Heroes in Hans Christian Andersen's Writings

A Son of the People

Let us begin in medias res: with a fabulous main character nicknamed Clod-Hans by his brothers, - which doesn't exactly suggest anything heroic. On the other hand, Clod-Hans gives his name to the text, a conventional fairy tale (from 1855) not particularly influenced by Romanticism, but clearly rooted in the art of popular storytelling.1 As you will recall, the brothers want to ask the princess's hand in marriage. She will marry the man who has "the most to say for himself", and since the brothers are "so witty that they thought themselves too clever for words", and beyond that have impressive, supposedly useful abilities, the father willingly provides them with horses. When Clod-Hans realizes what is happening, he immediately has "a yen to get married": "If she takes me, she takes me; and if she doesn't take me, I'll take her, anyway." That's how simple Clod-Hans's life is and that's how spontaneously he tackles things. That his father refuses to lend him a horse is no problem, for Clod-Hans has his own billy-goat and is therefore mobile. So it's easy sailing for him, "halloo, here I come!" Along the way, he makes his matchless discoveries: a dead crow, an old wooden shoe with no leather top, a pocketful of the finest mud. On the back of his goat and in possession of these wonderful finds, he rides, as it is written, "right into the hall", where his brothers have just had a terrible setback, despite their abilities. They start out well enough by finding it "terribly hot" and "dreadfully warm" respectively, but when the princess explains that it is due to the fact that "my father" and "we" respectively are in the process of broiling chickens, that shuts them up. Clod-Hans also notices "a scorcher", but when she answers, "I'm roasting young chickens", he immediately scores points with clever conversation and fancy contributions to the royal cuisine. Not even the prospect of seeing the entire story verbatim in the newspaper can stop him; on the contrary, he throws what is left of his mud right in the alderman's face, to the utter delight of the princess.

In recent years, Mikhail Bakhtin's carnival concept has often proved an effective instrument in the context of literary analysis. It deals with situations in which things are stood on their heads, so to speak. Where the bottom rung of society is momentarily on the top, and where the refined and distinguished, the respectable and ideal are subjected to ridicule. Where room is given to bodily functions, to digestion and reproduction, where sexuality is for once both spoken of and allowed to speak, where bad table manners and belching undercut the show of proper etiquette, and so on. A burlesque and grotesque world of the belly unfolds itself and challenges the intellect's ability to maintain control.

Clod-Hans is in all modesty a text of that kind.2 Its language is not exactly the most refined. It opens onto the perishable and the putrefying. The hero rides his goat right into the castle's fancy room with mirrored-ceiling (which in turning things upside down, contributes to the brothers' breakdown). And not only does he use mud in the food, but with what he has left, he also dirties the alderman's ruling-class face.

As can be seen in connection with the title, Clod-Hans is "an old story retold". Here, as a 50-year-old writer, Andersen returns to his

'Halloo!' cried Clod-Hans, 'Here I come! Look what I found on the road!'. Drawing by Vilhelm 
 Pedersen (</em>Historier,<em> 1855).
'Halloo!' cried Clod-Hans, 'Here I come! Look what I found on the road!'. Drawing by Vilhelm Pedersen (Historier, 1855).

popular or rather folktale point of departure. The retold folktale is found in several variants, and we do not know precisely which one Andersen knew. But in the Danish Folklore Archives, there is a transcript of a tale told by Black Grethe to her daughter, in the village Kjøng, southwest of Odense, and "given to Jens Kamp before 1904". This variant, Klotte-Hans, was undoubtedly in circulation in Funen in the early 19th Century.3

This well-turned and somewhat coarse tale, whose young lad rides a ram for the simple reason that the father only has two horses, clearly satisfies a social wish-fulfillment dream. What was not possible in the reality of the feudal social system, could be fulfilled in fiction. Not to put too fine a point on it, the hero gives the princess a turd and gets a kingdom in return.

But Klotte-Hans was not suitable for the fashionable urban bourgeois nursery. It differs from the literary tale in striking ways. The refined modern teller of tales - Andersen, that is - spins his story in such a way that without losing any vigour, it remains fully presentable in cultivated circles. He manages this by using several strategies. First of all, it is evident that Clod-Hans is invested with a powerful artistic mastery of language. The story is also expanded, refined and removed from the specifically folktale milieu and in a way transferred to "modern times". For example, in Andersen's version there aren't three brothers, but rather two and then one more, whom no one takes into account. And why not? Because the brothers have been ascribed abilities of a kind that had never been seen in a folktale, and which turn out to be utterly useless after all. To know the guild articles and the city newspaper by heart corresponds in large measure to knowing the telephone directory by heart today. The tale opposes two kinds of education: the brothers' sterile memorization which has no relation to the real world, and Clod-Hans's highly effective cunning, which brings him the fulfillment of his desires.

Clod-Hans is, in short, a popular hero. He uses his resources masterfully and achieves his goal, he is the princess's equal and indifferent to public opinion. He gets a wife, crown and throne, and the alderman gets mud in his face. The fiction rewards him and could have been rounded off in the traditional folktale manner: they lived happily ever after. However, the narrator moderates the simplicity with some ironic distance: in a story this sort of thing can happen, in the reality outside of the story is it hardly possible. So instead, Andersen sends a little greeting to the expanding bourgeois press: "we had this story straight from the alderman's newspaper - but that is one you can't always depend upon".

A Man of Action

There are few examples of this kind of folktale-retold in Hans Christian Andersen's stories, but that was what he began with, - with The Tinder Box at the beginning of the very first of the little booklets (1835).4 Here, he takes up the same Oriental Aladdin story that Oehlenschläger had dramatised in the year of Andersen's birth. Oehlenschläger's Aladdin gets hold of the magic lamp because Noureddin sees at the palace square how he gets the orange in his turban by a stroke of luck, as it were. In the same manner, Andersen's Soldier gets hold of the tinder box because the old witch is in need of a helper. By means of their sources of light both get whatever their heart desires, including of course a princess. And both stand to lose her again. But Andersen turns the Soldier's story around in fairy-tale fashion, so that it ends with a wedding, - during which the dogs have a good time throwing the courtiers up in the air. Here we see a carnival element which was not present in Oehlenschläger's universal, romantic drama. On the other hand Andersen's tale omits the long hard battle through which Aladdin wins back the palace and Gulnare. The Soldier gets his tinder box back through cunning and then, with the help of the dogs, can obtain the princess and the kingdom. While Oehlenschläger tells a story of sublimation, Andersen tells one of the unfolding of drives and of self-realization. The Soldier cannot resist kissing the girl, for he is after all "a real soldier" and can apparently see that she is "a true princess". A real soldier doesn't care for nonsense, without any scruples he cuts off the witch's head, - to which his critics and the public objected, even though she obviously represents psychological states that must be overcome.

I will defy that criticism and designate the Soldier as one of Andersen's popular heroes. And not because he cuts the witch's head off, but because after he does so, which amounts to freeing himself from mother fixation, he shows that he can master his magical lamp and thereby also his drives. And note that this is mastery, not repression. Here in any event, the princess leaves the copper palace, that is liberates herself from father fixation, and becomes queen, which appeals to her. And, as written: "The wedding lasted all of a week, and the three dogs sat at the table, with their eyes opened wider than ever before." - No one need

There came a soldier marching down the high road - one, two! one two! [..] On the road he met a witch, an ugly old witch [..]. 'Good evening, soldier!' she said. 'What a fine sword you've got there, and what a big knapsack. Aren't you every inch a soldier' . Drawing by Hans Tegner (Eventyr, World Edition, 1900).

doubt that the new royal couple, acclaimed by the people, will live happily ever after.

A Child of Happiness

Late in his life (1870), Hans Christian Andersen wrote a little novel whose title - and the fact that the Aladdin theme is once again played out in it - makes it far more relevant than was the case with Clod-Hans to draw on it in an effort to clarify what might be meant by the word "hero" in the context of the author's work. Lykke-Peer (Lucky Peer) is a novel about an artist and in this respect marks a return to Andersen's first great international effort as a novelist, Improvisatoren (The Improvisatore, 1835).5

At precisely the same moment, two boys are born in one and the same house. The merchant's son is christened Felix, while the warehouse worker's boy is called Peer. He acquires his nickname when, while playing, he finds the merchant's wife's engagement ring in the gutter. The lucky child chooses a life in the theater, first ballet, then singing, but as an adolescent, he loses his voice. An anonymous benefactor (the theater's singing teacher, we later learn) ensures that he is sent to a provincial city and taken in as a boarder by the schoolmaster, Mr. Gabriel, whose wife - we note en passant - bids him welcome with the line: "Good heavens, how grown-up you are!" (and orders that a communicating door be nailed shut for the sake of propriety) (334).6 She arranges for him to play Romeo in the local theater's performance of Shakespeare's tragedy, with the pharmacist's daughter as Juliet, which results in his falling in love with her. But at a ball given by the local deacon, Felix gets in the way and conquers the beauty. After two years of diligent study, Peer must return to the capital and at the final moment, during a scary dream in which the pharmacist's daughter appears as another elfmaid and tempts him to perdition, he gets his voice back. The singing teacher is still his mentor and oracle of wisdom, and Peer advances from one success to another, - while Felix enjoys life's more material pleasures and is promoted to gentleman-in-waiting. Together at a painting exhibition, they meet a young baroness, "in her sixteenth year, an innocent, beautiful child" (372), whose maternal home becomes Peer's gateway to "the great world" (373). He was "happy in his art and with the talents he possessed" (375), though with a touch of sadness at the thought of the transitory nature of all things, including the performing arts. Until the day when he marvelously improvises on the piano and brings the baroness to make a declaration, whereupon she thinks: "Aladdin!" He now writes an opera with that title, composing both lyrics and music, and rehearses it with the orchestra - and has it performed with himself in the lead role. The sounds and tones of the work "subdued all listeners and seized them with a rapture that could not rise higher when he [Aladdin] reached for the lamp of fortune that was embraced by the song of the spirits" (383). The cheering at this finale pours down upon Peer, and in this moment of triumph, he collapses, dead to the world.

We can understand that Peer is positioned between two women: the pharmacist's daughter, who plays Juliet in the provincial Shakespeare performance, and the baroness, who inspires the Aladdin opera. The pharmacist's daughter represents the petite bourgeoisie as temptation with the prospect of perdition. In Peer's feverish dream, she reveals herself to him as hollow in her back, profligate. The baroness, on the other hand, representing the aristocracy, is the one who throws him the laurel wreath, is the one who "like a spirit of beauty" leads the cheering at his triumph.

But the moment of triumph is also the moment of death. At the end Peer is called "more fortunate than millions" (384). He is spared the struggle to hold on to his luck, and possibly also for running his head into a wall in an attempt to transform the platonic relationship to a life together. Artistic fortune has its price: it doesn't simply allow itself by magic to be reconciled with a bourgeois married life. This is Andersen's version of what Georg Brandes a few decades later was to call aristocratic radicalism. The great artist is his era's seeing-eye dog.

Hans Christian Andersen's novel, as well as the main character's opera, are situated in the wake of Oehlenschläger's famous drama, in the cultural tradition established by that work. As is known, Aladdin appeared in the second volume of Poetiske Skrifter (Poetic Writings), as an Oriental-sanguine counterpart to the Nordic-melancholy saga pastiche, Vaulundurs Saga. That piece became the unavoidable lifelong assignment for the golden era's writers and artists. It taught that nature's cheerful son is as a matter of course granted happiness, but must achieve an awareness of "the ethical dimension of his task" in order to hold on to or recover it, should it be lost. "Not until after manly fight / is its full value appreciated by the owner", is it written of the lamp.7

Within the Aladdin figure, we can find the very core of the romantic conceptual structure, which ingeniously and organically combines philosophies of nature, personality, and aesthetics. This is brought about through the recognition that one and the same force - or spirit, as it was called at the time - flows through all of creation, though with different strengths. Schelling's well-known formulation - spirit in nature sleeps in the stone, dreams in the plant, awakens in the animal, becomes conscious in man and reaches fulfilment in the artist - beautifully illustrates this organic thinking. It's dynamic quality is also significant: everything strives for a higher consciousness. Man does so insofar as a seed is planted within him, which his lifelong duty is to bring to full fruition, just as an acorn is invested with the potential that can guide its growth toward becoming the most magnificent oak tree. It is called culture, - becoming cultivated and unfolding one's inherent possibilities in their pathway toward the idea. The artist, the genius, differs from ordinary people in that he consciously aims for the very source of the divine power which flows through nature and human life. When taken to its logical conclusion, Romantic philosophy is a philosophy of identity. "To embrace everything, that is love", wrote Oehlenschläger in Sanct Hansaften-Spil (Midsummer Night's Play). And in Jesu Christi gientagne Liv i den aarlige Natur (The Life of Jesus Christ Symbolized in the Seasons) Simon Peter comes to the realization that "taken in itself everything is nothing, but taken as a whole everything is everything". The mystical raises itself up to and dissolves itself into the mythic.

In the framework of a philosophy of identity, the hero can be recognized by his purposeful, exuberant growth. He is like a tree that grows up into the sky without losing connection to its roots. The ultimate hero is the great artist.

In the moment of triumph and of death, Lucky Peer undoubtedly experiences identity with the divine, with the world of the idea. But it is worth noticing that his opera does not follow Aladdin's story to the very end. It breaks off at exactly that point where he takes hold of the lamp in the underground cave. The story continues. With the lamp, Aladdin acquires the power to create a palace and win the princess, Gulnare. But it should also be noted that he becomes careless with the lamp, so that Noureddin gets hold of it, - after which he loses everything again. At one point, his spirits are so low that suicide appears to him as the only possibility. But at that very moment, there emerges within him another and higher nature, and he gets the strength to take up the battle, first with Hindbad, and later with his true counterpart, the brooding Noureddin. Out of that development, there emerges a ripened hero with his luck intact, but in a purified and ennobled form, as though spirit were added to it. Ripeness is all, as Shakespeare said.

The Childlike Hero

Materially, Lucky Peer draws in several ways upon Hans Christian Andersen's so-called Levnedsbog (Life Book), his first autobiography, covering the period 1805-31, and written in 1832, that is before the great journey he undertook in 1833-34, a freer, fresher, more ingenuous and less elaborate work than the subsequent autobiographies.8 The explicit purpose of the project is to seek clarity about himself. Although he finds his own personality or character "quite inexplicable", he nevertheless feels "that an invisible, loving hand guides all things", and "that life itself is a grand and wonderful poem" (6). Is it a hero we now see extricating himself from his infant state? And if so: a hero on the stage of life? The Life Book contains formulations which in fact suggest just that. As a child, he reads biographies: "[..] my imagination for adventure was awakened, I thought of life itself as an adventure and looked forward to appearing in it myself as a hero" (42). More and more, he relates his own

Really I was like a wild bird that had been put into a cage! [..] The headmaster who took a peculiar delight in ridiculing all of us, of course did not let me go free! [..] The fault as far as I was concerned was due to the fact that I should be treated differently than the other pupils [..]. Drawing by Herluf Jensenius (Mit eget Eventyr uden Digtning, 1942).

life to the portrayals of heroic life in the books he reads. He decides, "just like the heroes in the many adventure stories I had read to get out - all alone - into the world" (49), that is, to the capital. Once again, however, specifically mentioning that the good Lord will see to it that things go as they should. Also when Weyse raises money and Siboni promises singing lessons, it is God who gets the credit, but Andersen is in no way surprised: "that's the way I had imagined it, and in all novels and stories the hero succeeded in the end" (62). In the end! But the year is 1819 and Andersen has just barely arrived in Copenhagen. Subsequently, and especially after his deportation to Slagelse, "heroic places" will be few and far between, while those places where he will need comforting by God and motherly ladyfriends, come one after another. He was given comfort, for example, during his visits to the Wulff family at Amalienborg. He cites from his own journal: "Oh God, this is just like Aladdin, I am also sitting in the castle and looking down. God Almighty! No, you will not abandon me" (135). The reference here is to the final monologue in Oehlenschläger's work; Andersen would gladly have skipped over the difficult balance sheets of existence. Later, when Meisling's lessons as well as Ludvig Müller's preparatory training for the degree examination were well behind him, he made the acquaintance of the Læssøe family.

On many an evening, I could completely become as a child in their home. I became natural just because I did not feel shy and knew that my errors and spontaneous remarks would never be weighed without their letting the good tip the scale in my favour. While other people tried to turn me into a man of the world, they appreciated my curious, childlike character. (198f)

One can wonder why Hans Christian Andersen develops this autobiographical description at such an early point in his life. Probably above all for the purpose of legitimizing himself in relation to culture and its purveyors within the Copenhagen elite, whom he had approached, and who had in a sense invested in him, - for the purpose of giving an impression of his inner riddle, which could explain that the goal of becoming cultivated had not fully been achieved because his gift was of a most unusual nature. For that reason, the autobiography's central and most moving section becomes the one on the five accursed years - Meisling's compulsory lessons in Slagelse and finally in Helsingør.

The Life's Fairy Tale Hero

The Fairy Tale of My Life is next on the program!9 What has been said up to this point about the artist hero and about the way the 19th Century's idea of the hero was shaped by the entire Romantic philosophy of personality and focus on culture, leads us to the question: isn't the fairy tale of life essentially Hans Christian Andersen's proposal of a contemporary hagiography? In the history of literary genres, that word refers to portrayals designed to present a person's life and deeds in so convincing a manner, that the Pope will be moved to declare the person a saint. It was not of course up to the budding saint himself - of whom it was also required that he be dead - to write the hagiography. The point is that hagiographic portrayals are written with a specific purpose in mind, and this in turn accounts for the genre's significant influence on the biographical and thereby also the autobiographical tradition in European literature. Johannes Jørgensen writes about the holy Francis of Assisi and Georg Brandes of the unholy François de Voltaire, because they want to unfold an ideal of personality, - and both are, by the way, also writers of autobiographies, in which they model themselves on their heroes. In the same way, Hans Christian Andersen has a task to accomplish with his autobiographical works, especially with The Fairy Tale of My Life, which begins with the well-known passage:

My life is a beautiful fairy-tale, so eventful has it been and wondrous happy. Even if, when I was a boy and went forth into the world poor and friendless, a good fairy had met me and said, "Choose thy own course through life and the object for which thou wilt strive, and then, according to the development of thy mind, and as reason requires, I will guide and defend thee," my fate could not have been more wisely and happily directed. The story of my life will tell the world what it tells me: - There is a loving God who directs all things for the best. (A, 13)

At its conclusion, the work circles back upon itself in the following way:

The fairy-tale of my life right up to the present hour is thus laid before me so eventful, so beautiful and so full of comfort. There came good even out of evil and joy out of pain; it is a poem more full of profound thoughts than I could possibly have written. I feel that I am a child of good fortune. So many of the noblest and best men and women of my day have dealt with me kindly and openly, and it is but seldom that my confidence in Man has been disappointed. Even the heavy days of bitterness contain the germs of blessings. All the injustice I thought I suffered and every hand which was heavy in the way in which it influenced my development brought good results after all. / As we progress towards God all pain and bitterness are dispersed, and what is beautiful is left behind. We see it like a rainbow against dark clouds. May men be mild in their judgement of me as I am in my judgement of them; and I am sure they will be. The story of a life has something of the sacredness of a confession for all noble and good men. I have told the fairy-tale of my life here openly and full of confidence as though I were sitting among cherished friends. (A, 346)

These concluding words are dated April 2, 1855. "Right up to the present hour" means therefore quite literally: 'in the first 50 years of my life'. Here Andersen is taking stock of his life. It is thanks to the good Lord, who guides everything for the best, together with a strongly purposeful personal commitment, that the 50th birthday does not appear to be a random pause, - for immediately before that, Andersen places a kind of acknowledgment for Grímur Thomsen's review of his collected writings. In his eyes, this discussion of his work becomes the proof that the long and arduous battle on his home grounds against every kind of small-mindedness is now finally bearing fruit. The period of rejection is over, the recognition and victories throughout Europe - which peaked in 1847 - now finally makes an impact on the attitude of Danish critics. Listen carefully and notice the points that are so deftly emphasized:

Just at this present time, as I am about to complete my fiftieth year and as my "Collected Works" are being published, the "Danish Monthly Review of Literature" has published a review of it by Mr. Grímur Thomsen. [..] It seems almost that Heaven wished me to end this chapter of my life by seeing the fulfilment of H.C. Ørsted's words to me in those heavy days when no one appreciated me. My native land has given me the cherished bouquet of recognition and encouragement. (A, 346)

It is in this way that Hans Christian Andersen organizes his life for posterity, - as a divinely guided path, along which hardships purify him in his journey toward the stars. The trials have a meaning, when viewed in retrospect from the present summit. Olympus makes a good blotting-pad, when the days of rejection are enumerated and forgiveness dispensed.

Taking stock of one's life has for all good and noble souls something of the power and sanctity of confession, as Andersen sees it; in this way he himself justifies our inscribing of this life's fairy tale in a sacred context. Glory be to God!

Andersen also makes a claim concerning cultivation. In our progress toward God beauty arises, while bitterness melts away.

It is however something of a problem that what is most decisive comes to Andersen from without. That Thomsen writes in warm and friendly tones about the fairy tales and virtually fulfills the prophecy

Along the wall of the house stood a hedge of geraniums,
There she was sitting on the marble stone of the staircase,
So young, so lovely, selling chestnuts,
She sat with a flower in her hair and with bare legs,
Looking at you with eyes of life,
Unless you were made of ice, you became at once a Spaniard.

Satirical woodcut-commentary (in Sværmere, 1863) to a poem published in Illustreret Tidende, April 5, 1863, and subsequently included in the Malaga chapter of the travelogue I Spanien (published November 9, 1863).

with which H. C. Ørsted comforted the poet when he was criticized for his first fairy tales, cannot really be compared to what Aladdin experiences when a higher nature emerges from deep within him and prevents him from taking his own life in the Persian river. Aladdin is formed from within, Andersen gains recognition from without. It is the surrounding world that changes, not his own personality. It is the people who increasingly come to him in an open and loving way, not he who makes peace with existence.

He repeats this manoeuvre in 1869, when he completes the continuation of the fairy tale of his life, which he penned for the American edition of his writings. This time, the obvious culmination was the festivity at which he was proclaimed honorary citizen of Odense in December 1867. When he was approached, Andersen had proposed that they wait until September 4, 1869, the fiftieth anniversary of his departure for Copenhagen. In this case, he did not however get his way, but the proposal was presumably nothing more than an off-hand remark. After the celebration itself, but before his departure, he took part in the Lahn Foundation's annual festival. Some fuss was made over Andersen on that occasion as well. "It was as if one sunbeam after another shone into my heart, it was more than I could bear! In such a moment one clings to God as in the bitterest hour of sorrow" (B, 569). And once outside of the city, Andersen finally realized what honor, joy and delight "God had endowed upon me through my native town". And further on, in conclusion:

The greatest, the highest blessing I could attain was now mine. Now for the first time could I fully and devoutly thank my God and pray: "Leave me not when the days of trial come!" (B, 569)

This final remark is essentially concerned with the future. Although allegedly his heart could not contain so much happiness, there was no occurrence of what Andersen allowed to happen to Lucky Peer a few years later:

A fire rushed through him; his heart swelled as never before [..]. Dead in the moment of triumph, like Sophocles at the Olympian games, like Thorvaldsen in the theater during Beethoven's symphony. An artery in his heart had burst, and as by a flash of lightning his days here were ended, ended without pain, ended in an earthly triumph, in the fulfilment of his mission on earth. Lucky Peer! More fortunate than millions! (383f)

Andersen spared his hero all tribulations. His own heart sighed but didn't burst when he left the scene of his triumph (which marked the fulfilment of the prophecy that Odense would some day be lit up in his honor) - on the way to awaiting trials.

If the truth be told, and it can be if the journals and letters are allowed to supplement the autobiography, then trials were an integral part of the poet's life. Some years ago, in Flugten i sproget (Flight into Language), Torben Brostrøm and Jørn Lund argued that it was precisely there, in language, that the poet occasionally overcame the experience of loneliness and coldness that came increasingly with fame. They write somewhere10 about

the realization that came in the final years of his life, that artistic growth was won at the expense of human development, that fame had not only cost blood, sweat and tears, but had left him with a disheartening sense of coldness, which his analytical acuity prevented him from repressing, and which he had to face head on - just before the end came.

It is Klaus P. Mortensen who sharpened the two writers' - and our - grasp of this in Svanen og Skyggen (The Swan and the Shadow), which as the title also indicates, tells "the story of young Andersen".11 The evidence suggests that as his literary achievement was eventually honored by general European and Danish recognition, the poet understood with ever increasing clarity that success had cost a terrible price: emotional coldness.

The final chapter in Brostrøm and Lund's book is entitled "Language and poetry. The unfulfilled dream". Here, the obvious connection between The Improvisatore and Lucky Peer is drawn, in the following way:12

[Andersen's] drive for poetic unfolding was also a dream of personal unfolding. He wanted both to create art and to redeem it. The improvisatore at the gateway to the literary production and Lucky Peer at the close of it, can accomplish anything, reach everyone around them, interpret shared experiences as well as individual, bound impulses and memories, see poetic possibilities and create in the here and now a kind of expression which is in harmony with eternity, with the universal poetic primitive force.

The Improvisatore was written by Hans Christian Andersen in continuation of the journey he undertook to become cultivated, during which he paradoxically and fortunately liberated himself from (or at least kept a certain distance from) the imposed and hard won cultivation. In the novel, he goes so far as to let the hero, Antonio, prevail both artistically and matrimonially. That was just before he wrote The Tinder Box, which he brought off with improvisational ease.

The Realization and the Price

Hans Christian Andersen produced essentially two sets of heroes: the popular (represented here by Clod-Hans and the Soldier) and the literary (represented by Lucky Peer and Hans Christian himself). His popular heroes pass their tests and win their princesses and live happily ever after. The literary heroes attune their spiritual powers to an exalted level, but have to pay dearly for that. As will be recalled, it isn't the learned man who marries the princess in the fairy tale, The Shadow, but precisely those shadowy properties he represses, and which ultimately kill him.

Though with social and cultural odds against him, Hans Christian Andersen achieves happiness, but specifically in the form of success: being cheered by the public, outer appearances. What he loses along the way is the popular hero's drive, and what he ultimately can only rave about is Lucky Peer's uncompromising spiritual aristocraticism. It is in the interval that, with our Lord as his guide, and thanks to an inherent stubborn tenacity, he achieves the coveted goal, recognition.13


1. "Clod-Hans", quoted from The Complete Andersen, translated by Jean Hersholt, illustrated by Fritz Kredel, New York 1952, Section II, pp. 175-79 [entitled "Clumsy Hans"]. (Original Danish version: "Klods-Hans", Historier, illustrated by Vilhelm Pedersen, 1855, pp. 114-19; cf. H. C. Andersens Eventyr, ed. by Erik Dal, et al., Vol. 2: 1843-55, 1964, pp. 291-94, and Vol. 7: Kommentar, 1990, pp. 162-63.) back

2. Cf. Jens Aage Doctor, "H. C. Andersens karneval", in Andersen og Verden, ed. by Johan de Mylius, et al., 1993, pp. 410-19. (The author's doctoral thesis: Shakespeares karneval, 1994.) back

3. The version in question can be found in Fortællerstil, ed. by Kristian Kjær and Henrik Schovsbo, 1975, pp. 85-86. Jens Kamp was a Danish folklorist (1845-1900). back

4. "The Tinder Box", quoted from The Complete Andersen, Section I, pp. 1-7. (Original Danish version: "Fyrtøiet", Eventyr, fortalte for Børn, Vol. 1:1, 1835, pp. 1-16; cf. H. C. Andersens Eventyr, Vol. 1: 1835-42, 1963, pp. 23-29, and Vol. 7: Kommentar, 1990, pp. 19-23.) back

5. Lucky Peer is quoted from The Complete Andersen, Section III, pp. 316-84. (Original Danish version: Lykke-Peer, 1870, 183 pp.; cf. Romaner og Rejseskildringer, Vol. 5, 1944, pp. 241-317.) The American edition is, despite the title, complete only as far as the fairy tales are concerned, but Hersholt may have considered Andersen's shortest novel to be rather like a fairy tale. (An English translation prior to Hersholt's appeared in Scribner's Monthly, Vol. 1, 1871.) - Cf. Johan de Mylius's doctoral thesis, Myte og roman. H. C. Andersens romaner mellem romantik og realisme, 1981, pp. 210-25 (chapter entitled "Kunst som myte"). back

6. The portrayal of Peer's stay with the Gabriel family can be compared with the portrayal in the so-called Levnedsbog (see note 8) of Hans Christian Andersen's stay with the Meisling family. Mrs. Meisling is cited in that work - as a prelude to the description of her seduction attempt - for her exclamation: "This is no real he-man" (131). back

7. Aladdin eller Den forunderlige Lampe, ed. by Jens Kr. Andersen, 1978, p. 281 (and preface p. 7). (Cf. Aladdin or The Wonderful Lamp, translated by Henry Meyer, 1968, p. 222: "To grasp it dauntlessly it is your part / to fight courageously. First then you are / able to hold its value in regard".) back

8. The page references in this section are to H. C. Andersens Levnedsbog, ed. by H. Topsøe-Jensen, 1962 (3rd impr., 1988). back

9. The page references in this section are to [A] The Fairy Tale of My Life, translated by W. Glyn Jones, illustrated by Niels Larsen Stevns, 1954, and [B] The Story of My Life, translated by Horace E. Scudder, New York 1871 (= Author's Edition, Vol. 7); Scudder's translation has been slightly revised. (Cf. the Danish standard edition: Mit Livs Eventyr, Vols. 1-2, ed. by H. Topsøe-Jensen and H. G. Olrik, 1951 (2nd impr ., 1975).) back

10. Torben Brostrøm & Jørn Lund, Flugten i sproget. H. C. Andersens udtryk, 1991, p. 138 (in the chapter entitled "Norgesturen", by Jørn Lund). back

11. Klaus P. Mortensen, Svanen og Skyggen - historien om unge Andersen, 1989. back

12. Flugten i sproget, p. 155. (The chapter was written by Jørn Lund.) back

13. This article was presented as a paper on two occasions: first at a Hans Christian Andersen symposium held at the university in St. Petersburg on May 17, 1996, as part of the Danish-Russian festival of children's culture organized by the Danish Literature Information Center (DLIC); and subsequently at The Second International Hans Christian Andersen Conference, held at the H. C. Andersen Center, Odense University, from July 28 to August 3, 1996. The Danish version appeared in H. C. Andersen i Rusland, ed. by Aage Jørgensen, et al., 1997, pp. 37-48 (and in BUM/Børne- og ungdoms-litteratur magasinet, Vol. 14:1-2, 1996, pp. 32-38). English translation by Richard Raskin with the support of the Danish Research Council for the Humanities. back

Bibliographic information about the text:

Jørgensen, Aage: "Heroes in Hans Christian Andersen's Writings", 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.