay date 1986)

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SOURCE: "Andersen's Heroes and Heroines: Relinquishing the Reward," in Triumphs of the Spirit in Children's Literature, edited by Francelia Butler and Richard Rotert, Library Professional Publications, 1986, pp. 122-26.

[In the following essay, Anderson argues that the endings of Andersen's fairy tales do not convey pessimism but that they instead express the "triumph of the Spirit " and the optimism and wisdom of remaining true to one's ideals and one's self.]

Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales have sometimes been described as too adult or too pessimistic for children. For example, May Hill Arbuthnot in her classic Children and Books, although praising Andersen as an allegorist, notes that "because of the double meaning, the adult themes, and the sadness of many of these stories, the whole collection is usually not popular with children."1 P. L. Travers found a "devitalizing element" of nostalgia in the tales.2 Bruno Bettelheim has commented that the conclusions of some of Andersen's stories are discouraging in that "they do not convey the feeling of consolation characteristic of fairy tales," and Jack Zipes accuses Andersen of teaching lessons in servility to the young.3 Andersen's tales continue, however to be published, read, discussed, and used as a basis for children's theater, and the most popular of them have an undeniable appeal for children. Furthermore, the most popular tales, such as "The Ugly Duckling," "The Little Mermaid," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Little Fir Tree," and "The Nightingale," include for the most part, those stories that were original with Andersen. His view of the world, then, the problems he poses and the solutions he offers must touch some nerve in us; there must be something more to them than simple pessimism, more than a servile call to compromise.

Andersen does indeed often deliberately undercut the facile happy ending that is the trademark of fairy tales, but are his many characters who fail to win a reward defeated in spirit? I would argue that they are not. Take the one that may be, perhaps, saddest of all his protagonists, the little fir tree (or pine tree as Erik Haugaard translates it).4 The tree fails to appreciate its youth in the forest, is bewildered and frightened during its one glorious evening as a baubled Christmas tree, is exiled to an attic, and there is unable to hold an audience of mice who want to hear stories of "bacon or candle stumps" (232), not of "How Humpty-dumpty Fell Down the Stairs but Won the Princess Anyway" (229). Hauled out into the spring sunlight, the pine tree is forced to recognize that it is a dead thing among the green renewal of the season and achieves its one brief moment of wisdom: "If I only could have been happy while I had a chance to be" (233). Finally the poor tree is burned, sighing its sap away in shots, and "Every time the tree sighed, it thought of a summer day in the forest, or a winter night when the stars are brightest, and it remembered Christmas Eve and Humpty-dumpty: the only fairy tale it had ever heard and knew how to tell. Then it became ashes" (233). The tree dies unfulfilled, yes, but in one sense undefeated. It never loses its vision of the possibility of beauty in the world. Like King Lear, the tree is ennobled by wisdom that comes too late.

When we read this tale to our son, then eight years old, he had tears in his eyes and commented that it was the saddest story he had ever heard. Initially, I judged this as a negative reaction, a rejection of the story, but I was wrong. He returned to the story again and again. Like the small boy who rips the golden star from the tree's branch and pins it to his chest, our son took something shining from the story and, for all I know, wears it to this day.

Of course not all of Andersen's tales end sadly. Even considering only those stories that are not simply retellings of old folktales (and therefore with conventional conclusions), we can find several types of endings. There are some which express religious optimism, and some which reward the hero or heroine with acceptance and love. Stories in the first group are rather self-consciously overlaid with Christianity and conclude optimistically. To mention only one of these, consider "The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream," a story quite different in tone and message from "The Pine Tree." The oak lives three hundred and sixty-five years, many of them as a landmark for sailors. It pities the mayflies and flowers for their short existences, but learns in a death dream of ascension into a joyous heaven that "Nothing has been forgotten, not the tiniest flower or the smallest bird" (548-49). The story concludes

The tree itself lay stretched out on the snow-covered beach. From the ship came the sound of sailors singing a carol about the joyful season, when Christ was born to save mankind and give us eternal life. The sailors were singing of the same dream, the beautiful dream that the old oak tree had dreamed Christmas Eve: the last night of its life. (549)

At least for the believer, this conclusion is more encouraging than that which gives the pine tree only ashes of regret.

Another class of stories in Andersen does include more tangible rewards. In these, the protagonists win acceptance by remaining true to their natures and persisting in some quest or duty. "The Ugly Duckling" comes immediately to mind, but perhaps "The Nightingale" is an even better example. In that tale, the small bird is as plain and dull in plumage at the end as at the beginning, but its ability to remain natural, to sing a spontaneous, honest song finally wins it the respect of the emperor who has been saved by the power of its singing and now realizes the false choice he made in earlier preferring the bejewelled, mechanical bird who can sing only one song. Of all Andersen's stories, this may be the one in which the triumph of spirit over matter is most simply and directly presented.

Love is the ultimate form of acceptance, and the tale "The Snow Queen" most fully elaborates this theme. Bettelheim concedes that this tale belongs among the tales that console.5 An allegory of reason versus love, "The Snow Queen" is, like all allegories, explicitly symbolic, and this very explicitness makes the story a good choice for analysis.

The childhood paradise of Gerda and Kai is blighted by Kai's growing away from Gerda into a cynical stage of adolescence (symbolized by the splinters of the mirror of reason that have entered his eyes and heart and by the numbing kisses of the Snow Queen who kidnaps him). Gerda, like the sister in Andersen's retold folktale "The Wild Swans," endures much suffering before she is able to restore Kai to his natural state as a warm-hearted, loving person. The story is a classic example of what Marie-Louise von Franz describes as the projection of anima—the suffering, brave woman as a projection of the man's problem with his feminine side. In this case the identification is very appropriately used since Gerda, in bringing about the union of intellect and emotion, is indeed a Sophia-like figure.

The story is one of Andersen's most successful blendings of Christian and folk elements. It contains not only many magical creatures (the Snow Queen herself, a talking raven, and a Finnish white witch), but also a hymn in place of the usual incantation, angels formed from the breath of prayers, and a wise old grandmother who knows both the language of ravens and that of the Bible. After Gerda, through her persistence, reaches the ice castle and frees Kai with her warm tears, the two retrace her steps and finally arrive back at the old grandmother's apartment. Andersen tells us that "as they stepped through the doorway they realized that they had grown: they were no longer children" (261). But the grandmother is reading "Whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of Heaven as a little child shall not enter therein" (261). Kai and Gerda understand the lesson and "There they sat, the two of them grownups; and yet in their hearts children; and it was summer: a warm glorious summer day!" (261). In choosing that particular text from the New Testament, Andersen voices a central theme shared by Christian theologians and writers for children. For the child, and for all of us, the test of spirit is to grow into intellectual wisdom without losing the capacity for emotion, for love.

Certainly this is a central theme with Andersen himself. Elizabeth Cook holds that "two of his strongest themes are the plight of the outsider, and the primacy of Love over Reason."6 We see these ideas combined in two tales where the endings are unhappy and love must be its own reward. In both "The Little Mermaid" and "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" the main characters persist and suffer and do not win. These stories, along with "The Pine Tree," "The Little Match Girl," and that very complex Andersen tale "The Shadow," are probably most responsible for the author's reputation for pessimism. The mermaid is promised eternal life at the last minute, but in this story the Christian promise is not as successfully woven into the plot as it is in some others (the tale always seems to me to end with the mermaid's dissolution into foam). Are these stories, then, about the defeat of the spirit? As I said earlier, I think not. Neither the mermaid nor the tin soldier turn aside from their goal, nor do they become bitter or vengeful. Through many trials they continue to be humane and loving. Many of Andersen's heroes and heroines, though they suffer greatly, remain true to their ideals. If not rewarded, neither are they defeated. And the true triumph of the spirit, after all, consists not in winning the prince or princess, the kingdom or riches, or even immortality, but in being worthy of the winning.

Much that is written for and about children springs from the premise that the young need the hope and encouragement provided by the success of the hero in the stories presented to them, and that they cannot cope with models of failure. This may be true for certain ages and types, but it is in many cases a condescending and even dishonest attitude. Hope can help develop a child, but false hope can absolutely devastate. Hans Christian Andersen knew that when Humpty-dumpty fell, he didn't win the princess anyway and that a storyteller who claims he did is a liar and, further, that an innocent, like the foolish pine tree, who believes the lie will reap much unhappiness.

The child who comes to Andersen for spiritual sustenance will learn that we must both test our dreams and be tested by them and that in this world some bright dreams have gray awakenings. Will this harm or strengthen a child? I think it strengthened our own children, that our son drank courage, not despair, from the tears he shed over the story of the pine tree. In Andersen's tale "The Pixy and the Grocer" the pixy peeks through the keyhole and sees the turbulent visions that the poor student enjoys while sitting under the magic tree of poetry. Before such splendor, the pixy "experienced greatness…. He cried without knowing why he cried, but found that in those tears happiness was hidden" (426). So art redeems us; as Tolkien put it so well in his famous essay on children and fairy stories, "It is one of the lessons of fairy stories (if we can speak of the lessons of things that do not lecture) that on callow, lumpish, and selfish youth peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity and even sometimes wisdom."7 Hans Christian Andersen gives us in his stories "peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death" but also "dignity" and "wisdom."


1 May Hill Arbuthnot and Zena Sutherland, Children and Books, 4th ed. (Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1972), 313.

2 P. L. Travers, "Only Connect," Quarterly Journal of Acquisitions of the Library of Congress (October 1967); repr. in Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature, ed. Sheila Egoff, G. T. Stubbs, and L. F. Ashley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 198.

3 Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Knopf, 1976), 37; Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization (New York: Wildman Press, 1983), 94.

4 Hans Christian Andersen, The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, trans. Erik Haugaard (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1983). Page numbers for quotes from this edition are given in the text.

5 Bettelheim, Uses of Enchantment, 37.

6 Elizabeth Cook, The Ordinary and the Fabulous: An Introduction to Myths, Legends, and Fairy Tales for Teachers and Storytellers (London: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 43.

7 J. R. R. Tolkien, "Children and Fairy Stories," from Tree and Leaf, in Sheila Egoff, G. T. Stubbs, and L. F. Ashley, Only Connect, New York: Oxford University Press, 1969, p. 120.

Jon Cech (essay date 1987)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4801

SOURCE: "Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales and Stories: Secrets, Swans and Shadows," in Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, Vol. 2: Fairy Tales, Fables, Myths, Legends, and Poetry, Children's Literature Association, 1987, pp. 14-23.

[In the essay following, Cech discusses the optimistic and pessimistic aspects of Andersen's fairy tales, relating them to the "competing sides of [Andersen's] nature."]

Among the 156 "tales and stories" that Hans Christian Andersen wrote between 1835 and 1872, a dozen or so are among the best-known, most frequently anthologized and reprinted retellings of fairy tales or literary fairy tales of any canon. Indeed, such stories as "The Ugly Duckling," "The Princess and the Pea," and "The Emperor's New Clothes" have been retold so often, and in so many different forms, that they have become part of the public domain of our oral folk tradition. Bo Grønbech claims that Anderson's tales have been translated into over a hundred languages; only the Bible and Shakespeare have been translated into more. Not long after the appearance of the first of Andersen's tales, one of his friends had quipped that Andersen's novels and plays might make him famous in Denmark, but his fairy tales would make him immortal. The friend's intuitive pronouncement has not been far off the mark.

This enormous success could not have been more unlikely, more unexpected than it was for Andersen, the son of a poor washerwoman and a melancholy cobbler from the Danish coastal town of Odense. When the fourteen-year-old Andersen left for Copenhagen in 1819, with thirteen thalers in his pocket and without an education, a trade or prospects, only two people in the world believed he would ever amount to anything: the local fortune-teller and Andersen himself. In The Fairy Tale of My Life, Andersen tells how, in her anxiety, his mother had consulted this "wise old woman," who had, after reading her cards and Andersen's coffee grounds, reassured her with the now famous prediction: "Your son will become a great man, and in honor of him Odense will one day be illuminated" (22). Andersen begged his mother to let him go to Copenhagen to seek his fortune there; he had dreamed that something wonderful would happen to him. "First one has to endure terrible adversity," he told his mother. "Then one becomes famous" (Stirling 53).

And suffer he had and did. The facts are well-documented in the numerous biographies of Andersen and in his diaries and The Fairy Tale of My Life, the autobiography which he revised frequently during his life. The grinding poverty of his childhood and youth, the desperate, depressing struggle for this lad from the wrong social class to climb the ladder of literary success, the unhappiness in his romantic life, the restless travelling, the hysteric phobias (of rabies, hotel fires, or being accidentally thought dead while asleep and buried alive), the "black" moods that swept over him—all are revealed by his biographers and more often than not by Andersen himself. He was, he informs us, the ugly duckling, the lowest in the town's pecking order—awkward, painfully sensitive, vulnerable—the brunt of crude jokes and coarse criticism. Famous as he later became, he never quite got over those early traumas, or the later scars. But they became the fuel of his fantasies and the substance of his stories. Reginald Spink quotes Andersen's own words to support that idea: "Most of what I have written is a reflection of myself. Every character is from life. I know and have known them all" (70). Spink observes:

Andersen never stopped telling his own story; that was the way he abreacted. Sometimes he tells it in an idealized form, sometimes with self-revelatory candour. In tale after tale—"The Tinder Box," "Little Claus and Big Claus," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Swineherd," "The Ugly Duckling"—he is the hero who triumphs over poverty, persecution, and plain stupidity, and who sometimes, in reversal of the facts, marries the princess ("Clodpoll") or scorns her ("The Swineherd"). (100)

For Andersen, the creative process was an act of remembering, of stating and then transforming biographical facts in order to somehow exorcise the demons that haunted him, those shadows that never quite stopped threatening to take over the poet and his identity.

But there are lives and there are lives. Not every roman à clef becomes a best-seller, let alone a classic; and not every reified life experience succeeds as a work of literature. In many of his fairy tales and stories, Andersen offered his readers a theme and its variations which was not only personal to him, but also had and continues to have a universal appeal: the rags-to-riches, duckling-to-swan theme. Every swineherd or common soldier is a potential prince, and every ugly duckling a swan, if they are true to their own good, decent nature. This idea, which appears with such frequency in Andersen's works, creates an immediate bond of identification and sympathy between Andersen and his readers, especially his younger readers who, like numerous heroes and heroines in Andersen, are struggling and are desperately in need of stories that frame the chaotic and conflicting emotions of this experience. In his tales Andersen is the champion of the underdogs, the downtrodden, the spurned, the impoverished—in short, those with every reason to hope for whatever transformations will lead to a better life.

Of course, this sense of hope, of a brighter and ultimately happy future (if one perseveres and remains good and kind in the process of enduring) is at the very core of the traditional fairy tale, as Bruno Bettelheim has pointed out in The Uses of Enchantment. Andersen had drawn his inspiration and the vehicle for expressing this theme from the traditional fairy tales that, he tells us in the notes he wrote to accompany his stories, he "had heard as a child, either in the spinning room or during the harvesting of the hops" (1071). Unlike other Romantic artists who also used the form and subject matter of the folk fairy tale, Andersen did not have to learn about his material second hand through study or from collecting trips in the countryside. He was steeped in its traditions; the world of the fairy tale "was his own world and had been so since birth" (Grønbech 95). This oral/aural sense of story, he felt, was important to capture, and he tried to do this, beginning with his first volume of stories which appeared in 1835. Of the four stories in this volume ("The Tinder Box," "Little Claus and Big Claus," "The Princess and the Pea," and "Little Ida's Flowers"), only the last was an original creation. The others were based on tales from the oral tradition, but elaborated upon in Andersen's inimitable style. His life-long friend, Edvard Collin, remembers how Andersen, during visits to his house, would tell the Collin children

stories which he partly made up on the spur of the moment, partly borrowed from well-known fairy tales; but whether the tale was his own or a retelling, the manner of telling it was entirely his own, and so full of life that the children were delighted. He, too, took delight in letting his humor run free. He spoke continually with plenty of phrases that children used, and gestures to match. Even the driest of sentences was given life. He didn't say, "The children got into the carriage and then drove away," but, "So they got into the carriage, good-bye Daddy, good-bye Mummy, the whip cracked, snick, snack, and away they went, giddy up!" People who later heard him reading aloud his tales would only be able to form a faint impression of the extraordinary vitality with which he told them to children. (Grønbech 89)

We hear this surging verbal energy in the swaggering first paragraph of Andersen's first published fairy tale—"The Tinderbox.":

A soldier came marching down the road: Left … right! Left … right! He had a pack on his back and a sword at his side. He had been in the war and he was on his way home. Along the road he met a witch. She was a disgusting sight, with a lower lip that hung all the way down her chest.

Andersen wrote to a friend as he was finishing this first collection, which he called Fairy Tales for Children, to explain what he was doing: "I want to win the next generations, you see!" (Grønbech 89) But by 1843, he had changed the title of those little volumes, containing three or four stories each, to Fairy Tales; and, within another ten years, they became, simply, Stories. But it had not taken Andersen twenty years before he "found out how to write fairy tales." Within a few years of beginning the stories, he wrote to a friend to say: "Now I tell stories of my own accord, seize an idea for the adults—and then tell it for the children while still keeping in mind the fact that mother and father are often listening too, and they must have a little something for thought" (Grønbech 91-2).

We see Andersen's concern with reaching the adult listening to (or reading the tale) throughout the fairy tales and stories. Andersen can't resist such an "adult" touch in "The Ugly Duckling," for example, when an old duck comes to call on the mother duck who has just hatched out her brood (except for the ugly duckling's egg). She brags to her guest that each of the new ducklings "looks exactly like their father." But then she quickly adds: "That scoundrel hasn't come to visit me once" (217). In "The Nightingale," after the bird has been summoned to the emperor's palace and has made the monarch weep with his music, Andersen, with his tongue in his cheek, describes the trickle-down effects of the concert:

"That was the most charming and elegant song we have ever heard," said all the ladies of the court. And from that time onward they filled their mouths with water, so they could make a clucking noise, whenever anyone spoke to them, because they thought that then they sounded like the nightingale. Even the chambermaids and the lackeys were satisfied; and that really meant something, for servants are the most difficult to please. Yes, the nightingale was a success. (207)

But there is more than just "a little something for thought" for the adults in many of the stories that Andersen began to include in these collections. Take, for instance, "The Sweethearts," a tale about a wooden top and the leather ball with which he is in love. She rejects his attentions, telling him that "mother and father were a pair of morocco slippers, and … I have a cork inside me." The ball gets lost on her ninth bounce, but the top, still very much in love with her, stays on as a favored plaything in the house, eventually getting rewarded with a coat of gold paint. Years later when he, too, is lost one day, he winds up in the same trash can as the ball. Her years of exposure have left her unrecognizable, but she proudly announces herself as before. At that moment the maid finds the top and retrieves him from the trash, never noticing the ball. And Andersen leaves the reader with the biting (and male chauvinist) commentary about life and love: "You get over it when your beloved has lain in a gutter and oozed for five years. You never recognize her when you meet her in the garbage bin" (215).

Similarly, stories like "The Shadow," have pushed beyond the boundaries of the literary fairy tale to become psychological fantasies directed toward an older reader. This story, one of Andersen's darkest and most enigmatic, examines what happens when a young scholar, an intellectual, sends his shadow across the street to the house of a beautiful woman, who turns out to be Poetry, while he himself remains aloof and detached, engrossed in his philosophical treatises and reveries on the other side of the street. Years pass, the scholar travels and writes, and the shadow, meanwhile, takes on a human form and a life of its own, becoming richly successful because it can peep into mankind's deepest secrets and because "he knew how to tell about some of what he had seen and how to hint at the rest, which was even more impressive" (342). Through an ironic reversal of events befitting a writer like Kafka, the philosopher becomes the shadow's shadow; the shadow goes on to marry the princess, and the philosopher, in the closing lines of the story, is executed. As the shadow has told the philosopher when he objects to the absurdity of becoming the shadow's servant, "that's the way of the world, and it isn't going to change" (341).

Andersen was criticized for writing such pessimistic and unfamiliar tales—such "philosophical" stories. He responded to his critics in the notes to his collected stories by arguing that "through the years… (he) tried to walk every radius, so to speak, in the circle of the fairy tale." The problem lay, Andersen felt, with some of those who had grown up with his earlier stories and thus expected a particular kind of tale from him. Somehow they had "lost the fresh spirit with which they once approached and absorbed literature (1087). To an extent, that is still true today. The popular notion of Andersen is that he is a writer or adapter of fairly traditional fairy tales; he has yet to receive the recognition he deserves as one of the pioneers and important innovators not only in the form of the literary fairy tale, but also in the forms of fantasy (what Andersen collectively referred to as the "wonder tale"). Tales like "The Millennium" (which begins: "They will home on wings of steam, the young citizens of America will fly through the air, across the great ocean, to visit old Europe.") are at the threshold of science fiction. "Auntie Toothache," the last story that Andersen wrote, is a grotesquely absurd visit to a nineteenth century Twilight Zone, where a young poet is visited in his dream by the archetypal spirit of tooth problems. Andersen serves up the malaise to us in the form of an aunt who, in the waking world, has over-indulged the poet with sweets and with encouragement to keep writing his sentimental verse. In the young man's nightmare, though, "Auntie Toothache" treats him to an "Ode to Pain" on his wisdom teeth and forces him to admit that her power is "greater than poetry, mathematics, philosophy, and all the rest of the music… stronger and more penetrating than all other feeling that has been painted on canvas or carved in marble… older than all the others… born right outside the gates of paradise, where the wet winds blow and the toadstools grow" (1066). She leaves only when the poet, in a dental delirium, agrees to stop writing verse forever. Andersen wrote this sardonically witty story when he returned to Odense in December of 1867 to be made an honorary citizen of the town—the highest accolade that his neighbors could bestow on him—and to be feted at an evening banquet when, as the gypsy had predicted, the city would be illuminated to celebrate his accomplishments. On the day of the festivities, Andersen was suffering from an excruciating toothache, the victim of one of life's supreme poetic injustices. But as so often happened with Andersen, he transformed that bitter experience immediately into art.

Almost as often as Andersen allows his characters to triumph, it seems, he offers stories in which fortunes are frustrated (as above), love is unrequited, or at the farthest extreme, lives are lost. There are too many dead or dying children in Andersen to suit many modern tastes (see "The Mother," "The Little Match Girl," and "The Angel"), too many lovers who don't attain their heart's desire and are left in a kind of emotional limbo. Perhaps the most famous of these impossible loves is that of "The Little Mermaid," whose sacrifices for the prince go unnoticed and unrewarded, and who is left, despite the objections of generations of readers and all the logical and emotional directions of the story, without the "love of a human being," "an immortal soul," and thus without a way to "God's kingdom"—at least not until she serves a three hundred year penance with the other "children of the air." But after condemning her, Andersen offers a kind of reprieve:

"You may be able to go there before that," whispered one of the others to her. "Invisibly, we fly through the homes of human beings. They can't see us, so they don't know when we are there; but if we find a good child, who makes his parents happy and deserves their love, we smile and God takes a year away from the time of our trial. But if there is a naughty and mean child in the house we come to, we cry; and for every tear we shed, God adds a day to the three hundred years we already must serve. (76)

This was not one of Andersen's better endings, and readers have often objected to its heavy-handed manipulation.

A similarly dispiriting story is "The Little Fir Tree," often considered to be one of Andersen's most autobiographical fables. In this story Andersen creates a character (the little tree) who wants, in a sense, what every person—certainly every child wants—"to grow, to grow … to become tall and old; there's nothing in the world so marvelous" (226). And when it hears from the sparrows in the forest about Christmas and the special place of the tree in the festivities, it can't wait to be carted away to be decorated, even though the wind and the sunshine advise it to set aside these desires and "be happy with us … be glad you are young; enjoy your youth and your freedom, here in nature (227). Of course the tree is chosen the next year, plays its rather terrifying role in the celebration, and then is quickly removed to the attic, where it is stored for the winter. There it whiles away the days telling a story it heard on Christmas Eve to the mice who come to stay the winter in the house. But unlike the main character in the tree's story (ironically titled "How Humpty-dumpty Fell Down the Stairs but Won the Princess Anyway"), there is no ultimate triumph or happy ending for the little tree. As it is being consumed on a spring-cleaning bonfire, it thinks "of a summer day in the forest, or a winter night when stars are brightest, and it remembered Christmas Eve and Humpty-dumpty: the only fairy tale it had ever heard and knew how to tell. Then it became ashes" (233).

Andersen is commenting here on the vain, fleeting nature of fame, in contrast to the stability of an existence that is more accepting, modest, and rooted—a lesson he was having to deal with in his own rather itinerant, unsettled life, and in terms of the ups and downs of his literary fortunes, which often sent him into tantrums or depressions. He is clearly trying to tell another kind of "fairy tale"—one that expressed the other, dark side of his artistic vision. This pessimistic bleakness in Andersen, which sometimes seems so cruelly moralistic (as it does, say, in "The Red Shoes") seems out of keeping with the sympathy that Andersen is so intent on creating for many of the other protagonists in his tales.

There are other contradictions, problems, and ambiguities in Andersen's work. One doesn't always know, for instance, why Andersen ridicules the pomposity and pretentions of the aristocracy on one page and then forgives them on the next. In "The Nightingale," Andersen satirizes the ways of the Emperor of China's court and the Emperor's own shallow willingness to settle for the artificial nightingale's song. The nightingale, who is really the figure of the poet and the perceptive proletarian center of the story, tells the Emperor at the end: "I love your heart more than your crown." But then it adds: "… and yet I feel that the crown has a fragrance of something holy about it" (211). One explanation for this waffling is that Andersen himself was a son of the working class who aspired to be and ultimately became the darling of the salons and courts of Europe. In a sense, he was living the contradiction that he wrote about. These and other problematic contradictions arise throughout Andersen's stories to baffle or puzzle the reader because Andersen seems frequently less interested in maintaining a consistent point of view or tone than in letting loose mercurial impressions and almost free associations.

What, then, makes Andersen's tales "classics"? Why should they be considered "touchstones"? A very obvious reason is that many of Andersen's tales continue to be read, and to affect those who read them deeply. Regardless of how we might react to them individually, many of his stories are passed from generation to generation, through edition after edition, becoming household names and a part of our universal, literary vocabulary. Ursula Le Guin speaks for many when she writes that she "hated all the Andersen stories with unhappy endings. That didn't stop me from reading them, and rereading them. Or from remembering them" (104).

The secret to this success lies, perhaps, in the fact that Andersen was connecting with exactly that in his readers—secrets. On one level, Andersen was tapping the secret, emotional realms of his own troubled experience, often writing from his own despair out of what Keats might have called "negative capability." But Andersen succeeded in projecting these incidents onto a larger, more public screen, through forms and symbols ostensibly reserved for children but which Andersen was keenly aware would usually be introduced to children by adults. Ultimately, Andersen meant his stories to be for everyone, and to deal with the secrets that all of us keep in common but are unable or unwilling to tell. Etymologically speaking, the words for "secret" and "sacred" share the same Germanic roots: what is secret is also personally sacred to us, from those deepest yearnings to the most petty jealousies and vanities.

On the one hand, there is Andersen's composite hero, the duckling/swan, swineherd/prince, nightingale/poet, soldier/king. He frequently must undergo great suffering and trials but nevertheless remains steadfast and true to his principles and, thus, to his own inner nature and its humanity. This is the duckling's way, and the tin soldier's, and little Gerda's in "The Snow Queen." Andersen is able to touch those chords of sympathy within his readers because, on some fundamental level, they, too, have shared these feelings and have hoped for the same optimistic resolution. Often this character is flawed, wounded, incomplete, but through his perserverance, kindness, and love he compensates for these inadequacies and becomes whole, metaphorically if not literally. At times this character is a poet, like the nightingale, whose songs "sing not only of those who are happy but also of those who suffer … of the good and of the evil that happen around you, and yet are hidden from you" (211). Sometimes she is disguised as a little child, whose stalwart love can melt the icy heart of her friend, a captive in the Snow Queen's palace. But whoever he or she is, this persona with dozens of faces expresses those profoundly human desires to love and be loved, and to seek a way to fulfill those feelings.

On the other hand, Andersen also explores those other, darker reaches of the psyche that we do not like to admit exist within ourselves. These shadowy realms appear in many of the tales, and they are Andersen's way of dealing with the dark side of his own soul. At its grimmest, in such tales as "The Shadow," Andersen is wrestling with the need for the artist to be aware of the nether reaches of the psyche, even if these shadows may contain evil. To repress, to deny, to not confront these forces, as Ursula Le Guin argues, is to be ultimately ruled by them, to become their victim as an artist and as a human being.

For the shadow [Le Guin insists] is not simply evil. It is inferior, primitive, awkward, animallike, childlike; powerful, vital, spontaneous. It's not weak and decent, like the learned young man from the north (in "The Shadow"); it's dark and hairy and unseemly; but, without it, the person is nothing. What is a body that casts no shadow? Nothing, a formlessness, two-dimensional, a comic-strip character. The person who denies his own profound relationship with evil denies his own reality. He cannot do, or make; he can only undo, unmake. (107)

Yet there is another dimension to Andersen's exploration of the shadow: humor. A finely tuned sense of humor gives many of Andersen's stories a vitality that holds them from the abyss of bitter gloom, despair or unrelieved seriousness. Andersen's humor can be very dark indeed, as in "A Drop of Water," where he has his main characters, who are looking through a magnifying glass at a miniature but surprisingly vicious city they have discovered there, try to decide whether or not they are observing a microcosm of "Copenhagen or some other big city" or just plain "ditch water." In "Big Claus and Little Claus" the humor is deliciously macabre, when Big Claus ironically ties himself up in what will become his own shroud and violently demands that Little Claus push him into the river. In "The Tinder Box" Andersen's humor is suggestively risqué: when the soldier has the magic dog fetch the sleeping princess for him, he cannot resist kissing her, for "he was a soldier all over."

Finally, in "The Emperor's New Clothes," Andersen provides us with the kind of humor that manages to touch everyone's pet vanities. No one knew better than Andersen about the serious side of this kind of public embarrassment; he had felt it keenly since he was an awkward child walking down the center aisle of the church in the squeaky new boots of which he was so proud. This particular story—one of Andersen's most famous—was also rooted in the facts of the writer's life. Haugaard retells the incident from Andersen's diaries:

A foreign artist arrived in Copenhagen and announced in the newspapers that he had come to paint portraits of the most famous Danes, and he hoped that these great personages would come to the studio he had just rented. The very next morning who should appear at his door but Andersen and one of the actors from the Royal Theatre, a man known for his self-love and conceit. Andersen looked at the actor and could not help laughing, both at him and at himself. (74)

"To write the 'Emperor's New Clothes'," Haugaard goes on, "one must be able to be as foolish as the emperor—although I admit that it is more important to be as wise as the child who saw that he was naked. But only the genius can be both at the same time and, therefore, be able to write the story."

P. M. Pickard writes that Andersen used "so much courage in displaying so much vulnerability" (78). This struggle of opposing elements within Andersen is at the paradoxical heart of his works—as it evidently was in his life. Throughout his works, Andersen tried to preserve a precarious balance between competing sides of his nature: the courtly and the colloquial, the exalted and the mundane, the realistic and the Romantic, the conservative and the iconoclast, the hopeful and the pessimistic. These and other dramatic oppositions give Andersen's stories their rich complexity and expressive range. Andersen took real emotional and artistic chances in his tales "for everyone." Because he did, Andersen was instrumental in creating a children's literature that could become a vehicle for carrying both traditional messages and values as well as an author's personal visions. Andersen wrote, as Keats puts it, "on the pulses," casting light on the shadows, telling his own, and our own, secrets, giving them a song and wings.


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Spink, Reginald, hans Christian Andersen and His World. New York: G. P. Putnam's, 1972.

Stirling, Monica. The Wild Swan: The Life and Times of Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965.

Niels Ingwersen (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8219

SOURCE: "Being Stuck: The Subversive Andersen and His Audience," in Studies in German and Scandinavian Literature after 1500: A Festschrift for George C. Schoolfield, edited by James A. Parente, Jr. and Rich ard Erich Schade, Camden House, 1993, pp. 166-80.

[In the following excerpt, Ingwersen discusses the theme of the loss of freedom in Andersen's fairy tales, focusing particularly on those characters trapped by their social standing or by gender roles. Ingwersen also comments on the relationship between the artist and audience in Andersen 's tales, finding Andersen concerned with the appreciation of art as well as the compromises an artist makes for his audience.]


Hans Christian Andersen's butterfly ("Sommerfuglen," ["The Butterfly"] 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…. He deems his life to be wasted. At that point the inhabitants of the parlor notice him—presumably by his fluttering against the window-pane. They admire him, capture him, and stick a pin through him, and thus he becomes a decoration prominently displayed, an object to be seen by anyone who enters the room. He is "stuck," literally, in several senses. There should be no need here to offer biographical comments on Andersen, who proposed to several women, more or less seriously, but who remained a bachelor and who, as he composed this particular tale, knew that he would remain single. Much criticism, be it biographical, psychological, sociological, or a mixture of these, has charted the relationship between Andersen's life and his art. One recent example of such an investigation can be said to be P. O. Enquist's play Från regnormarnas liv (1981). But even the reader who knows next to nothing about Andersen's life is bound to notice that the butterfly's experience of ending up "stuck" is one that occurs in a great many texts. That experience can, of course, take many different forms, but the general situation, that of being captured, of being trapped, of being in bondage, of being forced to do something against one's will—in sum, of being denied freedom—is one that is repeated with alarming and frightening frequency in Andersen's texts. One may recall the broken darning needle ("Stoppenaalen," ["The Darning Needle"] 1847) that ends up stuck in the gutter, the bottle ("Flaskehalsen," ["The Bottle Neck"] 1858) that is finally broken and turned upside down to become a waterdish for a bird, and the ball in ("Kjærestefolkene," ["The Top and Ball"] 1844) whose final fate is to end up rotting away among other garbage.

Those situations are rendered in Andersen's fabulously poignant, whimsical language and, as Fredrik Böök has pointed out so well, with a wit that veers delightfully toward malice.2 Andersen entertains marvellously and, at the same time, intimates with a sting and sadness that human beings are quite stuck and, at times, why they are so.

The butterfly offers some comments on his final situation that wittily and grimly suggest that being stuck is like being married…. Those comments reflect, of course, on the society that admired, captured, and literally pinned him down, for it is those people's mores and their marriages that the butterfly comments on. We are in that bourgeois or patrician parlor that Andersen knew so very intimately from his adult life in Copenhagen.

The butterfly resigns himself to the object role that society allots him… and thus he abandons any hope for a fulfilling life. By implication it is, however, quite clear that his captors are stuck as well. As he surrenders his earlier dreams of sunshine, freedom, and love, he is immediately taken to task by the potted plants…. In no uncertain terms he is told by the potted plants that his consolation is false, but since he is stuck, he cannot allow himself to accept their criticism. His reason for rejecting it suggests, so to speak by his own admission, that the potted plants know exactly what they are talking about….


A full investigation of Andersen's tales in this light is beyond the scope of this essay, and only a handful of texts will be discussed in the following. The tales chosen, of course, all deal with being "stuck," but the selection of those that are given a fairly full treatment—although exhaustive analyses are not attempted—has been motivated by the hope that a new or sharpened reading of them can be given. First, I shall comment on Andersen's view that, no matter on which rung of the social ladder the members of the bourgeoisie are to be found, they are trapped by their own habitual thinking. The examples chosen to clarify that point deal mainly with Andersen's artistic analysis of the sex roles of his times, but some will pinpoint other forms of social or psychic entrapment. Secondly, those tales will be examined that chiefly capture Andersen's own feeling of being held in bondage, a claustrophobic experience that would nearly be inevitable for an artist who could not quite accept, adapt to, or adopt the values of his social world. Consequently, in many texts Andersen could hardly avoid depicting his audience, for it was, in a sense, his antagonist.

What complicates matters is that the proletarian youngster—to use Böök's term—realized that in his quest to become an artist who would conquer the world, he would have to "fit in" among the patricians who supported him and gave him an education. If he did not please them, he would have little chance of reaching his lofty goal, which he had obviously desired since his early youth…. Andersen, who wanted ardently to be up there and who enjoyed the benefits of being precisely up there to the hilt, nevertheless retained his proletarian consciousness and never quite found peace of mind as "a writer for those up there." Thus, he vacillated or fluctuated in his moods—as his journal shows—as well as from tale to tale or even within a single text.

Andersen was the outsider who was allowed inside and who, in many ways, was warmly welcomed within the patrician parlor; thus, it would be wrong to see him as the odd man out; rather he was the odd man in. Therefore, one can see the reason for those two languages that P. O. Enquist finds in Andersen's works….4 Andersen was, thus, both blessed and cursed with that keen insight and sharp perception that only the outsider on the inside can possess.

Maybe the image of people being trapped or victimized by the ideology of the times emerges most clearly when sex roles are considered. This view can best be demonstrated through a brief consideration of "Tommelise" ["Thumbelina"] (1835), "Iisjomfruen" ["The Ice Maiden"] (1862), "Den lille Havfrue" ["The Little Mermaid"] (1837), "Den grimme Æiling" ["The Ugly Duckling"] (1845)—and somewhat out of context—"Dynd-Kongens Datter" ["The Marsh King's Daughter"] (1858), "Den standhaftige Tinsoldat" ["The Steadfast Tin Soldier"] (1838), "Hyrdinden og Skorsteensfeieren" ["The Shepherdness and The Sheep"] (1845), and "Svinedrengen" ["The Swine-herd"] (1842).

The tiny heroine of the first story is subjected to the pressure of a society that wants her to conform and to follow its seemingly sensible rules, and thus she is headed for one of those semi-arranged marriages that were not uncommon in the bourgeoisie of that time. If that marriage were to be realized, she would indeed be stuck. Her wealthy suitor, the mole, makes it clear that their marital life would exclude everything that brings joy to Tommelise's heart: open air, light, birdsong—the sunshine and freedom that the butterfly missed so bitterly—and, consequently, she will be walled up in the dark underground, a setting that to Tommelise must resemble a prison cell. The social pressures on Tommelise, as voiced by the kindly, but utterly conventional mouse, are tremendous, for she represents the persistent and authoritative voice of nineteenth-century bourgeois common sense.

It should be briefly mentioned here that Andersen elsewhere subtly compared a marriage undertaken for the wrong reasons to a prison cell. In "Iisjomfruen," the hero Rudy, about to marry Babette, has left his beloved mountains for a tourist trip to Chillon, the setting of Byron's The Prisoner of Chillon. Whereas Babette and her relatives are wonderfully entertained by viewing the ruins, the remnants of the torture chamber and the prison cell strike Rudy with horror. Numerous signs in the text, especially that of the cell, indicate that Rudy's marriage to Babette would be a self-imprisonment that could only lead to unhappiness for both of them. In another scene in "Iisjomfruen," Rudy, the wild and free hunter, performs a nearly impossible feat by climbing up to an eagle's nest to capture a young eaglet in order to gain Babette's father's acceptance. One might cheer the hero's audacity and success, but in reality Rudy is doing something that is foreign to him and wrong: he has become the stooge of society by imprisoning a wild bird that does not belong in a cage. In fact, one might see the captured eaglet as an ominous reflection of Rudy's potential fate.

Both Rudy and Tommelise are asked to give up what gives meaning to their lives and to fit in, and it is gratifying that they both escape the prison of marriage to the wrong partner. Tommelise is spirited away, meets a true partner, and assumes her true identity, which is signalled by her being renamed Maja. Smothering bondage is replaced by harmony. Rudy's escape route leads to death, but death is greeted with enthusiasm….

As in "Den lille Havfrue," which portrays the heroine's vehement quest not to be stuck in this world of the flesh, death is seen as a liberation.

These happy endings, however, deserve further scrutiny. Iona and Peter Opie in their The Classic Fairy Tales (1974) have remarked that Tommelise's final happiness seems to be conditioned by her having found one of her own kind.5 She may, thus, actually have something in common with the May bug, who, after his initial infatuation, rejected her because she did not conform to his society's ideals of beauty. And even if Tommelise is too pure and innocent to be accused of prejudice, the text is not necessarily so. Many of Andersen's sentimental and, as a rule, popular stories tend to offer happy endings that, sweet and satisfying as they may be, upon scrutiny seem tainted by compromises—an integration process that allows the protagonists to live in a society that in reality traps them. In "Den grimme Ælling," the wild bird becomes, as Georg Brandes has already noted, a tame pet, another object for admiration, one fed crumbs by the inhabitants of the manor.6 Both Tommelise and the swan eventually seem to fit into a benevolent society, but that integration process may also be seen as their submission to society—on the part, of course, of the author as well. Such an underlying sadness, within the subtext and not immediately noticeable, is caused by the fact that the one who had seemed to liberate himself or herself has, nevertheless, ended up stuck in some other sense.

That, of course, cannot be said about Rudy in "Iisjomfruen" or about those of Andersen's other he roes and heroines who find liberation in death, such as the young princess in "Dynd-Kongens Datter" and the little mermaid. But that radical, frequent, and romantic solution to the experience of life as imprisonment may testify to Andersen's acknowledgment that it is nearly impossible to escape from being stuck. It is telling that death, particularly in "Iisjomfruen," is often associated with brilliant beauty and that life within society is rendered as trivial. If in various ways, then, these stories confirm the butterfly's skeptical view of marriage as a condition of being stuck, others, like "Tommelise," reveal that both sexes may yearn to be together in the here and now. Often, however, the sexual ideology of the epoch holds both woman and man hostage and prevents a union of the lovers.

A glaring example of people yearning for love, but being too passive to reach fulfillment, can be found in "Den standhaftige Tinsoldat." Among all the toys, the soldier and the ballerina are the only ones who do not move during the nightly party, and if love is to be realized one cannot, of course, remain immobile; their deficiencies have been analyzed perceptively by William Mishler, who employs a Freudian approach.7 The soldier, in reality, follows the commands shouted to him by the nasty jack-in-the-box, who forbids him from laying his eyes on the ballerina. Even if the soldier steals fleeting glances at his heart's desire, he nevertheless obeys the orders given him by that restrictive voice of society and never approaches the ballerina. Only in death are the lovers united, and the flames that envelop them in the end can perhaps be seen as the destructive fire of unfulfilled passion.

In the story "Hyrdinden og Skorsteensfeieren," the couple does not make the mistake of obeying orders; thus, their chance of fulfillment in life seems more promising. When they move in order to escape from the bourgeois parlor, that world of immobility shakes with impotent rage against their daring. Their successful escape seems to prove that parental authority, as represented by the mandarin, has little power against those who dare to question its validity. But, sadly, their quest for freedom comes to nothing, for the shepherdess is so much a child of her society that the scary thought of unlimited freedom in an open world sends her fleeing back again to the prison she has just escaped. Although they return, some minor victory has been won, for she can now remain with the chimney sweep and will not be forced to marry one of the supposed pillars of society. But there seems to be no passion between the lovers, and their effort to become free human beings has ended in their assuming their former positions as immobile porcelain figures. They remain stuck in a world that they could not defeat, and it is telling and chilling that the only kiss exchanged between them is the one that she uses to convince him that they must go back home again.

The strength of the parlor mentality over the young is further emphasized by Andersen by his showing that the shepherdess clings to the safe man, the very clean chimney sweep—he is too clean, suggests Andersen—not because she loves him, but because she fears the sexuality of the arranged marriage. The banality of the relationship of the two, now completely immobilized figures is captured maliciously by Andersen in suggesting what they have in common….

It would be utterly simplistic solely to blame the shepherdess for the couple's failure to escape, for the way in which she has been molded and trivialized by male authority directs her actions. In fact, upon their return, she feels deeply guilty over the distress she has caused the mandarin. Instilled guilt is an excellent means of keeping someone stuck in his or her place.

The molding of both sexes is also the main, if underlying, issue in "Svinedrengen." At first glance it seems to be a curious—and rather sexist—literary adaptation of a well-known Schwankmärchen about how a shrew is tamed. For example, in the Norwegian version of this story, "Haakon Borkenskjæg," the woman is allowed to shed her ignorance and arrogance through the male's educational scheming and become a human being worthy of marriage.8 In "Svinedrengen," however, she is left standing in the rain, rejected by both her father and her suitor, who informs her that he has come to despise her.…

The concluding statement with which the prince takes leave of the woman he once desired may cause modern readers consternation. It is unpleasant to imagine the liberal Andersen, who called himself "half feminine," composing a story that is more sexist than the folktale that may have inspired it.9 But upon closer investigation of the subtext—one that was scarcely obvious to his contemporaries—"Svinedrengen" emerges as the exact opposite of a male chauvinist tale.

Even if the princess is a brat, it is those who have spoiled her who are to blame for her silly and thoughtless behavior and her lack of appreciation for the natural. It may be childish to reject nature's wonderful gifts and to desire the swineherd's mechanical gadgets, but she is a child. Since she has been formed to remain a child, she acts like an egocentric child who is used to getting what she wants. It is hardly laudable that she is willing to sell herself for those gadgets—a feature Andersen had to tone down in his literary adaptation of the folktale—but her punishment and the final, verbal verdict of the prince are hardly commensurate with her crime. Like the princess in "Haakon Borkenskjæg," she may very well need to be set straight, but by shortening the traditional narrative in his text, Andersen gives it—as Hans Brix cautiously intimates—a very brutal ending, leaving a dejected, cast-out princess, who is without any hope for the future and is utterly alone.10

Through this drastic revision of the folktale, Andersen lets the prince's final condemnation of the princess boomerang, so that the readers come to despise him for the cruel game he played with her. Here "Haakon Borkenskjæg" and "Svinedrengen" part ways, as they also likely do in the minds of the listeners and readers, for the prince in Andersen's story does not trick the princess to gain her hand but merely to take revenge. She emerges, thus, as the victim of those vindictive and manipulative tricks and ends up seduced and abandoned. She suffered her downfall because she was a product of a world that keeps women as children—she and her maids play the same silly game all day—and because she happened to wound a male ego. Having suffered humiliation, the male ego wants revenge and gets it. Both she and the prince are stuck in attitudes that separate the sexes from each other.

Even though Andersen often had to whitewash the folktales he adapted, their sting is retained—as is the case in both "Keiserens nye Klæder" ["The Emperor's New Clothes"] (1837) and "Lille Claus og Store Claus" ["Little Claus and Big Claus"] (1835). In "Svinedrengen," Andersen's radical revision of the folktale may well have occasioned a comparison between the attitudes of earlier, more tolerant times and those of his own day. If that is the case, the story is a stinging indictment of a society that makes women into children and men into self-righteous judges of the women they have created. That it can be otherwise, Andersen shows in "Klods-Hans" ["Jack The Dullard"] (1855)—and in his earlier rendition of that story in "Sneedronningen" ["The Snow Queen"] (1845)—where the young people get together on equal terms because they are able to disregard habitual thinking about sex roles.

Maybe some readers of the above comments on "Svinedrengen" would balk and, as is not uncommon when ideology is taken to task, would protest against making a beloved, simple tale into a scathing criticism of the sexual politics of the bourgeois nineteenth century. To that criticism, it is possible to respond that there is nothing innocent about Hans Christian Andersen; he could skillfully feign innocence, but such stories as "Keiserens nye Klaeder" and "Hun duede ikke" ["She was No Good"] (1855)—maybe Andersen's most politically radical text—demonstrate that he was not. It should also be recalled that quite early on Andersen wrote a wittily malicious text that is called "Det er Dig, Fabelen sigter til" ["This Fable Is Intended for You"] (1836). That Andersen knew the darkness and viciousness of the human heart—as well as how innocence can become self-destructive naiveté—is blatantly revealed in the chilling "Skyggen" ["The Shadow"] (1847). The fable in Andersen's works always alludes to the reader; but Andersen's contemporary reader may not have always been aware of that fact. Like Mark Twain, Andersen has been considered to be a rather harmless entertainer of children, but both Mark Twain and Andersen revolutionized the literary language of their countrymen by employing a stunning imitation of the vernacular, a feat they would hardly have achieved if they had been merely spinners of innocent tales for children.


It is tempting to continue for a moment this less than taxing search for people who are stuck in one way or another in Andersen's tales. The few texts mentioned above would suggest that the hierarchy of the class system traps people in terms of both their social standing and their attitudes. In "Keiserens nye Klaeder," all the characters, high as well as low, are so concerned with preserving their image of not appearing stupid and incompetent, that they prove to be exactly that. The only exception is the little child, not yet brainwashed into realizing that lies are preferable to truths. "Hun duede ikke" makes clear that those in charge and with power over other people's lives are stuck in their own limited outlook, one that falsifies reality; those below them are trapped into accepting their social superiors as authorities of nearly divine standing. When the young servant woman is told that she should not marry her mistress's son, she immediately accepts whatever her mistress says as, literally, the gospel truth….

But this wider investigation must, of necessity, be narrowed. In the following, I shall focus on those texts in which Andersen depicts the artist's relationship to his audience. That theme is, of course, one that Romantic poets everywhere have used quite often, and numerous texts pit der Dichter against the philistines. Since artists can only expect applause if they please, the artist who desires that gratification, as Andersen most certainly did, might have to compromise his convictions, as Andersen very likely did. Consequently, it is understandable that Andersen, like many of his colleagues, dreamt of the "dear reader" who is his or her soul mate, an ideal audience who will understand.

If, as is so often done, one can see "Den grimme Ælling" as Andersen's autobiography in the form of a tale, one finds a situation of bondage in which the poor misunderstood soul must repeatedly wail, as does the ugly duckling…. The story suggests that the swan, which has escaped from various kinds of duckyards, is finally among his peers, who will understand him, but—as mentioned earlier—that happy ending covertly suggests a compromise. The swan, in the future, must be the pretty pet, the ornament, the object to be admired—as the "stuck" butterfly is. How well did the admirers of the artist Hans Christian Andersen understand him—or how well did he feel understood? That is the underlying issue in many of his tales.

That topic is dealt with gently and generously in "Nissen hos Spekhøkeren" ["The Goblin and the Huckster"] (1853), in which the poor student saves a volume of poetry from being used as wrapping paper by the grocer. The grocer, his wife, and all the "servants" in the kitchen—inanimate objects given voices with Andersen's usual brilliance—have absolutely no use for poetry and probably will agree with the grocer that it is stupid to give up a tasty cheese for the sake of poetry. The discussion between the student and the grocer is, however, friendly banter, a point that the pixie misses entirely. Andersen thus benignly shows that one cannot ever expect everyone to grasp the beauty of art, but, as the ensuing transformation of the pixie demonstrates, some suddenly wake up to its wonder.

When the pixie ascends the stairs to take revenge on the student for insulting the grocer, he looks through the keyhole into the student's room and sees him reading the salvaged poetry. He is surrounded by an aura coming from the book that signifies the glory of his experience and the wonder and joy that art grants. The pixie, who had been completely satisfied with the grocer's world, suddenly understands that art opens a door to an unknown, marvelous beauty. If we see, then, in the student Andersen's conception of the ideal audience—the dear reader—the pixie becomes that part of the audience that has a potential to become one too. It remains, however, only a possibility for the pixie, for even though, when a fire breaks out one night, he saves the volume of poetry and thus proves his heart-felt devotion to art, he soberly realizes that he needs the grocer's porridge too; he cannot, therefore, devote himself fully to art. To this sadly funny summation of the relationship between audience and art, it should be added that the pixie at no point enters the student's room, but always partakes in his experience by standing outside observing through the keyhole. Even positively inclined audiences are stuck too, for mundane demands in their daily lives keep them from fully giving art its due.

As a rule, however, Andersen's view of those whose "butterfly" or "handsome swan" he had become was less good-natured than in "Nissen hos Spekhøkeren." As critics Peer E. Sørensen and Finn Hauberg Mortensen have discussed, one reason for that hostility may well be that Andersen was angered and at times infuriated by being that trapped "butterfly" or tamed "swan." As a proletarian who had made it to the top, he always had an uneasy relationship to those who had helped him up the social ladder, and he served them uneasily.11 But often he served them well, and anyone who served as well as Andersen did—and here one must remember the much less controversial part of his oeuvre—can stand accused of being a toady or a bootlicker. In Heinrich Heine's opinion, Andersen was just such a toady, and Andersen's good, but blunt friend Henriette Wulff chastised his glorying in being honored by empty-headed princes.12

It would, however, be more precise to compare Andersen with the court jester of yesteryear, the person who is called upon to perform and amuse those that feed him, but who at the same time has a position so unique that it gives him a certain restricted freedom to express unpleasant opinions and truths. "Nattergalen" ["The Nightingale"] (1844), "Tante Tandpine" ["Auntie Toothache"] (1872), "Loppen og Professoren" ["The Professor and the Flea"] (1870), and "Den flyvende Kuffert" ["The Flying Trunk"] (1839), among others, support this contention.

The audience in "Nattergalen" is surely not given much credit. Throughout the story it is quite obvious that the majority of the people at court will never grasp the beauty of the song of the nightingale, and that those who pretend to have taste prefer an imitation of art that can be explained intellectually. The emperor, of course, is a man with the potential for being the ideal audience—and eventually he realizes it—but, initially, he misunderstands completely the role that both art and the artist should have in his life. Andersen delivers a consummate image of the artist trapped by philistine society; the artist is shackled, denied freedom to move, and kept in a cage under lock and key—all under the pretense of being rewarded…

It is also not surprising that the emperor is a man who is stuck, for the majority of those who surround him and give him advice never have and never will gain any understanding of the existential function art can have in a person's life. The nightingale is reduced to a court jester who understandably longs to escape from bondage.

In this text, Andersen strikes that Romantic note that allots wisdom and true appreciation of art to the poor, for they intuitively grasp the qualitative difference in song between the real and the artificial nightingales. More significant, however, is the fact that after a deadly crisis, the emperor is reborn as a new man; through art he will become a real emperor who can rule his realm justly and wisely. The nightingale envisions his future role as an artist who will inform the emperor of everything that goes on in his realm, be it good and evil. Art thus grants moral knowledge and a better human existence for all.

As in the case of "Den grimme Æilling," one cannot deny the ending of "Nattergalen" its grand triumph or its harmony, but if one first has gotten a piece of the devil's famous mirror from "Sneedronningen" in one's eye—and Andersen works hard to make that happen—it is difficult to ignore the underlying darkness of the subtext. This is not to say that all the happy endings are contradicted, but they are severely modified and undercut. When the nightingale asks the emperor, as they are about to part, not to tell anyone that his wisdom comes from a little bird, Andersen pinpoints once again the loneliness of the artist who can count on so few to understand him.

Andersen etched one of his sharpest portraits of his audience in "Tante Tandpine" (1872), the story with which he had concluded the last volume of tales he was ever to publish. The audience is embodied in the young artist's Aunt Mille, who refuses to see anything unpleasant in life. When her old suitor, Brewer Rasmussen, at one point suggests that friends can be false, she, who is normally kind and composed, lashes furiously out at him, for her perception of reality is threatened. She is, and wishes to be, stuck in a false reality, one that the poet-student captures when he depicts her claustrophobic room…. Hers is a place that is constructed to keep bothersome reality out. Such an audience makes certain demands, and undoubtedly many of contemporaries, for they wanted, as Auntie puts it, stories about unhappy people. Unhappiness, pain, and anguish are reduced to mere entertainment.

Two samples of the student's writing—and within the fiction of the text he is, of course, the author of the tale itself—suggest, however, that unlike his aunt he confronts harsh reality through art. Inspired by a fallen leaf on which an insect moves, he admits that human knowledge is severely limited and that all talk about God, the world, and eternity is mere conjecture. It should be kept in mind that the dutiful Andersen, serving his audience, had written numerous texts in which he preached about all those great issues. Later the student depicts a sleepless night and reveals himself to be a hypersensitive, lonely man who just records his sense impressions without giving them any transcendental value. He does not write as a romantic, but Auntie, who likes romantic stories populated with unhappy human beings, completely misunderstands both texts; she has no comprehension—or will not admit to any such—of the pain and anguish of her nephew's art.

"Tante Tandpine," thus, gives another picture of an artist stuck in a world that leaves him misunderstood and lonely. In a way, he is appreciated, for Auntie tirelessly eggs him on to write what she wants to read, and in his somber attempts to write, she finds what is not there. Auntie sees only what she wants to see. It might be that situation that finally causes the student to denounce art and life; the frame of the story informs us laconically that the student is now dead. "Tante Tandpine" is also a somber farewell to a life and a vocation that Andersen, the old author, felt had given him much pain and isolation. Both in "Tante Tandpine" and in "Hvad garnie Johanne fortalte" ["What old Johanne Told"] (1872), which, as Topsøe-Jensen has shown, is the last story Andersen composed, the vision is bleak.13

It may be the very same vision that is covered up by gallows humor in the sprightly, sparkling "Loppen og Professoren" (1870). The professor, who is a flim-flam man, can be seen as one more of Andersen's many artists. And the flea, whose presence guarantees the professor a living, may well be seen as Andersen's less than respectful caricature of art. Fleas can jump, perform, and bite, and audiences fall in love with such creatures to the point that they hold the artist hostage.

If the picture of the artist and art is snide, the one of the audience is no less so. It is made up of what are called savages and cannibals. Earlier, in "Vanddraaben" ["The Drop of Water"] (1848), Andersen had cleverly managed to describe the inhabitants of Copenhagen as conformists who would furiously tear to pieces and eat anyone who did not fit in. In "Loppen og Professoren," the audience captures both the flea and the professor; the artist's life is quite pleasant as long as he obeys the ruler of the realm, but he feels so stuck. There is surely heartfelt joy in those scenes in which the artist, utterly bored with his comfortable leisure, begins to scheme in order to free the flea and himself from the savages. He promises to provide them with "det man i Verdens største Lande kalder Dannelse!" (5:117). To savages it makes sense that "Dannelse" is a cannon that will make the earth tremble. The professor then constructs a balloon, but the savages remain steadfast in the belief that what is being built is a cannon, and thus the two escape from their bondage. To take off, the professor shouts: '"Slip Snorer og Toug!… "Nu gaaer Ballonen!' De troede han sagde: Kanonen" (5:118). The audience not unexpectedly misunderstands, but that is something one, now and then, can turn to one's advantage—at least within a fictional world. Here, with marvellous, malicious humor, Andersen deflates not only his own vocation and its results but also his audience, the deserving victim of the con man/"artist."

Finally, in "Den flyvende Kuffert," one again encounters not only the artist as con man, but also the audience as deserving victim of his conning. The rich man's spendthrift son finds himself with his flying machine in a land where storytelling is appreciated. He pretends to be divine—a nice jab at the Romantic notion of the elevated poet—and elbows his way into the home of the rulers, a king and queen, whose daughter he hopes to marry for the sake of convenience rather than love. To win her hand, he must tell a story that will amuse the king and satisfy the queen's wish for moral lessons. His story, the tale within the tale, is one of Andersen's joyous comedies in which inanimate objects come to life and mirror the life of the servants in the kitchen. As we, with the story's audience, listen to the voices of those servants, it becomes quite obvious that some of them, the matches in particular, predict that the end will come to absolute monarchies and that crowned heads may fall. This subversive message, as usual in Andersen's texts, is neatly and elegantly packaged among so many other seemingly harmless satirical or humorous points that one might excuse the audience for not understanding that an ominously, nasty prophecy is being aired. Besides, the king and the queen are very likely so stuck within their expectations about art that they—like Auntie in "Tante Tandpine"—hear only what they want to hear, and, like her, they are so stuck in their roles that they are deaf to any unpleasant truths.

The artist is fully accepted by the king and the queen and is just about to marry the princess when he loses his magical flying trunk. He wants to impress all with his power, so he starts a gigantic fireworks—a consummate metaphor for a grand performance—and a spark ignites the trunk. He thus loses the princess and now has to make a living telling stories that offer far fewer and lesser rewards. It is dangerous to make "Den flyvende Kuffert" too prophetic, but the text shows that the young Andersen, like the old man who wrote "Loppen og Professoren," looked at his own vocation with a splinter of that devil's mirror in his eyes. From very early in his career, Andersen was subversive toward, and derogatory about, his own strivings—as well as toward and about those whom he wanted to applaud him.


Enquist's aforementioned observation that Andersen uses two languages is astute, but the word two can be amended to several without losing Enquist's major point. It needs to be modified, for the voices of the dutiful servant and of the subversive court jester—and of a number of voices in between these two poles—are to be found in the tales, and there are often subtle switches between them.

Whether and when sincerity and pretense can be separated, and where they may be found to overlap, presents a problem that no critic could or should hope to solve definitively. Andersen himself realized that the problem existed and, as usual, having encapsulated it within a larger narrative ("Noget" ["Something"] [1858]), he addressed it. In that text, one of the ambitious brothers, desirous of becoming an architect and joining the intelligentsia, agrees to serve, for the time required, as an apprentice to some carpenters. He knows very well that such service will result in some humiliation, but this he is willing to bear while masking his feelings and keeping his goal in mind….

It is also revealing that the ambitious speaker uses the term "Maske-Frihed," [mask-freedom], for through the use of masks one is able to retain some measure of freedom and can avoid becoming completely stuck in a single role.

The impossible question that ["Noget"] raises is how conscious Andersen was of the dichotomies that so often marked his nearly yearly publication of a volume of tales. The question begs to be raised, for the tales included in any one volume can differ to a surprising degree. Were they merely a gathering together of the tales Andersen had produced since the last collection and had stored away, or were they carefully composed so that some were sure to please the audience, perceptive or not, whereas others were to send subversive messages to, and against, the very same audience? That separation into an either/or is, however, most likely naive, for even if the first assumption, for practical reasons, may be the case, the question still arises why Andersen would write tales that were so much at odds with one another.

A general and sweeping, if by necessity inconclusive, answer to that question has already been intimated above: Andersen lived both actually and artistically a double life. It may furthermore be conjectured that Andersen, the man who knew that masks had to be used, made sure that those comforting, harmonious stories, beloved then as now, were, as a rule, accompanied by others that questioned such harmony. The fluctuation in the choice of tale, probably both conscious and not, was consequently caused by Andersen's lifelong obsessive, contradictory relationship to his audience.

It may seem simplistic merely to speak of one audience, but at the time Andersen was publishing he was mainly concerned with that circle of patricians in Copenhagen to which he had come to belong. That fact, at least, can be gleaned from his journals. It may well be that, as Andersen wrote his tales, he thought of other, less prosperous audiences, but the sting of his major tales seems directed at a narrow patrician circle.

"Maske-Frihed" can also be detected in Andersen's small collections of tales. Only a selection of them can be discussed, and occasionally two or three of them, when published sequentially within a few years, are considered together. It is not possible to let all the voices speak, but some curious fluctuation or—what maybe should be called—authorial strategy is undeniably present.

First, it should be remembered that when Andersen published his first collection, Eventyr, fortalte for Børn (1835), he was slapped on the wrist by the reviewers. He was therefore most likely apprehensive when he issued further volumes. To be sure, some of those critics were right on target, for as stories such as "Fyrtøjet," ["The Tinder-Box"] "Den lille Idas Blomster," ["Little Ida's Flowers"] and particularly the darkly humorous "Lille Claus og Store Claus" ["Little Claus and Big Claus"] show … the reviewers recognized an author with strongly subversive leanings. The uproar was justified and very likely alerted Andersen to the fact that publishing tales might require the use of masks.

In the many volumes that followed, there were some tales that would placate and please the audience: a dosage of Romantic idealism; some mild satire that would hurt no one; some grotesque, but unthreatening, comedy; some weepy sentimentalism; some consoling Christianity (of various varieties); and, not to be forgotten, some grimly pietistic pieces that condemned wordly pleasures. Any member of the audience could find what she or he preferred. Andersen knew how to put on the right mask—even when he wanted to take his audience to task.

The second volume Andersen published, also in 1835, may appear quite harmless, but if "Tommelise" ["Inchelina"] and "Reisekammeraten" ["The Travelling Companion"] seem to promote the idea that providence and justice rule, the buoyantly humorous tale "Den uartige Dreng" reveals that love guarantees life to be unfair. In this volume there is hardly much subversion, but, it should be noted, different voices—with very different outlooks—are speaking.

If, for brevity's sake, the next three collections (1837, 1838, 1839), are viewed together, the presence of several voices is also evident. "Den lille Havfrue" and "Keiserens nye Klæder" were issued together and have little in common—but if one wants to be naive, that may be explained by Andersen's imitation of an age-old prose fabliau in the latter story. More significant, however, is the contrast between "Den lille Havfrue" and "Paradisets Have" ["The Garden of Eden"] (1839): although the former lauds an ascetic ideal, the latter is boisterously sensual, as is "Den standhaftige Tinsoldat." Quite obviously, "De vilde Svaner" ["The Wild Swans"] (1838) is out-of-step with the radicalism and cynicism of "Den flyvende Kuffert."

In the first of the collections from 1845, the reader finds "Sneedronningen" and "Grantræet" side by side, but proclaiming widely different views of life. "Sneedronningen" speaks with a doctrinaire Christian voice, whereas "Grantræet" concludes with a view of death as nothingness; that contradiction was a lasting one within the oeuvre.

In the second collection from the same year, the humorous vision of the pleasure-loving creatures in "Elverhøi"—rather bourgeois Danes dressed up as folk figures—stands in sharp contrast to the grim and totally serious mood in "De røde Sko," in which pleasure is shown to be the road to hell. Here one wonders whether the starkness of the protagonist's suffering somehow signifies Andersen's disapproval of the stern voice that promotes the dismissal of all pleasure.

The collection published in 1848 contained, among other texts, "Historien om en Moder" ["The Story of a Mother"] and "Den lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne." In the latter, the poor girl—whose abominable poverty can be contrasted with the sugarcoated view of poverty found in other texts, such as "Nattergalen" and much more blatantly in "Lysene" (1872)—is finally taken home to God; once again a Christian view is expressed. That also seems to be the case in "Historien om en Moder," which superficially resembles the early poem "Det døende Barn" (written in 1826) and the later tale "Barnet i Graven" (1860). It should be noted, however, that the mother believes she has given her child to that God who will grant eternal bliss in Paradise, whereas Death consistently refers to the other side as "det ubekjendte Land" (2:164). With artistic mastery, Andersen lets that phrase conclude the tale. Although in some texts he is the doctrinaire Christian, or the Christian voicing acceptable views, in others he is the questioner or doubter. The voices cannot agree, and whereas one promotes order, the other appears to favor spiritual chaos.

The collections from 1852 and 1853 contain two very short texts, "Et godt Humeur" (1852) and "Hjertesorg" (1853). Among other topics, they ponder the costs of being an artist, for both texts suggest that the narrators take a lofty view of existence, one that prohibits an involvement in life. With their devastating self-irony, such meta-stories point backward to "Den flyvende Kuffert" and forward to "Tante Tandpine" and are told with very different voices than the other consoling stories to be found in the same volumes.

As Andersen's reputation grew, he might have felt less need to employ masks, but he may have had some trouble in letting them fall. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, he published nice Christian stories like "Det gamle Egetræes sidste Drøm" (1858), "Pigen, som traadte paa Brødet" (1859), "Anne Lisbeth" (1859), and "Barnet i Graven" (1860). But during the same period, he also published "Vinden fortæller om Valdemar Daae og hans Døttre" (1859), in which only the wind seems to have eternal life, and "Taarnvægteren Ole" (1859), in which Andersen, although he is twice removed as narrator, lets his main character voice opinions clearly suggesting that evolution, not religion, explains the world.

In 1868, Andersen once again included a story, "Den onde Fyrste," dealing with Christianity. On the surface it depicts God's victory over an evil prince who had challenged him. The tale suggests, however, that the distant deity interferes only when he himself is threatened, not when human beings are being tormented by the powers of evil.

The other stories discussed above suggest that a tension always existed between the voices with which Andersen spoke. In the second volume, published in 1872, "Krøblingen" ["The Cripple"] gives art credit for curing the protagonist, whereas "Tante Tandpine," as pointed out above, takes a much bleaker view of the powers of art. One cannot say that the two texts—or many other texts that are not in agreement—negate each other, for the reader is rarely provided with straightforward contradictions, but rather with a constant nagging questioning of any view held. As pure conjecture, it can be suggested that such a fluctuation may reflect an uneasy search for a story that would fully express a heartfelt opinion.

It can possibly be claimed that the tale, with its roots in several traditional subgenres, offered Andersen a unique opportunity to engage in that quest—an opportunity that the other literary genres he used could not grant him. The idea of imitating narrative folklore was fairly new at the time, and hence the composition of tales was not hindered by all those rules and regulations that, in spite of Romanticism, clung to the well-established literary genres. Thus, as Bo Hakon Jørgensen has argued, when Andersen resorted to tales, he was less restricted….14 Even if that opinion can be contested by showing how world views and morality differ between magic tales, prose fabliaux, and legends, the point is nevertheless well taken, for through Andersen's imitation and mixing of those subgenres, he fluctuates between their different styles and creates hybrid forms that can reflect any outlook.

In the short form of the tale, Andersen could breathe fairly freely. He could enjoy that "Maske-Frihed" that the ambitious brother mentioned as a means to avoid being stuck in "Noget" and thus deal with those problems that continued to nag him. The form of the tale, a genre not taken very seriously at the time, allowed him a freedom to experiment, and that freedom resulted in a perplexing fluctuation, as different voices speak, blend, overcome, or silence one another. As one reads the oeuvre, the complexity of the author and his problems—be they personal, social, or artistic—stand out and suggest why this man, so stuck in so many ways, had to fight back and attempt to become, at least in his art, less stuck. In his best subversive tales, he succeeded.



2 Fredrik Böök, H. C. Andersen (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1955), 235. The English wording used here is from George C. Schoolfield's translation of Böök, Hans Christian Andersen: A Biography (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962); 203.


4 P. O. Enquist, Fra regnormenes liv: Et familiemaleri fra 1856, trans. Frederik Dessau, ed. Claus Jensen, Aage Jørgensen, and Bendt Pedersen (Copenhagen: Dansklærerforeningen/Skov, 1981), 89-95. This Danish edition includes Enquist's commentary to his play.

5 Iona and Peter Opie, comps., The Classic Fairy Tales (New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1974), 228.

6 Georg Brandes, Samlede Skrifter, vol. 2 (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1899), 112.

7 William Mishler, "H. Andersen's 'Tin Soldier' in a Freudian Perspective," Scandinavian Studies 50 (1978): 389-95.

8 P. Chr. Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Samlede eventyr, vol. 3 (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1965), 101-10.

9 Lise Sørensen, "Bachelor Goes A-Wooing," Danish Journal (1975): 22.

10 Hans Brix, H. C. Andersen og hans eventyr (Copenhagen: Schubotheske, 1907), 233.

11 Peer E. Sørensen [H.C. Andersen og herskabet Studier i borgerlig bevidsthed (Grenna GMT, 1973)], 91-92; Finn Hauberg Mortensen, "H.C. Andersen og den litterære dannelse," in H. C. Andersen og hans kunst i nyt lys, ed. Jørgen Breitenstein, Mogens Brøndsted, et al. (Odense: Odense universitetsforlag, 1976), 68-71.

12 Elias Bredsdorff, Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of His Life and Work, 1805-75 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975), 153; 234.

13 H. Topsøe-Jensen, Buket til Andersen: Bemærkninger til femogtyve eventyr (Copenhagen: Gad, 1971), 307-16.

14 Bo Hakon Jøgensen, '"At tænke i eventyr'," in H. C. Andersen og hans kunst i nyt lys, 55.

Hans Christian Andersen (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7337

SOURCE: "Hans Christian Andersen—The Journey of His Life," in Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, Vol. 76, No. 3, Autumn, 1994, pp. 127-43.

[In the following essay, Andersen (a twentieth-century critic) discusses the motif of travel in Andersen's works, finding it connected with themes of restlessness, homelessness, and alienation, and maintaining that the idea of travel can be seen as a metaphor for Andersen's own life journey.]

Hans Christian Andersen's delight in travel is well-known, as is his talent for describing his progress through Europe and, briefly, the Near East and North Africa. His very earliest works, and his earliest successful works, were travel books or fiction inspired by the experience of travel in the middle of the nineteenth century. They show him integrating fact and fiction seamlessly, so that the reader comes to experience the world through his mind, with his sensitive eye for the significant and the insignificant detail of life in those days.

This present work is indirectly inspired by research into Hans Christian Andersen's work for the stage, an aspect of his career that has to a great extent remained unseen in the work of critics. Among his thirty stage plays is one originally written for reading rather than for performance: Agnete and the merman (Agnete og Havmanden, 1833). Written in Switzerland during his first long journey through Europe in 1833, it comes across as a strikingly personal and intense account of the nature of exile and the impossibility of making a proper return to one's homeland, once a decision has been made to leave it behind, even just temporarily.1

The student of Andersen's life and work soon becomes aware of the importance of travel and exile as themes both in the author's own career and in his written work. Both as a man and as an artist, Andersen was 'on the move' throughout his life, restlessly changing address both in real terms and metaphorically. There is, perhaps, nothing remarkable in this: it is in the nature of great men and women that they resist the temptation to settle, that they are constantly looking for new paths to travel. But in Andersen's case the significance is of a specific nature. He offers an opportunity to observe the artist's mind on the journey through the world.

Andersen is best known as the author of fairy tales for children, and his fame rests on a comparatively small number of the very best. In all, he wrote 157 and increasingly, as his career progressed, he changed the emphasis from children's tales to something much closer to the short story, which was gaining importance as a genre in nineteenth-century Denmark.2 However, he never entirely let go of his young audience. After all, much of his fame in the later part of his career depended on it. This article will show that the travel motif acts as a guide through Andersen's career in much more general terms, and this can be taken as an indication of how important it was to Andersen's thinking.

A closer reading of his collected tales reveals that travel plays a part in almost twenty per cent of them.3 This article will look at how the travel motif is developed in thirty-four of the tales, published between 1835 and 1874. It will also look at the different ways in which the travel motif is made to work for the story teller as he constructs the tales.

It soon becomes clear that it does so in a variety of ways. To a certain, limited extent it provides the plot for his stories. In this respect, the journey becomes a string of episodes, adding up into a full narrative. As in Homer's Odyssey, and as in countless folktales, the journey and its constituent parts are made significant for what they have to say both about the places where the travellers go and about the travellers themselves.

But more significant is the way in which Andersen uses the travel motif as part of the theme of a tale. Where this happens, it is possible to see how Andersen gradually moves away from an early reliance on folktale motifs to describe a pessimistic view of the life of the emotional and geographical exile, to a much more self-assured, realistic and cosmopolitan view of life, expressed in a more modern prose style.

At no time does he abandon the fairy tale entirely, in the sense that he continues to include elements of the irrational in many of his stories. This is part of Andersen's world view and fundamental to his art: everything under the heavens, be it animate or inanimate, has a voice, which the author hears and which informs his stories.

Travel feeds into the stories in different ways, sometimes simply by providing casual detail to the description of characters, at other times by providing the actual key to characterization or even the actual physical environment in which the characters move. Travel as such is rarely of great importance in the tales. Andersen is not using them to sell the idea of travel as an important part of the development in the individual. But they do suggest, by their example, why it is so important, and that is probably how they can contribute to the lives of their readers.

Andersen wrote several autobiographies, starting with the first, hand-written one from 1832, Levnedsbogen4 (The book of my life), written when he was only twenty-seven years old and three years into his professional career as a writer. Here, for the first time, he puts the view that God has, as it were, written the script for his life, providing him with direction and, perhaps more to the point, offered this son of poor parents unexpected and almost miraculous opportunities in the middle-class world of literature. 'Day by day, my life becomes more and more like poetry', he writes: 'Poetry enters into my life and it seems to me that life itself is a great marvellous poetic work. I feel that an invisible, loving hand guides everything … '.5 In later autobiographies, he was to update this image: 'My life is a beautiful fairy tale', he was to write, claiming that even a powerful fairy could not have guided him on the path of life with greater happiness and wisdom.6

There is no doubt that this is how he saw his life and it is certainly the metaphor which he, as a self-publicist, chose to use when presenting his life to his audience as a typical Romantic artist: the natural talent who had risen almost magically to international status as an artist. But the metaphor does not hold. Not only was magic obviously not involved: he earned his status by using his talent and he was given help by those of his contemporaries who could see that he deserved it.

A better metaphor for Andersen's life is that of the journey. Andersen remained single all his life and moved between a number of temporary addresses in Copenhagen until he settled in to his first real home in 1866, at the age of sixty-one years. The purchase of his first bed caused him great concern as he imagined that it would one day become his death bed. In fact, he died, still single, in the home of wealthy friends, some of the many who had invited him into their home for shorter or longer periods of his life; not because he was poor but because he was offered hospitality, often by top members of society, sometimes even by royalty.7

But somehow he remained 'homeless' in an existential sense. He left his poor background behind when he left for the Danish capital in 1819 and he never truly found another home of his own, except in the world of the arts. His relationship with the family of his benefactor, Jonas Collin, illustrates this excellently. Although Andersen saw a father figure in Jonas Collin and worked hard to get close to Collin's son, Edvard, he was never fully integrated into the family. Andersen accepted this: he was a public figure and he gradually came to accept that he had to live a public life, in other people's families.

Andersen travelled throughout his life. His first significant journey, significant because it changed his life, was the one that he made from his home town to the Danish capital in 1819. But he made many other journeys outside Denmark, from the first to the Harz Mountains in 1831 to his final journey in 1873, and he visited most of Europe. Andersen was not only a passionate traveller but also a professional one, and his experiences of foreign countries found their way not only into his fiction but also into actual travel descriptions. The earliest of these is Skyggebilleder af en Rejse til Harzen og det sachsiske Schweiz (1831, Shadowy images of a journey to the Harz Mountains and Saxony) where clear description of landscape mingles with humorous description of human behaviour.

His Grand Tour of 1833-34 resulted in a novel (Improvisatoren (The improviser), see below). His later, ten-month journey through Europe in 1840-41 inspired one of the great classics of nineteenth-century travel literature: En Digters Bazar (1842, A poet's bazaar), where the reader experiences all aspects of human nature of contemporary transport systems in a manner that still inspires the reader to follow in the footsteps of their guide.

The two journeys to Italy and beyond were the great formative events in the author's life. The first took him out of himself and away from the limited Danish intellectual environment, into a quite different world of unexpected natural beauty and intellectual challenge. Italy was the Mecca of Danish nineteenth-century artists from all art forms, and in Italy Andersen found himself included in an international artists' community. Improvisatoren is clear evidence of the impression which Italy made on Andersen, its artistic maturity reflects the maturity that Andersen himself was reaching, as a man and as an artist.

En Digters Bazar is no less indicative of his development. By the 1840s, Andersen was a seasoned traveller and writer who was no longer just observing but also much more directly absorbing and conquering the world around him. The down-side of this professional development is, perhaps, indicated by his final two travel descriptions: I Spanien (1863, In Spain) and Et Besøg i Portugal (1868, A visit to Portugal) have greater journalistic than artistic merit. Here, the experienced writer was drawing on his craft rather than innovating.

But it is not so much the 'straight' travel description that is of interest here. Even taking into account that Hans Christian Andersen was always imaginative in his approach to the objective truth of the world around him, some of his works use travel in a stylized manner which throws clearer light on the way in which travel plays a part in the fairy tale.

In 1829, having completed his school education, Andersen made his official debut on the Danish literary scene with Fodrejse fra Holmens Kanal til østpynten af Amager (Journey on foot from Holmens Canal to the east point of Atnager). This fantastic description of an imaginary, dream-like trip on New Year's Eve of 1828 is not only interesting because of its grotesque, surreal atmosphere: the appearance of the supernatural prefigures the later fairy tales. It is also important because it shows Andersen submitting the real world almost completely to his own creative imagination. The reader is taken on a journey through a known location by the author, but it is a journey which could only be made with the author, through his imagination. This becomes particularly clear when, at the end of the novel, Andersen uses the Modernist technique of printing a short chapter consisting only of punctuation.8 By instinct, this author was a surrealist rather than a realist, and the contemporary reading public immediately took to his idiosyncratic style.

Andersen was to use this mode—the synthesis of reality and the imagination—in several of his travel-inspired works, notably in Improvisatoren (1835) and I Sverrig (1851, In Sweden). The approach is different in both, and both are different from Fodrejse.

Improvisatoren is an autobiographical novel, an inspired blend of two of Andersen's favourite subjects: his own unusual career, and the world outside his own country. It gave him an international reputation as a novelist, in advance of his fame as a writer of fairy tales, or 'romances' as they were often called in the previous century. Improvisatoren tells the story of a young man who rises from humble beginnings to artistic fame. Its success relied—and relies—on the fact that it is told through the mind of the main character and that we witness the colourful Italy of the early nineteenth century through his eyes. He had seen that Italy himself on his Grand Tour in 1833-34 and he chose to present his impressions in fictional form.

The eyes through which the reader sees Italy are those of a talented traveller and fiction writer. To students of Andersen's work, the narrator's point-of-view is always of crucial importance. It often says something very directly about how close the reader is to Andersen's own experience.

I Sverrig is a very different kind of work, but it is also testimony to its author's ability to operate with a range of literary technique. Like Improvisatoren, it is the fruit of the actual travel experiences of its author.9 But I Sverrig is no ordinary travel description, any more than Improvisatoren is. Rather, it is a collage of impressions of a country that was then not well known in Europe, at least by travellers. The structure is episodic, a collage made up of a variety of linguistic media, using straight prose interspersed with fairy tales10 and lyrical poetry. Andersen does not restrict himself to straightforward description of what he sees, although such descriptions are included: he ranges from realism to philosophy, using his Scandinavian sister nation as a springboard for all the many thoughts that travel may engender in a receptive mind.

What we have in these three works is evidence of Andersen's versatility and his ability to juggle narrative styles and levels of realism. They suggest that Andersen was not only crossing geographical borders on his way through Europe but also inhabiting a continent of the imagination, one without boundaries and with endless variety of landscape and experiences. It was this landscape which he was to travel in his fairy tales.

Andersen published his first fairy tales in 1835, in a small volume of Eventyr fortalte for Børn, 'fairy tales told for children'. He continued to write and publish them almost to the end of his life, the last collection being called Eventyr og Historier, 'fairy tales and stories'. The change in title to include the word 'stories' was deliberate and suggested Andersen's own changing priorities as a writer of short prose: he was increasingly seeing himself as a writer of short stories for adults, without leaving his young audience entirely behind. The truth is that audiences of all ages were always in the implied audience for his tales.

The four titles in the first volume included "The tinder box" and "The princess and the pea." Both of them make use of the travel motif, but at this point that motif plays only a simple part in straightforward plots: the soldier in "The tinder box" is marching home from war, apparently without aiming for any particular address, and is intercepted by his destiny, in the shape of money, power and love. This is an adaptation of the story about Aladdin from the Arabian nights, which Andersen had known since childhood, and as such it is a rare example of Andersen borrowing an idea from the existing folk tradition.

"The princess and the pea" shows a prince engaging in a futile journey to find a real princess. Only after his return does such a princess journey to his home, appearing mysteriously out of the blue and settling down as his Queen.

Both these stories have the ring of the true folk-tale about them, their characters are clearly acting without rational motivation and their plots progress in ways that suggest the interference of non-human powers. They represent a particular strand in the use of the travel motif: one that stems from the folk-tale, where the journey is a recurrent and purely functional plot element, offering opportunities for purely functional, one-dimensional characters to meet challenges and complete tasks set by agents of the non-human world.11

The earliest tale to illustrate this use of the motif is also one of Andersen's finest: "The travelling companion" ("Rejsekammeraten," 1835).12 "Rejsekammeraten" is, in the true sense of the word, a 'classical' tale. It shows a young man reaching a turning point in his life: his father dies, he himself is uprooted and sets out on a journey that will ultimately lead to a new equilibrium in his life, in the same way as happens in "The tinder box" and "The princess and the pea." To that extent, the plot of the tale is one that would be recognized by audiences and readers not only now or in Andersen's own time but as far back as ancient Greece, where the same plot is met in the Odyssey and in classical Greek drama. Throughout the story, the main character moves in a world that is only superficially like our own 'real' world: it is, in fact, suffused with the supernatural, in it witchcraft and magic both hinder and help the characters.

The final, happy end is contrived rather than probable in terms of modern realism, for this is story-telling as ritual, the plot is an acting-out of a transition from one stable condition to another. What Andersen has ultimately achieved with this tale is to show a young man undergoing the transition from boyhood to manhood, from living with his father to living, as an adult, with his own wife. He has been helped through this transition by a character with supernatural powers, and this character, the Travelling Companion, takes on the forces of darkness on his behalf.

Andersen is best known as a writer for children, but this is in reality also a tale of adolescence. For all that it involves the forces of evil, it also carries a comforting message: help is available, the main character does get through to the other side, stability will return.

The traditional tale is particularly characteristic of Andersen's early tales, from the 1830s, although it continues to appear into the 1850s and 1860s.13 It is given a variety of uses, from providing the structure for stories with deep metaphysical significance such as "The snow queen" ("Snedronningen," 1845) to those that are much more straightforwardly amusing like "Clod Hans" ("Klods-Hans," 1855).

Although Andersen himself refers to the stories told to him in his own childhood,14 he only relied on the actual oral folk-tale tradition to a limited extent, composing most of his stories independently of known literary or pre-literary models.15 Although he is often mentioned in the same breath as the Brothers Grimm, he was no folklorist. Rather, he was an author of 'Kunstmärchen', a modern Romantic. It is therefore necessary to look immediately beyond the folk-tale as such, to see in what other way he makes the folk-tale work for him. Part of the answer lies in the way he develops as an author of short stories. But at this early point in his career, he appears to have drawn on the folk-tale for other things.

Most obviously Andersen makes travel provide him with plot: it offers a reason for stringing a series of events together, events that shape the life of the main character(s). Thus, in "Inchelina" ("Tommelise," 1835) the somewhat passive female main character passes through the hands of a series of potential husbands until she is carried off by the swallow to foreign parts. "The ugly duckling" ("Den grimme Ælling," 1844) gives a similar view of a character passively developing into a more mature character, as a hostile world passes by.

"The snow queen" and "The story of a mother" ("Historien om en Moder," 1848), by contrast, show two main characters making rather better use of their ability to travel, namely for a search for their loved ones. "The snow queen" and "The story of a mother," like "The travelling companion," are stories of human beings maturing, although in the case of "The snow queen" and "The story of a mother," the process is intellectual or metaphysical rather than social or to do simply with ageing. It is not possible to say of stories such as these that they mainly exemplify a characteristic, conventional use of plot and character functions. These tales are far more sophisticated and their effect depends to a much greater extent on the use of symbolism. Although they are good stories, which work as entertainment at the surface, they invite interpretation that goes far beyond their story lines. At the story level, they have elements of the fairy tale, in that they include irrational and supernatural elements. But they also present themes of fundamental importance for human beings: the ability to love and, in the case of "The story of a mother," the ability to let go of those we love.

At this point in his life, Andersen had made a reputation as a travel writer with A poet's bazaar (1842) and his experience as an observer of the world may explain why he was now capable of making better use of his plots. However, it is more likely that we are simply looking at a more mature writer in more general terms, for whom literature as such could be made to carry more meaning. Plot is now made to work harder, the individual events made to reveal more about the characters.

The use of travel as a means of structuring plot peters out in the 1850s along with the use of the folk-tale-like travel motif. It is likely that the two trends are linked. Andersen's tales were becoming increasingly realistic over the years and the focus moving increasingly away from plot structure to the reactions of the characters within the plots.

Andersen has rightly become renowned as a children's author, and the tales which most people now remember have become part of our collective unconscious, entering our cultural mythology. "The emperor's new clothes," to mention just one obvious example, has provided countless public writers and speakers with ammunition for attacks on their opponents, and many of Andersen's tales have been published anonymously, adapted for children, proving that they are now themselves part of our narrative tradition, not even needing their author's name to survive.

Children are not naive and the universe which they inhabit is not one of simple, innocent bliss. Children know that and the most successful children's writers succeed by respecting that, as both Astrid Lindgren and Roald Dahl illustrate.16 Andersen, too, reveals a complex and sometimes even frightening view of the world, both in his children's stories and in those intended for older audiences. The plots may lead us through landscapes peopled with devils and sprites before taking us up to the happy ending, and we do not forget that we had to see those landscapes as we travelled with the characters and that they are still there in the background as we learn that the main characters will live happily ever after.

"The little mermaid" ("Den lille Havfrue," 1837) is a story of love that cannot succeed. That is, of course, not how it comes across in the recent animated version: Andersen's original tale commits the Mermaid to a fate of which the makers of modern mass entertainment dare not conceive.

Like its predecessor in Andersen's œuvre, "Agnete and the merman" ("Agnete og Havmanden," 1834), it tells the story of a character who follows her heart in a decisive existential choice, thereby unwittingly committing herself to a life in loneliness and exile. The little mermaid, like Agnete, chooses a partner who is so fundamentally unlike herself that a real relationship is not possible, no matter how great a sacrifice she is prepared to make. The story, revolving around this decisive moment when the wrong step is taken, evolves like a Greek tragedy from hubris to eventual nemesis.

A number of Andersen's tales show characters unable to engage in harmonious relationships, men and women shipwrecked by life, and this motif recurs from the earliest tales, i.e. "Inchelina" (1835) to one of the latest, namely "The wood nymph" ("Dryaden," 1868). "The flying trunk" ("Den flyvende Koffert," 1839) provides a humorous example—the main character finds himself deservedly stranded abroad after an accident, but other examples leave little room for merriment. In "The garden of Eden" ("Paradisets Have," 1839) the main character finds himself repeating the original biblical mistake, although without committing the original sin.

In "Under the willow tree" ("Under Piletrœet," 1853) a man who emigrates in order to escape from the romantic disappointment of his youth encounters the love of his youth abroad and dies as he tries to escape in the opposite direction, travelling home. "Ib and little Christina" ("Ib og lille Christine," 1855) shows a woman destroying herself as she travels away to partake of sophisticated city life rather than the simpler and healthier provincial life which Ib could have offered her. And "A story from the dunes" ("En Historie fra Klitterne," 1860) has a social misfit die, mad and alone, buried by the sanddunes in an abandoned church, after a life that starts and ends in shipwreck.

What is happening here? How does one account for this sombre aspect of Andersen's work? It is tempting to do what critics have so often done, namely to seek the reasons in Andersen's own life, and to a certain extent this makes good sense. Andersen was himself a 'misfit', he had left his poor childhood behind but he never truly seemed to arrive anywhere else, in spite of his international fame and comparative wealth. The fact that he never settled down in a love relationship, in spite of several involvements with various ladies, may have inspired his somewhat pessimistic view of love in the stories referred to here, where the characters are endlessly—and hopelessly—on the move.

One of the finest examples of how this motif is explored in the tales is "The steadfast tin soldier" ("Den standhaftige Tinsoldat," 1838), whose main character only just has time to discover his love for the young ballerina before fate—or some other inexplicable force—casts him out into a hostile world from which he is miraculously and inexplicably saved, but only to be senselessly destroyed. What comes across in this story is that there is no sense to the universe, no apparent meaning or order, just casual and irrational changes of fate. Other stories in this group may not be quite so radical in their world view but they all share the feeling that we do not live in a safe universe.17

Andersen's treatment of the motif changes over the years, as he becomes more modern in his narrative style and can distance himself, perhaps, from his own personal experience. "A story from the dunes" shows tragic events in the lives of its characters, but they are the kind of events that you do tend to find in the nineteenth-century short story, where the sense of fate and of contrast between a person's young and old age is often what gives the short story its energy. In this particular story, Andersen moves close to the style of Steen Steensen Blicher, the father of the modern Danish short story. Like Blicher, Andersen gives his characters credibility by placing them in a recognizable universe, where events and people do, after all, seem probable even if their fate is extreme. In "A story from the dunes," Andersen 'poses' as a nineteenth-century topographer, finding similarities between Arabia and Jutland.18 There is still an element of the irrational in the story, but it has more to do with psychological irrationality than with the supernatural.

The homeless man, the exile who is out of his proper cultural environment, is still there but he is increasingly like a modern man. Characteristically, he still does not know what is hitting him, as is also seen in the case of the main character of "The ice maiden" ("Isjomfruen," 1862). But by now the reader can see through the events and Andersen's technique is increasingly one of dramatic irony rather than the creation of alternative, 'parallel' worlds where nature and the supernatural interact.

At the same time as he was exploiting the existing thematic use of the journey in the traditional tale, he was also using it to express much more modem themes of alienation and exile. His inspiration may have come from his personal experience, but the real power of stories obviously depends on their reflection of a more general condition which his readers of all ages would be able to recognize and relate to, consciously or otherwise.

In about a dozen of his tales we thus meet characters who travel, perhaps because their instinct tells them to keep on the move, perhaps because fate hurls them along for no clear reason, perhaps because they are running away from their own anxieties or their own failure. But they do not escape: in Andersen's darker stories there is nowhere to hide, no home to go to.

To travel is to escape, perhaps from one's daily routine in order to go on holiday, perhaps to create a new life for oneself in new surroundings through emigration. There is, of course, that difference between the exile and the tourist—or the emigré—that the exile is not usually away from his home of his own free will. The exile is a refugee, unsettled, uprooted, only temporarily at his address, waiting for a chance to return. The tourist—and the explorer—engage in a more positive search for something different.

Andersen's later stories reveal a much more settled picture of the character away from home. Part of the change that happens in his narrative style is a greater emphasis on realistic details. Reality is always present in the fairy tales, whether through references to real locations or in details which more or less explicitly place the story in the reader's own universe. But in the later stories, reality becomes ever more obvious and in some cases the element of geographical and psychological realism brings Andersen's narrative close to the prose style of the short story writers of his own time.

This also suggests that the universe described in the stories—the world in which the characters 'live'—is becoming rather more manageable, because it is becoming easier to understand. This does not mean that the characters cope more easily with their world but that their problems are not always embodied in characters from another, metaphysical world. They are not necessarily any happier but they are more like 'real' people.

An example of a transitional story between 'exile' and the more realistic picture of the world abroad is "The pepperman's nightcap" ("Pebersvendens Nathue," 1858), one of the best realistic stories among Andersen's many short tales. It tells the life story of a German merchant's representative, Anton, living in Copenhagen several centuries before Andersen's own time and making a living by selling spices (the 'pepper' of his title) on behalf of Lübeck and Hamburg merchants. The historical details of the story are interesting in themselves but the description of Anton's situation as an exile is more fascinating in this context.

Andersen takes his character's point of view, to the extent of describing German nature as being more attractive than Denmark's.19 This may seem surprising to those who know Andersen as the author of some of the best-loved lyrical descriptions of the Danish countryside, but it is an indication of his cosmopolitan approach and it also says something about his ability to enter into the world of his characters. Andersen, after all, was also a playwright.

Because Anton is described with more psychological detail, his situation also calls to a greater extent on the reader's ability to observe and understand real events, and with Anton we move away from the well-known Andersen world of fairy tale to something that is closer to Andersen's contemporary Søren Kierkegaard. The focus is existential, the main character's problem cannot be solved by fairies or exacerbated by hostile trolls. His problem is one of living in a world that is in constant flux, one that changes constantly and which he is not equipped to understand. Andersen hints that modern nineteenth-century transport would have helped the character cope better with life away from home. At least now, in the 1850s, modern steam power has shrunk Europe to more manageable proportions.

Far from being an impoverishment of the tale, its existential emphasis becomes a sign of its author's versatility as well as, it may be assumed, some of his own experience of life. It is not a happy or desirable life, but as Andersen presents it, it does amount to a valid existence: the author is implicitly claiming to be presenting his reader with reality. Andersen describes his character's loneliness as seen through the character's mind: ' … he didn't understand himself, he didn't understand the others; but we understand! You can be in somebody's home, with the family, and yet you do not strike root, you converse in the way you might converse on a stage coach, you get to know each other in the way you get to know other passengers on a stage coach, you bother each other, you wish that you were somewhere else or that your good neighbour were'.20

Realism never entirely takes over the Andersen fairy tale, but it grows in importance as an element in his narrative style and in a way it brings him closer to our own century, helps us to see that his world view is not that different from our own as well as allowing him to bring his talents as a creative writer and a travel journalist together.

One may wonder, at reading "The pepperman's nightcap," whether it is a reflection of Andersen's true experience of 'homelessness'. The answer would probably be both a 'yes' and a 'no'. He may well have felt what his character does: 'Bitter is the life of the stranger in a strange country! You are only noticed by others if you are in their way.'21 What is more, the late twentieth-century reader easily recognizes the experience of living in a world in flux, where one's sense of belonging is constantly disturbed because modern technology keeps changing one's sense of what the world looks like. Feeling estranged has become one of the central experiences of life in our century and Andersen was ideally equipped to describe it well before it became commonly understood.

But at the same time he was also becoming used to it. The experience of homelessness, which he had had since childhood and which had become his both by choice and through necessity, had also become a strength. And so it is that late in life his attitude to rootless modern life begins to change. For one thing, foreign countries increasingly provide the setting for his tales or form part of the characters' world. Thus, "The ice maiden" ("Iisjomfruen," 1862), "Psyche" ("Psychen," 1862) and "The wood nymph" ("Dryaden," 1868) are set outside Denmark. What is more, the author's attitude to life becomes increasingly cosmopolitan. His outlook, which is never narrow, becomes ever more worldly. He embraces, with enthusiasm, the concept of modern transport and he evidently understands that improved communication will also change the outlook of modern people. "The muse of the new century" ("Det nye Aarhundredes Musa," 1861), "The wood nymph" (1862), "The bird phoenix" ("Fugl Phønix," 1863) and "The thorny path" ("Ærens Tornevei," 1863) are celebrations of life in a modern, cosmopolitan world. The 'Muse'—that of poetry—is a citizen of a world where, soon 'the Great Wall of China shall fall; the railways of Europe shall reach the closed cultural archives of Asia—two streams of culture shall meet and flow as one'.22 "The thorny path" is an attempt to link the ancient Greek civilization with that of modern engineers, by listing some of the author's own heroes from world history. "The phoenix" is, again, creative writing as part of a timeless world-culture.

In "The wood nymph," Andersen indulges in a description of the Paris World Exhibition of 1867 that combines his enthusiasm for the real, modern world with his fairy-tale style of writing. The story is described both through the eyes of the wood nymph, the dryad, who is granted twelve hours in human form, so that she can see modern Paris and the Exhibition; and through the eyes of Andersen himself and those of his readers: 'We are travelling to the Paris Exhibition. We are there! with speed, with a rush, entirely without witchcraft. We travelled on the wings of speed, at sea and on land. Ours is the age of fairy-tales. We are in the middle of Paris … '.23 Once the wood nymph goes sightseeing in this modern Paris, we find that the author's enthusiasm has not blurred his vision: this is both a Paris of human tragedy and of modern sewers, a Paris where hotels are decorated with fresh flowers and where pollution kills the trees outside.

In a sense, "The wood nymph" brings this journey through Andersen's fairy tales full circle. From using the journey as a conventional folk-tale motif, Andersen had reached the point where the journey was part of the shared experience of modern Europeans, an experience which seemed likely to reach modern people everywhere, tying them together in a shared world with a shared culture.

In his autobiography Andersen describes the city where he grew up, Odense, as being in some senses unchanged since the Middle Ages. His own background, his childhood, was rooted in the past. Towards the end of his life, in 1872, he published a fairy tale in which an old man, "Great-grandfather" ("Oldefader," 1872), appears. 'Great-grandfather' himself comes from Odense and remembers its old-fashioned culture. But now, in his old age, modern technology enables his grandson Frederik to travel to America (by steamship), and the same technological age has provided the means (the telegraph) whereby Frederik is able to stay in contact with 'Great-grandfather'.

Andersen had himself travelled from the world of the Middle Ages to that of Modernism, in both art and culture. In his fairy tales, travel remained a central motif. It played different parts in the tales at differnt stages of his artistic career and in that respect it reflects changes in his life and in his art. At an early age he set out on his life's journey, through an age of restless cultural, political and technological change. At the early stages, from 1835, travel was predominantly used in the way it happens in the folktale, as a conventional element in story-telling. But he soon began to explore travel at a more personal level in the tales, as a metaphor for homelessness and exile, reflecting his own dark vision of human life as a problematic journey.

But in the 1850s, a change takes place, a change which clearly reflects his own experience of travel and which may also reflect his own greater maturity as a man of the world: his outlook becomes increasingly cosmopolitan and his fascination grows for the technology of travel and foreign settings for his narratives.

He never loses track of the essential ingredient of the fairy-tale: its ability to merge the rational and irrational worlds. Nor does he ever forget that children are in the audience for the tales, after all writing tales specifically for children was one of his great achievements. But his view of the world changes and his readers—be they children or adults—are challenged to deal with ever more complex and advanced aspects of the world which they share with the author.

The great joy is that they have been allowed to go with him on his journey. Ivan Klima, remembering a school essay which he wrote in Theresienstadt, said that writing 'enables you to enter places inaccessible in real life, even the most forbidding spaces. More than that, it allows you to invite guests along'.24 To this day, readers sense Andersen's generous invitation to go with him on that great journey of his life.


1 Hans Christian Andersen, H.C. Andersen and Thalia: love's labours lost? (Odense: Odense University Press, 1992).

2 Steen Steensen Blicher (1782-1848), clergyman, topographer and author, is the father of the Danish short story. Partly inspired by Sir Walter Scott, the Ossian tradition and folktales, he developed and perfected a style of pseudo-realistic narrative, often in regional Danish (Jutland) dialect. A number of stories are available in English translation (see Schroder, A bibliography of Danish literature in English translation 1950-1980 (Copenhagen: The Danish Institute, 1982).

3 This investigation covers 34 out of 157 printed in Gyldendal.

4 Published in 1926. See H. Topsøe-Jensen: Omkring Levnedsbogen (1943).

5 Hans Brix (ed.), H.C. Andersens levnedsbog (1971), 19.

6 H.C. Andersen: Mit eget eventyr uden digtning, edited from the author's manuscript by H. Topsøe-Jensen (Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk Forlag, 1942), 5. This is the Danish original of Andersen's first published autobiography, which appeared in German translation as Das Märchen meines Lebens ohne Dichtung (Leipzig: Carl B. Lorck, 1847). Andersen's second autobiography, Mit Livs Eventyr (1855), uses almost identical terms to the passage quoted.

7 In 1857, he spent a month in Charles Dickens' home. See Elias Bredsdorff: H. C. Andersen og Charles Dickens (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde og Bagger, 1951). Andersen's many Copenhagen addresses are listed in B.H. Gjelten, H.C. Andersen som teaterconnaisseur (Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk Forlag, 1982), 18.

8 Andersen uses a similar device in his first stage play, Kœrlighed paa Nicolai Taarn (1829, Love on St Nicholas's tower), which suddenly becomes 'interactive', when the author invites the audience to decide how the play should end.

9 Andersen visited Sweden on several occasions, in 1837, 1838 and 1840. He spent three months in Sweden in 1849, before writing I Sverrig.

10 E.g. Fugl Phönix and Poesiens Californien.

11 See, for example, Terence Hawkes, Structuralism and semiotics (London: Methuen, 1977), 67 ff. V.I. Propp is the proponent of this functionalist or syntagmatic analysis of the fairytale in Morphology of the folktale (Russian edition 1928, English translation 1958, revised Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1968).

12 In fact, it is also his earliest fairy tale. He published the original version of this tale, Dødningen ('The dead man') in Digte 1830 (Poems 1830). For the full text of Dødningen, see H.C. Andersens eventyr, ed. Erik Dal (Copenhagen: Det danske sprogog litteraturselskab, 1963), 191 ff.

13 In this category we also find The little mermaid (1837), The wild swans (1838), The flying trunk (1839), The garden of Eden (1839), The ugly duckling (1844), The story of a mother (1848), How to cook soup up a sausage pin (1858) and The philosopher's stone (1861). Note that in this investigation a tale may exemplify several uses of the travel theme and may therefore appear in different categories.

14 See his preface from 1837, in H.C. Andersens eventyr (1963), i, 19ff.

15 See Elias Bredsdorff, Hans Christian Andersen: the story of his life and work (London: Phaidon Press, 1975), 310 ff. On Andersen's use of the folk-tale see also Paul V. Rubow, H.C. Andersens eventyr, second edition, 1943 (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1967).

16 See Alison Lurie, Not in front of the grown-ups (London: Sphere Books, 1991). For a discussion of Andersen and children, see e.g. Dot Pallis; 'H.C. Andersen's børneverden i eventyrene', Anderseniana, iv (1985-86), 297 ff.

17The shadow (Skyggen, 1847) depends on similarly irrational events, although in this instance the travel motif moves to the background of the story in favour of the drama that develops between the man and his shadow, as the latter to take over his identity.

18 H.C. Andersen, Samlede eventyr og historier (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1972), ii, 386.

19 After Denmark's defeat in 1864 in the war against Prussia, such a liberal gesture would have been much less acceptable. The passage in question is the following: ' "Great is the beauty of the Danish beech forest!" they said, but to Anton the beeches at Warburg rose even more beautifully' (Samlede eventyr og historier, ii, 204.)

20Samlede eventyr og historier, iii, 208.

21 Ibid.

22Samlede eventyr og historier, iii, 40.

23Samlede eventyr og historier, ii, 277.

24 Ivan Klima, 'A childhood in Terezin' in Granta, (1993), no. 44, 200.

Niels Kofoed (essay date 1996)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3460

SOURCE: "Hans Christian Andersen and the European Literary Tradition," in Hans Christian Andersen: Danish Writer and Citizen of the World, edited by Sven Hakon Rossel, Rodopi, 1996, pp. 209-56.

[In the following excerpt, Kofoed discusses Andersen's sources and the double nature of his narrative voice, which expresses "the tension between the manners of the highly educated, adult person and the spontaneity of the child as a representative of unconscious life."]

The sources of Andersen's tales and stories are manifold. First of all there is the anonymous folktale; next there is the German literary tale by writers such as Tieck, Arnim, Brentano, Chamisso, and Hoffmann, which had flourished throughout the romantic period; furthermore Andersen's own life story, and finally modern technology and natural science, a source pointed out by one of his closest friends, the physicist Hans Christian Ørsted. In his tales and stories Andersen exploits the entire treasure trove of motifs and themes to be found in European literature as well as in Greek and Roman antiquity, and he also found inspiration in Arabic, Persian, and Indian narrative.

One of the secrets behind Andersen's success may have been the fact that in his development as a writer he accomplished a transition from poetry to prose, from writing in verse for an educated reader to a modern narrative prose based on oral diction, addressing both children and adults. In the latter decades of romanticism, when popular and realistic tendencies made themselves felt together with an incipient political and social liberation from absolutist rule, prose writing came to the forefront in Danish as in European literature of the 1830s. 1827 was an epoch-making year in the history of literature: the year when Goethe proclaimed the existence of a new world literature in a letter to his assistant and close associate Johann Peter Eckermann, when Hugo signed the preface to his romantic play Cromwell and Scott published his article on the supernatural in Foreign Quarterly Review.67 A taste for the supernatural and the realistic at the same time demanded a new kind of prose. People with an extensive knowledge of folklore, such as Ingemann and Andersen in Denmark and the Grimm brothers in Germany, were able to draw on a large stock of popular legends and superstitions. That Andersen, within the compass of his literary work, had participated in a general development from eighteenth-century classicism to early nineteenth-century romanticism is clearly seen already in his first major work A Walking Tour, and in his first tale, "Dødningen, et fyensk Folke-Eventyr" ("The Dead Man: A Folktale from Funen"), which concludes his volume of Poems from 1830 and constitutes the first version of the tale "Reisekammeraten" (1835; "The Traveling Companion"). The witty and affected style Andersen used in his early, immature attempts was criticized by [his friend B.S.] Ingemann and his wife, who encouraged him to continue writing tales, but also to opt for a style with greater simplicity and seriousness. The rediscovery of a childlike universe in which also ordinary people take part would, according to Ingemann, be the true basis for a revival of story telling.

Andersen took notice of this bit of advice, but by preserving an adult undertone of irony and humor he managed to create his personal mode of double articulation. He felt himself naturally attracted to a childlike sphere and to the nearby world of children. He addressed himself directly to the child in the adult person by taking a short-cut to a world of fellowship and frankness shared by the storyteller and his public. A new interest in childhood with all its implications regarding faith and ideology was a characteristic of romantic literature in the 1830s. The child conceived as an ideological factor symbolized the true source of optimism and belief in the future, and this became an effective argument in polemics against the defenders of pure enlightenment and reason.68 This fight against the hegemony of reason had begun with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and had also appeared in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's novel Paul et Virginie (1787), which in a dramatized version was the first play Andersen ever attended at the Royal Theater one of the first days in September 1819 after his arrival in Copenhagen. The notion of the child playing the part of an intermediary of imagination and feeling in literature was also accentuated by Novalis in Germany and Oehlenschläger and Grundtvig in Denmark.

By presenting children in literature as adults in disguise, the classicists of the enlightenment had kept any interest in childhood within narrow limits. To the rationalists of the eighteenth century, childhood seemed a period of waiting; to the romantics the world of children became the very center and culmination of life. It was not until the emergence of a new fairy tale literature that the child found a place in adult literature, and the tension between the manners of the highly educated, adult person and the spontaneity of the child as a representative of unconscious life is certainly at work in a sophisticated manner in many of Andersen's tales and stories. Tieck, who had been the first to renew the writing of short prose as a transitional form, was a master of the fairy tale. His Volksmärchen von Peter Lebrecht appeared already in 1795. Tieck had also given his fairy-tale play Der gestiefelte Kater (1797) the significant subtitle: "Ein Kindermärchen," and another fairy-tale play Ritter Blaubart (1797) he called "Ammenmärchen." Even a number of Hoffmann's and Chamisso's tales were told for children. On the whole the fairy tale seemed to constitute a genre per se, expressing the quintessence of imagination, the very canon of poetry. Hoffmann was strongly influenced by Carlo Gozzi, the Venetian playwright, who masterfully exploited folktale motifs in his comedies. The subjects of these tales have been handed down orally as well as in print and are frequently related to those in legends, myths and medieval ballads as well.

The romantics took over the themes and the material from the folktales in the same way as they used medieval ballads and epics as sources. The literary tale of German classicism and early romanticism as we know it from Goethe and Novalis, however, never seems to have been very popular in its mode and narrative technique. On the contrary, these tales were symbolic, complex and far from the simple folktale. It was not until the Grimm brothers began to reshape the folktale with their edition of Kinderund Hausmärchen (1812-15) that an oral narrative art came into fashion. It was by merging the folktale and the literary tale that Andersen succeeded in creating his works of excellence.69

The folktale is characterized by oral transmission, anonymous origin, formulaic structure and a general lack of style. The literary tale on the other hand is expressed in a sophisticated form in which the individual style of the author is apparent. Characters, setting and detailed descriptions of nature and surroundings play an important part. It is often allegorical and symbolic, as it reflects both a childlike universe and an adult world. It contains a considerable portion of realism, but preferably in a compound of the real and the imaginative.

The romantic literary tale developed in many directions. It was made up of motifs borrowed from comedies, anecdotes, short stories, symbolic stories, fables, and arabesques, among others, and thus it became a supple instrument for expressing the writer's personal philosophy of life. In the 1830s and during the later phases of the romantic movement, where popular and realistic tendencies took over the lead, this kind of short prose reached its height with writers such as Nicolay Gogol, Gottfried Keller, Berthold Auerbach, Charles Baudelaire, and Edgar Allan Poe. In Denmark Oehlenschläger had tried already in 1805 to introduce the genre with Vaulundurs Saga (The Saga of Vaulundur), and in 1816 he had published two volumes of fairy tales, Eventyr af forskiellige Digtere (Fairy Tales by Various Authors), in which translations from Tieck, Motte Fouqué, Heinrich von Kleist, and Johann Musäus were represented. In 1820 Ingemann had published a volume of Fairy Tales and Stories, which had not aroused any attention. The reading public was not familiar with short prose of that kind and fairy tales were generally considered to belong in the nursery.

Only when Andersen at Ingemann's suggestion abandoned the sentimental and high-flown style of contemporary prose and replaced it with a colloquial language in which the narrator's own voice is heard and the presentation comes close to drama, did a real renewal take place. Andersen had read both Hoffmann, Tieck, Jean Paul, and Brentano since his early years. On his way back from Italy in 1834 he attended performances given by the children's ballet in Vienna, in which he may have found inspiration for two of his very first tales not based on folktales, "Little Ida's Flowers" and "Hyrdinden og Skorstensfeieren" (1845; "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep"). Novalis' fragmentary novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen (1802) contains an allegory about Arcturus and Ginnistan telling how the realm of prose and reason is overthrown and poetry is set free. Arcturus's crystal palace reappears in Andersen's tale "The Snow Queen." Other lines can be drawn back to Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774; The Sufferings of Young Werther) and Faust (1808), the poems of Schiller, and the comedies of Holberg. Numerous loans, parallels and traces of reading in European literature have already been pointed to in Andersen scholarship, for instance Andersen's dependence both on Motte Fouqué's Undine (1811)70 and August Bournonville's ballet Sylfiden (1836; The Sylphide) for his own tale of "The Little Mermaid."

A certain shortness and clarity, a brisk action, a natural dialogue, humor and irony are essential ingredients in Andersen's narrative prose. However, his poetics of double articulation implies that a discourse that is childlike in the positive meaning of the word by appealing to the world of children and telling about it in their own words, has to be counterbalanced by some humor and irony in order to make another interpretation possible than the one based on lack of sophistication. This double articulation is not only part of a specific poetics, it is a new strategy as well, because it enables the writer to give a full expression of a world of experience resulting from a split in the adult mind.71

The literary fairy tale was a demanding genre revealing its possibilities only to a writer who in his personal development would measure up to its requirements. All indications point to the fact that Andersen in the years just before his literary breakthrough in 1835, underwent a serious crisis that brought him maturity as a story teller. His social background, his strange vegetating as a young man in the Copenhagen slum, his moral strength and his first agonizing experiences as a writer had awakened a tremendous energy in him. His tales were not just a trio of folktales, romantic literary tales, and his autobiography. In fact, one can point to only about nine of his tales as being reproduced folktales. Andersen felt an urge to delve deeper into the anonymous layers of the history of civilization, which make up the common heritage of all humanity. It is easy to demonstrate that Andersen on the surface knew how to imitate the nuances, gestures and the diction of the Copenhagen bourgeoisie so masterly depicted in his tales and stories. But beneath this local and often humorous level there is a region taking us back to a prehistoric world.

As a storyteller Andersen was original, because he more or less deliberately kept in touch with the unconscious aspects of his soul. Beneath the personal experiences, which to a large extent reflect his own life story, we find the general and elementary conditions and conflicts that belong to all humanity. There is a common stock of experience and belief shared by all people, and if the solutions to the problems that arise cannot be explained in term of providence or fate, they tend to become meaningless. This tension between the belief in the wisdom of the people, a simple conviction of the possibility of being selected by fate, and a modern and adult knowledge about the absurdity of human existence, makes up the true high-voltage field in Andersen's writing. His strength does not lie as much in the delineation of the hero's individual character as in the description of his fate. It is the simple and strong emotions he depicts, the passions carrying life and death in them. Therefore the struggle for life and the pursuit of happiness are the main themes of his tales and stories. He never hesitates to pass beyond the borders of life and death in his desire to let his characters fulfill their lot. He even permits a few of them to ascend directly into Heaven.

Whether Andersen is treating his subject with a profound seriousness or a brilliant sense of humor, any human being regardless of race, sex, social class or religion will nod in recognition to the incidents or situations being described. Poverty, social struggle, childhood, love, human betrayal, and death constitute the central themes of Andersen's tales and stories. Without the rich harvest of German literary tales and the Grimm brothers' achievements these tales and stories would never have come into existence. However, Andersen's realism seems much more comprehensive than theirs, his humor more evident and his irony present everywhere as a double exposure of the motifs.

The folktale is unequivocal in its view of fate, because it is rooted in popular belief. It deals with the way fate does justice to the repudiated and the disowned. It elevates the humble hero and rewards the humiliated person. By bravely defying the way of the world, it creates a reality in which poetry and devoutness are crucial. But it is not the values and ideas of the folktales that permeate Andersen's creative work. A great many of his tales and stories approach the eighteenth-century rationalist approach to telling fairy tales, such as that proclaimed by Christoph Martin Wieland. According to Wieland the fairy tale should approach an expression of knowledge of the way of the world, should contain wit, satire and allegory expressed in any possible form. This definition, which has the fable as a literary model, suffices to explain the character of a large number of Andersen's tales and stories. In fact they have many sources. There is a romantic-religious group conveying the tradition of the folktale and the German literary tale, such as "The Little Mermaid" and "De vilde Svaner" (1838; The Wild Swans). There is also a second group of satires and allegories related to the classical fables, such as "Keiserens nye Klæder" (1837; "The Emperor's New Clothes") with a motif borrowed from a Spanish collection of anecdotes from the fourteenth century, Juan Manuel's, El Conde Lucanor, or "Den uartige Dreng" (1835; "The Naughty Boy") which is based on the Greek poet Anacreon. Finally there are examples of realistic short stories devoid of any supernatural element, such as "En Historie fra Klitterne" (1860; "A Story from the Sand Dunes") and "Hvad Fatter gjør, det er altid det Rigtige" (1861; "What the Old Man Does Is Always Right").

Generally speaking, the complex and highly sophisticated forms did not appeal to Andersen. He aimed deliberately at creating works of simplicity, truth and nature by conveying an atmosphere of intimacy. As a storyteller he acts like a phenomenalist philosopher grasping the characteristic details and trying to let the truth appear by glimpses of intuition. In accordance with the program of the earliest romantics, Andersen tried to develop his own mythology based on tradition. The essential characteristic of a great writer is that he has created types and characters more alive to the tradition than real human beings. Andersen not only succeeded in creating imperishable characters, he also invented creatures of a pure imaginative character like the heroes and heroines of the sagas and the myths; such are the title figures of "The Snow Queen" and "The Ice Maiden." It is a remarkable feature about Andersen's tales, that the supernatural settings—populated with all kinds of fanciful figures—border directly on the bourgeois world of everyday life. Andersen's skill in linking the sphere of normal life to a supernatural or fabulous world by making these separate worlds function together with imperceptible transitions between them, is quite unique.

More and more Andersen felt the urge to specialize in writing short prose. The retold folktales and the fictitious fairy tales were after 1850 replaced by various kinds of tales and stories with the German author Berthold Auerbach's Schwarzwölder Dorfgeschichten (1843-54) as a model. Andersen tried to extend his small genre in all possible directions. One way of experimenting was by writing new tales and stories upon request. In 1846 he was asked by Thorvaldsen to write "Stoppenaalen" (1847; "The Darning Needle"), and several years later, following a suggestion by Dickens, he finished "Skarnbassen" (1861; "The Dung Beetle"). Just as some of Andersen's narratives are connected with European colleagues of his time—such as "Det gamle Huus" (1848; "The Old House"), which he wrote after a visit to the German author Julius Mosen, whose little son had presented him with a tin soldier at his departure, and "Vanddraaben" (1848; "A Drop of Water"), which he wrote for his close friend Ørsted—others are closely attached to definite geographic localities, such as "The Ice Maiden," which is a genuine Swiss tale, "Psychen" (1861; "The Psyche"), which is set in Rome, "Metalsvinet" (1862; "The Metallic Pig") in Florence and "Venskabs-Pagten" (1862; "The Treaty of Friendship") in Greece.

In Andersen's writing a trend toward popular and realistic storytelling dominated the 1850s and 1860s. He seemed restless in his attempts at finding new modes of expression and went over his manuscripts again and again. His texts tended to increase in length and complexity. At the same time he came under the influence of the Swedish singer Jenny Lind … and went through a crisis of religious and philosophical scruples. Only about one-sixth of his 156 tales and stories are without any reference to death. In twenty-four of them death is the main theme and in another twenty-five death is part of the conclusion. Whereas Andersen avoids all descriptions of sexuality, since this topic found no place in the literature of the time, he confined himself to telling about illegitimate children and their life stories. He kept turning death over in his mind, because as a lifelong bachelor he had repressed his own sexuality. When all his attention turned on death, his descriptions approached the macabre. He liked to describe skulls, skeletons, burials, and cemeteries; however he could also spare the details and simply let death appear as an old man wrapped in a horse cloth as in "Historien om en Moder" (1847; "The Story of a Mother").

Besides death described as the universal lot of all humans, we find Andersen's concept of immortality as a transcendental phenomenon. He held the view that man has a right to immortality because of all the injustice and sufferings the majority of people are subject to during their lifetime, and he proportioned this concept to his aesthetics, as expressed in his tale of "Ærens Tornevei" (1863; "The Thorny Path of Honor"): "Fairy tale and reality are so close to one another, but the fairy tale has a harmonious resolution on this earth. Reality removes it from our life on earth by relating it to time and eternity." Andersen's later writings reveal a brooding and sometimes even overly scrupulous man occupied with new experiments. By taking his point of departure in the folktale and the romantic concepts of the child and the people as the main objectives of all poetry, Andersen deliberately tried to go beyond national borders and place himself as a poet for all humanity. He built his world from below, using the prose sketch and the child as simple models, letting the arabesque unify poetry and visual art, as proposed by Friedrich Schlegel … and combining in his own way the idea of a fanciful imagination and a light irony with an exuberant abundance of details. Precisely by insisting on the origin of the arabesque in pictorial art did Andersen succeed in creating a prose richly endowed with the colors and contours of a visual world. Reality and dream did not exist apart from each other as incompatible extremes…..



67 See F. Baldensberger. ["La grande communion romantique de 1827 sous le signe de Walter Scott." Revue de Littérature Comparée, 7, 1926-27.]

68 See H. Kind. Das Kind in der Ideologie und der Dichtung der deutschen Romantik. Dresden: Dittert, 1936.

69 Niels Kofoed. Studier i H. C. Andersens Fortœllekunst. Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1967, p. 96. See also Richard Benz. Märchendichtung der Romantiker. Gotha: Perthes, 1908.

70 See, for instance, Sven H. Rossel, "Undine-motivet hos Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, H. C. Andersen og Jean Giraudoux." Edda, 70 (1970), 151-61.

71 Søren Baggesen. "Dobbeltartikulationen i. H. C. Andersens eventyr." Andersen og Verden. Odense: Odense University Press, 1993, pp. 26-27.

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Hans Christian Andersen Short Story Criticism