On the Native Reception of Hans Christian Andersen in Finland

At the time when H. C. Andersen was busy making his European - as well as his Scandinavian - reputation (i.e., from the late 1830's on), Swedish was the language that the upper classes in Finland spoke, wrote and read. Accordingly, we may say, the history of Andersen reception in Finland began as soon as the first translations of his work into Swedish appeared. Books printed in Sweden were soon available in Finland, too, and thus the literary circles in Helsingfors were likely to learn about him almost as soon as those in Stockholm.1 l On the other hand, though "the Swedish connection" no doubt helped introduce Andersen in Finland, it did not decide his status here; it was, after all, a native choice that was made of his work both for reading and - especially - for translating into Finnish.

As is natural, the most important figure both in propagating Andersen and in fixing his place in the Finnish world of letters seems to have been Zachris Topelius. As editor of the Helsingfors Tidningar (1841-60) he first published, in 1844, Andersen's fairy tale "Fästman och fästmö" (i.e., "Kjærestefolkene") and then, a couple of years later, enthusiastically reviewed Andersen's Nye Eventyr (published in Swedish for Christmas 1846) in his paper. In early 1847, there also appeared in the Helsingfors Tidningar a biographical presentation of Andersen (borrowed from the Nordliuset) and, later in the same year, another article on him and Jenny Lind. All this coincided neatly with Topelius' own debut as a fairy tale writer at Christmas 1847.2

In his review (as well as elsewhere) Topelius so unequivocally praised Andersen's seemingly childlike but subtly engaging style that there cannot have been any feeling of rivalry in his bosom. Nevertheless, Topelius also seems to have been well aware of the "dark" - satiric and even malicious - aspects of Andersen's stories, which he called "the nicest possible hawthorn blossoms" (de täckaste törnrosor). The satiric or ironic mode of expression was completely alien to Topelius, whose guileless "genius" as a writer for children was soon - and many times afterwards - hailed as even greater than Andersen's by his countrymen and -women (and by many in Sweden, too).3 The impression remains that while Andersen was introduced into Finland primarily as a fairy tale author (eventyrdigter/sagodiktare), he was, from the beginning, received with certain qualifications (as compared with the unqualified acceptance of Topelius).

Behind the new interest in fairy tales, especially as reading for youngsters, was of course the growing national feeling in the country (which also prompted all of Topelius' literary activities). The Finnish educators and literati were eagerly looking everywhere for "proper" reading for the children and young people of the nation - soon also in Finnish. Together with Topelius, Andersen was recruited to provide spiritual and educational nourishment for the new Finnish-language reading public now in the making. The first translations of his fairy tales came out (together with the first Grimm translations) as early as in 1848, and in 1850 the translations already numbered 12. By the end of the century nearly all of his most popular tales were available also in Finnish, mostly published as special editions and collections for children.4

Although there was at least one interesting attempt - by Fredrika Runeberg, wife of our "national poet" - to apply Andersen's new narrative techniques to adult fiction,5 his literary influence was mainly seen in the field of fairy tales. While the Finnish Topelius scholars have generally tried to play down Andersen's impact on him, none of them have denied that his prime inspiration, especially as a children's writer, derived from the Danish poet. As to the Finnish-language authors, Andersen's influence was most obvious in the case of one of his first translators, Suonio (alias professor Julius Krohn, folklorist and linguistic scholar); Suonio's Kuun tarinoita ("Tales of the Moon", 1860) - a series of historical and geographical sketches - was clearly modelled on Andersen's Billedbog uden Billeder.

To sum up, there is no denying that in Finland Andersen was, from the beginning, regarded exclusively as a fairy tale writer, whose other works remained practically unknown - notably among the Finnish-speaking public. The condition has remained much the same till today. Only one of Andersen's novels (De to Baronesser), as well as one play (En Nat i Roeskilde), has ever been translated into Finnish;6 even his great autobiography (Mit Livs Eventyr) still awaits its Finnish translator.

As to the fairy tales, even their availability in Finnish has been problematic. Maila Talvio's great project of translating all of Andersen's tales and stories into Finnish was completed by 1927, after which they reappeared collected only twice (1953 and 1964) - to be out of print for a quarter of a century (till 1990).7 Somehow it seems that - even in modern times - the whole body of Andersen's tales and stories has been considered unpalatable to - and therefore unnecessary for - Finnish children; that they might have been read and enjoyed also by adults seemingly never occurred to the publishers. To be regarded as a children's author and yet be censored for them has been Andersen's historical - and paradoxical - fate in Finland (as probably elsewhere, too). Even the modern translations - whether published as collections or "singles" - have tended to concentrate on the same "great" fairy tales, evidently considered the most "Andersenian" (i.e., most suitable for children); too many of the latest "translations" are, moreover, based on mere adaptions (or done from other languages than the original Danish).8

The following figures (based on an extensive, computer-based bibliographical search performed in 1987 at Jyväskylä University; Appendix 1) show that the Finnish "canon" of Andersen's tales and stories is rather limited. Eleven (11) of them have been translated into Finnish ten or more times (10-20), 19 stories have more than five translations; 53 have appeared in 2-4 renderings, while the rest (73) - almost half of them - have had only one (Talvio's) translation.

As a children's writer, Andersen has had very little appeal to literary scholars in Finland, and there has been practically no serious research done - or published - on him. The two native book-form biographies of Andersen published so far were addressed to children,9 while the translation of Signe Toksvig's biography (1939) has long been out of print. As is natural, the other biographical presentations found in various handbooks have been derivative of the (current) Danish or other (Scandinavian, even British or American) sources.10 No present-day scholarly study of Andersen's life or work has been considered worth translating into Finnish.


1. The study of the distribution and circulation of the Swedish translations of Andersen in Finland at that time is, of course, a laborious job, which I have not yet undertaken. As far as I know now, only one of the H. C. Andersen translations into Swedish - the novel De två baronesserna - was ever published (or at least printed) also in Finland (in Borgå/Porvoo 1849). tilbage

2. Topelius' fairy tales and other stories for children appeared in his collections of Sagor 1-4 (1847-52) and Läsning för Barn (1865-80; 1884-96). tilbage

3. My main sources on Topelius here have been Paul Nyberg (Z. Topelius, 1-2, 1949; WSOY Porvoo 1950) and Kaarina Laurent (Topelius saturunoilijana, diss. Helsinki 1947); while admitting Andersen's seminal inspiration for his career, both writers emphasize Topelius' innate originality and moral earnestness as fairy tale writer. tilbage

4. The first 12 translations include some rather Gothic choices (like "Reisekammeraten", "Den onde Fyrste", "De røde Skoe"); in the same way some of the early collections (e.g. Andersenin satuja, 1-6, tr. Suonio, 1869-80) also display a rather Bettelheimian taste in their selection ("Skyggen", "Klokkedybet", "Flaskehalsen", etc.). The "purified" Andersen canon, so obvious nowadays, seems still to have been in the making then. tilbage

5. Fredrika Runeberg's Andersenian - and feminist! - "sketches" were first published (pseudonymously) in various papers (1833-56) and later collected in one volume, Teckningar och drömmar (1861). tilbage

6. Both these translations, Molemmat paroonittaret (tr. Aukusti Simojoki; Karisto, Hämeenlinna 1950) and Yökausi Lahdella (tr. Paavo Cajander; SKS Helsinki 1870), were probably inspired by the Swedish translations (cf. note 1). Especially the play - a farce - seems to have been very popular in Sweden (six reprints by 1884) and ran at least two reprints in Finland, too. tilbage

7. The new edition of Kootut sadut ja tarinat, 1-3 (a neat equivalent of the standard Danish edition) now crams all the 156 tales in one volume called Andersenin suuri satukirja (WSOY Porvoo-Helsinki-Juva 1990). Even the classical illustrations (Pedersen/Frølich) have been partly dispensed with in the process. tilbage

8. Many of these late "translations" have been done primarily for - or because of - the lavish illustrations the publisher has bought and wants to sell dearly. All in all, only a few of the modern translations (e.g. those by Martti and Sirkka Rapola, Eeva-Liisa Manner, Kaija Pakkanen) stylistically measure up to Talvio's achievement. tilbage

9. Maila Talvio's Ruma ankanpoikanen. H. C. Andersenin elämäntarina (WSOY Porvoo 1915) derives from Andersen's autobiographies; Aura Louhija's Hans Christian. Kertomus satukuninkaan nuoruusvuosista (WSOY Porvoo 1972) - a rather fictional composition - is based on (anonymous) second-hand sources. tilbage

10. The largest handbook presentations of Andersen's life and career are the following: "Fyen/H. C. Andersen". Teoksessa Eva Moltesen: Nykyajan Tanska. K. J. Gummerus, Jyväskylä 1910; "Hans Christian Andersen 1805-1875". Teoksessa Vappu Roos: Dantesta Dickensiin. WSOY Porvoo 1946; "Hans Christian Andersen, suuri satukuningas 1805-1875". Teoksessa Tauno Karilas: Robinsonista muumipeikkoon. WSOY Porvoo 1962; "Andersen, Hans Christian"/L-a K. (=Leena Krohn). Otavan Suuri Ensyklopedia, 1. Otava, Helsinki-Keuruu 1978. tilbage

Appendix 1

The Finnish Canon (the most frequently translated) of H. C. Andersen's fairy tales and stories (1848-1987)

Original name No. of translations
Den grimme Ælling 20
Tommelise 19
Keiserens nye Klæder 17
Prindsessen paa Ærten 14
Den lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne 13
Svinedrengen 13
Den lille Havfrue 12
De vilde Svaner 12
Den standhaftige Tinsoldat 11
Hyrdinden og Skorsteensfeieren 11
Fyrtøiet 10 (=11)
Hvad Fatter gjør, det er altid det rigtige 9
Nattergalen 9
Den flyvende Koffert 8
Lille Claus og Store Claus 7
Grantræet 7
Det er ganske vist! 7
Klods-Hans 7
Reisekammeraten 6
Ole Lukøie 6
Sneedronningen 6
Fem fra en Ærtebælg 6
Sneemanden 6
Den lille Idas Blomster 5
Paradisets Have 5
Kjærestefolkene 5
De røde Skoe 5
Det gamle Huus 5
Historien om en Moder 5
Sølvskillingen 5 (=19)

Bibliografisk information om teksten:

Heiskanen-Mäkelä, Sirkka: "On the Native Reception of Hans Christian Andersen in Finland", pp. 362-66 i Johan de Mylius, Aage Jørgensen & Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen (red.): Andersen og Verden. Indlæg fra den første internationale H. C. Andersen-konference, 25.-31. august 1991. Udgivet af H. C. Andersen-Centret, Odense Universitet. Odense Universitetsforlag, Odense 1993.