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Summaries of papers from previous international HCA conferences
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Summaries of papers from previous international HCA conferences

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Summary of Finn Hauberg Mortensen:

"I familiens skød".

This paper has been published in Andersen og Verden, Odense 1993.

In the Bosom of the Family

Finn Hauberg Mortensen

(summary for pages 115-30)

All Andersen's contemporary critics had one thing in common: they found him childish, and this childishness was identified with his use of associations. Where Heiberg and his school thought that Andersen connected idea with idea or the concrete with the concrete in an immature and mistaken manner, and with no sense of the progress of history, the critics who came after Heiberg saw the positive properties of his form of imagination. His childishness was not just a matter of lack of culture and an obstacle to a stringent composition, but through it he was able to reach down into the subconscious or preconscious, as Brandes demonstrated. According to him the fundamental psychic layers of the child and the people are reflected in the style, composition and mode of cognition peculiar to Andersen.

This essay throws light on the concept of "barnlighed" (meaning both "childishness" and "being childlike") as it developed into a keyword of Romanticism in the 19th century, and according to Brandes it was used to characterize that part of the century he denounced. Ideas put forward by Locke and Rousseau are used to connect this concept with play, socialization and upbringing, play and the private life of the new middle-class family. The ability of the home to integrate foreign culture traditions in the form of bric-à-brac is related to toys and children's literature which were put at the disposal of the more systematic acquirement of knowledge and training of sensitivity characteristic of the upbringing of the bourgeois child.

Danish children's literature expanded from the 1830s onwards and a great many Danish writers, painters and composers contributed to a new market to which Andersen also brought his fairy tales. The breakthrough resembles that of literature for adults, but at the same time is distinguished from it by a delay in the history of prose as well as in the history of ideas: While the literature for adults had arrived at Romanticism, the writers of children's literature were still writing "national romanticism" and biedermeier, with added features from the children's literature of the Enlightenment. Andersen shows traces of this, but he is the only one to transcend these limitations because he writes, both superficially and in depth, fairy tales (and novels) with significantly modern characteristics.

Andersen's fairy tale is characteristic in its use of the oral tradition, its combination of a number of older literary traditions, both "high" and "low", as well as in the domestic reading-aloud situation which places the texts in the bosom of the family. Here they may be understood as directions for a dramatic role which mediates the important exchange of knowledge and especially sensibility between adults and children in a new family intimacy. On the basis of the way in which modernistic art in our century has used association and childishness, several features of the fairy tales become intelligible as written for use in the closed intimacy of the family.

Thus within this framework, the essay seeks to throw light on connections between objects and psyche and, with that, the association between concrete and concrete in the fairy tales "The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep" and "The Red Shoes".

The "Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep" is a fairy tale concerning objects in which the knick-knacks in the living room are the actors. We examine how Andersen describes them as objects that can break because of their material; as representatives of the cultures to which they refer from the closed drawing room; and, finally, as people with a specific, historically grounded, consciousness.

The conflicts between these objects point towards the educated middle-class who put them in the room as a kind of toys for adults and towards the fact that the integration of heterogeneity has not succeeded. These fragments of culture cannot revolt, for they have been put where they are, but neither can they realize Utopia, not even the Utopia of being sublimated by a hegemonous, organic culture of the middle-class.

"The Red Shoes" describe how the concrete objects, the shoes, connects in a subconscious manner the main character - poor little Karen - partly with her mother, partly with the common people. The shoes are burned by the well-meaning, bourgeois lady assuming the mother-role, but they revolt, become an independent, demonic power that only the executioner can overcome as he amputates Karen's feet with the unruly and apparently sinful dancing shoes. Eventually Karen returns to the community after having also renounced the urge to selfish reflection she had learned in her stepmother's house.

The text has been read as a tribute to the succesful integration of the experience of the common people with a harmonic, middle-class and Christian ideology. The essay poses the question of whether it should be understood as an accusation as well, partly against representatives of the community, because of the bloody description of the costs of the integration, and more extensively because the text displays a fictional space that is opaque to all those taking part. None of them have any knowledge of the associative link between the subconscious and the concrete which is contained in the total statement of the text. That presupposes the recognition of a specifically modern experience, as well as insight, in what later became known as depth psychology.

If the text is to be read not merely as a story to terrorize and warn, as was the aim of much contemporary children's literature, it must represent a nihilistic vacuum for the family circle. But, given the modern reader's recognition of association, the text does not leave the family in this vacuum.

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