A Selection of H. C. Andersen's Letters and Diaries in a Dutch Edition


On May 24, 1878, on the occasion of the publication of two volumes of Andersen's letters by C. St. A. Bille and Nikolaj Bøgh, Georg Brandes wrote the following to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson:

Læser De Andersens nu udkommende Breve? Det er dog egentlig rent galt at udgive Sligt. Man maa jo gyse for, at hvert Brev man skriver, engang vil blive fundet og givet i Trykken, og det som her uden al Kritik.

This is probably the fate of celebrity, just as it is the fate of Georg Brandes himself. In 1994, when I was trying to find out if Georg Brandes's correspondence had been published and if so, in what languages, the book H. C. Andersen og Georg Brandes (1994) by Elias Bredsdorff was published. This was one of the things that revived my interest in Andersen. I had supposed that if Andersen's letters and diaries had appeared in print in Denmark, there would no doubt also be translations of them. However, bibliographic research only yielded a modest list of recent translations. In 1976 Hans Reeser wrote a book called Andersen op reis door Nederland, which contains Dutch translations of Andersen's diary notes on Holland and also those fragments from Mit Livs Eventyr that refer to his stay in Holland. In 1980 Heinz Barüske's Aus Andersen's Tagebüchern, a selection in two volumes, was published, and in 1990 The Diaries of Hans Christian Andersen, by Patricia L. Conroy and Sven H. Rossel, was published. A new German selection of Andersen's diaries, which was announced by Antje Mayfarth - together with Ernst Walter - in her lecture at the First International Andersen Conference in 1991, will not be concluded. Thus there are no recent foreign editions of a selection from Andersen's letters. However, a few translations of Andersen's letters have been published: Andersen's correspondence with the Grand Duke of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach in German (1887); also with the Grand Duke, Charles Dickens and others in English (1891); some letters from/to Charles Dickens in English (1937); and the correspondence between Andersen and his American publisher Horace Scudder, also in English (1949). A new edition of Andersen's correspondence with the Grand Duke of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach apprared in Germany in 1998. This is a rather small output when one considers the extensive autobiographical material. Neither had Andersen been included in the outstanding Dutch series "Privé domein, domein" published by De Arbeiderspers. This series exclusively contains autobiographical documents by interesting personalities and already comprises more than 250 volumes. In the series, for instance, Marcel Proust's letters, Thomas Mann's diaries and Virginia Woolf's literary diaries were published. As far as Scandinavian celebrities are concerned, the series contains Søren Kierkegaard's selected diaries, Knut Hamsun's Paa gjengrodde stier, August Strindberg's letters to his first and third wives and also his autobiographical novels, Tjänstekvinnans Son and Jäsningstiden. Was Andersen not worthwhile or had nobody hit upon the idea? This second explanation must have been true, for the publisher was immediately interested. In March 1995, I started upon a Dutch selection of Andersen's letters, diaries and pocket calendars (almanakker) edited by professor Amy van Marken, but our cooperation was unexpectedly put to an end when she passed away in June of the same year. The book will appear in 1999.

This paper deals with the criteria, problems and solutions with respect to the selection and translation of the Dutch edition. Wherever it is relevant, I shall also consider the German and English editions of the diaries.

The Selection

Every selection is doomed to be incomplete and subjective. These are two very determining and limiting factors which require a deliberate justification. When making a selection one must constantly ask oneself why one leaves out or, on the other hand, includes something. The selection is determined by the scope of the book, by the expectations of the assumed reader, and by the principles of the compiler.

The Scope of the Selection and Source Material

The English edition of diary entries runs to 500 pages, and the German edition to more than 600 pages. The source material consists of about 4000 pages in the diaries, 300 pages in the pocket calendars and more than 3000 pages of letters. The scope of the Dutch edition is allowed by the publisher to be a maximum of only 250 pages on account of salability. This means that a very strict selection will be of the utmost importance. The Dutch selection will take up less than 4 % of the original material. Furthermore, the proportion between letters and diaries will be about 60 % letters and 40 % diary entries. My selection is based on H. C. Andersens Dagbøger 1825-1875 and H. C. Andersens Almanakker 1833-1873. For the letters, I made use of the published correspondence with Jonas Collin, Edvard and Henriette Collin, Henriette Wulff, Henriette Hanck, Dorothea Melchior, Therese and Martin Henriques, and the publishers Scudder and Lorck. For letters written to B. S. Ingemann, H. C. Ørsted, Georg Brandes, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Charles Dickens, I have used Breve fra H. C. Andersen, I-II (1878) by C. St. A. Bille and Nikolaj Bøgh.

The Reading Public

Of the utmost importance for making the selection is the assumed reader. The book is not intended to be a scholarly edition, but an edition for a large public. I bear in mind that the average Dutch reader only knows Andersen as a fairy-tale writer and wants to read the book eagerly to find out who exactly this fairy-tale writer was, how he was inspired to write his fairy-tales, how he lived, and so on. The assumed reader has a special interest in letters and diaries in general, an interest which, of course, for a considerable part follows from a natural human curiosity about the private lives of famous persons, in this case, the private life of the writer of "Keiserens nye Klæder" and "Den grimme Ælling".

The Selection Criteria

In making my selection I have chosen to combine two genres, that is to say, letters and diaries (for the sake of convenience, I consider the pocket calendars as part of the diaries). This combination of two genres is unique for the series in which the book will be published. As mentioned above, there are no recent foreign editions of Andersen's letters, but there is a German and an English selection of his diaries, which are accessible to the Dutch reading public. Why there is a greater interest for the diaries than for the letters, I do not know. Even in Denmark, the diaries seem to enjoy a greater interest than the letters do, since the diaries were published in paperback in 1995-96.

The letters as well as the diaries/pocket calendars were written without thought of publication, although Andersen never excluded the possibility. The diaries/pocket calendars can be seen as private notes, written by Andersen to relieve his mind and to support his memory. He used these entries, for example, for the writing of his autobiography. The entries are also considered to be raw material for his literary works.

The letters and the diaries run parallel with each other a great deal, and also complement each other very well. Andersen appears, at least to me, to be a much more lively person, a more vivid man in his letters than in his diaries. When corresponding, he shows himself to be a dedicated friend, an eager admirer, a humorous correspondent. The tone of the letters change from addressee to addressee. More than the diaries, the letters are individual, they need less context. They can more easily be read separately. Andersen is holding a conversation in his letters, he is in dialogue with others. The diaries are a monologue, a stream of consciousness. While Andersen, especially in his diaries, has written short remarks with now and then a longer description, he tells the story of his life in his letters. And telling stories was his real talent.

A combination of letters and diaries is appropriate, I think, to let the reader discover that Andersen was, and I quote Conroy and Rossel, "both a remarkable artist and a remarkable man". I am convinced that Andersen, despite the very strict selection, will be given ample scope to demonstrate what he was really like. In making my selection, I chose three criteria, which are closely connected, but can not always be distinguished from each other.

Andersen as a Writer and an Artist

Andersen became an immortal writer because of his fairy-tales, and every Dutchman knows at least a few of these, not always knowing that it was Andersen who wrote them. Therefore, I will pay special attention to his scarce remarks about these tales. Some letters contain especially fascinating passages about the creation of the fairy-tales and Andersen's opinion and feelings about this part of his work.

At the same time, I intend to correct the image of Andersen as being only a fairy-tale writer. Andersen himself attached great value to his other works, maybe even more than to the fairy-tales. In his time, Andersen was really successful as a novelist and a poet, less so as a playwright. It is my intention to show to the reader of the Dutch selection Andersen's literary evolution, his passion to become a famous writer, his aspiration to obtain international recognition. Especially in letters to B. S. Ingemann and Henriette Hanck, Andersen wrote about his authorship and about his literary views, which puts the fairy-tale writer in a different light. The reader will discover that Andersen's work was translated into different languages in his time, that Andersen was in personal contact with some of his readers, and that he read his work aloud in private and in public in front of huge audiences.

Andersen as a Personality

Probably, the Dutch reader has no impression of Andersen's character, so it won't be necessary to correct a particular image. In making my selection I have tried to give the reader an understanding of Andersen's character, of his personal development. This I try to achieve by showing as many sides of his personality as possible. What were the motives for his actions, what were his experiences in life, what kind of relationship did he maintain with his friends, what was his relation like with the past? Did he fall in love at any time? A wide range of issues do occur: vanity, ambition, money troubles, sense of social inferiority, love, friendship, success, worries, obsessions, illness, loneliness, sexuality, religion, theatre, nature, and so on. Each of these items generate a binding element between the different fragments. In additions, the reader will be presented a picture of Andersen's closest friends, of contemporary writers, and of his fellow travellers as for example Jonas Collin's grandsons.

Portrait of an Age

Andersen needed a new stimulus to broaden his view. A considerable part of his life Andersen travelled throughout Denmark and Europe. Andersen's written remarks give a very vivid impression of Europe at that time, which crystallized into its present shape. Andersen's life will be placed in its historical context. The class differences, the political situation in different countries, the wars which were fought, and the large emigration to America tell a part of our European history. Furthermore, the reader will meet the day-to-day troubles, the little everyday things of Andersen's life. The reader will find out what it was like in Andersen's time to stay at inns, how people lived, their habits, and so on. The reader will be surprised about the way of travelling. Andersen travelled a great deal by carriage and ship, and he was on the road night and day. New inventions, such as the telegraph, the railway, the application of steam power, thrilled Andersen. His remarks about these remind us that they were very revolutionary inventions, which had a strong hold on daily life throughout Europe. During his travels Andersen met a vast number of people, among whom many artists and aristocrats. His remarks about famous persons such as Victor Hugo, Robert and Clara Schumann, Charles Dickens, Franz Liszt and many others are still very fascinating to read. Besides, I take the opportunity to pay special attention to Scandinavian writers such as Fredrika Bremer, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Georg Brandes.

The Selected Text

What does all this mean for the concrete selection? In my opinion, there was always something worthwhile in every year of Andersens eventful life to choose from. Therefore, I chose to select excerpts from every year between 1825 and 1875. In the German edition this is not the case. Barüske has chosen in the first volume to select longer unbroken periods, especially Andersen's travels abroad. Barüske's second volume covers a greater part of Andersen's life in which minor excerpts of shorter periods are selected. The elderly Andersen hardly gets a chance. Lotte Eskelund observed in her review of Barüske's edition in Anderseniana (3rd Series, Vol. III, Odense 1982) that Barüske in fact doesn't account for his selection criteria. He mentioned the following point of view in his preface: "Der Herausgeber hat sich deshalb bemüht, im Rahmen des ihm gegebenes Umfangs, Auszüge zu publizieren, die zum seinen Stil und Form der Tagebücher erkennen lassen, zum anderen aber auch stellenweise umfangreichere Aufzeichungen festhalten."

Conroy and Rossel's edition creates the impression that they also took excerpts of every year of Andersen's life, but that's not quite the case. For example, the chapter "The European Celebrity, 1835-1840" doesn't start until October, 1840. Andersen hardly wrote in his diaries in the years in question. In my selection such a lean period can be filled by excerpts from pocket calendars and letters.

Using the above mentioned criteria as a starting point, I have chosen excerpts which are the most interesting in my eyes. I do realize that by choosing one, this means I have to leave out another. I would like to emphasize that I do not intend to show Andersen's life day by day, what he did and experienced, which would be impossible anyway in such a small selection. I will stress the fact that I want to show who Andersen was. The reader is given the opportunity to draw his/her own conclusions. In this I follow the tradition of the series "Privé domein, domein". In this series, it is not usual to supply a short narrative to bridge the accidental gaps between the diaries, as one will find in the German and English editions. To help answer some questions of fact readers may have, I have included some notes. To restrict the note apparatus, only those matters will be amplified which are really necessary for the comprehension of the text.

As the German and English editions have chosen to concentrate on a German and an English public respectively, I have chosen to include extracts which are of specific interest to a Dutch reading public. In this, I especially think of passages about Andersen's three visits to the Netherlands. The fact that the diary-entries about the Netherlands have already been published in a translation by Hans Reeser in Andersen op reis door Nederland is no problem to me. Barüske has chosen to arrange his book on the basis of Andersens travels, while Conroy and Rossel took a mixture of stages of life (the early years, the elderly man) and travels as chapters. I will not chapter my book. The diary-entries will be supplied with date and place. The reader will clearly see that Andersen travelled a great deal in his life.

The problem concerning the enormous number of names Andersen mentions, I will solve like Barüske and Conroy and Rossel did, that is to say, in an index. The English edition has a kind of expanded index including personal names, literary works and paintings, which is very efficient and decreases the note apparatus. It is worthwhile to do the same in the Dutch edition.

A chronology will be supplied to give the reader an overview of Andersen's life. This will be comparable to the chronology of the German edition. The preface will include a biographical sketch of Andersens life. Furthermore, I will consider all the people Andersen corresponded with.

The Translation of the Selected Material

To select means that one has to make choices continuously, that one has to weigh the pros and cons. The same goes for the translation. In describing a translation strategy two main factors play a role. On the one hand it is about a translation of a 19th century text, and on the other hand it is about a translation of a non-literary text.

It is impossible and, also, not desirable to translate Andersen's 19th century Danish text into 19th century Dutch. It goes without saying that Andersen's style has to be transferred into Dutch as accurately as possible. The translation has to be a "dynamic equivalent", as it is called, of the original, which means that my translation has to make the same impression on today's Dutch readers as Andersen's prose did on his Danish contemporaries. This is, of course, a rather general guiding principle which does not solve the many concrete problems at hand. I strive for a kind of timeless Dutch and thus will avoid too-trendy, popular words, while, on the other hand, I will use only archaic, old fashioned words if unavoidable. I can't change a carriage into a train.

Andersen's letters and diaries are not deliberate literary works of art. Andersen wrote spontaneously and quickly, which explains the grammatical errors and other slips of the pen. Conroy and Rossel describe Andersen's use of language in his diaries as "spontaneous and witty", as well as "careless, awkward and ambiguous". That is why they chose to "update Andersen's mannerism", as they put it. Since I am no native English speaker, I rely on Glyn Jones, who, in his review in the magazine Scandinavica (Vol. 31, No 1.), called Conroy and Rossel's style "uncompromisingly modern". In his opinion "this is a choice that had to be made and it is one that is certainly defensible", although he points out that it causes some problems every now and then, as well. This choice of Conroy and Rossel entails the replacement of long, complicated sentences, full of commas and semicolons by shorter, simpler sentences. I don't know about the English reader, but I do not think it will harm the Dutch reader if he notices that what he is dealing with is a spontaneously written non-literary text of the last century. The series "Privé domein, domein" in which my translation will be published, has a certain tradition in this respect. Stylistic peculiarities, such as long, constructed sentences with or without semicolons can be maintained - at least to a certain extent. Andersen's use of punctuation seems to be rather random, and raises, therefore, the question as to how strictly a translator has to follow him in this. I think it is legitimate in this case to adjust the punctuation in a way that helps the reader to understand the text better. This means, for example, that I will leave out commas in places where they might cause confusion, but that I will probably keep exclamation marks in the middle of a sentence.

In his foreword, Barüske says that his translation is as literal as possible, but that he did explain difficult passages. Mayfarth, on the other hand, in her article about the way she selected and translated Andersen's diaries calls Barüske's translation "free", and points out the danger of embellishment and levelling out of the original. Barüske's translation is furthermore criticized rather sharply by Lotte Eskelund in Anderseniana.

It seems important to me to place the selected letters and diaries in a clear historical and geographical context. Glyn Jones says that Conroy and Rossel's choice to translate names of places, streets etc. is not ideal. "Broad Street" produces very different associations from "Bredgade", and "Christian's Harbor" seems to be very different from "Christianshavn". The Dutch reader is used to reading foreign (street)names, and, therefore, I don't see any reason to translate these. Andersen himself was not very consistent in his notation of the names of, e.g., churches and other buildings, although he did try to call them by their authentic names. The same goes for paintings, sculptures, dramas, operas, novels and the like. Taking into account the number of names in Andersen's text, the translator must obviously try to be rather consistent here. I will give the titles of works of art, such as paintings, in Dutch, while, at the same time, I intend keeping the much less variable authentic names of literary works of art. For a Dutch reader it would be inconceivable to translate names of, e.g., German daily papers like Allgemeine Zeitung, or Frankfurter Zeitung, as happens in the English edition, where they are called "General News" and "Frankfurt Times". I will, however, make an exception for the titles of Andersen's own books. These names come up so often, that it would be disturbing for the reader to stumble again and again over the Danish. Besides, almost all his books have been published in Dutch.

Andersen was notorious for his inaccurate orthography. It would make no sense to transfer these errors into Dutch. Even more so, the incorrect spelling of names would merely have a disturbing effect on the reader. In this way I hope to surpass Andersen. But only in this way.


Barüske, Heinz (ed.), Aus Andersens Tagebüchern, Band 1-2, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1980.

Conroy, Patricia L. & Rossel, Sven H.(eds.), Diaries of Hans Christian Andersen, University of Washington Press, Seattle & London 1990.

Olsen, Kåre & Topsøe-Jensen, H. (eds.), H. C. Andersens Dagbøger 1825-1875, Det danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab, København 1971-76.

Vang Lauridsen, Helga & Kirsten Weber (eds.), H. C. Andersens Almanakker 1833-1873, Det danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab, København 1990.

Bibliographic information about the text:

Koenders, Edith: "A Selection of H. C. Andersen's Letters and Diaries in a Dutch Edition " , 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.