Andersen in Time and Place - Time and Place in Andersen


When recently I wrote a chapter on "Hans Christian Andersen, the Great European Traveler", I called it "Going Places", because the phrase alludes to mobility both in the literal sense of moving around and the figurative sense of advancing socially.1 Andersen was mobile in both regards, and it is no exaggeration to suggest that his physical travels are revealing for his psychological and social behavior as well. His corporeal journeys become a master key into his journeys in art and life, and the pattern of the former journeys confers significance upon the latter.

When writing that chapter, it was tempting to quote Klaus P. Mortensen's comments on Improvisatoren, with particular reference to "Det indre Italien" in H. C. Andersen:

Antonios snoede rejserute er en symbolsk fremstilling af H. C. Andersens rejse til sig selv. Rejsens enkelte hovedstationer: Rom, Neapel, Grotten, Rom, Venedig og Grotten indgår i en sjælelig geografi over hovedfaserne i hans eget liv, sådan som han så dem i skrivende stund.2

Quite obviously the quote articulates, in well-chosen words, the same ambiguous pattern of movement that I have attempted to map in my chapter on Andersen the traveler. That I, nonetheless, resisted the temptation to include what Mortensen says in my discussion was by no means due to reservations concerning his notion of Andersen's mental geography; it was simply that to serve me as operational tools, his words needed further clarification. What exactly is a mental geography, and what makes an outward travel route symbolize an inward journey? How can stations of a physical journey (predominantly a journey in space) become phases of a life's journey (essentially a journey in time)? Are space and time at all conceptually interrelated, and if so, what is the phenomenological connection between them?

As thought-provoking as these questions might appear at first glance, it was not within the purview of my treatment of Andersen "going places" to address them there. By contrast, the theme of this conference offers a welcome opportunity to review their implications. "Digteren i tiden" is a broad subject, indeed, but compared to the title of last conference, "Andersen og verden", it does seem to have its limits. I view the alteration from world to time as a shift from space to time, while at the same time the change from the author and the world to the author in time suggests a deeper encoding in time than in space. Whether intended by the conference hosts or not, this transmutation is the one that I wish to pursue further.

I wish to do so by taking an additional step in the direction I just adumbrated. Rather than merely talking about the author in his time, which still entails an exterior or contextual approach, I would switch the lingo to "time in the author", a term tailored to capture more of the encoded or enveloped temporality at the center of my concern. An explanatory subtitle suited to summarize this entire agenda would be "Andersen between time and place" in that it highlights the decisive transition between the phases of the traveler's life and the stations along the way. Klaus P. Mortensen's remarks concerning the particular relation between Andersen and Italy has a counterpart in Edward Soja's general observations about art in the 19th century: "Space still tends to be treated as fixed, dead, undialectical; time as richness, life, dialectic, the revealing context for critical social theorization."3

Not only does the quotation articulate a preeminence of time that equates my notion of "tiden i digteren". It further implies that this preeminence is what ultimately distinguishes "digteren i tiden". Temporalizing the image of life is not a simple internalization or decontextualization. It is an internalization to the extent that the concomitant decontextualization induces a new context. The author in his time hypostatizes time in the author.


That said, the important, and rather modern, point to be made about Andersen's journey between time and space is not its very internalization and temporalization of place and topographical dimensions. Instead, Andersen's emphasis on time is exceptional because it is fraught, nonetheless, with experiences of place and enforced as timeless presence. The process itself is particularly noticeable in the familiar 'translation' of "Dødningen, et fynsk Folke-Eventyr" from Digte (1830) into "Reisekammeraten" from Eventyr, fortalte for Børn (I:2, 1835).

This reconfiguration is often pointed out to be the model of how mundtlighed - orality, as it were - took effect as "et bevidst anlagt stiltræk" in Andersen's artistic prose.4 It demonstrates, for instance, how the young Andersen initially let his good hero Johannes be offered rather abstract "Forfriskninger" in the royal castle (28), while five years later the treats were "Syltetøi og Pebernødder",5 which the old king was now all too sad to enjoy, "og Pebernødderne vare ham ogsaa for haarde" (48). But besides recreating the formal and bloodless diction of "Dødningen" in the vivid and humorous situations in "Reisekammeraten", the verbal transformation - so indicative of the entire narrative - also effectuates how panoramic distance in time and space is actually commuted to an illusion of scenic presence. It is this facet of Andersen's artistic metamorphosis - his zoom-effects - that I will be illustrating and discussing in some detail.

In keeping with the character of suspension in his transformations, I will concentrate on those elements of "Dødningen" which have disappeared, more or less without residual, in(to) "Reisekammeraten". They include most definitely the opening page of the Funen folk-tale, as its circumstantial display of narrative prerequisites subsides in the version retold by Andersen, which begins in medias res. "Den stakkels Johannes var saa bedrøvet, for hans Fader var meget syg og kunde ikke leve", is the first sentence in "Reisekammeraten" (36). The framework it replaces in "Dødningen" was put together as follows:

Omtrent en Miil fra Bogense finder man paa Marken i Nærheden af Elvedgaard, en ved sin Størrelse mærkværdig Hvidtjørn, der kan sees fra selve den jydske Kyst. I gamle Dage skal der have været to, og man fortæller, at Fredrik den Anden har besøgt dette Sted, for at see denne Mærkelighed, og at de i denne Anledning vare udskaarne i Form af to Kroner. / Som ganske unge Spirer voxte disse Hvidtjørne i en lille Hauge, som laae der bag et fattigt Bondehuus; dengang var Elvedgaard et Nonnekloster rundtomkring omgivet med Voldgrave, hvoraf endnu en stor Deel er vedligeholdt. (13; emphasis mine)

As I have stressed here, this framework is at once topical and pedantically detailed. It unfolds as a full-scale geographical panorama before it winds up in the scenic mode. Adjoining the fixation of place is an equally segmented fixation of time. The frame is here "i gamle Dage", more specifically, the days of Frederik II. That was then - "dengang" - or so long as the panorama lasts. As later we move down to the small stage, time becomes "en smuk August-Aften", within which mini-frame its presence and intensity culminates: it was "allerede ganske mørkt i Klosteret".

This is the situation - both in "Dødningen" and "Reisekammeraten" - where Johannes is seen with his dying father but otherwise isolated from the whole world. In the latter tale, however, his isolation is depicted as utterly total because the reader is deprived of any contextual prerequisites or framework. In "Dødningen" the sense of loneliness was a contention on Johannes's part (and on his behalf) because at least his plight was situated in time and space. Absent such situational coordinates, there are no preparatory or mitigating circumstances of atmosphere and emotion to ease his pain; in fact, the single presence of death fully intensifies it. Death as physical absence in the context of time and space becomes textual presence as the allusions to contextual presence are expunged by textual means.

Similar absorptions of "Dødningen's" temporal and spatial sensations occur throughout "Reisekammeraten". In "Dødningen" Johannes watches how "høit oppe under den blaae Himmel seilede de lette Skyer langtbort til fremmede Lande. Da vaagnede en mægtig Længsel hos ham efter at see sig om i Verden" (14; emphasis mine). In "Reisekammeraten" Johannes saw how the little birds "fløi fra de grønne Træer, langt ud i Verden, og han fik da ogsaa saadan Lyst til at flyve med" (37; emphasis mine). As ethereal perceptions and sentiments are offset by more pedestrian and jovial expressions, distant times and places once again implode into tangible and visual presence.

Johannes walks his talk as he ventures away from home. His movement illustrates Andersen's journey from writing about the world there and then to writing the world here and now. "Dødningen" reads,

Med Hovedet fuldt af brogede Drømme om den store deilige Verden han nu først ret skulde see, fjernede han sig alt mere og mere det kjære Barndoms Hjem. Gjenstandene blev snart nyere og fremmede Ansigter hilsede ham. (15-16; emphasis mine)

The corresponding passage from "Reisekammeraten" reads,

Johannes tænkte paa hvor meget smukt han nu skulde faae at see i den store prægtige Verden, og gik længer og længer bort, saa langt som han aldrig før havde været; han kjendte slet ikke de Byer, han kom igjennem, eller de Mennesker, han mødte, nu var han langt ude mellem Fremmede. (38; emphasis mine)

This is clearly a transformation from the abstract to the concrete and from written to oral expression. But more than that, the emphasis has shifted from a subject who is passive and second to his surroundings to one who acts and stands out from his context: from one who 'fjernede sig med hovedet fuldt af drømme' to one who 'gik bort' and 'tænkte på meget smukt'; and from one who merely noticed that 'genstandene blev nyere' and 'fremmede ansigter hilste' to one who actively 'mødte fremmede mennesker'. Johannes in "Reisekammeraten" makes his presence felt.

He also arrives directly at the church with the dead man, while in "Dødningen" his arrival is preceded by a dramatic crossing on board a ship:

Med ganske underlige Følelser betraadte Johannes Kysten; han stod jo nu i et fremmed Land, og Havet laae imellem ham og Hjemmet. Men snart forjog Synet af de mange nye Gjenstande det øieblikkelige Mismod; Uveiret syntes at drage bort over Havet, Aftenen var saa kjølig og smuk, han besluttede derfor strax at vandre videre. (17; emphasis added)

This entire complex of observations and sentiments, structured and segmented in detail by time and place indications, has disappeared in "Reisekammeraten" and with it the conditions of possibility to which the latter text is beholden.

A similar editorial maneuver decimates the paragraphs in which Johannes and his traveling companion meet an old woman from the forest. While their low-comedy encounter in "Dødningen" has been refined in "Reisekammeraten", the latter completely omits a lengthy passage in the former that shows Johannes drinking in his traveling companion's every word of wisdom about the world, particularly about the world of mountains. His tale evokes a dazzling longing in Johannes:

Aldrig havde Johannes tænkt sig Verden saa stor; jo mere den Fremmede fortalte, desto større blev den for ham; men som han meest undrede sig over dens Storhed, pegede den Fremmede mod Himlen, viste ham Solen, og udviklede hvorledes enhver Stjerne, der tindrede ham om Natten kun som en lille Prik, var en Klode, større og maaskee skjønnere end denne Jord her; da svimlede Johannes ved Tanken om det store Uendelige, men rystede derpaa med Hovedet og trykkede smilende den Fremmedes Haand idet han takkede ham for det deilige Eventyr, thi andet kunde det jo ikke være. (20f.)

First Johannes experiences the world expanding beyond imagination and then shrinking because of its being nothing but a figment of imagination. A journey of one mind ("svimlede"), triggered by the journey of another (who told "det deilige Eventyr"), comes to an abrupt halt as the listener proclaims, "thi andet kunde det jo ikke være". But is he truly disappointed or rather relieved by the alleged shortcoming of his companion's narrative? Was it too real or not real enough? In any case, the question it raises, irrespective of the answer, is too volatile for Johannes in "Reisekammeraten" to ponder. Of his alter ego in "Dødningen" the story says, pointing to the mountains, "Med hvilken Længsel stirrede ikke Johannes der hen og ønskede endnu i denne Aften at kunne være der" (22), while in "Reisekammeraten" Johannes says nothing at all but agrees with his companion that touring the mountains is no laughing matter but an effort that calls for "at hvile sig godt og samle Kræfter til Marschen imorgen" (42).

When the next day the two travelers do cross the ridge and finally face the city with the king and the castle and the princess and the whole core of the fairy tale plot, small wonder that the crossing in question takes place along different routes in "Dødningen" and "Reisekammeraten". In each case it is a beautiful, indeed a divine experience. But the responses each elicits are markedly different. In "Reisekammeraten" Johannes is vocal and thanks the Lord for his grace, while the traveling companion rejoices in silence "med foldede Hænder" (44). In "Dødningen" the roles are reversed: "Johannes var saa forundret over alt det Nye han saae og hørte, at han ikke kunde sige et Ord", and when finally he does talk, it is to query his companion, "'hvad mon der ikke være for deilige Lande paa hin Side Bjergene?'" The answer reads: "'Der ligger Phantasiens Verden!' sagde den Fremmede, 'jeg tænker at vi næste Morgen skal kunne see dens glimrende Diamant Bjerge!'" (24).

The answer ought not to surprise Johannes, who earlier branded the world of his companion, also called "the stranger", as precisely one of fairy tale or fantasy. That Andersen in "Reisekammeraten" has altered this fairy tale universe should not, however, be construed as misgivings on his part about a fairy tale universe per se. Rather than underwriting Johannes's limited appreciation of the fairy tale in "Dødningen", the author of "Reisekammeraten" uses "Dødningen" to literally under-write his own creation. When Andersen in "Dødningen" says about Johannes that "han kunde ikke løsrive sig fra sit deilige Drømmebillede [of the Princess], som han nu havde seet svæve sig lyslevende forbi" (27), then the narrator of "Reisekammeraten" solves the character's problem. The lofty pictorial image, to which the hero of the folk-tale is bonded, dissolves in Andersen's humorous treatment and resurfaces in his personal version of the Funen story as a situational presence devoid of narrative circumstantiality.

In the hands of the subtly direct modern writer, fantasy and tale as the result of elaborate coordination between sensations and sentiments, and between both of these factors and meticulous situations in time and space, are out of the question. At the same time, without presupposing the folk-tale's circumstantial composition and detailed speculation as a source of his narrative energy, Andersen's attempts at artistic refinement and penetration would likely fall short of contrasting norm and direction. The conventional journey in time and space around the world was truly the point of departure for his personal journey into the heart of human experience.

Ivy York Möller-Christensen in her study of Den danske eventyrtradition 1800-1870 "har som overordnet mål at undersøge erkendelsens veje i den danske eventyrtradition fra 1800-1870. Redegørelsen bygger på det grundsynspunkt, at folkeeventyret er grundstammen i den kunsteventyrlige tradition."6 Although her tenet is in concert with my own conclusion about "Reisekammeraten's" relation to "Dødningen", Möller-Christensen in her specific analysis of Andersen's tale does not compare his text with its folk-tale predecessor, nor does her reading concentrate on the preparatory steps to which I devoted my discussion or, for that matter, lend immediate support to my exposition thereof. In fact, Møller-Christensen seems to hold quite the opposite view of "Reisekammeraten", as she implies that, "Johannes' fantasi og drøm forbliver uforløste kræfter, hvis de eksisterer autonomt i bevidstheden - uden relation til den omgivende virkelighed".7

Her intimation that autonomous mental energies have been divorced from contextual reality shows superficial resemblance with my outline of "Reisekammeraten" as Andersen's recreation of "Dødningen". But she thoroughly misses the point that in the process of divorcing one text from the other, Andersen is not simply dispensing with reality while buttressing artistic autonomy. He is instead incorporating reality into the autonomy, thus rendering it a relative autonomy (to appropriate a somewhat downtrodden term for lack of any better). Granted, this conceptual resolution does not warrant an absolute redemption of Johannes's fantasy and dream, but nor does it preclude redemptive qualities per se. My sense is that an analysis such as my own, which emphasizes "Reisekammeraten's" opening segments and makes particular reference to the impulses that Andersen's tale has received from "Dødningen", tends to further the tale's redeeming qualities, while an analysis such as Möller-Christensen's, which emphasizes "Reisekammeraten's" central plot, its many beheadings, etc., is likely to tilt the scale in the opposite direction.

If my sense is correct, our two readings complement each other, which is far from saying that we are in agreement. What it means is simply that we should be able to appreciate more precisely our mutual disagreement. Möller-Christensen ends her chapter on "Reisekammeraten" by suggesting that the tale

fører altså i sin form, i anvendelsen af eet handlingsplan med en udvikling, der fører til afsluttende harmoni, den syntetiserende eventyrtradition videre. Men i eventyrets indhold kan påvises en splittelse, der er så dybtgående, at det faktisk er formen eller det kunstneriske udtryk, der fremstår som forløser, - og på denne måde peger kompositionen fremad i den litterære tradition: til modernismens l'art pour l'art-dyrkelse.8

Certainly the tale points ahead, and certainly its direction is one toward formal autonomy. But the endeavor is a far cry from l'art pour l'art because its autonomous bent is informed as well as tempered by the very same contextuality to which it is opposed. Whether the tale's so-called contents are fragmented or not is of little consequence so long as the ramifications are not on its formal register. The true divisions are between one such register and another, or between that of "Dødningen" and that of "Reisekammeraten" itself. At issue here is not a division between formal synthesis and substantive fragmentation, but, rather, an elaborately representational mode of temporal and spatial illusion informing a tersely presentational mode in place of such an illusion. The modern in Andersen's tale is the impelling absence (of place) in the midst of its creative presence.


I have based my presentation thus far on the premise that Andersen's journeys - through Denmark, Scandinavia, and Europe - were all significant journeys of his life or significant phases of his life's journey. Thus - this is my contention - his traveling from place to place in the context of artistic space essentially amounts to a journey into time and personal existence. "Reisekammeraten", itself the journey of "Dødningen" made into a journey of its own, marks the symbolic end result of this procedure.

And not surprisingly so. Like most European artists intrigued by the real and the modern, Andersen is a disappointed idealist: yearning for Das Ding an sich, but failing to grasp it; realizing that nothing but representations are attainable in its stead; and ultimately cultivating, if not worshipping, these paradoxical substitutes for the real thing as if they were the real thing. It is a matter of autonomizing impulses from so-called reality by making the representational journey through time and space into a journey in its own right, and it amounts to making a virtue out of necessity. It is also an attempt to turn one's back on Plato's cave and to escape European metaphysics. An attempt in vain, to be sure, the operation, which is aimed at hypostatizing presence, is destined to reveal the absence which it so fervently endeavors to conceal.

Both Torben Brostrøm and Jørn Lund, in their book Flugten i sproget: H. C. Andersens udtryk, broach the problem in Andersen's case. Writes Brostrøm of Andersen on the first page of the book, "[b]ehovet for altid at være et andet sted er hjemløshedens signal. Altid på rejse, altid hos andre - reelt eller i tanken, det betyder hjemsted i sproget, i skriften, i talen".9 Absence signals the desire for presence, and presence is the substitute for absence. Jørn Lund confirms the same scenario on the last page of their composite work as he speaks of the older Andersen's experience that dreaming of limitless self-realization does not agree with life in this world: "Grænseoverskridelsen bærer sammenbruddet i sig".10 Although ideality's only substitute, reality fails to accomodate real human beings reaching for the ideal.

Traveling with border- and boundary-crossing desires through a life filled with borders and boundaries is, broadly speaking, the defining paradox of Andersen's journey of life and art. Yi-Fu Tuan, a noted cultural geographer and former colleague of mine, has written extensively on dilemmas such as this. In his book Space and Place he devotes a whole chapter to "Time and Place" and describes, e.g., how "[i]n modern society the relation between mobility and a sense of place can be very complicated".11 Inspired, to a degree, by his discussion, I should like to share some observations engendered by a few tales and stories from the 1850s in which Andersen has thematized his journey in time and space. As variations on an insoluble theme it comes as no surprise that three of these four texts are ultra brief, and the fourth unusually long. I begin with these three, in which the dilemmas in question lie explicitly in place and space, and more implicitly in time; and I end with the fourth text as I venture to bring the full scope of my previous readings to bear on its lengthy account of the ultimate journey, inwards and outwards, in Andersen's sense of a journey.12

The title of "Svanereden" (1852) refers to Denmark, and despite its brevity the tale is a laundry list of Danish expansions through the ages. As the swans' nest is a poetic metaphor for the mother country, so are the migrating birds leaving the nest for distant conquests or defending it against incoming foes, poetic offspring of the central image. Although chronology applies to the narrative account, equal primacy is granted to the geographical destinations of the feathered migrants. Prehistoric Denmark thus saw its native longobards crossing the Alps, the Varangians heading for Byzantium, the Normans raiding the coast of France, etc. In the more recent past, a swan named Tycho Brahe crossing the sky brings the firmament closer to Earth, and in the age of the narrative itself, as one swan - clearly Thorvaldsen13 - brushes the marble cliff with his wingtip, sculptural beauty emerges from the rock. Meanwhile, another swan spinning the thread of thought around the globe facilitates the onset of telecommunication.

As the outline shows, the metaphoric capability of the swans and their nest has been stretched beyond plausible artistic limits. The text is a ceremonial accolade with simple observations scantily dressed in the same poetic uniform. Yet its strenuous harmony is quite telling. In its bipolarity it poeticizes at once the national home as a point of departure ("Svanereden") and the flight of the offspring leaving this home for a bigger world. It actually opens with this statement about the national home: "i den er født og fødes Svaner, hvis Navne aldrig skulle døe" (54). And it ends on a similar note:

Aarhundreder ville endnu gaae hen, Svaner flyve fra Reden, sees og høres rundt om i Verden, før den Tid kommer, at der i Aand og Sandhed skal kunne siges: 'det er den sidste Svane, den sidste Sang fra Svanereden!' (56; emphasis added)

The key word is obviously immortality. But it is a living, not a nostalgic, immortality, and what bestows the immortality on the home are the emigrants leaving the home and performing their deeds overseas. The mother country is seen in retrospect only, and only border-crossings immortalize her borders; defending them against an onslaught by hostile outsiders may be the right measure of precaution, but a fully satisfactory accomplishment is never defensive or centripetal; it is expansive and centrifugal. In fact, it is this dynamic which is so blatently at odds with the poetic qualities usually associated with swans.

Andersen has put his birds to an impossible test by trying to make them harmonize a potentially disharmonic set of experiences. He tries to make them vindicate their home by leaving it, and to make them synthesize a multitude of specific historical experiences into an unlimited and timeless expression of sameness. As his mention of home is a signal of homelessness, his image of crossing its borders is a bewildering experience clad in a poetic straitjacket. He has firmly appropriated a poetic convention in order to seal his nervous sensibility but ends up breaking his own seal. Times and places resist the persistent poetic call for unity. Although expressly devoted to staving off the swan song, the last line of "Svanereden" inadvertently forebodes its day of reckoning: "det er den sidste Svane, den sidste Sang fra Svanereden!" The line has the character

of aporia.
According to the forecast in "Svanereden" it would take centuries before the end of country and culture as we know them would be near. In "Om Aartusinder" (1853) their time is finally out and the swan song has expired. Generation upon generation of noted Europeans are gradually reduced to layer upon layer of dust - "Slægt paa Slægt er Støv, Rækker af Øieblikkets Mægtige glemte" (79) - and what appears to be cultural decay is framed with corresponding attitudes both in present day dwellers and incoming visitors from abroad.

On the burial mound, in which the older generations "nu alt slumre", sits, "den velhavende Meelhandler, paa hvis Grund den er, [og] tømrer sig en Bænk for at sidde og see ud over den flade, bølgende Kornmark" (79; emphasis added). The man is like a caricature of "den sølvhaarede Landmand" who sits and counts his money on the top of the hill in Johannes Ewald's reputed chapter "Høyen" from Levnet og Meeninger; in fact the entire utilitarian scenario in Andersen's tale is a genuine travesty of the pastoral idyl in Ewald's lyrical prose. And the visitors, young Americans flying in from across the ocean to behold the old world "komme til Mindesmærkerne her og til de da synkende Stæder, saaledes som vi i vor Tid drage til Syd-Asiens hensmuldrende Herligheder" (79). "'Til Europa!' lyder det hos Amerikas unge Slægt - 'til Fædrenes Land, Mindernes og Phantasiens deilige Land, Europa!'" (80).

Times have clearly changed. And yet, the homegrown and self-complacent flour merchant has his counterpart in visitors who are doubtlessly more dynamic but no less insipid. In fact, he is the perfect target for their nostalgia. The tone is set for the entire futuristic vision of Americans touring Europe in a week. As they spend a day in England and Scotland, the spiritually-inclined visit the land of Shakespeare, while others the land of politics and machines. And on they travel: to the ruins of St. Peter in Rome, whose authenticity is being questioned; to the former sites of Byzantium; to the exhausted volcanos of Iceland; etc.

It is less than remarkable that external time has changed, and that differentiation, if not disintegration, has come to override the image of an alleged cultural harmony: "Mindernes og Phantasiens deilige Land, Europa!" Nor is it remarkable that the process of dissolution of place takes place in the course of time. What is remarkable is that chronology has been rendered invalid in the course of the process, and that the process of temporal and spatial dissolution has invaded the narrative itself. The narrator talks about the past and the future, but from which position? Who are the people that differ in their opinions about England? Merely the future tourists or the narrator who envisions their coming? And if the answer is the narrator, is he on the side of Shakespeare or the machines? We simply don't know.

Later we learn that we are probably not supposed to know. As the tourists travel from England to France - "under Canal-Tunnelen" (81) - they arrive in the country of Charlemagne, Napoleon, and Molière, to say nothing of "en classisk og romantisk Skole i den fjerne Oldtid og der jubles for Helte, Skjalde og Videnskabsmænd, som vor Tid ikke kjender" (81; emhasis added). They visit ruins by the Danube of "Byer, vor Tid ikke kjendte" (82; emphasis added). And in Germany they encounter not only the railways and the canals, and Luther, Goethe, and Mozart, but "store Navne [] i Videnskab og Kunst, Navne, vi ikke kjende" (82; emphasis added). On the one hand, the narrator does not know the future between his own time and the distant future when the airborne visitors arrive from abroad. Yet he concerns himself explicitly with it and feels confident in predicting that its destiny will not differ from his own: it too will crumble into ruins and dust. There is permanence in the course of history, and the ridiculous rush from one place to another for all eternity is no escape from the predictable outcome of time, which is already available in the form of century-old memories and fantasies and the same "deilige sortøiede Qvinder [som] bygge og boe endnu i de blomstrende Dale" in Spain (81). Andersen is an avowed idealist.

But he is reaching - and all but crossing - the boundaries of his ideals. Traveling the world in order to have new experiences is an effort in vain. As an outward pursuit of new places and new times, travel is doomed to foil the traveler, and to foil him all the more so, if his mode of traveling is truly advanced. Yet to arrive at this negative conclusion it is necessary to travel inwards: to embark upon a journey of the mind and to imagine the future as an endless renewal of déjà-vu's. The narrative is able to confirm a state of permanence but only by subjecting it to accelerating transitions. Immortality, again, is pictured as permanence, but is in fact dynamic duration succeeded by no less dynamic disintegration. Its presence rests on its obvious conditions of possibility and its absent but equally significant conditions of impossibility. Its only place is a place of mind - indeed a state of mind - to which the narrative takes us as it takes its characters to places in the world. As representational time goes by, the narrative hypostatizes the conditions under which it goes by. "Altid på rejse, altid hos andre - reelt eller i tanken, det betyder hjemsted i sproget, i skriften, i talen", as Brostrøm wrote.

The story or tale "Ved det yderste Hav" (1854) revisits the interplay between home and abroad in "Svanereden" and makes it come full circle. Again we witness how emanations from home find their reception and receptacles abroad, and how the travel motif affords a crossing of spatial and temporal boundaries, which, nonetheless, endows these boundaries with cultural significance. The difference between the two tales is merely the divine or biblical intervention in "Ved det yderste Hav". Without abrogating the significance of geographical distance, faith enables characters separated by such a distance to reach each other on the premise that religion overrides culture.

The tale begins: "Et Par store Fartøier vare sendte høit op mod Nordpolen, for der at finde Landenes Grændser mod Havet og prøve, hvorvidt Menneskene kunde der trænge igjennem" (123). But what begins as a geographical expedition and inquiry ends in the affirmative on a markedly religious note: "Gud var med og Hjemmet var med - 'ved det yderste Hav!'" (125). Although man has reached his limits, he seems capable of grasping the truly unlimited, and reaching toward the end of the world, he remains in touch with his home. The reason is religious: boundaries marking the culturally and humanly possible are possible to cross under God's auspices.

This divine resolution is prepared as the youngest sailor on the northern icecap reads at night in his grandmother's Bible, which he already knows by heart. He finds evidence in the scripture that his own undertaking is sanctioned from above, and as he rests in peace with this faith in providence, the leaves of his holy book turn into flowers, inspiring angelic and natural images of striking resemblance to the idyllic location of his birthplace, "hvor Hjemmets Hjem var" (125). The emphatic expression is slightly ambiguous. Does "the home of the home" mean the homeland or the home of all homes, or does it rather mean the sailor's home in this homeland? I am inclined to believe both readings were intended, if only vaguely, since the story is clearly headed for a synthesis of the infinitely small and the infinitely great.

Part of the approaching resolution are the sailor's grandmother and the blacksmith's daughter. They are puttering about in their own little world (and his) and reading together a letter from the North Pole, "hvor Sønnesønnen var - i Guds Haand. - Og de loe og de græd, og han, under Iis og Snee, der i Aandens Verden, under Engelens Vinger saae og hørte det Alt, loe med dem og græd med dem" (125). Geographical distance has yielded to spiritual proximity as recollections of early childhood enter his vision of home for now and for ever. Time and space have merged, categorically, once again in a purely mental place. In human terms the process toward oneness and sameness defies evolution and maturation and qualifies for the term "retardation". But the terms of the tale are divine and not human, which might mean that its human limitations could be overcome. It might also mean, however, that such limitations are so compelling or menacing as to necessitate divine intervention and to bar human sentiments other than faith and creed.

As suggested in an earlier quotation, closure in "Ved det yderste Hav" is an opening. But it is an opening that merely certifies the opening promised in the beginning of the text: either it is confined by textual strictures, or, which amounts to the same, it opens towards a world that is not (of) this world. Either way, Jørn Lund is proven right in his charge that "grænseoverskridelsen bærer sammenbruddet i sig" in Andersen's universe. The religious coda - in music, "a passage added after the natural completion of a movement, so as to form a more definite and satisfactory conclusion"14 - of the short text is a mixed blessing. It claims to safeguard Andersen's secular universe, but the apparent safeguard is an exit, if not an emergency exit, from the temporal and spatial representations of secular culture. The full conclusion of the story reads: "- Drømmen var endt - det var mørkt i Sneehuset, men Bibelen laae under hans Hoved, Troen og Haabet laae i hans Hjerte; Gud var med og Hjemmet var med - 'ved det yderste Hav!'" (125). Thanks to a dream, and later to scripture, faith, hope, God and home, the unknown has been expelled from the world of the tale; only a panicky certainty remains as the elation takes off.


By the end of the 1850s, rather than undertaking yet another trip abroad, Andersen decided to spend the summer in western and northern Jutland. The artistic result of his sojourn is the lengthy story from the dunes, "En Historie fra Klitterne". Elias Bredsdorff, in his book on H. C. Andersen: Mennesket og digteren, writes of this story that, "[m]an aner en påvirkning fra Blichers noveller i denne historie fra det jyske hedelandskab. Et eventyr er det slet ikke."15 Why it is a story and not a fairy tale, he indirectly explains as he concludes a good summary of its plot, which he calls a romantic short story:

Denne romantiske novelle med tragisk udgang er altså handlingsindholdet i "En Historie fra Klitterne". Men rammen om det hele er Andersens fremragende skildring af det for de fleste danske dengang helt ukendte Vestjylland, han i sommeren 1859 havde oplevet på sin store rejse.16

Here Bredsdorff seems aligned, on the one hand with critics of yesteryear who have lambasted Andersen's text for being overly poetic and on the other hand with local Jutland authorities who have testified to the verisimilitude of its descriptions. Besides, to the extent a story by Andersen is supposed to be primarily informed by mimetic, such as representational, characteristics, as opposed to the elements of creatio assumed to inform the core definition of a fairy tale by Andersen, Bredsdorff's assessment is not without conventional merit. Allow me, nonetheless, to suggest a friendly amendment. Without disputing the significance, let alone the historical significance, of the narrative frame of "En Historie fra Klitterne", I wish to propose a more prominent role for its ill-reputed poetic side.

Unlike those who find this fairy tale aspect disturbing, or at least irrelevant, for the artistic whole, I submit that its potential impact is enriching, indeed indispensable, for a satisfactory consignment of meaning to the entire text. As the romantic story, call it a fairy tale if you like, is framed by the realistic story, an adventurous journey of life in the past intersects with a measured journey of life in the present. The former is situated in exotic places abroad, the latter in far from exotic places at home. Essentially, human experience is exempted from its physical context and measured on a mental scale, whereby the contextual values of time and space are proven most significant when they lose meaning and the existential value is most fulfilling when it is catastrophic.

The principal character of "En Historie fra Klitterne" is Jørgen, and the story's entire journey of life - that of Jørgen's biological and foster parents, that of his own and the woman of his choice, and that of the narrator who chose him (for the story) - this entire complex of life's journeys and dramatic vicissitudes ends up contained in his distorted mind. His is truly a mind of closure, and burials, both in the literal and figurative sense, typify the closure of the story. His human development is buried in retardation, and his entire life is buried in the church, under sand, on a stormy night. At the same time, these burial grounds are the grounds of spiritual resurrection. Here is where the realistic narrative turns romantic, and where the poetic literally comes down to earth and the mundane enters the eternal. It is at this turning point that Andersen's tale and story meet, inform, and enrich each other, and that Jørgen's history transcends itself and his sense of place becomes a locality of the mind. An early discussion between his biological parents about the role of eternity is echoed in the story's final note on the endless peace - of the dead!

"Det er en Historie fra de jydske Klitter", writes Andersen in his opening lines, "men den begynder ikke derovre, nei langt borte, Syd paa, i Spanien; Havet er Farvei mellem Landene; tænk Dig derhen, til Spanien! der er varmt og der er deiligt" (360). And further: "det er som en deilig Drøm det Hele, og give sig hen i den, - ja det gjorde saa ganske to unge, nygifte Folk", namely Jørgen's parents. But the exotic and romantic, as captivating as Andersen imagines it, is indeed not of this world; their journey of life, a voyage between the exotic point of departure and another exotic place in the big world, is wrecked off the barren coast of Jutland, where Jørgen is born and raised by Danish foster parents of modest means.

Severed from the world of his biological parents by brutal circumstance, Jørgen seems forever destined to rootlessness and homelessness. But the principal point of the entire narrative is the complexity of this experience. Neither rootlessness nor homelessness is a condition of the void, but the condition of a subtle interplay of conflicting forces in time and space; a truly complicated "relation between mobility and a sense of place", as Yi-Fu Tuan cautioned. As the shipwreck leaves no traces of Jørgen's heritage,

Granatkjærnen fra Spaniens Jordsmon blev Marehalmens Plante paa Jyllands Vestkyst, dertil kan et Menneske drive det! til dette Hjem klamrede han sig med sit Livs aarlange Rødder. Sult og Kulde, Fattigmands Trang og Nød skulde han prøve, men ogsaa Fattigmands Glæde. (368; emphasis added)

His development apparently begins from scratch as he takes root in alien circumstances which, in turn, he seems to domesticate as his personal experience. Yet, the reader is repeatedly reminded of Jørgen's lost opportunities, and a potential alternative to his actual development follows his path through life as a shadow seemingly invisible to himself.

Subconsciously, though, desires for another world are both felt and pursued by the young man:

men lidt udenfor Klitterne, bare lidt ind i Heden, maatte han dog; og det skulde han komme. Fire fornøielige Dage, de lyseste i hele hans Barndoms Liv, oprullede; al Jyllands Deilighed, Hjemmets Glæde og Solskin laae i disse; han skulde til Gilde - Begravelsesgilde var det rigtignok. (370)

Remarkably, the occasion for his encounter is a funeral, and no less remarkable is the fact that he approaches it as a real fairy tale: "han syntes, at kjøre lige ind i Eventyrenes Land og var dog i Virkeligheden. Hvor var her stille!" (371). In the light of hindsight, the ultimate wedding of Jørgen to burials - and resurrections - at the end of Andersen's story is prepared at this early stage of the narrative where the protagonist for the first time ventures beyond his allotted horizon and finds initial fulfillment in the experience that the time and distance he has traveled is becoming a point of boundless and timeless significance in his mind. His modest conquest of the world is a priceless conquest of the world as his.

In the eyes of his fosterfather, the experience is an excursion of little importance compared to the world they both came from: "Nu kom den fjerde Dag og saa var Begravelsesgildet ude - de skulde fra Landklitterne til Strandklitterne. - 'Vore ere dog de rigtige,' sagde Fader, 'disse have ingen Magt'" (372). But not only is his fourteen-year-old fosterson of a different opinion, the difference goes beyond the immediate distance between land dunes and beach dunes. As a cabin boy aboard a ship Jørgen experiences considerable hardship but also a preliminary reunion with the land of his biological parents:

"Jeg kommer igjen," sagde det indeni ham. Den spanske Kyst, hans Forældres Fædreland, Byen selv, hvor de havde levet i Velstand og Lykke, fik han at see, men han vidste ikke om Hjemstavn og Slægtskab, Familien vidste endnu Mindre om ham. (373)

He is still in the grip of the subconscious, which gives his reply - that one day he will return - the character of an ambiguous premonition. It can be read as the youngster's defiance in the face of the repressive crew. And it can be read as his subconscious addressing itself with the message that it is on its way towards conscious self-realization. To the benefit of the text the two interpretations may coexist on different levels of signification.

If so, what they ultimately mean is that the process of self-fulfillment - which began as Jørgen was first driven to internalize, indeed bury in his mind, his journey into the real world - is going to continue and incorporate both the conquest and the internalization of an even more significant journey aimed at the distant yet original world of his. It is to be expected, from this point onward, that the pattern of his life will not be one of growing insight combined with waxing real life experiences, but rather one by which his life's journey is seen as transmuted and its coordinates in time and space as suspended in his mind. As a matter of fact, the course is set for suspension of the mind itself. This experience goes into effect at the point where he has journeyed so far as to arrive where he once originated. While taking him back to square one, his experience concurrently takes him back to his innermost self. Retarding him both physically and mentally, Jørgen's course of life affords him a truly exclusive point of fulfillment.

Having said that, it is crucial to still bear in mind the complexity of the experience. Hardly has his promise to embrace sunny Spain come true before he feels compelled to revisit and reappraise the less flamboyant place of his Jutland childhood. And when finally he makes good on this promise, it happens involuntarily as he passes the place on his way to jail after he has been falsely accused and convicted of murder. But even then, and still later when he is behind bars, his sense of home is inalienable:

ingen gamle Melodier kunde gaae dybere til Hjertet, end disse Toner, det rullende Hav, det frie Hav, hvor man blev baaren gjennem Verden, fløi med Vindene, og hvor man end kom hen, man havde med sig sit eget Huus, ligesom Sneglen har sit; man stod altid paa egen, altid paa Hjemmets Grund, selv i fremmedt Land. (381)

The final words - always to be on one's own, always at home, even in foreign land - are explanatory. They explain how Jørgen's desire for Spain originated in Denmark and how later his longing to go back to Denmark took shape in Spain. Whatever the country of his present location, his sense of self is a sense of home which entails a sense of the other - "fremmedt Land" - as the ultimate sense of home. Traveling is thus liberating, "det var at trække Veiret igjen!" (383): it widens the world, both with newness and otherness, and both with mature insight and original innocence. In short, it touches his innermost self as it touches the world: "Jørgen var som overvældet af en hellig, barnereen Følelse, som da han som Lille stod i Spaniens rige Kirke, men her var det ham en Bevidsthed at han hørte med til Menigheden" (384).

But not only does his aging experience take Jørgen back to his childhood, and particularly to its adventurous trip to the funeral party, it reduces his life to a personal funeral event. He loses his young wife as they are both shipwrecked like his parents before him, and later he completely loses his mind and becomes like an adult child. Maturity and innocence have come together and relieved each other, and only the eternity which his mother so prophetically envisioned is capable of capturing the alloy. As Jørgen finds his last home in the church which was buried in the sandstorm, he finds his lasting home in a religious feeling of total internalization - which corresponds to his physical end - and in the narrative representation, indeed resurrection, of this completed journey of life. The story and the tale have come together, too, and reached their predictable level of relative autonomy as their world as a place in time and space has reached its true significance by truly disappearing.


Twenty years ago, Murray Krieger, the famed practitioner of scholarly literary criticism, "invited a number of critics and historians of literature to reflect" on the scene of his dicipline for a special issue of Contemporary Literature (Summer 1976). One of the invited guests was Hayden White, whose contribution, called "The Absurdist Moment in Contemporary Literary Theory", reappeared in his collection of Essays in Cultural Criticism entitled Tropics of Discourse (1978).

As I have dared in my reading of selected stories and tales by Andersen to suggest an artistic investment on the author's part in a generally deconstructive cultural paradigm, I wish to temper my conclusion by saying that I consider neither Andersen nor my treatment of him as instances of cultural universalism. Although Andersen may have appeared to be a writer with universalist goals and I may have looked like a universalist in my way of reading him, I believe the juncture between writer and reader is the place where the limits of both endeavors can and should be recognized. Hayden White's exposition of modern criticism is helpful in that respect.

He profoundly takes issue with what he labels "the absurdist moment", i.e., the poststructuralist notion that signification is universal but at the same time located in a language which "can only generate irresolvable theoretical contradictions" and in which a critic such as Derrida wishes merely to put himself "'at a point so that I do not know any longer where I am going'".17 Notwithstanding the universally oriented artistic ends of Andersen's texts and the equally dis-orienting critical means of my proposed readings, our two modes of discourse are not interrelated by "irresolvable theoretical contradictions", nor are they pointing in such a way as to leave any doubts about where they are going. Instead, they are transformations to no end in the dual sense that neither one ends in language but each one ends in the other!

What I hope to have practiced, then, is a critical approach to Andersen which calls into question the outcome of his human and artistic journey toward fulfillment. Superficially he agrees with the critical expectations of his time, but profoundly he leaves unaccounted for a process of undermining as the condition of possibility for his visible achievement. In today's critical parlance, it is possible to figure these absent conditions underneath the topicality of his journey as its tropicality: as time (and space) disappearing into his discourse, where the name of the game, if not the place, is - tropics of discourse. Not a place in the sense that mid 19th-century criticism conceived of it, but a central place in the controversy of late 20th-century criticism.


1. Poul Houe, "Going Places: Hans Christian Andersen, the Great European Traveler", in Sven H. Rossel (ed.), Hans Christian Andersen: Danish Writer and Citizen of the World (Editions Rodopi, Amsterdam and Atlanta 1996), 126-75. back

2. Klaus P. Mortensen, Svanen og Skyggen - historien om unge Andersen (Gad, Cph. 1989), 111. back

3. Soja, in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon Duhring (Routledge, London and New York 1993), 137. back

4. Cited from Fortællerstil, eds. Kristian Kjær and Henrik Schovsbo (Hans Reitzel, Cph. 1975), 7. The two H. C. Andersen texts are also cited from this anthology. back

5. This particular substitution is mentioned by Patricia L. Conroy in her discussion of "The Art of Hans Christian Andersen's Tales and Stories", in Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, translated, with an introduction, by Conroy and Sven H. Rossel (University of Washington Press, Seattle and London 1980), xxxi-xxxii. Even some of Andersen's other movements toward oral simplicity are touched upon in Conroy's comparison of "The Dead Man" with "The Traveling Companion". back

6. Ivy York Möller-Christensen, Den danske eventyrtradition 1800-1870: Harmoni, splittelse og erkendelse (Odense Universitetsforlag, Odense 1988), 139. back

7. Ibid., 87. back

8. Ibid., 93. back

9. Torben Brostrøm and Jørn Lund, Flugten i sproget: H. C. Andersens udtryk (Gyldendal, Cph. 1991), 7 (emphasis added). back

10. Ibid., 155. back

11. Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis 1977), 182. back

12. All the five texts are cited from H. C. Andersen, Samlede Eventyr og Historier, II (Gyldendal, Cph. 1962). back

13. See H. C. Andersens Eventyr, VII: Kommentar, ed. Flemming Hovmann (C. A. Reitzels Forlag, Cph. 1990), 145. back

14. Definition cited from The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles, I (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1964), 335. back

15. Elias Bredsdorff, H. C. Andersen: Mennesket og digteren, 2nd ed. (Fremad, Cph. 1988), 283. back

16. Ibid., 285. back

17. Hayden White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism, 2nd ed. (The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London 1985), 277. back

Bibliographic information about the text:

Houe, Poul: Andersen in Time and Place - Time and Place in Andersen, In: Johan de Mylius, Aage Jørgensen and Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen (ed.): Hans Christian Andersen. A Poet in Time. Papers from the Second International Hans Christian Andersen Conference 29 July to 2 August 1996. The Hans Christian Andersen Center, Odense University, Odense University Press. 576 pages, Odense, Denmark 1999.