The Feminine Element - And a Little About the Masculine Element in H. C. Andersen's Fairy Tales

The inspiration for this lecture derives from a request made to me a couple of years ago by teachers from Ryslinge High School in Funen, where a summer-course in H. C. Andersen is held every year with a different main theme. The topic in question was: H. C. Andersen and his travels, and the request was for a lecture entitled: H. C. Andersen and the exotic women in his works. The reason for my being approached was that I had published a book entitled Sorte damer1 followed by a much smaller book, Det fatale køn.2

Sorte damer contains analyses of all the fatal - and sometimes also exotic - female figures in the major works of 19th century Danish literature that I had been able to think of at the time of writing.

The chronological limits for the book are a result of the fact that, strangely enough, the femme-fatale type of woman does not appear in literature before the romantic period, that is if we ignore the sinful, tempting and deadly elf-maidens in the ballads, and that after her popularity culminated around the turn of the century, where she is particularly visible in the works of Sophus Claussen, the femme fatale has experienced a severe decline in serious Danish literature of the 20th century, although she has of course had an after-life in Denmark, too, in the form of the products of international culture, e.g. in films and rock music. The present survey is simply intended as a rounded-off digression.

The point in connection with H. C. Andersen is that my above-mentioned book contains a couple of pages devoted to an analysis of his novel Kun en Spillemand (Only a Fiddler, 1837) and in particular to its main female character, Naomi, who is both exotic, sensual - and wholly fatale.3

Naomi proved, however, a little surprisingly, to be something of a lone swallow and the lecture on the exotic and seductive women in
H. C. Andersen ended up by dealing mainly with the reasons for their being practically absent from his works. - This paper will do the same and I shall conclude with some thoughts on views on women in general in the fairy tales. All intended as preliminary surveys and as an inspiration for future considerations. It has come as a great surprise to me that such an elementary analysis of motifs had not already been carried out on one of the greatest jewels in the crown of Danish literature. - We can make a start here - and when we come to the end of the story, it is to be hoped that we shall know a little more than when we started!

Let us return to Naomi from Only a Fiddler. She completely dominates and tyrannizes over the weak male protagonist, Christian, the author's artistically gifted alter ego. Among her many other escapades is one in which, disguised as a man, she enters into a sado-masochistic relationship with no less a person than a circus rider, but in this case it is Naomi who is the inferior partner in the sexual duel. She is, for example, trapped by her male disguise, unable to reveal that she is a woman and thus not able to interfere when her Ladislaus makes passes at other women before her very eyes. She ends in an empty marriage of form in which her husband, a wealthy French nobleman, also forces her to put up with his infidelity by threatening that he will otherwise expose her norm-transgressing and frankly scandalous past. Naomi has to take comfort in her position in society, where she is obliged to profess to the creed of Schein instead of Sein, a very significant antithetical pair in the book, since a femme fatale's stock-in-trade always consists in joyful illusion and delusion, which might possibly - and this is the core of the provocative, seductive riddle - cloak something genuine. In one of the best scenes of the book, the poor wretch Christian is mistaken on this very point, when the two women in his life, Lucie and Naomi, are lying asleep in his room after some harrowing scenes in the great city of Copenhagen. Lucie, who is the good and honest girl, frightens him because her face is distorted in a nightmare, while the ambiguous Naomi resembles an angel as she sleeps.

Normally, however, Naomi is very conscious of her stock-in-trade:

"The world is one great fancy-dress ballroom", considered Naomi.
"One has to know how to play one's role with dignity, one has to make an impression, one is only what one can make oneself out to be". (162)4

In her life in Paris the theatre has become a very important ingredient - so important, in fact, that the fashionable people among whom she lives, in their desire for excitement never watch a play to its end but attend performances that are made up of individual acts from different plays and, as Naomi says: "The main thing is the display the plot is insignificant!" (251)

Her own home is a similar "display": "It all looked more like a public Salon than a private drawing-room" (254). Even her old rebellious spirit has stiffened into entertainment, which, as an ironic point, takes place within the very golden cage in which her husband effectively and sadistically keeps her imprisoned:

Naomi expressed her views boldly, ranging from the swamp-town of Petersburg to the airy tents of the Arabs; it was only before the Hero of the Age, Napoleon, that her proud heart would bow the conversation entered upon the politics of the hour, and Naomi expressed herself more and more interestingly. (256)

It is a deadly irony that the civilised guests who were present had a passion for "la liberté" under the influence of the July revolution and that they allowed themselves to be entertained by daring, erotic scenes on the stage at the very point in time at which Naomi - also from an erotic point of view - is more enchained than ever. - Rebellion has become bondage and Naomi's original strength has ended by turning her into a victim.5

As her name indicates, Naomi is a Jewess and thus in appearance more exotic and beautiful than the blue-eyed Danish girls. At least, piquantly different. The role as femme fatale in Danish literature is frequently assigned to ethnically foreign women. There is for example a gypsy girl, namely Rhitra in Christian Winther's Hjortens Flugt (The Flight of the Hart, 1855). A younger, seductive Jewish sister to Naomi is incidentally to be found in Henrik Pontoppidan's Lykke-Per (Lucky Per, 1898-1905), where the sexy and calculating and literally deadly woman has been given the name Nanny.

Naomi is thus in a way no surprise but rather an element of European literary tradition. In Denmark she has not only successors but also predecessors, e.g. in Oehlenschläger (Tangkier in the romantic cycle Helge from 1814). Probably less known is the fact that the young Ingemann was interested in the type. Thus the main character Blanca in the play of the same name, which takes place in 12th century Sicily, is a woman of this kind.

Fatal and fateful women, who are often also exotic, begin to swamp the history of European literature, at least in the second half of the 19th century, when the type ostensibly takes over from the demoniacal man (the Byron-hero).6

It is precisely the so-called "romantisme", i.e. late romanticism (in Denmark the period from 1830 to 1840) with its occupation with the so-called "interesting" mental life that might be thought to provide an ideal foil for femmes fatales. It is not clear whether the claim of Mario Praz about the chronological sequence between demoniacal men and women is also valid for Denmark. At all events, we find one more sensually seductive woman in H. C. Andersen, namely in his first novel Improvisatoren (The Improvisatore, 1835). Her name is Santa and she is very fittingly an Italian - and on the point of bringing disaster upon the hero. A trace of the period's interest in demoniacal men can also be seen in H. C. Andersen - not only in the above-mentioned Ladislaus-figure from Only a Fiddler (1837), but also in the novel published just after The Improvisatore, namely O.T. (1836), where the brooding and unintegrated hero with the depressing lower-class background is a man of this type.

Now it is perfectly conceivable that it could have been H. C. Andersen's travels abroad which provided inspiration for the rather trite eroticisation of southern women in his works, a phenomenon often seen in the works of Scandinavian authors and, not least, often haunting their imagination. Therefore - let us take a look at the travels. Those of relevance are the following: the journey to Italy - the grand tour in 1833-34, whose importance is reflected, as mentioned above, in the culture- and travel-novel The Improvisatore (1835); the oriental journey, to, among other countries, Turkey in 1840-41, which was later exploited in En Digters Bazar (A Poet's Bazaar, 1842); and finally the journey to Spain in 1862, which received its description in the travelogue I Spanien (In Spain, 1863).

There are, however, amazingly few seductive, exotic women to be found here. In the last-mentioned book In Spain, there certainly are some conventional descriptions of the fervent and capricious Spanish women.7 In the diaries of Andersen's youth, his stay in Naples, where, as is well-known, he was strongly tempted by the propositions of pimps, gave rise to a sexualised description of an eruption of Vesuvius, which more or less merges with the description of the heat and the southern prostitutes. Apart from this, however, there are no more femmes fatales to be found in the works outside the fairy tales.

If we turn finally to the fairy tales, the genre in which H. C. Andersen shows greatest originality and is most himself, whose first part was published in 1835 and the production of which was continued until a few years before the author's death, we find even fewer femmes fatales. In fact, hardly one is to be found. The fairy-tale genre, with its origin in the folktales which teem with archetypical figures, should almost automatically have led to the appearance of femmes fatales or something similar.

Mermaids, ice queens, proud princesses who reject their earthly suitors but are intimate with trolls and other demons by night are the common property of the folktales. All of them reappear in Andersen's fairy tales but their dual nature and their attractive-repulsive qualities are never exploited in a piquant-seductive direction.

At this point it will be necessary for me to make yet another reference to Sorte damer, namely to the list of types of femmes fatales reproduced below. It is based on Jung's archetypes,8 and it displays striking similarities with the favourite types of women of the Danish lyric poet of the 1890's, Sophus Claussen, and some paintings from the turn of the century by the Austrian Jugendstil-painter, Gustav Klimt. These paradoxical types of women, which Jung refers to as "negative anima-projections", can be listed in a hierarchical order-ranging from a completely cold and reserved type, who may be called Artemis or the Ice Queen, whose inaccessibility, however, holds out promises of fire beneath the snow, to the opposite of this type, the all-consuming harlot, who is apparently all pure instinct and sexual urge, but whose character also possesses a strong element of calculation. These two poles are referred to as I and II respectively. In between we find all the transitional types (III). We are concerned with types of women with mythological names or types who are familiar from folktales. A few of them belong-like Artemis-to the phallic type of woman, since they transgress the boundary to the masculine kingdom by bearing arms, being female warriors or at least going hunting. They often wound or kill their direct suitors instead of acting submissively, cf. Naomi's disguise. Women of this type are, for example, Judith, Salome, Nordic valkyries or those fairy-tale princesses who make their suitors solve insoluble riddles and subsequently have them executed in cold blood. In some cases the murderous behaviour of the princesses can be explained by the fact that they have entered upon a nightly demoniacal alliance with a troll. The frightening women are followed in the list by those who are looked upon with a fascination mixed with loathing, Medusa, with serpents in place of hair (Naomi is in fact explicitly referred to once as Medusa, cf. p. 188), or the witch. Lower in the hierarchy we find the women who are akin to animals, e.g. the mermaid with her fishtail or snaketail, a brutish woman who invariably tries to pull men downwards and brings their immortal souls in danger. Finally, at the very bottom of the hierarchy, we find the harlot-types.

What all these women have in common is the possession of an inscrutable duality, being at one and the same time terrifying and attractive. They are also stereotypes - and it is this which makes them perhaps less frightening when it comes to the point. We are not concerned with true wildness but with masculine phantasms, easy to handle and recognisable.

Negative Anima-Projections

Artemis/Diana: the huntress. Strength, aggression, asexuality.

Judith: kills her lover after one night - for the sake of the fatherland. Seductive, alluring and dangerous.
Salome: demands in love-hate the head of John the Baptist, who has rejected her approaches. Seductive, alluring, mortally dangerous. Becomes confused in tradition with her mother Herodias, who is said to have inveigled her into making this grisly demand.
The Evil Queen: Hamlet's mother. The Queen of Sheba.
Cleopatra: Apart from having the reputation of being the most beautiful woman in the world, she is also said to have killed her lovers after the first night. More cruel than revengeful, in contrast to Judith and Salome.
Valkyries/Shield-maidens/Maiden kings: In younger sources they are said to engage in bodily combat with their suitors, only to be overcome at last and thus become "real" women. Warrior-maidens with masculine qualities.
The Sphinx: Puts a supposedly insoluble riddle to Oedipus. Related to the fairy princess who does the same to her suitors in order to bring about their deaths (Turandot) - most familiar in Denmark from H. C. Andersen's "The Travelling Companion", based on folk-tales. In the end she is overcome/released.
Medusa: Has snakes for hair. A single glance at her turns men to stone.
The Witch: The elderly, ravaged, depraved woman who, however, has magic (erotic) power. Her relationship to the real-life witches of the medieval and renaissance periods is not entirely clear. In literature: the woman who can manage without a man and therefore seems frightening (Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen), or the woman who in her ravaged and depraved body nevertheless conceals a wail from the violins in her youth (Sophus Claussen), or the woman who with her strong and demanding erotic emanations involves a risk for the man's immortal soul (Dreyer, Umberto Eco).

The Mermaid: (Normally) pulls men down. Her fishtail becomes confused with the snake symbol.
The Hetaera/the Courtesan: The lovable, witty and sexy woman. Coy (as an element in the game) and sensual. Only one thing in her head.
The Harlot/the Floosie: (In literary forms) pure sex, instinct, sensuality, mischief. Soulless. Arouses expectations of the breaking of taboos and unimaginable delights but also fears of being devoured. Linked with the concept of sin and damnation.

And now to yet another survey. This is of those of H. C. Andersen's fairy tales which have, so to speak, the opportunity to describe a negative anima-projection, or a femme fatale-type, but which do not do so when it comes to the point. It should be noted that the employment of Antti-Aarne's motif-index instead of Jung's archetypes would yield the same result: this type of woman, e.g. the princess in "The Swineherd" who is punished for her arrogant rejection of the excellent king's son by subsequent humiliations, including being thrown into the arms of a man from the lower classes, can be identified unmistakably with Aa 900, "König Drosselbart", but nevertheless she is not quite similar.

For while the girl in Grimm's fairy tale "King Thrush-beard" is in possession of some opposing qualities: provocative defiance and a warm capacity for submission (and the necessary stamina for this),
H. C. Andersen's princess is more like a silly and superficial doll, who certainly fully deserves the concluding remark of the king's son: "I have come to despise you". "The Swineherd" is not concerned with the transformation of a femme fatale into a loving woman but with a man's release from an unworthy erotic bondage.

Below potential femme-fatale fairy tales which develop into something completely different are listed. The list ranges from one of H. C. Andersen's first forays into the fairy-tale genre, "The Travelling Companion" (1836), which is actually based on Aa 900, the motif of the proud, bewitched princess who, like Oedipus' sphinx, put insoluble riddles to her suitors, to "Chicken Grethe's Family" (1869), one of the last of Andersen's fairy tales - or stories, as he himself referred to these more short-story-like brief prose-pieces. This one is based on the fate of Marie Grubbe. It certainly describes a sensual and wilful woman but not a woman who deliberately exploits her erotic power as a proper femme fatale would have done - and it is as though the story does not really know what it wants to make of this morsel of rather unusual Danish history.

Number 2 on the list, "The Little Mermaid" (1837), is, as we all know, to a marked degree a disavowal of the usual myth of the mermaid, since the protagonist longs for the light and human culture and instead of annihilating the man's soul, saves his body. And as if this were not enough, she longs fervently to have an immortal soul herself. In spite of this, H. C. Andersen achieves an artistic success, balancing skilfully with his anti-myth.

We have little more luck when searching for a femme fatale in "The Snow Queen" (1844), whose eponym is truly "larger than life" but in fact also larger than the erotic. She is majestic and cold - alluring as well. But more to be described as peremptorily dictating than as attractively irresistible.

This fairy tale has frequently given rise to Jung-inspired interpretations in the theatre. And on each occasion these have seemed to be more reductive than informative. In this fairy tale it has somehow or other been possible for H. C. Andersen to create a figure which is both a symbol (as is well known first and foremost of sterile rationalism) that is more than a symbol and an original and well-functioning fairy-tale character.

We get closer to the piquantly erotic ice queen in fact in "The Ice Maiden" (1861), in which Rudi on the eve of his wedding is clasped in the fatal embrace of the glacier-maiden. But in this case we would seem to be closer partly to the folktale (probably) and partly to a more conventional, romantic interpretation of the dangerous and seductive forces of nature, personified as female-beings, which are contrasted with the realisable and limited happiness that can be achieved in a normal human relationship, cf., for example, August Bournonville's ballet La Sylphide from 1836.

As far as the other end of the scale, the sinners and harlots, is concerned, these do, in fact, appear in the fairy tales, but with the possible exception of the comparatively late and short-story-like "The Marsh King's Daughter" (1858), they are hardly to be seen as ambiguous, sensually dangerous possibilities, but rather as types of women who are dangerous for themselves - and, incidentally, the daughter of the marsh king might also be considered to be one of these.

The fairy-tales which can be assigned to this category are "The Red Shoes" (1845), which is about the girl who is eager to dance and undevout and who is punished so cruelly by being crippled, and "Anne Lisbeth" (1859), which is about the unmarried mother who dances herself to exhaustion and dies in the attempt to be reconciled with the dead child she has neglected. Pure horror, terror and agony of soul in both stories.

Fairy Tales with More, or more often Less, Relation to the Concept of the Femme Fatale

"Fyrtøiet" ("The Tinder Box") 1835
"Reisekammeraten" ("The Travelling Companion") 1836
"Den lille Havfrue" ("The Little Mermaid") 1837
"Den standhaftige Tinsoldat" ("The Steadfast Tin Soldier") 1838
"Svinedrengen" ("The Swine Herd") 1841
"Kjærestefolkene" ("The Sweethearts") 1843
"Sneedronningen" ("The Snow Queen") 1844
"Elverhøi" ("The Elf Mound") 1845
"De røde Skoe" ("The Red Shoes") 1845
"Flipperne" ("The Shirt Collar") 1848
"Under Piletræet" ("Under the Willow Tree") 1852
"Klods-Hans" ("Clumsy Hans") 1855
"Ib og lille Christine" ("Ib and Little Christine") 1855
"Jødepigen" ("The Jewish Girl") 1855
"Dynd-Kongens Datter" ("The Marsh King's Daughter") 1858
"Anne Lisbeth" ("Anne Lisbeth") 1859
"Iisjomfruen" ("The Ice Maiden") 1861
"Hønse-Grethes Familie" ("Chicken Grethe's Family") 1869

Now it is obviously understandable that a working-class boy such as H. C. Andersen, who had seen miserable prostitutes at very close hand, even in his own family, should not have suffered from the desire felt by cultivated and untried young men to project their own passionate eroticism onto hot-blooded dream-harlots.

It is more difficult to explain why the cold and prudish women in the fairy tales - whether they are of flesh and blood or personified commodities or playthings - never assume the ambiguous characteristics of the femme fatale.

One suggestion might be that H. C. Andersen had too good a sense of humour and too great an understanding of the nuances and facets of human life. The femme fatale is not only taken extremely seriously by her suitors, she also takes herself very seriously and is fully convinced of her own irresistibility. Self-irony and oblique angles spell death to the figure.

Before we go this far, however, let us cast a quick glance back at a number of fairy tales which really do not belong in the list but which have been included because they involve some archetypical or at least literary figures which could have been presented as "negative anima-projections" but which without doubt are not so presented - unlike the female figures that have already been discussed and which have had some contribution to make in relation to the femme-fatale figure. There is the witch in "The Tinder Box" (1835), who is only hideous and old and repulsive, to match the robust childlikeness of this fairy tale-there is certainly no sophisticated depravation in this case. There is "The Jewish Girl" (1855), who is far from being a seductive, exotic beauty but is instead a poor outsider. Here we once again have an example of Andersen's social conscience. Finally and poetically ambiguous, there are the elf maidens in "The Elf Mound", who act so far against their nature that they also stamp their feet in the dance.

We are then really only left with the quick-witted princess with the sure instincts in "Clumsy Hans" (1855), who is admittedly very distantly related to the demoniacal Turandot-like figure in "The Travelling Companion" (1836) - which is known to have been based very closely on the folktale source, but even the latter woman is not allowed to be truly seductive in her demoniacal power. She, too, is to be saved from herself so that everyone can breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally we have some cold women, empty, or conceited and pompous. They are, however, transparent and therefore far from being seductive riddles.

We might here think of the ballerina in "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" (1838), who can do nothing but strike attitudes. She has an empty mind and only an external badge of honour and merit, a glittering spangle. Or the ball in "The Sweethearts" (1843), which foolishly imagines itself to be engaged to the swallow; and of which the top, once so much in love with it, can reckon itself to be well rid, for "old love rusts", in accordance with the bitter moral of the tale.

A couple of candidates for the title of femme fatale can perhaps be glimpsed in "The Shirt Collar" (1848), in which we meet a prudish garter, a burning widow in the shape of a smoothing-iron and a hot-tempered lover, namely the scissors, who inflicts a cut on her suitor. - But alas, this whole interpretation only exists in the boastful imagination of the collar. The facts are much more prosaic.

And so to the two stories which are both modelled over the same last: "Under the Willow Tree" (1852) and "Ib and Little Christine" (1855), in which the theme of the extremely reticent man who ruins his chances as suitor to the more brilliant, active and socially mobile woman is played over again. This is the theme with which we are familiar from the novel written in Andersen's youth, Only a Fiddler.In these late versions, however, the woman is no longer deliberately cruel, let alone narcissistically coquettish. She is really only distant and unappreciative.

To return to the question: why are there no femmes fatales in the fairy tales?It might be thought that this is a result of the fairy tales' being made "suitable for children" and of the "softening" of coarse features in their sources. For example, it is, of course, clear that "The Swineherd" cannot, as in some of the related folktales, be allowed to sleep in the princess's bed, but has to rest content with the many kisses-which, however, make an absurd, comical and unforgettably spectacular impact. It is, however, hardly a matter of the softening and smoothing out of objectionable features, when potential femme-fatale figures are transformed into - something else - with such consistency. Coarse features remain in abundance, e.g. in "The Red Shoes" (1845) and "Anne Lisbeth" (1859).

I would prefer to put in a plea for humour - understanding of human beings and society as the reason for keeping femme-fatale figures out of the fairy tales. It may also, however, have something to do with the genre itself, as it developed under H. C. Andersen's hands. Characteristic of Andersen's Kunstmärchen is a sophisticated play with various points of view. Thus for example the toys in the tales about things have qualities which now characterise the inanimate object, now the human being which the object also represents. The self-deception of the performers and their misinterpretation of each other's behaviour are partly due to this. The ball is in fact not almost engaged to a swallow, just because the bird, as birds will, twitters when a ball is thrown past its nest, and "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" is not in fact in deep spiritual communion with the dancer, who, simply because she is made of paper, never moves an inch, and who by the way has two legs - in contrast to the soldier himself. This tendency to provide the characters of the fairy tale with a fluid identity and to undermine seriousness and solemnity, and particularly the characters' view of themselves and the world around them might very well have a destructive effect on potential femme-fatale figures, as such by definition must be absolutely irresistible, both in their own eyes and in those of their surroundings.

As a footnote to this brief contribution about the femmes fatales in H. C. Andersen's fairy tales, I should like to present a list illustrating the view of women demonstrated in the fairy tales (below). The point is that although this view is far from always equally sympathetic, it is nevertheless quite varied - not least when compared with the description of men, which in fact, contrary to the usual practice in the case of male authors, is much over-simplified. They are either brash fellows as the soldier in "The Tinder Box" or the protagonist in "Clumsy Hans"or feeble, unhappy, passive wretches as the male figures in "Under the Willow Tree" and "Ib and Little Christine". When it is claimed that the description of women is full of light and shade, this has of course to be seen against the background of the fact that the fairy-tale genre is susceptible to stylisation and hence pulls in the opposite direction.

Categorisation into Types of the Women in the Fairy Tales

Proudly Rejecting or Self-Centered, Cold or Self-Conceited Women:
"Reisekammeraten" ("The Travelling Companion") 1836
"Den standhaftige Tinsoldat" ("The Steadfast Tin Soldier") 1838
"Svinedrengen" ("The Swine Herd") 1841
"Kjærestefolkene" ("The Sweethearts") 1843
"Flipperne" ("The Shirt Collar") (ironical self-commentary) 1848
"Børnesnak" ("Children's Prattle") (with reservations) 1859

Women who Choose the Wrong Man, e.g., Because of the Right Suitors' Extreme Retience:
"Tommelise" ("Thumbelina") 1835
"Under Piletræet" ("Under the Willow Tree") 1852
"Ib og lille Christine" ("Ib and Little Christine") 1855
"Hvad gamle Johanne fortalte" ("What Old Johanne Told") 1872

Pert and Quick-Witted Girls Sometimes Paired with Imprudent, Brash, Lower-Class Heroes:
"Fyrtøiet" ("The Tinder Box") 1835
"Klods-Hans" ("Clumsy Hans") 1855
"Sneedronningen" (Den lille Røverpige i "The Snow Queen") 1844

Doll-Like Women:
"Den standhaftige Tinsoldat" ("The Steadfast Tin Soldier") 1838
"Hyrdinden og Skorsteensfejeren" ("The Shepherdess and the Chimneysweep") 1847
"Deilig" ("Beautiful") 1859

Loving and Self-Sacrificing, but also Active and Brave Women:
"Den lille Havfrue" ("The Little Mermaid") 1837
"De vilde Svaner" ("The Wild Swans") 1838
"Sneedronningen" ("The Snow Queen") (Gerda) 1844
"Historien om en Moder" ("The Story of a Mother") 1848

The Woman as a Victim:
"Den lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne" ("The Little Match Girl") 1835

The Old Maid:
"Fra et Vindue i Vartou" ("A View from Vartou's Window") 1846

Erring Women:
"De røde Skoe" ("The Red Shoes") 1845
"Anne Lisbeth" ("Anne Lisbeth") 1859

"Historien om en Moder" ("The Story of a Mother") 1848
"Hun duede ikke" ("She Was Good for Nothing") 1852
"Anne Lisbeth" ("Anne Lisbeth") 1859
"Hvad gamle Johanne fortalte" ("What Old Johanne Told") 1872

We have, as already mentioned, a number of proudly rejecting and self-centered women but there are also a number of pert and quick-witted girls. We have stupid doll-like women but also loving and self-sacrificing women who are active and brave. The woman as a victim is to be seen and the old maid but also erring women and mothers.

I leave it to the readers of this paper to answer the two questions raised by my brief examination of the material: What has happened to the femmes fatales in H. C. Andersen's fairy tales? And why is he actually more successful in describing women than men in the fairy tales? Is it because of his close relationship with real women - not in the role of a lover, but rather in the role of a friend or even a spectator? Or does it root in an overwelmingly feminine element in himself which made him very sensitive and understanding towards women, but stopped him from identifying entirely with his own sex?


1. Lise Præstgaard Andersen, Sorte damer. Studier i femme fatale-motivet i dansk digtning fra romantik til århundredskiftet. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1990. 267 pp. back

2. Id., Det fatale køn. Copenhagen: Dansklærerforeningen, 1992. 69 pp. back

3. Id., Sorte damer, pp. 86-89. back

4. H. C. Andersen, Kun en Spillemand, ed. Mogens Brøndsted, Danske Klassikere, Copenhagen: Det danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab, 1988. back

5. Cf. Aage Jørgensen, "Kvindebilleder i dansk guldalderlitteratur: Claudine, Gunløde, Elise, Jolanthe, Naomi, Eleonora - og Andersen", in: Helga Kress (ed.), Litteratur og kjönn i Norden. Foredrag på den XX. studiekonferanse i International Association for Scandinavian Studies (IASS) Reykjavík 1994. Reykjavík: Institutt for litteraturvitenskap, Islands universitet, 1996. Pp. 116-25. back

6. Cf. Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony, London, 1967. (1st Italian edition, Florence, 1948.) back

7. E.g. chapter VII ("Cartagena") and IX ("Granada"). back

8. Cf. Man and his Symbols, London, 1979, in particular Marie-Louise Franz's chapter "The Anima: The woman within", pp. 177ff. back

Bibliographic information about the text:

Andersen, Lise Præstgaard: "The Feminine Element - And a Little About the Masculine Element in H. C. Andersen's Fairy Tales" , 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.