Stylistics and Poetics in Some Andersen Tales
In H. C. Andersen's tales, narrative and stylistic devices are used with different aims and different effects. Often their presence appears to be the result of conscious, rather sophisticated choices. But at other times, the message is opaque, an opacity which then leads to a more or less conscious moral or psychological content of the tale. In the following analyses of narrative and stylistic devices in six Andersen tales, the aim is not to find new interpretations of the stories in question, but rather to show how differentiated Andersen's instrument is and hence how differentiated the effect of these modulations can be. In some instances the message of the story in question turns out to be a metapoetic one about Andersen's own authorship. Besides the well-known explicit poetic expressions in the tales, there are numerous implicit, hidden messages to be found, of which the following analyses will show only a few. As I have shown earlier, stylistic and narrative means are also used to hide a psychological content. (van Hees 1995, 1996.)
In the following analyses the first two are about metapoetics, the next three about psychology, while finally the last example ("The Shadow") will show a combination of psychology and metapoetics.
"Soup from a Sausage Peg"
This now is a real fairy tale, since it is about animals, quests and a king to be won. With respect to its genre, the tale is specially interesting, as it at once lives up to the claims of the genre and at the same time transgresses them to such a degree that the tale ends by devouring itself.
Since there are no less than five narrators, the extradiegetic narrator of the frame story and four intradiegetic mice, each telling their own stories, a certain differentiation in style is bound to be found. And it is. The narrator of the frame story speaks in a polysyndetic, oral style: "And the old mouse king rose and promised " (Hersholt VI;250)
The first mouse leaving to find the required recipe relates in mostly asyndetic sentences its journey by ship to the north, into the woods. She never forgets her task, as her observations are constantly connected with thoughts about food:
But it isn't so hard to manage at sea when you have an abundance of bacon, and whole barrels of salt meat and mouldy flour; you live like a lord. (VI;251)
Living in the enchanting beauty of northern summer nights, the mouse gradually forgets her troubles. After her return she conjures up both highly fragrant violets and kitchen music, but this soup is too rich for the king.
This means that our mouse on her journey has discovered Beauty, which she brings home in the shape of impressions for the eye, the nose and the ear. But the mouth is forgotten, and as her task was to fill the mouth, she is turned down by the king as a marriage candidate.
Mouse number two speaks in a different style, in long, polysyndetic sentences, since she is nothing less than a book mouse, having her home in a library. This mouse regards wisdom as the most important asset and therefore goes to the ants to become wise. Briefly, she devours the source of wisdom in the shape of the ant queen, after which she climbs a tree to visit Memory, the oak maiden, and her friend Fantasy.
This last person's gift, a feather, is also devoured. The feather is possibly to be regarded as the writer's tool, specifically calling up the notion of literary fantasy. The mouse has now got both wisdom and fantasy, she is lacking only feeling, which she takes in the shape of two-and-a-half novels, after which she has acquired enough to feed the king with a story each day of the week.
This mouse is the pivotal one, in her role of mise-en-abîme for all three stories, since she acquires wisdom, fantasy and feeling. The first mouse brought home only fantasy, while the last one is going to bring only feeling. The tale could be read allegorically: in order to win the king, i.e. the public, an author needs to write about Beauty, Truth and Goodness (det Skønne, det Sande, det Gode), the three Platonic demands made to art, renewed in the 19th century by Heiberg. Since Goodness at the same time is Truth and Beauty, it is only logical that they here meet in the heart of the story, represented by the middle one of the three mice.
Now Feeling or Goodness is exactly what the next mouse, number four, brings. But where is mouse number three and why are there four mice at all instead of the traditional three? It ought to be the third, youngest and most naive heroine who wins the king.
But the third mouse is missing, and the reader is, like the mice, held in suspense as to her destiny. Only the king is certain that the third mouse is dead: "'Yes, something goes wrong on even the most pleasurable occasions', the mouse king remarked." (VI;250)
This story demands that there are four mice, three of them finding Beauty, Truth and Goodness, all three to be rejected; the fourth brings what is really needed.
The dilemma between the demands of the genre and of the story's thematic point is solved elegantly by letting the fourth mouse speak before her turn: "What the fourth mouse, who spoke before the third, had to say" (VI;259). In this way the third mouse can still be last and win the king.
Mouse number four has, through her friendship with a prisoner, felt what love is, so one might say she represents Goodness, since she forgets both herself and her quest in her great love. She is only reminded of her quest after the death of her beloved, the prisoner. That is why she comes late to the meeting, being in a hurry and speaking in a hurry, i.e. in short, asyndetic sentences. But the king, who wanted neither fantasy nor wisdom, rejects love as well. He wants food, and get it he shall. The world doesn't want beauty, the story seems to say, the world wants to be deceived, and deceived it shall be.
The third and last mouse is to have the role of the traditional heroine, who wins the king through clever naivety or good-hearted innocence. But our heroine is more sophisticated than the traditional third hero in a tale. She wins the king only by confronting him with his own wish for power.
The balance of power is turned upside down. And what is more, the soup from a sausage peg will never be cooked at all, since the king wishes to postpone the preparation of it until his golden wedding anniversary. The mouse gets the king for a husband without even having proved that she can actually cook soup from a sausage peg. She possesses more than Beauty, Truth and Goodness, as she knows how to get the king into her power. What could be more suitable for a queen?
At the same time, however, the central drive of the traditional fairy-tale, the quest, is removed of the story, whereby it denies its own existence and reduces itself to what it was to begin with: soup from a sausage peg, or much ado about nothing.
"Soup from a Sausage Peg" only seemingly has as its core the finding of a recipe to cook a certain soup. But when the soup - the story - is finally cooked, there is nothing left, as the tale was what its title said right from the start. A wonderful, ironic comment on genre, reader and author at the same time.
In this way H. C. Andersen constructs and solves many a drama in his tales. In the soup-from-a-sausage-peg tale we saw how a narrative device was used to solve the dilemma between the demands of the genre and the demands connected with the content of the story. As a result we can deduce how the story's metapoetic message gets told.
In the next example the role of the implicit reader is crucial.
"The Drop of Water"
However short this tale is, it shows both narratological and rhetorical sophistication, which in their combination lead to a metapoetic message. "The Drop of Water" is in its form an allegory. An allegory now is an extended comparison in which the total statement of the text can be read as a statement or as a description of another phenomenon. In Andersen's case the other phenomenon is often a social or public matter. Thus Peer E. Sørensen in his 1973 study about "The Gardener and the Noble Family" shows how Andersen concentrates his own feelings of inferiority and his irritation about his critics' arrogance in the brilliant gardener who produces one fine product after another without getting anything but criticism in return. A fine example of a Marxist reading a hundred years after both Marx and Andersen.
Heinrich Lausberg, theoretician of classical rhetoric, shows in his Handbuch der literarischen Retorik (1960) how indeed later readings, applying new points of view, often become allegorical, since new social developments and new insights leading towards different ideological goals may use an existing text as an illustration. In this way rhetorical means are used in accordance with the original purpose of rhetoric, which is to convince one's opponent.
This method of analysis abuses even texts which were never meant to convince anyone at all. Lausberg mentions the Bible as an example: the Old Testament can be read as a prefiguration of what is going on in the New Testament. But, one could add, the same is true vice versa. One text functions, as it were, as an image of the other, the new text is written into the old one, which thereby receives new meaning. The Scriptures as a palimpsest.
These considerations could keep one from regarding a short Andersen tale like "The Drop of Water" as sheer allegory. It should rather be considered a subspecies of allegory, a so-called typology, comparable to the image or the impression made by a stamp.
The stamp then is the typus, the impression it has made is the antitypus. Cf. Lausberg:
Die chaotisch scheinende Wirklichkeit wird durch die Typologie, nach dem Prinzip der Analogie gegliedert. Die Analogie wird hierbei in zwei Pole aufgeteilt: Vorbild und Spiegelbild. Das Spiegelbild ist eine Reproduktion des Vorbildes, zwischen beiden waltet die Analogie. (445)
While an allegorical reading has as its aim the interpretation of text, the purpose of typology is rather the author's interpretation of reality.
I am going to try to interpret the narrator's interpretation of reality as a cover-up for another purpose of his, which is to make the reader believe that he can work magic. But while I am doing so, I am myself constructing a new allegory, the allegory between the narrator's text and the author's poetics.
In "The Drop of Water" as a typology the big city is the typus and the drop of water the mirror image of it, the antitypus. A big city is characterized by different phenomena like size, a multiplicity of people, buildings, liveliness, or crowds. The typology of this text is first and foremost based on one characteristic only, i.e. aggressiveness, which is rejected on moral grounds.
In contrast to classical allegory, where comparatum is introduced right from the beginning, to be explained later in the tertium comparationis, it is hidden in this tale, a secret to be unveiled only at the very end: "this must be Copenhagen or another large city, they are all alike". (III;112)
The troll, a narrated person, finds this solution, but the reader would without his help have reached the same conclusion, since the text leads him or her to it. How?
The reader is included as a narratee, a person addressed, from the beginning: "Of course you must know what a microscope is" (III;110).
There is, at this point, no introduction or any other sign that what is to follow is a story. There is only consensus between narrator and reader, who, already in the second clause, seem to be identical: "If you take it and hold it close to your eye, you will see" (the original has: "If one will hold it to one's eye, one will see"). (III;110)
Already in this second sentence the reader is supposed to agree with the narrator; they are both part of the "one" who is holding the magnifying glass. Therefore he is expected to accept the magnifying of the drop of water, which is made more graphic by means of hyperboles, exaggerations. Things are "a hundred times bigger", one sees "thousands of strange little creatures" and "a plateful of shrimp". (III;110)
Only in the second paragraph does the usual formula to introduce a story come in: "Now, once there was an old man" (III;110). Since the reader at this point is already one with the narrator, he will see through the same glasses or the same magnifying glass and in this way accept the exaggerations: "always", "everything", "not at all". (III;112)
The "always" of the second paragraph is then narrowed down to "one day", so that finally the story can start. Polysyndeton and varied repetition are the means used to continue the artistic effect: "kick and cuff and struggle and fight and pull and bite". (III;112)
In this drama, which the reader witnesses together with "the old man", the protagonist of the story introduced in the second paragraph, an intervention of some kind is required, apparently to allow the beasts in this narrated universe to live in peace. At least, this is what the old man says. But at this point, which is at about halfway into the short text, there is a turning point, a breach in the tale. At normal reading speed the reader, however, will not notice it, since he is so enthralled by the narrator that he will believe everything he is being told.
The narrator makes the protagonist think one thing and do another: the old man decides to put an end to the turmoil, but what he really does is to add colour to the drama, so it becomes more vivid. Thus, instead of reducing the drama, he blows it up. At this point the reader is not only led into accepting the exaggeration, but also the confusion. He has long since passed the point of no return, since he has taken the hyperboles for granted from the beginning.
But what will happen now? Is the reader to be crudely disillusioned by the narrator? This ought to be impossible, as the tale is based upon his sympathy. To solve this dilemma, a new troll is introduced, to take over the role of the deceived person, so that the reader may continue to sympathize with the narrator. The two protagonists are now the bearers of the split that would otherwise arise in the reader.
This second troll is invited to look at the drama, which is purely linguistic:
all the inhabitants ran about without clothing. What a horrible sight it was! But it was still more horrible to see them kick and cuff, and struggle and fight and pull and bite at each other. All those on the bottom were struggling to get to the top, and those on the top were being pushed to the bottom And they hacked at it and tore at him and devoured him. (III;112)
Now the second troll interprets this vigorous aggressive picture as Copenhagen or any other big city. At this point the tale ends abruptly with the first troll's clause: "It is a drop of ditch water!" (III;113)
The text is not only an allegory, as is stated in it, it is also a hyperbole, one large exaggeration, whose definite claim is: "I, the narrator, am a troll; I can produce anything as if by magic, while I can make you, reader, believe me."
Topsøe-Jensen informs us that Andersen could have written the tale for H. C. Ørsted who thanks him for it in his 1850 work about Spirit in Nature, relating that physical phenomena like drops of water under a microscope have found their way into literature (1971;136f). But he also reminds us of a novel the motif might stem from, i.e. Bulwer Lytton's Night and Morning, in which the shock of seeing a drop of water under a microscope is described. This might well be the source of the tale, which H. C. Andersen, however, turns into his very own, as always.
Hyperbole, one could claim, is Andersen's favourite trope. In his universe, things are beautiful, delightful, eternal and most lovely. It is hyperbole for its poetic effect that Andersen and his contemporaries favour. A drop of water under a microscope is in itself, as an image, a hyperbole, an enlargement with a suggestive effect:
Die Hyperbel ist eine extreme, im wörtlichem Sinne unglaubwürdige onomasiologische Überbietung des verbum proprium. (Lausberg 1960;299)
Andersen once saw the phenomenon himself, and now he wants his reader to have the same experience, but there is no microscope at hand, there is only language. "Die Glaubwürdigkeit wird für einen Augenblick zugunsten einer eindringlichen evidentia zurückgestellt" (300). When an author uses hyperboles, he creates a rather intense tone which forces the reader to follow and feel the same. The sympathy (literally: same feeling) the narrator has created in the first paragraph of the tale by shifting from "you" to "one", is kept alive through the following hyperboles. As Lausberg remarks, the reader will let himself be enchanted by the hyperbole's poetic magic in a wave of sympathy with the narrator. (300)
The analysis shows that one type of trope, here hyperbole, is used in this one tale. In this case it was employed to enchant the reader into believing whatever the narrator tells him.
The same holds true for other Andersen tales as well. Or, to put it more precisely: it happens frequently in Andersen that one type of trope or figure of speech dominates in the individual tale.
"The Girl who Trod on the Loaf"
The author regarded the story of the unhappy girl who trod on the loaf as one of his "deepest". It is a story about guilt, atonement and mercy, the last however taking a long time to be granted. The whole action of the story is summarized in the first sentence: "You have quite likely heard of the girl who trod on a loaf so as not to soil her pretty shoes and what misfortunes this brought upon her" (IV;437). Now we (you) know, but this is the only appearance the reader makes in the text.
There is one reminder of the fact that this is only a story, after about a page and a half: "That's the story" (IV;438).
This is a story seen from the inside, with internal focalizing, told by an omniscient narrator, framed by two, and only two, narrator's remarks. So there is a narrator, as in the former example, but no tricks are used here: this is a story about divine power, not about the narrator's power.
Inger, the protagonist, has committed a sin, for which she is punished severely, since she is in hell and suffering from hunger, pain and petrifaction. She is, however, rather laconic about it: "Oh, how I am suffering!" (IV;441)
Neither her mother's tears nor her employer's prayers on earth are able to soften her heart. There seems to be no forgiveness for Inger, neither from God, her mother or her kind employer. The latter are supposed to be grieving for her, but their grief is never just that, as there always is some criticism involved, which utterly petrifies Inger: "They ought to have brought me up better" (IV;441).
From a psychological point of view this appears to be a story about a neurosis avant la lettre. As in a neurosis, where a person's attitude to life seems unchangeable, thus leading to a repetition of behaviour, Inger's attitude seems eternal. There is no sorrow or forgiveness in Inger's petrified heart, and hence the sorrow from outside cannot reach her.
But then a little girl cries for her, just feeling sorry, and finally her tears make Inger's heart melt, enabling her to find her original feelings back and to be freed from a neurotic destiny, comparable to hell. But first she has to atone for her sin: in the shape of a little bird she has to gather bread crumbs, enough to make up for a whole loaf, the loaf she once trod on to keep her shoes clean. The divine mercy is somewhat petty and Old Testament in its: "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth".
The story's symbolism is simple: weeping eyes are like clear stars etc. Nor are there many metaphors, while the few actually being there are from nature, which, as Kofoed has shown, is the general pattern in Andersen's tales. (Kofoed 1967, passim)
Astonishing, however, are the numerous alliterations: "Catching flies creeping insects, Maybugs and beetles turned and twisted". (IV;437)
In the whole of the story one finds 40 alliterations: fifteen pairs of s'es and eight pairs of f's. The first alliterations are gentle, only one pair of f's, followed by five pairs of d's. The ending is gentle as well, as the alliterating pairs are: h, b, f, a.
In the middle s is found in fifteen alliterating pairs, alternating with a single pair of p's, l's, or h's, but also seven pairs of f's.
Of course these counts concern the original text, since it depends on the individual translator, how many of these alliterations have been noticed, and if they are at all translatable.
It is problematic to define the purpose of this particular stylistic device in this particular story. One has to be very cautious in drawing conclusions from the sound-level of a text, keeping in mind Rimbaud's "Le sonnet des voyelles" and its numerous interpretations as a prohibitive example.
Anyhow, it looks as if the girl's neurosis is both expressed in the petrifaction of her body and illustrated by the harshness of the sounds used to describe her state. Cf. Lausberg's example from Racine's Andromaque: "Pour qui sont ces serpents qui soufflent sur vos têtes?", where the danger of the snakes is emphasized by the imitation of the sound they produce.
So far, we have seen an overwhelming use of hyperboles in "The Drop of Water" with the effect of enthralling the reader, and the use of alliteration in "The Girl who Trod on the Loaf". In the next tale, the central stylistic device is repetition.
"The Red Shoes"
The red shoes that go on dancing, even when their owner no longer wants to, make a real fairy tale motif. As in the tale of the girl who trod on the loaf, the protagonist suffers from vanity, which in the Christian tradition is a mortal sin, while punishment for this kind of hubris functions as a motif in tales and legends. One is reminded of The Wandering Jew, The Flying Dutchman or The Wild Hunter.
What Karen does in "The Red Shoes" is sacrilege at her mother's funeral: she wears red shoes. She is still innocent, however, since she has no other shoes than the clumsy red ones that the shoemaker's wife has sewn for her out of left-over pieces of cloth. But in the second instance, after the rich lady has adopted her, she is guilty of deception. Why is this?
In the meantime she has seen a princess wearing red morocco shoes, and she imagines herself in the princess's place, who in fact has both a rich mother and a pair of red shoes. The last time Karen had red shoes on, she was walking in her mother's funeral procession, a little girl absolutely lost. And when she gets a rich foster mother immediately after the funeral, she believes that the red shoes have a large part in it. The shoes now represent a wish, a wish to have a new, better and richer mother. If only one wears red shoes, one can have it all, like the princess, who has a mother. As Karen's foster mother is old and ill, the red shoes are indispensable for Karen, a protection against death, or a so-called transitorial object. In psychology, a transitorial object is an object used to fill the void, when the real object is missing.
According to the story Karen commits three sins: she deceives her foster mother about the colour of the shoes, she wears red shoes to her confirmation, and finally she wears them again for Holy Communion a week later, although it has been explicitly forbidden.
Thus Karen triplicates her sin and her guilt, a triplication that is mirrored in the soldier's triple remark: "Oh, what beautiful shoes for dancing!" (VI;237ff). Also God's angel makes three appearances, twice to refuse Karen entrance into the church, the third time, however, to bring the church to her, as a sign of forgiveness after Karen's atonement. This makes "The Red Shoes" a story with a traditional fairy-tale motif, combined with the Christian motif of sin and atonement. But there is also a third layer, a psychological content, combined with the levels of signification mentioned above.
As Kofoed remarks, repetition is a conventional and compositional element, but it is also present at the level of the sentence (Kofoed 54f). In "The Red Shoes" we find 23 linguistic repetitions, to throw the triplication at the content level into relief.
The repetition at micro level can be identical or varied:
a large old carriage with a large old lady in it. (VI;236)
She was taught to read and she was taught to sew. (VI;236)
when she tried to turn to the right, the shoes turned to the left and when she wanted to dance up the ballroom, her shoes danced down. (VI;238)
and dance she did for dance she must. (VI;238)
She danced over an unfenced graveyard, but the dead did not join her dance. (VI;238)
"Dance you shall" he told her, "Dance in your red shoes, dance you shall from door to door - Dance you shall, dance -!" (VI;238)
Dance she did and dance she must, through the dark night. (VI;239)
"Come out!" she called, "Come out!" (VI;239)
The examples show that the verb to dance is a recurring element, which reinforces the impression of force from the outside. But in order to see why Karen has to dance, we again have to turn to the rhetorical element of repetition:
she did wear a pair of splendid red morocco shoes to let them admire her. (VI;236)
Every eye was turned toward her feet even those portraits fixed their eyes upon her red shoes. (VI;237)
Karen looked at her black shoes. She looked at her red ones. She kept looking at her red ones until she put them on. (VI;237)
She looked at the old lady, who could not live in any case. (VI;238)
she saw it guarded by an angel with long, white robes. (VI;238)
I shall go and be seen again in the church. (VI;240)
With tears in her eyes she looked at her crutches. (VI;240)
they looked up and nodded to her. (VI;240)
she saw the red shoes dancing before her. (VI;240)
She saw the deep-toned organ. She saw the old portraits of ministers and their wives. She saw the congregation sit in flower-decked pews, ... (VI;241)
Karen's real sin is that she wants to be seen, which must be due to her vanity. The wishes to be seen and to see are in psychology called exhibitionism and voyeurism, the passive and the active lust of looking. This lust, whether it is active or passive, is one of the infantile partial drives. At a later stage in the development of the child this drive becomes an integrated part of an overall sexuality. It only becomes a perversion, if this "Schaulust" takes the place of sexuality completely, as in exhibitionism and voyeurism.
In everyday life, "Schaulust" is present when people enjoy sitting in a pavement café on a summer's day and watch the girls or, conversely, when a girl enjoys showing bare shoulders, beautiful legs or red lips. All of this is, however, in no way perverted, they are just normal ways of expressing one's sexuality.
Freud antager at synsdriften i sin oprindelige form er autoerotisk eller narcissistisk. Der kan siges at være parallellitet mellem denne primære narcissisme og den primære erogene masochisme. Men synslyst er derimod direkte udviklet af narcissisme. Den passive synslyst er altså ikke opstået ved en omvending af den aktive, men ved videreudvikling af den narcissistiske synslyst. (Andkjær Olsen & Køppe 1981;229)
If Karen now as a consequence of the grief for her dead mother shows signs of regression, she will also show signs of narcissism. In order to hold on to the substitute mother Karen identifies herself with the princess in the red shoes. The red shoes thus become a safety belt for Karen, something she has to cling to in order to keep herself going.
On a metonymical level, the red shoes are a sign of the protagonist's repeated regression. A narcissist has to be seen, and a narcissist is phallic, whether man or woman. As a consequence of this narcissistic drive the red shoes function as a symbol for the sexual organs, by a displacement of the erotic cathexis from the sexual organs to a more neutral part of the body. As such shoes can function as both vaginal and phallic symbols. In the latter case they express the idea "Ich habe doch", i.e. the phallus, thus functioning as a denial of female castration.
Logically the next step is the interpretation of the cutting off of the feet in the red shoes as castration, which should not be too difficult. Acceptation of symbolic castration is a necessary step towards adulthood.
But, as always, it is not especially interesting whether this element in the tale is regarded as castration or not. What is really interesting, is the question how psychological conflicts are expressed in a literary text and how they are hidden. The censorship that will keep the door to the unconscious closed, will use any means in order to not express forbidden wishes. The forbidden wishes, on the other hand, will press to come out anyhow, in a slip of the pen, a slip of the tongue, or in literary texts preferably as displacements, unexpected turns, omissions and repetitions. In the text in question, as we have seen, repetition is the device, while the word that is repeated most often, the verb "to see" at once both hides and shows the content in the repression.
In the second story we saw that the rhetorical device of exaggeration functioned as a metapoetic statement about how a literary narrator can work wonders. In the third story, however, the rhetorical device of alliteration, which of course is far more worn out as a poetic means, did little more than stress the point made in the story.
Now "The Red Shoes" is a third example of how a stylistic device, here repetition, is used. First and foremost it functions as an illustration at the micro-level of the statement made at the macro-level of the tale: the triplication of the fairy-tale motif and the triplication of the Christian motif of sin, guilt and atonement. But at the same time the repetition shows the psychological content in both the fairy-tale motif and the Christian motif. In this way it accounts for the psychological drive to continue the sinning.
The third tale, for that matter, about the girl who trod on the loaf, is a story about vanity as well. In order to avoid dirtying her shoes Inger treads on, or shows contempt for, nature's and God's gift, a loaf of bread. One might think that nearly a century in hell is rather a heavy punishment for this minor sin. It is only in connection with the tale of "The Red Shoes" that the weight of the punishment can be understood. The sin Inger commits is really a sexual one. The protagonist, as a sexual being, is drawn into the mud and ends up in the empire of evil, where everything is dirty, ghastly and muddy. The only way out, as is often the case in Andersen's tales, is the eternal way to heaven. The sexual drive knows only two possible answers in this universe: damnation or non-being. There is no middle way.
In yet another story about guilt and atonement the sin committed is worse, the punishment, however, only lasts about a year.
This is another story about guilt and sorrow, not quite the material for a traditional fairy-tale. Nothing is done to soften its tone, like the wit in "The Girl who Trod on the Loaf" or the introduction of fairy-tale elements in "The Red Shoes".
The biographically interested Hans Brix supposes that Anne Marie, H. C. Andersen's mother, is the inspirational source of the story. She also had a daughter out of wedlock, Karen Marie, whom she sent into care in the country. She may also herself, like our protagonist, Anne Lisbeth, have been a wet nurse at a manor. Brix may well be right, since the text also mentions "Kyndelmesse", i.e. Candlemas, a Christian holiday on February 2, the day on which Andersen's parents got married. The mentioning of this date is hardly to be considered a coincidence.
Nearer to the psychological truth comes Martin Lotz in assuming the author might have felt guilty toward Henriette Wulff, who died the summer before this story was published. She had asked Andersen to deviate from his usual summer trip to say good-bye to her before she left for America, which he refused. The Austria, the ship Henriette Wulff sailed in, then was wrecked and she was never heard of again.
It cannot be denied that Andersen looked uneasily upon death, both his own and the death of others. When he was told during a trip that his old foster father, Jonas Collin, was dying, he did anything but hasten home from Germany. Finally back in Denmark, but still in time to have found Collin alive, he stopped in Sorø for a few days. In other words, he went to some length to be late. Conversely, however, when his dear friend, the author Ingemann, was dying in Sorø, Andersen did not get off the train as usual, but continued to Copenhagen. Nor did he attend Ingemann's funeral, no matter how close they had been.
Lotz is probably right in stating that an unconscious feeling of guilt about his father's death makes Andersen take this strained attitude towards death.
"Anne Lisbeth", then, is the personification of this guilt and again the author is as ruthless to her as to himself.
The style in this story is rather brutal as well. The introduction, e.g., is written in very short, breathless clauses, asyndetic as well: "What would come of all this? - That awful brat!" (I;29)
Andersen must have worked hard on the style of this story. It is teeming with assonances, alliterations and varied repetitions. To give but one example:
The vessel had struck on a great rock, and it sank like a waterlogged old shoe in a duckpond; sank with "man and mouse", as the saying goes; there were mice on board, but only a man and a half (I;31)
The asyndeton and the number of figures of speech have the effect that the story's tone is compelling, as if the horror of it is to be hammered home.
But if we look for tropes in the story, we find only a few, e.g. the raven as a symbol for both death and motherly guilt and horror. (Cf. Kofoed 1967;65ff.)
There are no metaphors at all, but we find a dozen or so comparisons, which serve to increase the ugliness: sins are like "tiny, invisible seeds", fear has "a cold, clammy finger", the moon is "a pale dish without rays". (I;34f.)
The few positive comparisons are used about the count's child, who is "that sweetest of little angels" (I;31), or "as sweet as a violin" (I;32). These comparisons are, however, not only comparisons, since they are used again later on in the text, about another child, thus functioning metonymically, i.e. to make the story go on. Anne Lisbeth's own child in her dream takes the place the count's child used to have. He is then described as "beautiful as the young count" (VI;33), and he is "a shining little angel". (VI;33)
Anne Lisbeth has repressed her love for her own child and instead lavished her motherly feelings on the rich child she nursed. Only when this last child rejects her is there room for her own child and, since he now is dead, for feelings of sorrow and guilt. After about a year, the usual period for mourning, she is forgiven and is able to die reconciled with her own feelings and with God.
The guilt feeling materialises in the hundreds of women who tear her down to earth, in the brandy glass and in the "sea ghost", a stone covered with seaweed which she believes is her unburied child.
Told like this "Anne Lisbeth" sounds like a lovely little tale, which the author confirms by regarding it as one of his "deepest". But in reality it irritates the reader. Why is that?
This time the secret lies not in the metonymical displacements, but in the narrator's voice. The story shows both internal and external focalizing. There is a clearly differentiated narrator, who is at once omnipresent and distant.
The distance is achieved by sudden irony: "sleep is such a good invention" (I;30). The external focalizing, where the narrator knows more than the experiencing subject, alternates with an homodiegetic, internal focalizing which mostly, but not always reflects the protagonist's thoughts. At times it can also concern the ditch digger's or the boy's thoughts: "he hoped they would soon turn into berries". (I;30)
Thus the narrator is moving in and out of his characters. From time to time he also moralizes, thus diminishing the distance to the fiction in the story: "but such things can appear before one's subconscious self though one is unaware of it" (I;34). Immediately after the common denominator "one" he switches to first person plural, as in: "The germs of vices and virtues are always deep in our hearts" (I;34). This plural is neither a pluralis majestatis nor a pluralis modestatis, since it is immediately specified into a first and second person singular in the apposition: "in yours and mine". (I;34)
Not only does the narrator take the guilt upon himself, he also extends it, halfway into the story, to "you", i.e. the reader. While in the first half of the story we were still innocent of Anne Lisbeth's sin, things get worse and worse for us in the second half, as the following examples will show:
Sins against God or our neighbour, or our own conscience; we think not of them. (I;34)
In one second the seed of sin may be lifted to the light and unfolded into thought, words and deeds. (I;36)
when we least expect it, when there is no way to excuse ourselves. (I;36)
Then we are horrified to find what we have carried within us, that we have not overcome the evil. (I;36)
We are surprised by this shift in focalization which has the impact of a contract suddenly broken. The first half of the story is a tale about the evil in the world, which affects the reader very little, since the narrator places the guilt where it belongs, in his protagonist. Then the contract is brutally broken in such a way that both the narrator and the reader have to bear the guilt and the responsibility the story is about. The reconciliation and the forgiveness at the end of the story are no great help, since the mercy is only bestowed upon Anne Lisbeth. The reader, who has been laden with guilt in the course of the tale, is not freed from it. Probably this is why the story is irritating. The catharsis is not ours, as it ought to be in good literature.
The symbolism in the story reinforces the load of guilt: "the germs of vices and virtue" planted and growing.
In this example the force of the story does not lie in its style, but in its shift of object. First the main character is Anne Lisbeth, then the narrator becomes his own character, and the tale finishes with the reader in the role of a character in the story he is reading. This is highly unusual and highly confusing. One could call it highly modern too, since in post-modern literature the trick of involving the reader into the guilt the story is about, is sometimes used. The best example of the procedure is Per Hultberg's novel Byen og Verden (1992). But here the reader's involvement is a consistent and conscious construction throughout the text, a phenomenon which accounts for the fascination of this novel. In Andersen's text, however, the narrator's and the reader's involvement seem accidental, rather a result of the author's confusion than conscious literary procedure.
In folklore a person without a shadow is a person without a soul. Logically one could conclude that a person with two shadows has two souls. H. C. Andersen's "The Shadow", then, is rather a story about a "Doppelgänger" than about a person without a soul. Although the text itself refers to Chamisso's Peter Schlemihl, this reference only regards the motif of the lost shadow. The real influence, however, is from E. T. A. Hoffmann, another German romantic poet. In his texts we meet many doubles. Thus in "Der Sandmann" a professor and an optician appear, who together act as a father-figure for the hero Nathaniel.
Freud regards this doubling as a narcissistic projection, used as a defence mechanism. In his book on the psychoanalytical background for doubles in literature Robert Rogers shows that doubles in literary texts are rarely antagonists: they function far more often as projections of fear, or in psychiatric cases, as direct expressions of schizophrenia, as e.g. in the phenomenon of autoscopy, i.e. when a person sees himself. When doubles now and then are antagonists, they function as the expression of an intrapsychic conflict:
Contrary to expectation, overt dramatic conflict between doubles proves to be the exception rather than the rule. At times opposition between doubles at the narrative level corresponds to the underlying opposition of psychic forces which the characters represent. (Rogers 1970;60)
Of course Rogers also discusses Andersen's "The Shadow", and he assigns the story no less than three psychological functions, viz. the narcissistic danger of knowing too much, which of course is the case of our learned man; his faustian desire for the normal world instead of the world of science; and the threat to a person's psychic health when he sees his own double. (Rogers 1970;23)
In his book on The Swan and the Shadow Klaus P. Mortensen concludes that the story is a statement about art being an illusion. Of course this is true, but one more step is needed to argue that art, whether illusion or not, always wins in the end. The shadow is the survivor after all.
At the H. C. Andersen conference of 1991 Hans Henrik Møller, in connection with "The Shadow", talked about the mysterious, "le merveilleux", a term Tzvetan Todorov introduced in his book on the Gothic in literature. This "merveilleux" covers Gothic texts that do not relate to direct supernatural occurrences, but where the text itself creates an atmosphere of the inexplicable.
Martin Lotz, in discussing "The Shadow", mentions the complicated lines in the tale. In fact, the events in the story are quite clear: a shadow frees itself from its master to become an independent person who ends by killing his former owner. Both tragic and malicious, as so much else in Andersen's tales.
The only mysterious phenomenon is the one place in the text, where the laws of physics are transgressed. The mysterious in a text is always created with the help of illusions that are linguistic and linguistic only, but sometimes so sophisticated that the reader will accept them as possible. In this story the laws of physics are transgressed at a point where the reader is absolutely convinced that this particular shadow does everything a shadow is supposed to do: it shrinks in the southern sunshine, in the evenings it stretches, and it nods whenever its owner does.
We trust the shadow and that is why we follow it when it enters the house opposite. Until this point the shadow has repeated its owner's movements, while here it only seems to do so: the owner goes in, the shadow does the same, only into the house opposite. Thus it does not repeat, but mirror its master's actions. Lotz uses a very precise expression for this movement, when he calls it a mirror-symmetry.
Repetition as an element of content in the story is repeated at the micro-level, as both a stylistic and a linguistic element: "a young man, a wise man" (I;50), "when the sun went up and the sun went down". (I;50)
But besides repetition as a figure of speech, there is an overwhelming use of the trope of comparison:
it felt as if he was sitting in a blazing hot oven. (I;50)
he felt, as if he had come back to life. (I;50)
It looked just as if everyone were asleep or away from home. (I;50)
he fancied that a marvellous radiance came from the balcony across the street. (I;51)
The colours of all the flowers were as brilliant as flames. (I;51)
It seemed as if a radiance came from her too. (I;51)
"It's just as if somebody sits there practising a piece". (I;51)
It was like magic. (I;51)
looked like a person of distinction. (I;53)
lay at his feet like a poodle dog. (I;55)
I lived there for three weeks, and it was as if I had lived there three thousand years. (I;55)
Was it like a green forest? (I;56)
Was it like a holy temple? (I;56)
Were the rooms like the starry skies seen from some high mountains? (I;56)
You really look like a shadow. (I;57)
He must be treated just as if he were human. (I;60)
Nearly all of these (pseudo)comparisons express at the micro-level what the story as a whole is saying: "as", "as if", "like". "The Shadow" is an as-if tale. The Shadow behaves as if it is obeying the laws of physics, but it breaks a central one in tearing itself loose from its owner. It acts like its master, while the master is forced to act like a shadow. The Shadow acts as if it is learned and as if its pseudo shadow is only learned thanks to being a learned man's shadow.
The phenomenon in a psychological sense functions as the expression of an uncertain sense of identity, a weak ego.
Instead of Todorov's idea of the "mysterious", another notion of his appears to apply. In Gothic literature Todorov distinguishes I-themes and you-themes (thèmes du je, thèmes du toi). Themes of the ego then are not about dangers from the outside, which are well-known in Gothic texts, like vampires, scoundrels or evil noblemen, but about ego-syntone fears, about mirrors, shadows and doppelgänger.
The poetic identity of the protagonist which to start with was only a doubling, just a shadow, has in the end taken over the original social identity. One could not, however, say, as Erik Skyum-Nielsen does, that the id has overtaken the ego, since both the id, the drives, and the ego, the common sense, are represented in the shadow. (1974;46)
In Charles Mauron's terminology the creative ego has overtaken the social ego. There is nothing left but script, to express it in H. H. Møller's words. That is the tragedy of the tale, like the human tragedy of Andersen's life. There is no life left but art, but then, as we saw in the first story, art is only an illusion, soup made from a sausage peg, which closes the circle. But what delicious soup.
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