The Ideas and Ideals of H. C. Andersen in the Baltic Literatures

Very similar in many respects are two Baltic nations - Lithuanians and Latvians, but they had different historical conditions in the 19th century, were influenced by different literary schools. Also relations with Danish culture in general and specifically the reception of H. C. Andersen in Lithuania and Latvia were different. At first, we know that the first works of H. C. Andersen were translated into Latvian 25 years earlier than into Lithuanian. Five tales of H. C. Andersen ("Prindsessen paa Ærten", "Storkene", "Fyrtøiet", "Den grimme Ælling", "Grantræet"), were published in small books "The Tales for Children" (Jelgava, 1859). This collection of tales was prepared by the Latvian writer Jekabs Zvaigznite. The most interesting was the aim of publication of those tales - the translator explained, that by means of those texts (of H. C. Andersen and the Brothers Grimm) he wanted to save Latvian children from reading incomprehensible and hard religious texts, and expressed the hope that children would not cry so many tears reading those tales as they did when reading the Bible.

These were the first translations of H. C. Andersen tales into Latvian. During the second part of 19th century works by H. C. Andersen were translated into Latvian many times - during this period about 50 tales were translated. The translators were various workers in the field of culture; writers (as J. Zvaigznite, R. Blaumanis, and others), teachers; and the tale "Portnerens Søn" was translated by the writer and composer Straumes Janis. The specialist of Latvian-Scandinavian literary contacts Laimonis Stepiņš counted about 40 translators of H. C. Andersen during the period from 1859 to 1940. The history of H. C. Andersen translations into Latvian reached its culmination in 1924-26, when in Riga six volumes of Danish taletellers were published including the autobiography Mit Livs Eventyr. The author of that titanic work was the Latvian writer and translator Apsišu Jekabs.

There were circumstances connecting the entry of H. C. Andersen into Lithuania and Latvia - in both countries the first translations appeared in the times of national rebirth; and in both countries translators were active in the national rebirth movement. The national rebirth of the Baltic countries in the second part of the 19th century stimulated orientation to the past of one's own nation and other nations as well, and aroused the interest of Baltic nations in the world and, first and foremost, in Scandinavian culture. During the times of Latvian national rebirth the orientation toward Denmark was strengthened. At that time the Latvian romantic F. Brivzemnieks translated "Holger Danske" into Latvian, which was published together with the article "Danish Land and Danish People". F. Brivzemnieks confessed that the aim of his article was to tell Latvian readers how actively and sincerely the Danes cherished their nationality and strengthened their love of the nation.

The renaissance of H. C. Andersen in Latvian literature coincided with the creation of Latvian neoromanticism.

Latvian neoromanticism flowed into a wide spiritual brotherly society,
to which belonged Ibsen, Przybyszewski, Hamsun, Wilde, and Nietzsche. To this society - as I like to say, - to this Journey to the East (Orient) country - Latvian neoromanticism joined H. C. Andersen as well. For Latvian (and also for Lithuanian neoromanticists) the fairy tale genre was very typical. At the beginning of the 19th century Latvian neoromantic tales were rising as symbols and aesthetic ideals which joined Latvian literature with the problems of world literature, established a connection between East and West, North and South, between the native corner of the world and the mysterious distances of the Universe. The Latvian philosopher Zenta Maurina said that neoromantics were "laying the golden chains through the entire Universe" - because the World and the Universe for them were a huge unity, a boundless symphony, in which every particle reflects the whole, connecting with thousands and millions of other particles.

From the large pleiad of Latvian neoromanticists those closest to H. C. Andersen are Karlis Skalbe (1879-1945) and Janis Poruks (1871-1911). They were born in the same land of tales and songs - Vidzeme; and they were searching for universal views and genres to express their idea of art, with great attention paid to the genre of literary fairy tales.

Janis Poruks combined the elements of tale with the elements of fantasy, story and other fields of invention. He is similar to H. C. Andersen as regards the method of genric synthesis (characteristic of many romanticists), the philosophy of the world's unanimity, and the ideals of protagonists.

An obvious parallel may be found between H. C. Andersen's "Paradisets Have" and J. Poruks's fantasy "Pērlu zvejnieks" ("The Pearl-fisher"). The Pearl-fisher is a typical romantic nomad, who searches for pearls everywhere; he is trying to reach the centre of the World by his spiritual forces, to reach the deity, the realm of ideals as symbolized by the Greatest Pearl. At the end of their wanderings both of them - the Prince from H. C. Andersen and the Pearl-fisher from J. Poruks - understand that the way to the Greatest Pearl and to the Garden of Paradise goes through the non-entity.

Karlis Skalbe is the king ot tales in Latvia, and Zenta Maurina also mentioned him as the magician of silence. The best tales of K. Skalbe appeared at the time, when Maurice Maeterlinck wrote "The Blue Bird" and J. Rainis "The Golden Horse". It was at the beginning of the 20th century, when in European literature the sensation of the heart was strengthened, when, as Maeterlinck puts it, Man again discovered the Heart. "The more we contrive and reason, the more we are wrong", said K. Skalbe. Therefore the characters of K. Skalbe have the way pointed out by their hearts, and their hearts are making the prodigies (miracles). The individual hearts are mirroring the great heart of the earth. The calling of the characters of K. Skalbe is to feel the beat of their hearts together and thus feel their unity with the world. This unity is felt by one main character from the K. Skalbe tale "How I Was Going to See the Northern Girl", who represents the wide open spaces of the world; the main character or the tale "The Moon Garden" invites his friend to leave the house of melancholy (sadness). Relation with the World and the Universe, ability to serve and sacrifice oneself is the background of the happiness of Skalbe's heroes. Happiness is the joy of travelling, seeing, meeting. Happiness is the ability to forgive, to remain good in spite of the attacks of anger.

The characters of Skalbe's fairy tales embodied those ideals, which characterised Latvian songs as well as Lithuanian and Latvian folklore. The elements of folklore are reflected in the style of his tales. But K. Skalbe and his contemporaries were influenced by romantic traditions where, of course, they could not miss H. C. Andersen and his characters. Spiritual and aesthetic threads connect K. Skalbe with the famous Danish writer, and not because he was a disciple of Andersen, but because of their spiritual relationship! The easiest way of comprehending this relationship is to consider the three main unifying philosophical theses, which are as follows. Man wants to know the world as a universal entity, the fundamental laws of nature, and therefore he is straining to the edge of the world, but the Great Wisdom is also often expressed by small creatures (nightingale, mouse, cat), so all of them - kings and creatures - are one family, and the world is indivisible. This philosophy with various nuances goes right through the tales of H. C. Andersen and K. Skalbe. The problem of relating to the world as a universal entity unite the tale of K. Skalbe "How I Was Going to See the Northern Girl" and the tale of H. C. Andersen "Den flyvende Koffert". The relation between small creatures and big creatures is very similar in "Nattergalen" by H. C. Andersen and in "The Windmill of the Cat" by K. Skalbe. And the idea of the World's unity - by own way, based on own symbol - unite "Paradisets Have" by H. C. Andersen and "The Moon Garden" by K. Skalbe.

Talking about the relations between Latvian and Danish taletellers we can, of course, not miss the mermaid symbol, which is the major creation of both writers, and which deals with 'the problem of the heart'.

In her book Als die Bäume sprechen konnten (Stockholm, 1987) A. PriediteJanelsin3a discussed different conceptions of the heart of H. C. Andersen and K. Skalbe. "Skalbe geht mit dem Seelenbegriff sehr behutsam um. In seinem Märchen geht es nicht um das Problem einer unsterblichen Seele, denn seine Meerjungfrau ist stumm. Während Andersen und Wilde mit dem christlichen Begriff der unsterblichen Seele operieren, ist die Seele bei Skalbe etwas zartes und innerliches, das man nicht zum Handelsobjekt machen kann. Mit einem Vergleich versucht Skalbes Seejungfrau, ihren Seelenzustand zu beschreiben." K. Skalbe, emerging from Danish traditions, does not divide the world into two strata, the spiritual and the soulless. The heart of his mermaid hero can open only in the water, and therefore she, having the desire to pronounce instant words of love and reveal her essence, draws her beloved into the depth.

In another way, the mermaid of K. Skalbe, casting ashore and getting into the fish-market, helps her beloved young man to return to his element, from where he had come. The young man saves the mermaid and her soul, so returning her to the sea, he saves his own soul. So compared to H. C. Andersen's "Den lille Havfrue" the tale of K. Skalbe takes an opposite course - the mermaid does not, as written by H. C. Andersen, save the prince, but the young man saves the mermaid, returning her to her native land - the depth of waters. This young man is the nomad, who left the parents' home for searching the idea - which symbolizes great love - the salvation of his own soul.

It should be emphasized that in Latvian literature "Den lille Havfrue" left the deepest traces. The Modern Latvian poet Leons Briedis (born 1949) in 1982 created a dramatic poem entitled "The Mermaid", with music written by composer and singer A. Kukuvass. This musical was staged by the Riga Operette Theatre.

Mara Zalite (born 1954) is one of the most interesting modern Latvian writers. She enriched Latvian literature by her lyric creations (most of them poems from the 80's and the 90's). She also wrote several poetic dramas, which had wide resonanse among critics and spectators. Her plays "The Small Room of Mara", "The Court of Law" and "Alive Water" are echoes of the romantic tradition, connecting the spiritual ideals of Mara Zalite and her generation with the old Latvian mythology and neoromantic aesthetics of the late 19th century.

The most important achievements in M. Zalite's creation are her musical poems - "Lačplesis" (Latvian national epos) (1988) and "The Wild Swans" (1995). For the first poem the music was written by the composer Z. Liepiņš, and for the second poem by the composer and famous Latvian pianist R. Pauls. Now, when "De vilde Svaner" by M. Zalite has been published as a separate book and the play has been staged by the Riga Dailies Theatre, we may affirm, that M. Zalite has renovated the romantic tradition of Danish Golden Age, and demonstrated that the ideals and the ideas of H. C. Andersen give inspiration for new creative searchings.

The musical performance of "The Wild Swans" is a large work done by a company of likeminded persons - actors, choreographers and musicians. The premiere of it took place in November 1995. Till the spring of this year "The Wild Swans" was played 50 times and became almost the most popular performance of Latvian theatre this season.

Mara Zalite, commenting upon her musical poem, noted that real winners are not the brave cutters of dragons heads, because they are not so heroic as Eliza, the small sister of eleven brothers . Why? Because dashing destroyers of devils do not destroy evil in themselves, and so it is an illusive victory. To cut the darkness by sword or by axe is an unfruitful effort, fruitless because the darkness becomes more thick. To give hate for the hate is an old tragic mistake, because the hate doubles. Why do we forget that darkness is afraid only in the presence of love? Because those truths are the most hardly realized. But there is also always somebody, who is able to do that. As Eliza - who can turn sharp and stinging nettles into soft shirts.

The tale in M. Zalite creation is not new. From the beginning of the creative process she searched for universal reflections of human beings in the treasury of tales, myths, and folk art.

"The Wild Swans" by M. Zalite is a composition of twenty-two scenes (views), in which all participants are equally important - the main figures as Eliza, the young king, the youngest prince, and the choirs of roses, seagulls and others. Delicately emphasizing collision between good and evil, light and darkness, the author exposes eternal problems dealing with man and mankind, which were urgent not only for H. C. Andersen. That collision is clearly emphasized by the contrast between the first and the second scenes: the first scene is dominated by the joy of Eliza's birthday, the second scene by angry voices of the step-mother and her suite. It is the universal layer of the genre as in H. C. Andersen's tale. By the way, the Danish writer is emphasizing universality in the very first sentence of his tale: "Far away, where the swallows fly, when our winter comes on, lived a King"

In the third scene of M. Zalite's musical poem an unexpected turning-point is reached, which is expressed by the youngest princess; by the way this turning-point does not destroy H. C. Andersen's essence at all. In the monologue of the youngest prince sounds the motif of childhood, which is symbolized by the old shoe and pain in the breast. "Why is my breast acheing?" asked the prince his mother in the childhood, and the mother answered him: "Because of your growing up". Now, when the step-mother is at home, the breast is acheing again, but it is another pain - the blind pain. That pain appeared after the step-mother prohibited him to sing. The step-mother, damning the princes, turns them into strange birds - they cannot sing, they have no nest and no possibility of finding a native land, they cannot see heaven; their bodies are similar to the bags of beggars, their hearts are small plums. So the third scene of M. Zalite's musical poems is wider than the tale of H. C. Andersen. And this thing we may understand. In the scene of damnation the Latvian poet, being not far from the common human plot, localises the action, gives it a Baltic implication. The Baltic nations know what it means to lose their voices. In 1873, when H. C. Andersen for the last time in his life visited Switzerland, Latvia experienced its first great song festival, which was dealing with the rebirth and consolidation of the nation; maybe it was a spiritual action similar to the Danish folkehøjskole movement. The great choir of the festival became the manifestation of Latvian and Baltic spirituality in the 19th century.

The choir is an important element of the poetics of M. Zalite's "The Wild Swans". The choir of the eleven brothers, turned into the swans and wandering in a strange land, is the symbol of small brother societies who, after having lost their home, are keeping alive the sacred desire to be human beings, and that which is the most dear for every man and nation - the soul. The brother societies confess: "We have died / For this earth / Only for heaven / We are still alive". Before them opens the endless space, the Milky Way, but the native land is always calling. When Eliza needs the net, the brothers are weaving it not only from the reeds, but from the wind, breath, nostalgia, and infinite hope as well.

It is interesting to emphasize that the motive of nostalgia is repeated by another choir, who is singing a Danish national song "On the top of the mountain the shepherd is singing". This choir sounds in the 7th scene, when the young king tries to make a speech and laughs at Eliza. This song also emphasizes the universality of M. Zalite's musical poem, but from another side the main motif of her poem - the motif of eleven brothers and a sister turned out of their native land - is personal as well. Maybe it will be strange to talk about the native land of M. Zalite - she has another, not instant, motherland, because she was born far from her native Latvia, in exile.

So "The Wild Swans" by M. Zalite is very much influenced by H. C. Andersen, from one side; and very personal-national, from another side. Besides that her poem returns to the roots of Latvian symbolic drama through H. C. Andersen (Rainis, Aspazija). Analysing the poem of M. Zalite we can see that even at the beginning of the 20th century Latvian drama had vivid traces of H. C. Andersen poetics. But this proposition might be the theme of another study.

In the history of Lithuanian literature and Lithuanian literary life the most striking trace was left by H. C. Andersen's tale "Det Utroligste". That tale is one of the first translations of H. C. Andersen tales to Lithuanian (it appeared in Tilzit, Prussia, 1893, since printing in Latin letters in Lithuania was prohibited by tzarist Russia).1 After 70 years that tale becomes the creative source for the Lithuanian writer Violeta Palčinskaite, who in 1978 published a play entitled "The Rose of Kristian Andersen" in Vilnius. This play was staged several times by professional Lithuanian children theatres. From the name of the play you can see that the main figure of it is the Danish fairy tale writer, simply named Kristian. In her essay "The Drops of Danish King" V. Palčinskaite confessed that the tales of H. C. Andersen were an indivisible part of her childhood and from those days began to influence her fantasy. "I was thinking that mysterious Mr. Andersen with black high tophat and birdlike nose differed from other people by keeping tales in an old bookcase with wooden roses " ' wrote V. Palčinskaite in her essay. The life and works of H. C. Andersen becomes one of the most important sources of inspiration to this Lithuanian poet. The Danish writer is close to her not only because of his tales, dramas, life history, but also by his Danish mentality. "The Rose of Kristian Andersen" is the result of a long excursion to Denmark for V. Palčinskaite.

Even the most famous Lithuanian romantic poet Maironis, writing a history of world literature, paid attention to H. C. Andersen as a playwright, and the modern Latvian writer A. Grigulis in his essay "How the Ugly Duckling Became a Swan" is surprised that H. C. Andersen's plays are not staged in our times. V. Palčinskaite, in "The Rose of Kristian Andersen", is also looking at Kristian in the light of the theatre and shows him in the theatre surroundings (in narrow and wide meaning). Kristian is a man who cannot stay indifferent to the simple theatre play-bill and confesses that theatre is the instant calling for him; but on the other side, he is living in the World, which is continually a play ruled by the director of the Theatre and by the Critic. At last the form of play is so theatrical that it is a performance in a performance. So in the prologue Kristian appears with the mask of a clown, and as gift for his beloved Inge he suggests the performance, in which he himself participates together with Inge, Ersted, Kribel, Krabel, Burgomaster

When I try to find the philosophical background of H. C. Andersen, the shortest formula of his writings, I remember the soul of Faustus, described by O. Spengler. I think that this concept of Faustus's soul expresses also the emotional attitude of the famous Danish writer, the main point of his spiritual world is a boundless Nostalgia, which turns our soul to the Great Space, to the Cosmos and the Great Time, opening the Great Perspective of Spirit. The best examples of this Nostalgia are embodied in the tales "Paradisets Have", "Den flyvende Koffert", and "Det Utroligste". In these tales the conception of time and space gets the character of programme, becomes the sign of the romantic emotional attitude of H. C. Andersen. I think that all the previously mentioned tales include the key to the romantic poetics of H. C. Andersen.

In the play "The Rose of Kristian Andersen" - as in H. C. Andersen's tale - all the action is turning around the great Clock, the most remarkable thing, which is created by the artist and master - in this case by Kristian himself. The clock standing in the square of the Town Hall is remarkable as the creation of art, from one side, and as the reflection of life, from another side. It is like mystery of the World's creation and rebirth. So important are the words of the first hour:

The balance of the Clock holds the Earth
Because the World is eternal as time.
So falling precious beads of hours
To palaces, huts, courts and banks

The clock embodied the origin of eternity, which goes right through the world, and which everywhere desires to find the Poet and Artist - such as Kristian. By this way the light genius is going in its searching, by this way life is moving. "Master needs Eternity", it is said in the play, but near him is "That", which wants to destroy the Clock, because for 'him' the work of the Master is only interesting as an object for destruction. 'It' is a black genius, because in the play 'it' is described in an abstract and nameless form - as 'That', and also - as 'the Critic'. Its element is the second. "The second - and treason happens. The second - and we are demolished."

The antithesis between "eternity" and "second" in V. Palčinskaite's play embodies a problematic relation between Poet and Critic, between eternal values and one-day market spangle, between Spirit and Force - this eternal conflict, which was experienced by H. C. Andersen, and which is experienced by the post-sovietic states of today.


1. By the way, in this year Lithuania had been visited by the Danish philologist A. Meyer-Benediktsen, who wrote an interesting book about Lithuania, "The Awakening Nation", published in Copenhagen, 1895. The same year appeared in Tilzit the first collection of H. C. Andersen's tales in Lithuanian. back

Bibliographic information about the text:

Gaižiūnas, Silvestras: "The Ideas and Ideals of H. C. Andersen in the Baltic Literatures", 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.