Papers from the previous international HCA conferences
H.C. Andersen-centret ved Syddansk Universitet. Hjemmesiden er en base for forskning, tekster og information om og af H.C. Andersen. Man kan finde materialer om (nøgleordene) eventyr, forfatter, litteratur, børnelitteratur, børnebøger, undervisning, studie, Victor Borge, HC Andersen, H. C. Andersen, liv, værk, tidstavle og biografi, citater, drømme, FAQ, oversættelse, bibliografi, anmeldelser, quiz, børnetegninger, 2005 og manuskripter
The Hans Christian Andersen Center

Papers from the previous international HCA conferences

Skip over navigation and news

Hans Christian Andersen - An Untimely Journalist

Chapter 8 in H. C. Andersen's first real travel book Skyggebilleder from 1831 starts with the following significant selfcharacterization:1

Det er en forunderlig Ilen med Alt, der lever i mig, og egentlig udgjør min Grund-Characteer! jo interessantere en Bog er mig, jo mere iler jeg for at have den gjennemlæst, for at have det hele Indtryk; paa selve min Reise er det ikke ret det Nærværende, der glæder mig, jeg iler efter noget Nyt, for atter at komme til et andet; hver Aften jeg lægger mig til Hvile, higer jeg efter den næste Dag, ønsker at den var, og naar den kommer, er det dog en Fremtid længer borte, der beskjæftiger mig. Døden selv har mig noget Interessant, noget Herligt, fordi en nye Verden da aabnes for mig. Hvad mon det egentlig er, mit urolige Jeg iler efter? (71)

Mexican writer Octavio Paz, in his more than interesting book Children of the Mire,2 has analyzed 20th Century's avantgarde art. One of the many important arguments in this collection of lectures is that art is characterized by its aspiration towards constant innovation. Due to this aim, there is a tendency in art to either neglect or overlook the past and traditions. To modernity, paradise is situated in the future, and maybe within reach by means of technology or rationality - two of the founding distinctive features of modernity. Although this summarizing of Paz' elaborate argument must, necessarily, be highly stylized, I will state that the work of romantic writer H. C. Andersen in a crucial way shares Paz' conceptualization of significant structures in modernity. As expressed in the passage I have just quoted, the Danish author of fairy tales was enthusiastic about the future. But the question is whether Andersen was not more than that. In the following I am going to go into detail with this very complex writer and argue that in some ways he anticipated the avantgarde position that is the subject of Octavio Paz' at the same time critical and perceptive writings.

The primary subject of my paper is H. C. Andersen and journalism. The quoted statement points more than clearly to the journalistic talent, because Andersen is so sensibly aware of his surroundings, always in search of what is new and exciting. Conversely, it seems that there is something very weakening of the present to this conspicuous transcending of his immediate now. These two tendencies clash within the texts - and they are just one of many examples of dynamic ambiguities at the center of the author's work - the illumination of which are crucial to the understanding of the structures of his entire work. The most important journalistic texts are, of course, the travel books. Of the four published I am going to draw primarily on Skyggebilleder and the one to follow, namely En Digters Bazar from 1842.

It would be quite imprecise to call H. C. Andersen a writer who acts up to the classical rules of journalistic discourse. This travelling author was not interested in news, nor was he interested in political and social tensions. One couldn't claim, either, that he did careful research. But in a certain respect he might be characterized as someone writing reports based on observation. A foreign world was recorded from the point of view of daily life, and, therefore, reading Andersen could be rather illuminating and informative to the reader who was not familiar with the world outside the ramparts surrounding Copenhagen. What is genuinely journalistic in the travel books is the reconstruction of the writer's experiences visàvis the unfamiliar. But as you all know Andersen did not write like others. He wrote like he wrote. He wrote on behalf of himself and at no time on behalf of others - which is not meant to suggest that he wasn't aware of future readers.

The classic journalist was taught to focus on factual items and to answer as objectively as possible crucial questions like: who, what, where, when, how and why. Likewise, he was taught to write from an impersonalized enunciative position and be as close to sober descriptions as possible. These claims to objectivity was a straitjacket to Andersen; if anything he is first and foremost an author whose writings emanates from bodily perceptions. And not least from a psychic structure by means of which he at one and the same time constructed himself as modest and displayed himself selfconfidentially. Nevertheless, there is room for individual styles in modern journalism; thus I suggest that H. C. Andersen in many ways points towards the discourse of new journalism. On one hand this genre requires minute research which Andersen seldom conducted. On the other hand, the rhetoric strategies of new journalism fits amazingly well with Andersen's travel texts. New journalism makes use of fictitious strategies like identification with characters and change of point of view, it uses illumination of details, dialogue, flourishing metaphors and multiplying chains of associations. Furthermore, in new journalism one scene follows the other without any intention of synthesization. Correspondingly, new journalism seems to be interested in the world from a different angle than classical journalism. Whereas the classic journalist argues by means of statistics, the "new journalist" interprets the politician's rhetorics from his untimely made necktie and his rigid bodily gestures. New journalism looks at the world as a stage and, correspondingly, the genre accepts the inscription of a clearly posing authorial voice in the texts.

One thing is, however, to be able to argue from a contemporary point of view how H. C. Andersen anticipated modern textual practices. Quite another matter is to give answers to why the author himself started cultivating the travel as a literary form. Obviously it is meant to function as a proof of the author's cultural skills. Thus, Skyggebilleder is, as much as it is a description of an encounter with an overwhelming nature, a sort of rewriting, a textual insertion into a canonized literary tradition, represented by Goethe, Heine, Sterne and Danish Jens Baggesen, among others. Andersen has in common with Baggesen for example a kind of introductory prayer whereby the textual method is presented: the labyrinth without rules in the latter and an intention of using regular compositional rules in the former: ouverture, prologue, intervals etc., rules which nevertheless give way to a frank displaying of "den brogede Række Billeder, Reisen fremtryllede".

Like always, Andersen's use of words is not accidental. He makes use of the word "fremtryllede"; likewise, giving free rein to the imagination and fantasizing are the primary discursive parameters, like in Baggesen, who in his own original way seems to echo Sterne. Furthermore, Baggesen and Andersen have in common a kind of what I would call "imaginative writing"; thus, Baggesen states in his prologue:3

... ikke blot tællende, men prøvende, ikke blot maalende, men veiende, ikke blot afstikkende, copierende og silhouetterende, men malende, ikke blot matematisk - men dynamisk. (15)

Finally, the two famous writers share their view of the travel as a way of acknowledging. He who travels is transformed by means of the impressions imposed on him from the unfamiliar. But after this there is no further similarity between H. C. Andersen and Jens Baggesen. Whereas Labyrinten might be understood as an inner travel that is certainly enriched by means of the outer world, Andersen's books are persuasive descriptions - despite the obvious drive towards displacement - of an encounter with an inspiring outer nature, which are thereafter transformed into romantic imagination. Whereas Baggesen's text circles around erotic maladies, Andersen, on the contrary, tries not to enter into the realm of sexuality - although it is at times seemingly necessary to comment upon fair women and handsome young men. And whereas Baggesen seems to have inherited Sterne's ironic écriture, Andersen is much less wholeheartedly ironic and often a bit naive. Irony's textual distance was not easy to master for this sovereign author of fairy tales when he had a break from fiction writing. Selfpompousness, pathos and sentimentality cover irony. One might furthermore characterize Andersen's style as much more complex than Baggesen's. Even as an author of travel books many textual voices converge in Andersen.

Another obvious reason why H. C. Andersen let himself be challenged by fatiguing and uncomfortable journeys was the way they served as sources of inspiration to him. They represented a possibility of gaining more material for what really counted, namely the writing of fiction. Reality was put in the service of the creation of fairy tales, not the other way round.

But at the same time the books bear witness to the author's actual courage and stamina. As it was no secret that H. C. Andersen appeared as quite a timid person it seemed so much more impressive that he actually dared follow his statement, "To travel is to live". His extended travels were fatiguing, no doubt about that, but it seems that the author increased in stature with each physical challenge. The more he was exposed to dangers the more composed he acted. And afterwards he could recount it in a boasting voice in his semidocumentary travel books.

I say semi, because the texts are so obviously constructed and edited; they are just as much stagings of self as they are recordings of travels through unknown territory. The genre offers an obvious possibility to a writer who is almost insatiably in need of getting attention. The reading audience of that time who was not used to travel and who wanted to gain knowledge about the world had to accept Andersen in addition, so to speak. At the same time as the author could provide the readers with information about foreign countries, he could illuminate himself. Andersen used that opportunity extensively and this is maybe an explanation to the many travel books in his collected work. But there are more good reasons as to why Andersen was fond of this genre.

The title of chapter 8 in Skyggebilleder reads: "SituationsBilleder paa Vandringen i Eisleben. Morten Luther." I will pay attention to the use of the signifier "situationsbilleder". As you all know Andersen was commonly critized for not being able to compose his novels in a firmly, economically structured form. He made too many digressions instead of elaborating a continuous narrative. It follows from the genre itself that a travel book is much easilier narrativized as, exactly, "SituationsBilleder", detached experiences, short episodes to reflect upon but not necessarily to make to fit in a larger artistic pattern or superior order. One of Andersen's predecessors, Novalis named this fragmentary structure "åndelig rejsekunst". Andersen's travel books are, precisely, fragmented; they are as fragmented as the author and the planned itinary of his journeys made them to be. It was in accordance with the aesthetic norms of romanticism to write in a fragmentary way, to nourish and expand upon single imaginative metaphors without claiming for a second that these fragments constituted any sort of unity. At least nothing but the unity compounded by the coincidences of life and travels.

German literary theorist Gert Mattenklott, in his article "Der mythische Leib",4 explains why the traveller's moral character corresponds with the epistemology and rhetorics of the fragment. He who is travelling, lives in the now and here, even though he might be inclined to see through the present (cf. the initial Andersen quotation), and he is exposed and searching. A richness of associations, discursive variations, abrupt interruptions and extensive use of metaphors - all these textual strategies invite an aesthetic reading and a transitory absorption, not a concentrated and concise acquisition. In his travel books, H. C. Andersen anticipates this kind of aesthetic style and existential mode. In turn, the thoroughly reflected was never the domain of the author of fairy tales.

It should be stressed, however, that the travel descriptions were by no means without structure. They follow a certain route and the texts dwell at length on bigwigs with whom the writer wants to make lifelong friendship. But the description of what actually took place is no more committed to reality than the author wishes it to be. One thing is what he writes in his dairies, quite another thing is what seems expedient to him to bring forward in a travelogue. The point is precisely the difference between these to genres. The travelogue seemed to attract a romantic writer like Andersen, who repeatedly made use of allegories and who explicited his thoughts be means of images, first and foremost. And at the same time he could show to his Biedermeier surrounding what a brave man he was and what an appetite on life he had; in short, how curious he was to get acquainted with real life. In other words: this genre may once again serve as an example to underline that one cannot get hold of H. C. Andersen's work without considering it in the light of an interpretative "bothand", i.e. understanding it as consisting of a web of complex signifying structures. The genre provides an alibi to use the discourse and the way of thinking that suited the author best. At the same time it is rooted in a glorious tradition and it points towards a literature based on reality. With Andersen, writing travel books is both realism and romanticism, poetry and journalism, imagination and reality. At the same time an expressive and mimetic genre.

In reading the travel books, in particular the two that I am primarily occupied with here, it becomes obvious that fantasy is the author's faithful companion. In Skyggebilleder this is expressed several times, for example in chapter 5 where the author situates himself in a diffuse romantic mist i the mountains in search for Harzen's "Wunderblume":

Det var en Phantasiens Drømmeverden, der her laa levende for mig. (...) Kun Een havde funden den, men han kjendte den ikke selv, før den var tabt; jeg søgte den ikke her, jeg følte den voxe i mit Hjerte, Englene havde lagt Frøet der, da jeg endnu slumrede i Vuggen, den voxede, den udbredte sin magiske Duft, Phantasien, denne Livets herlige Blomst udfoldede sig mere i mit Hjerte, og jeg hørte og saae en ny og større Natur om mig. (53f)

The coupling together or the intimate transmission between the outer nature and the mirroring and fantasizing inner, is significant. Without his imagination H. C. Andersen had not been able to experience what he did, and he had perceived the unknown in a different way. By means of his imagination everything turns into the familiar to the author of fairy tales, and, at the same time, everything turns unfamiliar and imaginative.

In the very beginning of the book, the writer himself states about his method, "jeg vil aabne mit Hjerte og vise der den brogede Række Billeder, Reisen fremtryllede" (10).

There is no talk about documentary at all, but rather, if you like, about a kind of "realism of the heart". Furthermore, it is remarkable that the text uses "vision par derriere"- so indeed it is a construction.

Ten years later the author sets out on a long journey, which is going to take him to a fascinating world far beyond his usual surroundings:5

Det brændte fra Vesuv og Ætna, Dombasunen lød fra Grækenlands Bjerge, hvor de gamle Guder ere døde; Toner jeg ikke kjendte, Toner jeg ei har Ord for, tydede paa Orienten, Phantasiens Land, Digterens andet Fædreland! (I, 38)

The important thing here is that in spite of the accentuation of the unfamiliar, the author designates this place "homeland"; thereby he signals the affinity to what is nevertheless different. What unites is precisely the flowering imagination. This is evident from the obvious and interesting contradiction H. C. Andersen gets tied up in because two pages earlier he has emphasized the growing modernity of his time. In precisely the spirit that Johannes V. Jensen would advocate by the turn of the century he states that

Vor Tidsalder er ikke længer Phantasiens og Følelsens, den er Forstandens, den techniske Færdighed i enhver Kunst og i enhver Haandtering er nu en almindelig Betingelse for deres Udøvelse. (I, 36)

From this it can easily be understood why En Digters Bazar is so marked by visions of decay, although they have been displaced to the glorious and impressive ruins of Greece and Turkey.

Paradoxically enough, I will state that H. C. Andersen, because he is so deeply rooted in his imagination, opposes the governing ideas of his time, at the same time as he endeavours to pay tribute to the wonders of progress. The latter homage can be found in I Sverrig (1851), and, likewise, in the dedicated tribute to the railroad in En Digters Bazar. But which signifiers and what mood has our bard chosen for this ode to modern technology?

O, hvilket Aandens Storværk er dog denne Frembringelse! man føler sig jo mægtig, som en Oldtids Troldmand! vor magiske Hest spænde vi for Vognen, og Rummet forsvinder; vi flyve som Skyerne i Storm, som Trækfuglene flyve! vor vilde Hest fnyser og snøfter, den sorte Damp stiger ud af hans Næseboer. Raskere kunde ikke Mephistopheles flyve med Faust paa sin Kappe! (I, 44)

Reassurance lies in the fact that technology exceeds the work of Satan, so, contrary to Goethe's novel, modernity is itself able to control the forces it lets loose.

Whereas what is really thoughtprovoking in Andersen's description is that the new is firmly rooted in the old, actually in the realm of mythology. This thought is romantic, even idyllic.

By means of travelling away from his homeland, H. C. Andersen ended on his own ground, one might state a bit clicheed. The genre permitted certain literary liberties, which the author made use of. This does not mean, however, that Andersen is completely transformed once he becomes a travelling writer. I will suggest that in the same way that he conceptualizes the new as part of the old, when he is occupied with technology's development in his texts, the "blind spots" i his work is intrinsically part of the knowledge gained from travelling. The fundamental and founding structures in Andersen's work do not disappear because he changes genre.

Partly in line with Jørgen Bonde Jensen's arguments in H. C. Andersen og genrebilledet,6 I am going to discuss the author's propensity to reconciliatory strategies in the following. Biedermeier ideology was not only a "Zeitgeist" to be devalued with a keen irony by the author - maybe with greatest virtuosity in "Hjertesorg" - it also formed a pattern of ideas that he seemed to echo at times. For instance a couple of times in Skyggebilleder:

Morgenen var saa smuk, derfor sang ogsaa Fuglene, derfor duftede Blomsterne, og mit Hjerte selv opløste sig i Duft og Sang, og Verden, den store herlige Verden - følte og hørte lige meget til dem alle tre. Men den eier ogsaa bedre Blomster end de, der her voxe; den eier Oplysningens Blomst, hvis Duft gjennemtrænger Alt, forædler og styrker det; den kjender en mægtigere Sang, end Fuglens her paa Grenen, Frihedens store Morgensang; og Hjertet - det drømmende Digterhjerte, med sin Længsel og Smerte, hvad er dette imod et heelt Folks, et begeistret Heltehjertes sidste, stærke Slag for Liv og Fædreland; det arme Polen! (73)

The manifest political declaration of sympathy is highly creditable; likewise is the wish for rationalism and the dawning liberalism to form a synthesis. The problem is, however, that the statement is quite flimsy; neither before nor later in the book is there any trace of the author as a devoted philosopher of Enlightenment or reflecting upon politics. Politics seemed to Andersen to be either very abstract and thus, always at a distance, or else synonymous with matters concerning the royal family. Andersen is a master of characterizing the people he encounters on his journey as they appear immediately in front of his eyes. But the text is quite incapable of understanding people as bound up in social or class related patterns of contradictions. That is the way it is. I am not talking in any leftist moralistic way, merely am I stressing this because the writer himself seems to speak in no uncertain terms, as if politics was close to his heart. This is not the case. It seems that, at most, it can be understood as a kind of ideological superstructure built by the author in order to gain more friends for himself.

In a similar way H. C. Andersen tries to keep romanticism in check. What is most radical in the author's variant of his period's rebellious art is what I would designate as a fixation to signifiers of death throughout his travel books as well as his fictitious writings. An impressive abundance of churchyards, ruins, deserted streets and thoughts of death form an important structure in the travel books, to such an extent as to make one believe that they might actually be about death. Even "death is interesting" - as Andersen declared in my introductory quotation. But apart from this "death fixation", it seems, rather, that romanticism must be understood as a continuous flow of images in this description so full of images, more than it comes to represent the radically different: the mentality of the abyss. Face to face with "stolte fjeldmasser", "en brusende flod" and "døde stenmasser" the author starts recounting a legend about a girl who survived the worst of all. So, in this way is the romantic scenery mastered;

da faae de døde Masser Liv, det er ikke længer en tom Decoration, der bliver Handling, ethvert Blad, enhver Blomst staaer da som en talende Fugl og Kilden som et syngende Springvand, der slaaer sine evige rislende Acorder til dette Aandernes Melodrama.

Egnen rundt om, blev mig dobbelt smuk ved sine Sagn; der var ogsaa Liv og Bevægelse her paa Veien; vi mødte Kulbrændere med mørke, characteristiske Ansigter, og Bønderpiger, der saae ud som Mælk og Blod. Floden Silke brusede sladdrende forbi; den fortalte vist, hvad vi nok selv saae; at det Hele var saare godt. (69)

There is evidence of a certain insecurity in the passage quoted, adverbs who tend to undermine the stated optimism. But H. C. Andersen wished everything to be fine.

What is most impressive about Andersen's work is exactly his ability to constantly undermine unambiguous structures; his awareness of contradictions and ambiguities by means of which he was able to deconstruct the idyllic Biedermeier images. There is a beautiful example of this in Skyggebilleder, in the beginning of chapter 3:

En Reise gjennem Vierlandene til Harzen, er dog et ret levende Billede paa det hele Menneskeliv! - Den frodige, grønne Natur her, hvor Beboerne roligt sove inden for Dæmningerne, uden at drømme om den uroelige Strøm, der hvert Øieblik kan bryde ind over dem, forekom mig som den lykkelige, livsgrønne Barneverden, hvor der ogsaa overalt voxe Kirsebær og Blommer, store Sabelærter og brogede Blomster. (26)

I pay attention to the inscription of a kind of surplus consciousness in this passage. In the middle of this seemingly harmonious description of an earthly paradise, there is a very precise registration of nature's smouldering forces, so powerful as to flood and destroy "barneverdenen". Andersen's écriture is - and this is a crucial point - structured through this double gaze: he addresses the infantile heart, knowing that there is a torrent outside the nursery that must constantly be controlled.

As a mirror of the traveller and signifier of all that is grand and beautiful in life, nature is not represented as a space in which one could abandon oneself. Appearances are deceptive. The author's trips to the very "heart of nature" in both Skyggebilleder and En Digters Bazar bear witness to this. One might ask then why H. C. Andersen repeats this kind of encounter during his prolonged journey. The answer may be that he gets essential experience from caverns and grottos hidden beneath the earth.

On his journey through Germany he enters "Baumannshulen denne forstenede Phantasieverden" (58), named after a man who faced death on the very spot, and he wanders through a darkness filled with the silence of death, on the brink of the precipe. "De forunderligste Stalaktitter" (59), bones from animals, a "Labyrinth af Huler og Svælg" (59) and even more, inspires the author metaphorically to designate the cavern a nature's church. But how are we to understand this feeling of devotion? While thinking about the man who discovered the cavern the author feels his heart pounding

langt stærkere, jeg følte hvad han havde maattet føle her, ene overgivet til Skræk og Hungers Død; først da jeg saae det klare Dagslys, Guds blaa Himmel, følte jeg mig atter vel og mellem de Levende.

Det var som jeg vaagnede op af en hæslig Drøm, og som nu alle de underlige, uformede Skrækkebilleder laae forstenet bag ved mig; Solen skinnede mig atter ind i Øie og Hjerte. (60)

This is a romantic's writing; the writing of he who trembles face to face with an "unconscious", uncontrollable nature. But H. C. Andersen was a romantic divided against himself. This is deductible from the tension between extremely fear inducing experiences of nature - although few - on one hand, and the dominating structural tendency towards reconciliation on the other.

The travel books contain quite a few visions of nature that correspond to the important fairy tale "Klokken" from 1845. Nature is regarded as strenghtening, capable of expanding and enriching the soul; but due to the romantic conception of nature it is, likewise, constructed in the opposite way; that is, as emotionality's latent opposition to material progress - a progress which the author pays homage to. En Digters Bazar, especially, is imbued with images of and a consciousness of loss and loneliness. And this cannot be explained merely from encounters with the grand, ruined cultures of the past. The motive of transitoriness pervades the entire book; therefore, it is exactly at the center of the very first text in the book, about a Spanish dancer whom the author imagines as an old woman. At that time she has only memories left; in a nostalgic mood she sits on her balcony, thinking about what is now lost, gazing at the mountains - like a reversed image of the author (I, 29).

Another reason for this conspicuous repeated atmosphere of loss and disappointment might thus be that it is no simple matter to repeat an experience. The first time was the best; Christmas of 1840 i Rome is not like that of 1833 which

var en lystig Juul! Natten var varm og mild, som en Sommernat i Norden.

Og nu denne samme 1840. Ingen havde tænkt paa noget Jule
Arrangement! - Enhver sad hjemme hos sig. Det var koldt Veir. Kaminilden vilde ikke opvarme mit Værelse. (98)

Or another example: The queen of songs from Napoli has passed away when the author returns to the city. What is left is, thus, only sweet and deep feelings of remembrance. This loss gets even worse, when he wanders between the ruins that bear only the slightest trace of the glorious past:

Alt er forbi, kun Eccho sidder her endnu paa Ruinen og svarer med sin Ungdoms friske Stemme. (343)

The basic mood in En Digters Bazar is, thus, melancholy, which might in a certain respect be conceptualized as the equivalent of a person who is nevertheless alive to the fixation to death. In contrast to this is the prevalent enthusiasm for the symbolizations of progress. Therefore, my point is, precisely, that the two tendencies are intimately related; energies seem to diffuse between them, so that they stimulate each other. But the text is not capable of making these contradictory positions merge. With all due respect to Andersen.

One understands that it was difficult for Andersen to find out where he belonged. He states for example euphorically while sitting in a modern railway coach that

jeg heldede min Pande mod Jernstangen og følte mig ikke mere ene, end jeg er det i min lille Stue i Danmark. Den som har et Hjem i Hjemmet, kan føle Hjemvee, den som intet har, føler sig lige meget hjemme overalt. (52)

And in the last part of the book, after having complained through a replacing voice - in casu Tycho Brahe's - that he wasn't properly appreciated in his homeland, the sentimental, homesicknessridden author writes tautologically:

Aldrig kjendte jeg Hjemvee, uden det er Hjemvee, at Hjertet opfyldes af en forunderlig Kjærlighed ved Tanken om de Kjære i Hjemmet! (361)

No wonder that he looks forward to meeting friends and other acquaintances again after such a long and difficult journey.

But are the two statements about homesickness in accordance with each other? As far as I can tell they are not. The point of departure - stated in the first quotation - is precisely a position where H. C. Andersen is at home everywhere in the world, because he has no other home than the one that is provisionally at hand at the moment, in this case a train. But this recognition is buried or suppressed in the final homage to the continuity and constancy of a "home, dear home".

En Digters Bazar is written from the point of view of an exile, who will not admit that this is what he is. But it is also written by a melancholic who shows how perceptions of loss, loneliness and disappointment become pervasive. I am not arguing that Andersen is a melancholic by constitution; rather, I argue that En Digters Bazar is an artistic display of feelings of decay and impotence projected by the author onto his surroundings. The atmosphere of "Ak, hvor forandret!" is not reserved for those classical, passed away and crumbled cultures that is the destination of the journeys; it is part of the general ecriture. Finally, with another reference to my introductory quotation about the transparency of the present: If Skyggebilleder aims towards the future, in En Digters Bazar the compelling space is the past.

H. C. Andersen's texts and literary universe differ in crucial ways from the gloomy realm of the melancholic. What is characteristic of this psychically withdrawn position is its complete lack of interest in the outer world. The melancholic will not identify with other objects than the lost ones that belong to his own imaginary world. Contrary to this, Andersen expresses a pronounced propensity for life and its variety of possibilities. Likewise, it would be quite incorrect to say that Andersen was not able to identify with others. Nevertheless, I will claim that there are important similarities worth considering between Andersen and the melancholic.

Julia Kristeva emphasizes in her book Black Sun7 that because of the lingering introspective focus on what is lost, the melancholic discourse tend to dissolve. It is liable to oscillate between two extremities: on one hand the abyss of madness and on the other the insight of ecstacy, brought about by a transcendental gaze. Partly to feel on top of the world and partly to feel immensely inadequate and impotent. Correspondingly, the melancholic's discourse is on one hand joyfully playful, innovative and rhythmically melodious and on the other hand marked by silence, pauses and suppression, language thus constituted as a signifier of powerlessness. But then again I have to add to my argument: H. C. Andersen was an artist not a patient lying on the couch in a psychoanalyst's office and one couldn't accuse his energetic description of dissimulation.

The most striking thing about En Digters Bazar is, however, that it oscillates between lingering on configurations of death and emphasizing transitoriness on one side and, on the other, moving hastily and, often, cheerfully forward. Andersen is full of smile and sentimental tears of joy, but he is also full of melancholic sorrow and loss, the latter mood seemingly following him like his shadow.

It is also striking how a discursive problem that the author and his texts keep returning to, namely the impossibility of actually describing nature, has affinity to the melancholic complex. Resembling Kant's discussion of the "sublime", Andersen stresses time and again how nature evades the powerful process of signification. The author does not hide the fact that his text has a problem of representation - it is thus in accordance with part of contemporary literary science! Even the most elaborate of metaphors do not suffice:

Tordenen var forbi og vi droge afsted igjennem den deilige Ilsedal. - "Deilige?" Hvor lidet ligger der dog ikke i de døde Ord? Dog Maleren selv kan jo ikke med sine levende Farver gjengive Naturen i sin hele Storhed, hvorledes skulde da Digteren formaae det ved Ord? Nei, kunde Toner blive legemlige, kunde man male med Toner, som med Blæk og Pen, da vilde man kunde fremstille det Aandige, det der griber Hjertet, naar det legemlige Øie seer en ny og underdeilig Natur. (49)

The passage just quoted is from Skyggebilleder, and what is interesting is not only that H. C. Andersen shares the generic hierarchies of Romanticism and places music above words; what is interesting is also that he undermines the very image-founded structure of his own text. So neither the verbally or visually anchored imagination is able to grasp nature's mystery.

Language is insufficient when visions are to be apprehended; this experience is exactly what the romantic artist brings forward. The sublime can be suggested ecstatically; but even ecstasy is not sufficient. Not even sufficient enough to hide the impotence that is the driving force behind ecstasy.

In summarizing, I have argued from different angles that Andersen's travel books are highly complex - and contradictory. They are remarkable for an elaborate journalistic curiosity and for their honest descriptions of the unfamiliar. But they give free rein to the imagination, too, and in this respect they are not objective at all; the structuring point of view emanates from a narrator who seems to have been seduced by the new surroundings. They are driven by a desire to linger on images and to vanish into sequences of images. But it seems that there isn't infinite possibilities for the writer with respect to his medium. In the same way as he is never going to be part of what he percieves, his ecriture is sadly at a distance from what it represents. Andersen's texts are reminiscenses; delicate smells from what was once, and what is now - reconstructed and restaged - unattainable. The author was inclined to look through the present; likewise, the continuing text about the present is jubilantly melancholic insufficient:

Hvad Løn er der for disse Besværligheder? Den største! den rigeste! Naturen aabenbarer sig her i al sin Storhed, hver Plet er historisk, Øie og Tanke nyder. Digteren kan synge derom, Maleren give det i rige Billeder, men Virkelighedens Duft, der for evig trænger ind og forbliver i Beskuerens Tanke, mægte de ikke at gjengive. (209)


1. H. C. Andersen, Skyggebilleder af en Reise til Harzen, det sachsiske Schweitz etc. etc., i Sommeren 1831, ed. by Johan de Mylius, Copenhagen: Det danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab, 1986. 177 pp. (Postscript, pp. 137-56.) back

2. Octavio Paz, Children of the Mire. Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. back

3. Jens Baggesen, Labyrinten eller Reise giennem Tydskland, Schweitz og Frankerig. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1965. 331 pp. (Postscript by Torben Brostrøm, pp. 321-31.) back

4. Gert Mattenklott, "Der mythische Leib. Physiognomisches Denken bei Nietzsche, Simmel und Kassner", in Mythos und Moderne, ed. by Karl Heinz Bohrer, Frankfurt a.m. 1983, pp. 138-56. back

5. H. C. Andersen, Romaner og Rejseskildringer, bd. 6: En Digters Bazar, ved Knud Bøgh, 1944. back

6. Jørgen Bonde Jensen, H. C. Andersen og genrebilledet, Copenhagen: Babette, 1993. 254 pp. back

7. Julia Kristeva, Black Sun. Depression and Melancholic. Columbia University Press, 1989. (In French 1987.) back

  top Top

Bibliographic information about the text:

Svendsen, Erik: "Hans Christian Andersen - An Untimely Journalist", 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.

  top Top