Hans Christian Andersen as a Religious Fastboiler in Per Olov Enquist

The afterlife of a poet is (also) a question of what later poets are able to make use of in their own way. Per Olov Enquist employs Andersen to propagate Christianity in a way not altogether easy to grasp. Hans Christian Andersen is authentic, Scandinavian, and undeniably ingenious, our own way of expression, our language, finally located, as Enquist writes in 1981:

He, singlehanded, changed the Scandinavian art of writing prose. He did not do it in his novels, nor in his dramas. He did it in the fairy tales. This sudden, rythmical, irrationally logical, risky, sensationally vivid prosestyle born in the spoken language and molesting a whole tradition in literary prose. Compare Andersen's fairy tales (not the contents, not the irony, not the double sense, not the friendly spitefullness, it's there as well, but above all the technical prosestyle that he develops) - compare this prose with anything else written in Scandinavia around this time: and the rest will appear rhetorical, highly spiritual, no, rather translated from the German or the French. Andersen was the ingenious pioneer who broke the ice for a new prose which was not translated from continental languages. He was to have many disciples. August Strindberg taught himself the writing of prose from Hans Christian Andersen: he declared so often enough, and it is easy to see, if you look for it. He in his turn created our Swedish prose. He had chosen the best of models. [Enquist, "Arbetsnoteringar", En triptyk, p. 325f]

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) is world-famous.

The Swede Per Olov Enquist (born 1934) is world-famous as well - if not in the whole world, at least in Scandinavia, as the envious Danes say? In any case he is widely translated, and as early as in 1984 he had his first American monograph, by Ross Shideler. The latest up to now is a Swedish one, just appeared in the spring season of 1996, a doctoral dissertation, 415 pages.

Per Olov Enquist himself studied literature, politics, and history at Uppsala University and published his first novel in 1961. After all these years his is quite an oeuvre: criticism, journalism, drama, tv, film, short stories, novels; in his fiction practically always with the addition of more or less straight documentary. Several of his best works also relate to the lives of great poets. Perhaps best known outside of Scandinavia is the play The Night of the Tribades (Tribadernas natt, 1975), staging Strindberg himself. But there is also Rain Snakes (Från regnormarnas liv, 1981), letting the leading critic during the Danish Golden Age and his wife, the greatest actress in Denmark ever, suffer and confront Hans Christian Andersen all through one long evening at their home. Most recent is a film manuscript from 1996 on another world-famous poet, Hamsun, filmed with some minor changes under the direction of Jan Troell and written with an eye on Thorkild Hansen's Danish attempt at getting even with the case against Knut Hamsun in Norway after the 2nd World War. Hamsun (1859-1952), alas, did admire Adolf Hitler, but remained an irresistible writer.

The relationship between art and politics interested Per Olov Enquist right from the beginning, which explains his very frequent use of history, reality, documents, and well-known people in his writing.

How is it possible to be a literary genius and - at the same time - a political idiot, one might ask in relation to Hamsun. However, beyond the political you have the even more disquieting question about the way art affects you in general. Is literature a sort of seduction in Weltanschauung? Brainwashing? An early novel by Enquist has its main character, a hypnotizer and medic during the Enlightenment - with a punctual and sharp affinity to Adolf Hitler - reasoning as follows:

The last stone in the accomplished mosaic. They contemplate it, and understand. The work of art will soon be finished. Then they shall have no chance to resist. The work of art has overwhelmed them, and they are helpless. [Magnetisörens femte vinter, p. 173]

The way art affects us is problematized throughout in Enquist, and this is where Andersen comes in. He is given a main part in connection with the culmination of politics and Weltanschauung in Per Olov Enquist: the existential or religious message. Enquist lets the adored and admired - existentially disoriented - royal actress at the theatre in Copenhagen, Johannes Luise Heiberg in the year 1856 say to ingenious Hans Christian Andersen, who wishes to conquer the theatre:

So much manure is taken seriously! Heaps of literature! That is the problem. And you think that you ought to add to the manure with some mighty spiritual nonsense write for The Royal Theatre, we have enough, Andersen, stick to your fairy tales, they are great art, one single little fairy tale can change the life of a human being, but a dramatist you'll never, never, never be! [Från regnormarnas liv, p. 239]

Thus: "one single little fairy tale can change the life of a human being"! This word on Andersen is, the way I see Enquist, very close to the central driving force in his own work. As we know, he employs historical material, and he uses Andersen, his fictitious Andersen, with recurring allusions to the fairy tale called "The Snow Queen" (1845). The American Ross Shideler, who seems to know his Andersen, traces "The Snow Queen" in Enquist's very first novel, Kristallögat (The Crystal Eye, 1961).

We are certainly not here going to locate all allusions to Hans Christian Andersen in Per Olov Enquist, not even the main types of allusion, but only the essentially religious variety with an emphasis on agape, the motif of Christian love. Agape in the New Testament and in church history was reconstructed in the history of ideas by Anders Nygren in his indeed world-famous work Agape and Eros. A Study of the Christian Idea of Love (parts 1 and 2, the Swedish original 1930 and 1936). Theologians consider Anders Nygren to be the most important theologian in Scandinavia in this century, and Per Olov Enquist takes up the term "agape" in Nygren's sense in the mid60's, a short time after it has been shown to be the basic concept in the work of Martin A. Hansen (190955), in his time a very import writer in Denmark. Sekonden (The Second, 1970/71), Enquist's novel, which is full of traces of Andersen's "Snow Queen", may also be seen as a critical answer to Martin A. Hansen's handling of the Christian idea of love, the agape; however, Hansen is not our subject here. Beata Agrell in 1993, in a most impressive dissertation on the theory and practice of prose writing in Swedish literature in the 1960's, read agape into Enquist's novel Hess (1966). Only later does Enquist use the term as such. Beata Agrell handles the concept of agape in a very special sense (related to Rudolf Johannesson 1947 and 1991), that we need not discuss. The final words in the action of that novel, however, deserve quotation because they give us an excuse to demonstrate how pervasive the nature of Andersen's presence in Per Olov Enquist may be:

Hess lay with his eyes open, stiffly fixating the grey space. Over his face the melting water had been running and had since frozen, so that all of his face was covered by a thin clear icefilm. Through it he could see parts of diffuse iceblocks, parts of grey clouds, parts of shadows that might be albatrosses, parts of objects and movements that he found partly recognizable: but the icebark was a poor glass and he could not be sure. All descriptions had suddenly stopped as he died, but he still could not see clearly. As the snow came he became quite untransparent and the details disappeared: then he was finally free and out of the description. The albatross was the last he saw. He thought it was a spider that slowly crept over his face. [Hess, p. 277f]

These lines about becoming icebound return almost verbatim about twenty years later. They are now given as a dream in the author himself, ending:

As the snow came he became quite untransparent, and the details disappeared: then he was finally free. The Albatross on high was the last he saw, if it was an Albatross: he thought it was a spider crawling slowly over his face. [Nedstörtad ängel (Crashed angel), 1985, p. 11]

And this is the way the same motif sounds at the end of this story with its subtitle "a novel of love", its last words:

He gave me the wingfeather. It was white, I recognized it. I leaned forward and watched: and so silently had the bird been hovering up there on high, that its lines had etched themselves into the icefilm, drawn its outline on the ice. I leaned forward, breathed on the icefilm, streaking at the same time with the feather against it. The icebird slowly disappeared, the face came out, and it was I. [ibid. p. 143f]
"The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen has snow, ice, freezing, and birds with white feathers, no albatross, but plenty of Christianity and ice thawing. The albatross is a wellknown Jesussymbol, the appearance of the Saviour above the ice (others say the albatross is the Holy Spirit), wellknown since Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere" (1798/1800), which is mentioned for the sake of the albatross in Ehnmark and Enquist, Protagoras sats (The Proposition of Protagoras, 1987), p. 364. As late as in the "film story" Hamsun (1996) the albatross appears, but now as Hamsun's dream of himself (p. 94), and as his alcoholic daughter's picture of his highflying, inhuman absence from his family (p. 154). Enquist parallels Hamsun's wife Marie with Johanne Luise Heiberg in his introduction to the "film story": "Both of them froze, became Ice queens" (p. 15). The early, outright combination of Andersen's "Snow Queen" and Nygren's agapeconcept, however, is found in the novel Sekonden (The Second), by many readers held to be Enquist's most important book, in it's definitive edition of 1972:

August [of 1968] was the prettiest month, but I dreamt again that I were in the ice castle working on the jigsaw puzzle. [Sekonden, (1972) 1979, p. 8]

Much later [after his childhood] I was to learn a new word: agape. To me it has come to mean: not having to strive to deserve Grace. Begin again, a clean table, no lead given to the skillfull who jobbed to get absolution. Everybody thinks the term is theological, but each time I think of pappa and me and all the rest of my curious family I know that in its innermost it is political. No, by the way: I don't give a shit putting a label on it. There is no label, no department. The word belongs to us, it's a family word, it is nobody's business how we use it. A small cell of energy way in there that I am not as yet going to expose to light. [ibid. p. 14]

The history of the children at the throne of the snow queen, and the ice puzzle which never was solved, the story of the boy with the glassplinter in his eye, whose heart was frozen and whose skin went thick. [ibid. p. 18]

And I became like the boy in Andersen's fairy tale, he who in the hall of the ice queen worked on the ice puzzle while the soft jingle sank away in the infinite halls. [ibid. p. 79]

The icesplinter in the eye, the glassplinter in the eye, the boy with the puzzle, the song. [ibid. p. 80]

The children sat on the floor of the great eccohall in the ice castle and they tried to solve the ice puzzle which was not solvable. [ibid. p. 103]

She sketched a bird's head. It resembled. She held it up, we looked at it in silence. The snow was a very white light. She held the bit of ice with both hands, breathing slowly on the bird. She blew the air with pointed lips humming in a low tone, softly, like a mass. The ice melted slowly, the drawing disappeared, the bird's head dissolved, the surface went blank.

A little heat, and the work of art is gone, she said with a smile. [ibid. p. 174]

Why had she drawn her bird on a bit of ice, and why had it disappeared? [ibid. p. 197]

Still I shall put all in front of you, all the bits in a row, and ask you to put them together. I give you the ice bits, with inscriptions. [ibid. p. 200]

Watch the bit of puzzle in the greater picture. [ibid. p. 223]

My skin was thick, the ice puzzle would never be solved, and I was at an infinite distance and each second was like a thousand years. I was lost not to be saved, and forever.

I sat waiting for the bird. I don't know exactly what it meant, but I waited. [ibid. p. 257]

I was lying on the floor stirring the ice puzzle with my hand. The bits did not unite, we lay in the same sleeping bag, and I wished that everything should become as then: naked, skinless and without reserve, but the world had chosen for me and the skin was thick. [ibid. p. 288]

It was something else, something rather rare in the world in which we live and something that one ought to grasp firmly wherever you find it, even in religious belief. It is the forgiveness which is not the outcome of some performance, which is not the compensation achieved by some clever and successful compensator, just a relief, agape. [ibid. p. 332]

Yesterday, on the 3rd of April, 1971, I mailed her a letter, posting it in the mailbox of the Missionshotel at Rønne, Bornholm.

It is quite fine here and I do not feel hopeful but calm. That is what I wrote her. "I am doing better now. [...] Some bits have found their place. Some fine day you will see. We do not give in yet." [ibid. p. 337]

Per Olov Enquist sticks to his Hans Christian Andersen, in "The Snow Queen" with its drifting snow, its glassplinter in the eye, its ice puzzle, ice in the heart, white birds, frozen life, its touching message of love and Christianity, redemption. Even in the novel Kapten Nemos bibliotek (Captain Nemo's Library, 1991) there is "a glassplinter in the eye" (p. 89) and the freezing of the storyteller: "Everything was like blank ice without sunshine. I was in the kitchen sofa. I had also become like blank ice" (p. 90), and the puzzle, the riddle of life:

I shall never make it, I know. But I do dream now and then, when so many years have passed since it happened, I dream secret and happy dreams that it might really be possible: not only to try and solve, I do try, but that in the end it will be solved. And in the end to be able to write: this is how it was, it happened this way, this is the complete story. [ibid. p. 245]


At the First International Hans Christian Andersen Conference in 1991 I gave an outline of the fairy tales in relation to Optimistic Dualism, the central motif of the Danish Golden Age (appr. 18001870) according to the history of ideas. Optimistic Dualism is on the one hand a belief in the existence of two sorts of reality (Eternity and Time), and on the other hand the conviction that it is necessary and feasible to bridge the gap from one sort of reality to the other. Often enough people would fight over the nature of the bridge (was it faith, love, science, God's Grace, which built the bridge or made it possible?); but no matter, in the Danish Golden Age, which is the age also of Hans Christian Andersen, one is an optimistic dualist: one believes in the existence of two sorts of reality, and one believes in the necessity and feasibility of bridging them. There can be no doubt that Per Olov Enquist reads Hans Christian Andersen as some sort of an optimistic dualist, familiar with the capacity of the fairy tales to touch your sensitivity, and letting "The Snow Queen" represent essential poetry. He gives to the poet all that he can carry, and he writes "The Fairy Tale of Hans Christian Andersen", an introduction to the drastically illustrated H. C. Andersen och Den fula ankungen (Hans Christian Andersen and The Ugly Duckling, 1984) with its last words:

He died on the 4th of August, 1875, a life was finished which he himself, very true and very false, had characterized as "a beautiful fairy tale - so rich and happy". He died, finally liberated from his hurting false teeth which had at long last come to rest in the toothbrush glas, and with his last message on a slip of paper on the bedside table. Full of horror, or appealingly, or full of hope, there stood three goodbyewords from the riddle, Hans Christian Andersen: "Only apparently dead!"

And to all of us who love him, the greatest and most original genius of a storyteller in Scandinavian literature, this is absolutely right, and completely true. [ibid. p. 26]

This is indeed a poet's loving generosity, to give to Andersen for ever a death, which is only apparently so, Andersen, who feared death and did invent ingeniously about time and eternity.

Why did Per Olov Enquist come to prefer the "The Snow Queen" among Andersen's many creations? Probably because "The Snow Queen" - in this respect different from most of the fairy tales - is optimistically dualistic in a rather demonstratively Christian way: Brorson's pietistic church hymn of the roses, the Lord's Prayer from the Bible, the Lord as seen in popular common religiosity, Child Jesus and the churchbell. Per Olov Enquist must have seen how this old, Christian - half Christian, half heathen - stuff in the fairy tale, in combination with the ice in the boy's heart (as a symbol: the dangerous use of intellect) in Hans Christian Andersen's miraculous writing has been transported into human minds having no defense against what you may well compare with political demagogy.

I have quoted the passage from Sekonden where the Christian idea of love, the agape, is called political. Likewise, Martin Luther - Christianity in Scandinavia is Lutheranism - is not only the propagator of the agape, he is also the contagious antisemite, and it is he who insists upon the necessary Christian distinction between a person and his office, according to which we have to obey authority and with uncompromising severity execute its commands. In this Lutheran way Adolf Eichmann (190662) and Rudolf Hess (18941987) were taught and acted. Dutiful Heinrich Himmler (190045) is therefore - historically speaking - just as important to Sekonden as Hans Christian Andersen. Himmler's text is differently situated; but certainly both he and Andersen have Martin Luther as their precondition:

For pappa, whose neurosis of friendliness and honesty and pleasantness only augmented with the years, was certainly so very Swedish in his benevolence: basically a real little Lutheran choppingblock exposing itself and in all humility asking to be maltreated by all axes in the vicinity. [ibid. p. 149]

In the Bible all the fine words were distributed strategically with intervals. Gratitude she read, and he shuddered in his bearlike drowsiness as if he were stung by a wasp on his nose, humility she went on and he pulled himself together and grunted approvingly, fidelity she raised the stakes and he looked as if he would soon sit on his hind legs and yell applause. Yes, Lord Jesus, he was indeed an honest man. But when a man takes it to be his task in life, in this existing society, to be fundamentally good, honest, and loyal it does have to lead directly into criminality. [ibid. p. 237]

The language teaching took of course place inside the force. As a textbook they used "Die Deutsche Polizei", which in addition to a lot of good text had excellent parading photos of Himmler and other German avantgarde. During these years between fifteen and twenty percent of the police force - depending on the way you cared to count - were officially connected with Swedish Nazi organisations, but the rest was not exactly unpolitical either, even if at the 4th subdepartment a policeman was said to serve who was a social democrat. [ibid. p. 301]

In depth the motivation behind Per Olov Enquist's fascination with Hans Christian Andersen is affection, no doubt, and behind his use of "The Snow Queen" it is his well motivated fear of great art that he loves. That we love. The irresistible, the greatest literary performance, the perfect rhetoric, which fascinates and holds us firmly. Therefore he does not only let Hans Christian Andersen tell "The Snow Queen", in a short and undogmatic version, as an act of love to the existentially deepfrozen Johanne Luise Heiberg in Från regnormarnas liv (p. 291f). She melts on the spot. Enquist also, in the same play, lets him poetically improvise the outline of a fairy tale that we never heard of before, and that we today may wish that Hans Christian Andersen had in fact written. He could have. It tells ironically of faith, eternity, and reality, as questions of power and of prejudice knowing of no doubt. It is the great connaisseur in matters of taste, the theorist Johan Ludvig Heiberg, who in Per Olov Enquist's play through his authority unwittingly provokes and produces this poetical reaction in the poet Hans Christian Andersen invented by Enquist - postulating eternity:

[...] Style and taste are eternal. An invariable. An invariable! (in a low tone for himself) Like the archives-metre.
HCA (naïvely)
Like what?
Heiberg (very loud)
The archivesmetre!!! [...]
An invariable. Unchangeable. Good taste. Exactly like an arbiter. (Stiffles,eyes widening, his horseface begins to tremble) Like you! (pointing his finger at Heiberg) Like an archivesmetre! Like you!br> Heiberg
Like ... me?
The archivescritic! He who has to decide what good taste is, he has to be unchangeable, the archivescritic! (fumbles his notebook into his pocket, fumbles it out again, goes on enthusiastically) What do you know! I might write a fairy tale about the archives critic! The unchangeable archivescritic. He begins in Copenhagen. Stands at the King's Square. Outside the Royal Theatre. Then he is exposed to a sequence of terrible misfortunes and trials. He is abducted by robbers. (strong concentration, strong empathy, his face is twisted and deleted) There is a hailstorm, his ship is wrecked. Nearly drowned! He is swept ashore, there he is attacked by wild animals (his face is contracted in compassion and fear) Snakes! Scorpions! He rescues himself, then new storms, he lands in the midst of a war, he is being shot at! A field hospital, he is ridden by the plague, skin eruption all over his body, the hospital is on fire, everybody dies around him! Grashoppers! Some raging dogs afflicted with rabies attack him, he flies! In a snowstorm. Red Indians hunting, he is summoned, scalped. A herd of buffaloes tramples him down ... (he hesitates, searching his abundant supply of sad accidents, brightens) The bridge collapses! But finally the archives-critic is back in Copenhagen! He stands again at the King's Square and he is exactly ... exactly ... the same! Unchangeable! [ibid. p. 248f]


All in all Per Olov Enquist uses Hans Christian Andersen, life and letters, to illustrate effectively poetry's persuasiveness for better and for worse. Andersen's antiintellectual ice metapher from "The Snow Queen" is employed again and again, it produces as in Andersen a longing for warmth, liberation, human and godly love, - only Per Olov Enquist does not propagate the original, overt or hidden, religious meaning of the Danish texts.

Last year Eva Ekselius published her Swedish dissertation telling a different story from the one here given. She works with Per Olov Enquist's oeuvre as a gigantic puzzle of a psychoanalytic and mythical nature. She sees Enquist's use of "The Snow Queen" - in which, as we know, Andersen lets the boy try and solve his ice puzzle spelling the word "Eternity" - as paradigmatic for the task of Per Olov Enquist's reader trying to grasp the meaning of his work in depth. That is where Eva Ekselius, through her chosen looking glass, finds TheDeathof-God as well as Man'sNeedofRedemption. Hermeneutically, of course, the basis of supplementation that you have chosen beforehand will determine the result of your interpretation (cf. my "Hermeneutiske elementer", 1979, p. 98).

In his Rain Snakes Enquist lets Andersen tell Johanne Luise Heiberg how he loses his false teeth and gets woolly dust into his mouth collecting them from the royal carpet. That is how his address to the royal couple is prohibited by dust. He was going to orate with great phantasy on the theme of "amor omnia vincit" (ibid. p. 234), love conquers all. In this connection he thinks of his mouth as a church (ibid. p. 235). How divine! Remember, to Per Olov Enquist Hans Christian Andersen is only apparently dead.

Literature mentioned

All quotations from the Scandinavian texts are translated here.

Beata Agrell, Romanen som forskningsresa. Forskningsresan som roman. Om litterära återbruk och konventionskritik i 1960talets nya svenska prosa, Göteborg 1993.

H. C. Andersen, "Sneedronningen. Et Eventyr i syv Historier" (1845), i H. C. Andersens Eventyr. Kritisk udgivet efter de originale Eventyrhæfter med Varianter ved Erik Dal, bd. II, København 1964, pp. 49-76.

Erik M. Christensen, Ex auditorio. Kunst og ideer hos Martin A. Hansen, Fredensborg 1965.

Id., "Hermeneutiske elementer", i Hermeneutikk og litteratur. Red. Atle Kittang og Asbjørn Aarseth, Universitetsforlaget, Bergen Oslo Tromsø 1979, pp. 96-109.

Id., "H. C. Andersen og den optimistiske dualisme", i Andersen og Verden. Indlæg fra Den første Internationale H. C. Andersenkonference 25.-31. august 1991. Red. Johan de Mylius, Aage Jørgensen og Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen, Odense 1993, pp. 177-191.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere", i Lyrical Ballads (med William Wordsworth, 1798), revised: "The Ancient Mariner. A Poet's Reverie" (1800).

Anders Ehnmark & Per Olov Enquist, Protagoras sats. På spaning efter det politiska förnuftet, Stockholm 1987.

Eva Ekselius, Andas fram mitt ansikte. Om den mytiska och djuppsykologiska strukturen hos Per Olov Enquist, Stockholm 1996.

Per Olov Enquist, Kristallögat, Stockholm 1961.

Id., Hess. Roman, Stockholm 1966.

Id., Sekonden (1971); revideret udgave 1972; andra tryckningen, Stockholm 1979.

Id., Musikanternas uttåg. Roman, Stockholm 1978.

Id., Tribadernas natt. Ett skådespel från 1889, Stockholm 1975.

Id., Från regnormarnas liv, i En triptyk, Stockholm 1981.

Id., "Sagan om H. C. Andersen" i H. C. Andersen och Den fula ankungen. Tolkad i bild av Andrzej Ploski med inledning av P. O. Enquist, Lund 1984.

Id., Nedstörtad ängel. En kärleksroman, Stockholm 1985.

Id., Kapten Nemos bibliotek. Roman, Stockholm 1991.

Id., Hamsun. En filmberättelse, Stockholm 1996.

Rudolf Johannesson, Person och gemenskap enligt romerskkatolsk och luthersk grundåskådning, Lund 1947.

Id., "Ordet och värdet", i Ord och bild, Stockholm 1991, nr. 3, pp. 29-39.

Anders Nygren, Den kristna kärlekstanken genom tiderna. Eros och Agape, 1 & 2, Stockholm 1930.

Ross Shideler, Per Olov Enquist. A Critical Study, Westport, Connecticut 1984.

Bibliographic information about the text:

Christensen, Erik M.: "Hans Christian Andersen as a Religious Fastboiler in Per Olov Enquist" , 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.