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Hans Christian Andersen and Switzerland

Oh, travelling, travelling! [...] It is really the greatest joy in the world! It is my greatest desire! It would ease the restlessness that plagues me. But it must be far away! I would like to see the magnificent Switzerland, to travel to Italy and [...].

Hans Christian Andersen expressed his strong yearning to travel through a poor theology student in his fairy tale "The Galoshes of Fortune", five years after he had seen Switzerland for the first time. When he lost a galosh during his last stay in Switzerland, his last journey abroad, as he was taking a walk, it was found and brought to him, which led him to note in his journal on the 17th of May, 1873: "I am not allowed to lose my galoshes of fortune".

Four decades lie between Andersen's twelve journeys to Switzerland, the length of which varied. Sometimes he was just passing through, and sometimes Switzerland was his actual destination. He never dedicated a travel book to Switzerland, nor to Italy, instead he let his impressions influence his complete works in another way. "The beautiful mountainous country", as he often calls Switzerland, still remains one of his most important destinations.

Andersen conducted his travels similarly to the young theologian in his fairy tale. He was not a reflective fairy tale-teller, who dreamt up or created the substance for his literary works. Instead he was a traveller, who experienced passion and used this as his source of energy; he was a "bird of passage", as he expressed himself, with the maxim "travelling is living".

That the high mountains attracted and fascinated him, a landscape, that so completely differs from his own native lowlands, should not amaze us. He was not the only Danish writer who was affected by the scenery; Jens Baggesen, an author admired by Andersen, whose son Carl he visited several times in Switzerland, worked himself into an ecstatic state of enthusiasm for Switzerland in his work, which was published in 1792, The Labyrinth or Journey through Germany, Switzerland and France 1789, and believed to see the "Footstool of Divinity" near Basel.

In comparison, the arrival in Switzerland of Andersen - "wearer of the lucky galoshes" - is considerably more earthly and more prosaic, the reality of his travelling characterized by the emphasis of tight coffers and the rigours of a diligent journey:

Yes it is beautiful here, how unique in this world,
I see the Mount Blanc, my love,
Oh, if only I had the money,
I would have happily stayed here!

Andersen, who escaped and outgrew the Age of Romanticism, travelled first in reality and let it affect his impressions, in order to elevate his observations, aided by his fantasy. This corresponds to the image that he emphasized for the first time on the 14th of September 1833 in his journal, which he later, with only insignificant changes, reverts to several times because it is the most important image of the country for him: "The Alps appeared to me as if they were the folded wings of the Earth; as if she lifted her wings, her great feathers spread, with colourful pictures of the black forests, wild waterfalls, glaciers and clouds - what a picture! On Doomsday she lifts her great wings, flies upward to God and bursts like a bubble in His sunlight."

This encounter with nature aroused dreams of flight, the Earth's flight as well as his own flight, and allowed him to trust the realms of his fantasy. What he really saw inspired a pantheistic vision, the dissolution into supreme bliss, which could have meant a blessed end, but could also admittedly have led to a dangerous yearning, characterized by the threat to overpower one, as depicted by Knud in his fairy tale "Under the Willow Tree":

As he first caught sight of the high mountains, his world became larger, his thoughts tried to set themselves free, his eyes were wet with tears. The Alps appeared to him as if they were the folded wings of the Earth; as if she lifted her wings, her great feathers spread, with colourful pictures of black forests, roaring, foaming, racing waters, clouds and masses of snow! "On Doomsday she lifts her great wings, flies upward to God and bursts like a bubble in His sunlight! Oh, if it were only Doomsday!" he sighed.

Unlike the protagonist in his fairy tale, who embodies the author's own weakness, a problem that Andersen tried to deal with through the medium of writing, Andersen made every endeavour to correlate external contrasting opposites. "The beautiful mountainous country" reminded him of his native country, though not only because of the corresponding colours of the respective national flags.

"Funen and Switzerland" is the title of one of his last poems which he dictated from his sick-bed one month before his death. Although he was not capable of a final draft, it is clear that he evaluated his life as being a struggle between social background and national descent. Actually the critically ill writer did not only dream of his last journey to Switzerland, he really tried to prepare it, possibly with the sentiment that the journey could take him beyond the boundaries of life. He established a correlation between the nature of his native island and the wild mountainous landscape of Switzerland, between the legendary figures Palnatoke and Wilhelm Tell, between the storms that he experienced and his own personal turmoil; and as the dust settled in silence, he at last requested this harmonious balance.

Andersen's journeys and stays in Switzerland have left diverse and various traces in his works. This can easily be detected in his journal entries, in which he of course recorded his observations which read in part as if they were literary sketches. They served him, especially in his younger years, as a collection of material, not only used for letters, the contents of which may be almost identical with the contents of his journal entries, but they were also helpful in forming his unique way of describing his travels, for his lyrical impressions and for his fictitious prose. Portrayals of Switzerland and Andersen's personal experiences appear, apart from his journal entries and his letters, in his autobiographies, in small sketches of his travels and in his fairy tales, most intensively in "Iisjomfruen" ("The Ice Maiden").

Andersen's physiognomy, in regard to his numerous visits to Switzerland, was naturally subject to a change during such a long period of time. In 1833 he was an unknown author outside of Denmark, whose hunger for experience conflicted with his material resources, who enjoyed the generous and supportive hospitality of the Houriet and Jürgensen families (whom he later honoured), which enabled him not only to go out and "experience" the scenery, but also work undisturbed on his literary work, Agnete and the Merman, and to learn French. How deeply he was moved by the impressions of his first stay in Switzerland, which he sometimes held on to breathlessly, and which almost took the form of impressionistic pictures, is confirmed by his later references to them and by his repeated reference to the castle of Chillon, a place both fascinating and horrifying for the author.

Thirteen years later his prevailing mood was totally different. On the one hand it was more mature and more self-assured, i.a. because he had found his recognition as a fairy tale writer. But on the other hand he was enormously personally affected by his experiences and was occasionally occupied more with his own problems than with the country to which he had travelled, and which he then viewed with a judgemental perspective. Although he was not the young discoverer any more, and although the brightness of his literary portrayals was sometimes missing, he was still receptive to everything, what really presented him being as new.

This also applies to his short stays in 1852 and 1855, in which he experienced the high mountains as oppressive and suffered from heat in Zürich, though he was deeply impressed by the sight of the Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen and by the ascent of the Rigi.

Not only had the author changed, the possibilities of travelling had changed, too. Andersen, who took an alert interest in the technological innovations of his time, showed at times a sheer boundless admiration, enjoyed that he could now move through the country considerably more comfortably "on the back of the steamdragon", even though he repeatedly had to fight his fear of tunnels, and he seemed to have enjoyed having reached a certain degree of fame. He had become an experienced and sophisticated traveller, who not only prepared and considered his own excursions carefully, but who also drew up detailed plans for Danish friends going to Switzerland.

In 1858 Andersen was most impressed by his visits to Ragaz and to Bad Pfäffers, which he recorded and later on published as an account based on his experience. The danger of a particular attraction appears to have appealed to him, just as it appears to have repulsed him and to have lured him.

In 1860 he stayed in Switzerland for more than two months, but he was so severely tormented by personal crisis, by nightmares and by thoughts of committing suicide, that his actual travel experiences, which included meetings with literary figures, friends and admirers, were strongly overshadowed. He only entrusted his journal with these experiences, whereas in his autobiographical work, filtered and edited for the public, he remained silent about his crisis. Such crises and his attempts to cope with them, to which the knowledge he gained through his encounter with nature was not sufficient, formed nevertheless part of his journeys to Switzerland.

Only one year later he was inspired by the high mountains of Switzerland, the so-called Hochgebirge, but also by the sight of Die Jungfrau. His ability to take things in aroused, and at the same time he was productive as a writer and began to write his first draft of the fairy tale, "The Ice Maiden", which appeared in print the same year. The Jungfrau experience absorbed him in the years to follow, although his subsequent journeys appear to have affected him less. Now and then he was depressed with a feeling of loneliness, and his preoccupation with personal troubles and with the people in his vicinity began to move too much into the foreground of his sketches.

This is also clearly the case at the beginning of his long stay in the year of 1873, when the elderly and sick writer suffered from frailty and melancholy. On the other hand he tried to make his journey without regarding his bad health, overtaxed his condition with physical burdens, concocted satirical verses about the Jungfrau, who did not want to be seen, and is astonishingly adventurous once again to see those regions of Switzerland that were still unknown to him. How he interweaved reality and vision on his very last trip to Switzerland, a journey that was not put into effect, is his own secret.

The literary work, in which Andersen links the reality of Switzerland most profoundly with his fairy tale world is "The Ice Maiden", which is his greatest fairy tale regarding its range, and with its epic structure, the boundaries of the genre were broken.

A "vivid picture of the magnificent mountainous country" (for which he consulted the three-volume edition of Alpenreisen by Johann Georg Kohl, published in 1849-51), and at the same time the story of a foolhardy mountain hunter, a story he heard from the Bavarian poet of the people, Kobell, and the tragic story of a bridal couple, which he probably took from a Baedekerband, are all pieces of literature that were combined together to give Andersen the strength to carry through the essence and feasibility of a temptingly beautiful as well as a dangerous-deadly natural power.

Andersen bore the image of a supernatural hostile female being inside himself for a fairly long time. In Mit Livs Eventyr he reports, for example, that he encountered this being in his childhood at the time of his father's death, when his mother explained:

"The ice maiden took him away!" And I understood what
she meant; I remembered that my father showed us last winter as
the windows were frozen over, how a maiden stretched out her
hands. "She wants to have me!" he said jokingly.

He dedicated a poem to this ice maiden's relative in the year of 1829 and allowed her to be taken as the miller's darling, and in 1845 she reappears in the fairy tale "The Snow Queen". Gerda is successful in this fairy tale in reaching the castle that is lighted by the Northern Lights and in setting her friend Kay free from the magical natural powers; good can overcome evil is the moral.

Andersen did not make such an unambiguous statement in the year of 1861. The fairy tale novella reads over long intervals as if it is a real incident and as if it is the story of a would-be misalliance, which is psychologically motivated by the author and fastened in history. Rudy cannot escape his traumatic childhood experience in the crevasse, the ice maiden's intoxicating wine being stronger than his boldness, he loses his engagement ring and is lost himself. The rich miller's daughter, who is not free from coquettishness and superficiality, cannot find purification until after the catastrophe. Andersen gives the last word to the "children of the sun", the good natural powers, so that "the best" happens in his fairy tale, although what "the best" really means, remains open. He himself returned from his fairy tale world and came back to reality, this journey enabled by a newly opened railroad line, and left the mourning Babette to her memories and left nature to its magical charm, for better or worse, which might also serve as a warning for a far too technological age.


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Bibliographic information about the text:

Perlet, Gisela: "Hans Christian Andersen and Switzerland" , 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.

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