The Ironic Inevitability of Death - Hans Christian Andersen's LykkePeer
Hans Christian Andersen wrote his brief, "fairy tale" novel LykkePeer1 over the course of several months in 1870, when he was 65 years old. The last of the author's six novels, LykkePeer shows Andersen at his creative best and displays a youthful vigor and alacrity as well as a literary adroitness that would do credit to an author half Andersen's age. Stylistically, LykkePeer is quintessential Andersen; it incorporates elements of both realism and romanticism, is imbued with striking lyrical passages, and evinces great literary and psychological sensitivity. It represents a fitting aesthetic capstone for the culminating years of Andersen's artistic life.2 Perhaps in part because of its brevity, however, LykkePeer has not been as thoroughly analyzed as Andersen's other novels. Yet, LykkePeer is in no way inferior to any of Andersen's other works and it deserves a closer reading on more than one level.
Because of LykkePeer's relative obscurity, a synopsis of the novel will precede the analysis:
Two children are born on the same day in the same house, Felix, son of a wealthy merchant family living on the second floor, and Peer, the son of the poor caretaker family inhabiting the garret. While Peer is still very young, his father dies in battle.
Peer soon demonstrates his luck: as he and other boys are scratching in the mud, Peer finds a silver coin and a golden ring. The other boys chase him away, taunting him as "LykkePeer". Later, Peer finds an amber heart in the trash. The merchant's wife, who has lost the ring, rewards Peer for finding it: he is allowed to keep the coin and the heart. Peer's grandmother attributes magical powers to the heart and ties it around Peer's neck as an amulet.
Somewhat later, Peer's godfather takes Peer to the dress rehearsal of a ballet. Peer is enthralled and decides to become a dancer. He shows talent and appears in several minor roles. He soon abandons ballet to become a singer and becomes the pupil of the singing master who feels that Peer may be a musical genius.
When Peer's voice breaks, he is sent to school in a provincial town. Here he is recruited into the town's acting company and creates a local sensation playing Romeo opposite the Juliet of the apothecary's daughter with whom he falls in love.
At the end of his second year at school, Peer becomes gravely ill. When he recovers his health and his singing voice, he returns to the capital city to begin to study for a career as an operatic tenor. His stage debut is a triumph. At this happy moment, he learns that the apothecary's daughter has married. Peer is plunged into despair and begins to compose musical fantasies on the piano. After further operatic triumphs, Peer meets the young daughter of the "widowed baroness". She inspires him to greater creativity as he secretly writes the music and text to a new opera, "Aladdin".
The opera is accepted into the repertory. With Peer singing the lead, "Aladdin" is received with thunderous applause. As Peer accepts the acclamation, he collapses on stage, dead of a burst coronary artery.
Even from such an abbreviated summary, it is clear that LykkePeer contains many of the stylistic and thematic elements that characterize both the author's other novels and his tales. For instance, this novel contains numerous examples of Andersen's everpresent humor and irony. Among the most prominent Andersenian themes in LykkePeer are: the protagonist's advancement from rags to riches, the tension between protagonist and alterego, the symbolic use of art, muted social criticism, religion, unrequited love, and, the subject of this analysis, the death of the protagonist.
At first blush, the sudden death of Peer may seem unmotivated and unjustified. Indeed, Andersen's diary entries indicate that one of the most frequent criticisms of LykkePeer was that the protagonist should not have died. Andersen's diary entry for November 23, 1870, for example, reads: "Besøgt fru Melchior, hun sagde at man fandt det ikke ret at Peer døde, ".3 On November 27, 1870, Andersen wrote: "Iaftes første Anmældelse af Lykke Peer, det var 'Fædrelandet', skrevet af Vinkel Horn, han regner den til mine svagere Arbeider og at Ideen er forfeilet, da Lykke Peer ikke bør døe i det han netop indtager sin Plads, ..." (Dagb., VIII, 439). And on December 2, 1870, he recorded: " tilbragte Middagen hos Fru Koch; Peter Koch meente at Lykke Peer ikke burde døe men prøve nogle Kampe og dog blive Lykke Peer." (Dagb., VIII, 442).
Indeed, it is conceivable that Andersen himself may not have anticipated this ending. If we can accept the anecdotal report from one of the daughters of the Holstein family, the author was uncertain about how the novel was to end. Andersen, she related much later in life, was in a bad mood one day and when asked why is supposed to have replied, "Jeg veed ikke, hvad jeg skal gøre med Peer."4 In his introduction to the 1944 annotated edition of LykkePeer, H. TopsøeJensen maintains that Andersen did not know what to do with Peer until July 12, 1870, barely a week before he had finished writing the first draft of the novel.5
Perhaps Andersen did not know, or was not willing to admit to himself, how to dispose of Peer during much of the novel's composition. If so, the elderly author may have been resisting using a device that he had employed on several occasions before. As H. TopsøeJensen and others have pointed out,6 a number of Andersen's tales and at least one of his novels (Kun en Spillemand, 1837) describe the death of the protagonist. To appreciate the appeal that this motif held for Andersen, we need only to think of a few of his most memorable tales, e.g., "Iisjomfruen", "Metalsvinet", "En Historie fra Klitterne", "Under Piletræet", and "Den lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne", each of which concludes on the somber note of the demise of one of the main characters. Often, this character dies at a young age. In fact, Andersen's first novel (Improvisatoren, 1835), contains the germ of the theme that found its full expression in Lykke Peer: While describing a performance of Donizetti's opera Torquato Tasso, Antonio muses melancholically:
Den mest hædrede Sangerinde, der fremkaldtes og atter fremkaldtes, smilede i sin Triumph, syntes jeg, som en ulykkelig Mager at kunne spaae en Fremtid fuld af Elendighed, jeg ønskede hende at døe i dette sin Skjønheds og Lykkes Moment. Verden vilde da græde over hende, hun ikke over Verden.7
Given the number of prior works in which the protagonist meets a sudden and premature death, plus ample evidence internal to LykkePeer itself, I would contend that Andersen was prepared virtually from the outset to let Peer die. LykkePeer, in fact, abounds with prefigurative devices that point both to Peer's artistic triumph and to his early death. Initially, the "positive" signs are more frequent; we do not advance very far into the novel before the "negative" portents begin to predominate, however. Individually, some of the signs are elusive; but in the aggregate they are incontrovertible. The first allusions foretell a bright future for Peer and set the reader up to expect that Peer will enjoy the life of the traditional fairytale hero: Peer's grandmother, the narrator explains:
var svagsynet og dog saae hun meget Mere hos lille Peer end Fader og Moder kunde see, ja Mere end noget andet Menneske kunde udfinde.
"Det søde Barn", sagde hun, "kommer nok frem i Verden! han er født med Guldæble i Haanden; det kan jeg see med mit svage Syn. Der ligger jo Æblet og glindser!"8
So compelling is this bright prophecy that the reader may disregard the next, more ominous prefiguration, which occurs at barely two paragraphs' remove from Peer's grandmother's prediction:
Peer havde rigtignok de deiligste Dage, men de blive ikke alletider ved. Krigens tunge Aar begyndte; Peers Fader var imellem de Indkaldte, og snart hørtes, at han var en af de Første, som faldt i Kampen mod den overlegne Fjende. (LP, 247)
So matteroffact is this passage, especially occurring as it does in the midst of so many more positive allusions, that the siginificance of the understated warning may not be fully appreciated. (Calling attention to the impermanence of good times may seem like stating the obvious.) In fact, the import of this passage does not become evident until much later in the novel when Peer's mother calls Peer his father's "udtrykte Billede" (LP, 286), reminding the reader at this otherwise happy time in the protagonist's life (he has just returned home from two years in the provinces) of Peer's father's early death.
In the meantime, it is clear that Peer seems to have been singled out by some mysterious power to be more fortunate than his lowerclass economic background might warrant: like Aladdin (on whom Peer is modelled),9 Peer is successful in virtually everything that he does. In one of the more revealing series of events from his childhood - events which themselves carry prefigurative weight -, Peer finds small treasures where the other children find nothing but worthless trash: a silver coin, a golden ring, and the amber heart which becomes his talisman (LP, 24950).
And after the still young Peer has fallen under the spell of the theater and is a pupil in ballet school, he is cast in a role with propitious overtones: "han skulde være et Kongebarn, som blev løftet paa Skjolde og fik Guldkrone paa" (LP, 254). Even here, however, there seems to be a muted undertone of caution. Significantly, it is Felix, Peer's alterego, who calls attention to the transitory nature of such good fortune. He has, he tells Peer, "seet ham, da han var Prinds; han vidste nok at nu var han det ikke mere" (LP, 254).
Moreover, in the fairytale world of the theater, a vaguely threatening note is introduced: while describing the splendor of the ballet "Samson" that so utterly captivates Peer, the narrator abruptly breaks the illusion and stresses the vulnerable reality of the situation: "der var baade Sprøite og Sprøitefolk, dersom en Ulykke skulde skee''(LP, 251).10 As was the case in the death of Peer's father in battle, the subtlety of this warning is largely overshadowed by the lighter, more carefree tone of the episode as a whole. Equally easy to overlook is the warning that occurs immediately after Peer's success in the role of "Kongebarn". As he is dancing costumed as one of the bats in the ballet "Vampyren", the artistic illusion is cruelly shattered:
hans Buxer og Trøie, eet Stykke var det, gammelt og skjørt, holdt ikke de Anstrengelser ud, saa at lige idet han for alle Menneskers Øine snurrede rundt, revnede han bag i, lige fra Nakken og ned til hvor Benene sidde fast og hele hans stumpede hvide Skjorte var at see.
Alle Mennesker loe, Peer fornam det og vidste at han var revnet bag i; han snurrede og snurrede, men værre og værre blev det. Folk loe høiere og høiere; de andre Vampyrer loe med; det snurrede inde i ham og allerforfærdeligst da Folk klappede og raabte Bravo. (LP, 255)
The broad comedy of this scene obscures an ambivalent prefiguration for Peer: the theater can be witness to humiliation and downfall as well as to triumph. It is from this point in the novel that the negative allusions begin to eclipse the positive. Peer now leaves the ballet to become an actor or a singer (LP, 256). After demonstrating initial promise, Peer's voice breaks, and Peer endures a period of exile in a distant provincial town. That this event represents a turning point in Peer's life is obvious enough (Peer has just been confirmed into the church [LP, 259]). That it is to start him down the path that will ultimately lead him to his death is less clear - unless the reader pays close attention to the somber imagery of the rail journey which takes him away from his happy childhood into the complexities of adulthood. His travelling companion is the blackclad "Enkemadame" whose entire conversation revolves around death and the grave:
Hun talte om sin Grav, sin Liigkiste og sit Liig, det vil sige om sit Barns. Det var en stor Lettelse for hende og det lille Lam, at det sov ind. (LP, 260)
It is under the dark cloud of this morbid reminder of an early grave that Peer arrives at his destination to begin this critical phase of his life. Despite the ironic humor with which the narrator has described the rail journey, Peer's circumstances can hardly be deemed unequivocally auspicious. He has, after all, lost his singing voice, been separated from those he loves, and now faces an uncertain future. Nor is Peer's first night at the home of the Gabriel family at all reassuring:
Hvad man drømmer den første Nat, man sover i et fremmed Huus, har Betydning, havde Farmoer sagt. Peer drømte, at han tog Ravhjertet, han endnu bestandig bar, lagde det i en Urtepotte, og det voxte til et høit Træ, gjennem Loftet og Taget; det bar i tusindviis Hjerter af Sølv og Guld; Urtepotten revnede derved, og der var intet Ravhjerte meer, det var blevet Muld, Jord i Jorden - borte, altid borte. (LP, 26465)
This dream encapsulates the tragic irony that is to be Peer's fate: his genius, represented by the amber heart, will swell to great proportions but will in the process destroy Peer's fragile earthly existence, symbolized by the mundane flower pot.
Another unmistakable allusion to Peer's death, and one that suggests that Peer would welcome such a demise, occurs shortly after Peer has taken the provincial town by storm as the illstarred lover in the local production of "Romeo and Juliet". The pedantic Hr. Gabriel attempts to bring Peer back to his studies by setting up as role models great men of the past. One of Hr. Gabriel's examples is the aged Sophocles, who "havde i sin høie Alder skrevet en af sine bedste Tragedier og vundet Seiersprisen over alle de Andre; i denne Hæder og Lykke brast af Glæde hans Hjerte" (LP, 269-70). What is particularly striking about this passage is Peer's reaction to it: Not only does Peer accept the possibility of death at the hour of supreme triumph, he embraces it: "O hvor velsignet at døe midt i sin Seiers Glæde! hvad kunde være lykkeligere! Tanker og Drømmerier fyldte vor lille Ven" (LP, 270). Note that the narrator has here given us a parallel to the prophetic dream of the amber heart discussed above; both foreshadowings include the motif of death at the apex of success. And both contain the motif of the heart's "bursting", which is precisely what happens to Peer at the conclusion of the novel. During his second year with the Gabriels, Peer has another portentous dream.
En Nat drømmer han, at det var Pintse, og han var ude i den deilige, grønne Skov, hvor Solen skinnede ind imellem Grenene, og hvor hele Skovbunden stod fyldt med Anemoner og Kodriver. Saa begynder Kukkeren: "kukkuk!" Hvor mange Aar skal jeg leve, spørger Peer, for det spørger man altid Kukkeren om, naar man første Gang i Aaret hører den kukke, og Kukkeren svarede: "kukkuk!" men heller ikke mere, saa taug den.
" Skal jeg kun leve endnu i eet Aar!" sagde Peer, "det er virkeligt altfor lidt. Vær saa god at kukke om!" saa begyndte ogsaa Kukkeren: "kukkuk! kukkuk!" ja, den fik ingen Ende ". (LP, 275)
Initially, the narrator makes a point of having the cuckoo give but one trill and then fall silent, an ominuous warning that Peer finds unsatisfactory and chooses to ignore. By compelling the bird to sing again, he attempts to avert his "fate"; but both Peer and the reader should realize that it is the first, and not the second, cuckooing that is the valid predictor of the future. - In actuality, of course, Peer does live more than the single year prophesied by the original solitary trill of the cuckoo. Furthermore, as the quiet dreamsinging portends, Peer does recover his singing voice but he does not enjoy the long life that the bird was coerced into singing out to him the second time.
After more than two years in limbo, Peer is allowed to return home. At this juncture, yet another prefigurative event intrudes. Peer becomes ill and nearly dies. The illness alone would be foreboding enough, occurring as it does when Peer's happiness is about to reach one of its highest points. Making the situation symbolically more sinister is Peer's delirious dream in which the "Elverpiger" nearly succeed in seducing him into forsaking both human companionship and life itself. To insure that this message is not lost on the reader, the narrator remarks that the feverish Peer happens to think of:
den gamle Sang om Ridder Oluf, der red ud at byde Gjester til sit Bryllup, men standsedes af Elverpigerne, som droge ham ind i deres Dands og Leeg, og det voldte hans Død. (LP, 278)11
Peer manages to break the spell of the "Elverpiger" and regain his health only by crying out to God and by singing hymns with his grandmother. Peer has narrowly averted death this time, but the reader has been given a sobering reminder that Peer is all too mortal, that death lurks unnervingly around the corner.
Shortly after his recovery, Peer arrives at the home of the singing master. Even on this joyous occasion, the narrator injects an oblique reference to Peer's early death. This example is, however, so imbued with humor that it is not immediately apparent that the narrator is providing the reader with foreknowledge. The situation is this: the singing master's servant has replaced the bust of Carl Maria von Weber with that of Mozart. This substitution causes a humorous interchange between the singing master and his servant until the latter is forced to admit the truth: that the bust of von Weber had broken and that that of Mozart had been substituted (LP, 28485). The key to this incident lies in the composers involved. The narrator could have chosen Beethoven or Haydn, who are later to become Peer's favorites (LP, 288). So why does the choice devolve upon von Weber and Mozart? The answer, it would seem, lies in the fact that Beethoven (17701827) and Haydn (17321809) lived more or less normal life spans for their era, while both Mozart and von Weber died at relatively young ages; von Weber (17861826) was dead at 40, and Mozart (175691) barely reached 35. By replacing the bust of a composer who died at 40 with one who died at an even younger age, the narrator has made yet another subtle inference about the fate of his protagonist.
A similarly understated allusion is perhaps found in the observation that the singing master's knowledge is vast and "uudtømmelig som Mimers Brønd" (LP, 288). In Scandinavian mythology, Mimer (ON, Mímir) is the guardian of the well of mystical, poetic knowledge. If the singing master is Mimer, however, Peer, who profits from his knowledge, must be Odin, who, as is well known, was the only being to have drawn from Mimer's well. The cost to Odin for a single drink from this well was one of his eyes. Surely Peer, who takes more than one draft from the singing master's well, must pay an even higher price?
Under the tutelege of the singing master, Peer's musical genius blossoms. He scores one triumph after another on the operatic stage and is feted by the public. Yet, even here the narrator has introduced veiled allusions to the fate that looms before Peer. He does so in his choice of some of the very roles in which Peer triumphs.
The first role that Peer sings is a propitious one, yet even it has undertones of tragedy. After considering the part of Joseph in Mehul's (17631817) opera Joseph in Egypt (1807), Peer and the singing master reject it in favor of that of George Brown in La Dame Blanche (1825) by Boieldieu (17751834) (LP, 29294). La Dame Blanche tells the story of a young man who, despite treachery, regains his birthright and marries his true love. As George Brown, Peer is an unqualified success (LP, 29495).
Peer's next role is that of Hamlet in the opera of the same name composed in 1868 by Ambroise Thomas (181196). Unlike the play by Shakespeare on which it is based, Thomas's opera does not end in the death of the hero - a crucial change in plot of which Andersen himself seemed curiously unaware!12 In LykkePeer, at any event, the narrator insists on labeling Thomas's opera a tragedy (LP, 299). But even if we do allow for Thomas's preposterous ending, in which Hamlet becomes reluctant King of Denmark, the protagonist can hardly be said to have gained much more than a hollow victory and must forever live with the desolate facts that his father and Ophelia are dead and that his mother is in a convent.
After his success in Hamlet, Peer takes on a greater challenge, choosing to sing the title role in Richard Wagner's (181383) Lohengrin (1850).13 Although the hero of this opera does not undergo physical death, he suffers an equally bleak symbolic fate. As the narrator tells us, no one could have sung the role as well as Peer, especially, "Mødets første Sang, Hjertesamtalen i Brudekammeret og Afskedssangen, hvor den hellige Grals hvide Due omflagrer den unge Ridder, som kom, seirede og - forsvandt" (LP, 304). Like Lohengrin, Peer, too, appears, triumphs, and as we learn on the last page of the novel, is suddenly gone.
We should note that a common thread runs through all four of these operas: that of the forced separation of the protagonist from his loved ones. Both Joseph and George Brown are cut off from their families, although both are in the end reunited with them. In Hamlet and Lohengrin, separation is paramount; the motif of reunion is absent, and the titular figures' fates are psychologically worse than death: Hamlet and Lohengrin are forever cut off from the love that should be rightfully theirs. The narrator hereby adumbrates that Peer, too, will be faced with this loveless future - if he does not die in the meantime.
One should not, of course, attach too much prefigurative significance to Peer's performance of tragic operatic roles, especially since a large number of romantic operas end tragically. Yet, when linked with the poem which Peer writes and sets to music, they provide further indication of the fate that is to be Peer's.
This poem (written by Andersen while he was in Paris in February of 1870)14 begins: "Alt farer hen som Vinden" and ends: "Og kommer aldrig igen" (LP, 298). Peer pens this melancholy poem after his success as George Brown and before playing Hamlet, "den sorgfulde, unge Prinds af Danmark!" (LP, 298). This poem is at least in part inspired by Peer's despondency over the news of the marriage of his first love, the daughter of the apothecary in the provincial town where Peer had previously been "exiled". Yet, even after Peer has triumphed in Lohengrin and has met the young woman whom he seems destined to love, the last stanza of this poem recurs as a disquieting refrain to underline the forebodings that Peer has begun to feel:
han var lykkelig i sin Konst dog kunde der komme en Skygge over dette ungdomsglade Ansigt, og fra Claveret klang da Melo-dien til Ordene:
Alt er Forsvinden - Forsvinden, (LP, 308)
Furthermore, the poem's emphasis on the ephemeral nature of existence anticipates Peer's tormented realization toward the end of the novel that, as a performing artist, he will leave no legacy of his genius to posterity. I will discuss this passage in greater detail later. On the heels of his success in Lohengrin, Peer meets the beautiful daughter of "Enkebaronessen". The ambivalent circumstance of their meeting belies the expectation that theirs will be a "fairytale" romance. Felix introduces Peer to the daughter - who significantly is not even given a name in the novel - at an exhibition of paintings, specifically in front of a picture described as follows:
det forestillede Campagnen, hvor to unge Ægtefolk kom ridende paa en og samme Hest, holdende hinanden fast. Hovedfiguren var imidlertid en ung Munk, som betragtede de to lykkelige Veifarende. Der laa et sørgende, drømmende Udtryk i den unge Mands Ansigt, man leste deri hans Livshistorie: et forfeilet Maal, det Lykkeligste tabt! Menneskelykken i Kjærlighed havde han ikke grebet. (LP, 305)
That Peer and the baroness's daughter are brought together for the first time in such a symbolically inauspicious setting casts a shadow over the outlook of their ever living "happily ever after" - even if they do fall in love, which is never explicitly stated in the novel. Indeed, there is good reason to assume that Peer and the baroness's daughter cannot marry since Peer considers himself betrothed to another. After an earlier conversation with Felix, who has accused him of not being able to understand "at være et ungt Menneske!", Peer's innermost thoughts are revealed:
Det forstod just Peer, paa sin Viis! med sit fulde, varme, unge Hjerte elskede han Konsten, den var hans Brud, hun gjengjeldte hans Kjærlighed, løftede ham i Solskin og Glæde; (LP, 301)
Thus, were Peer to marry the baroness's daughter, he would be compelled to abandon his one true love, an abstraction called Art (but an abstraction that the narrator has deftly personified by the use of "hun" in the passage above). Here we can see definite parallels to Andersen's own life, for Andersen feared that he would lose his artistic independence if he were to marry.15 Faced with this dilemma, Peer chooses to immerse himself in his art; his relationship to the baroness's daughter becomes little more than a tenuous, altruistic acquaintanceship. Indeed, it could even be argued that the baroness herself is more of an inspiration for Peer than is her daughter.
Shortly before Peer begins working on the opera that will both crown his career and end his life, he grows increasingly restive and melancholy and begins to think almost broodingly of his own mortality. When chided by the baroness that she knows no one as fortunate as he, Peer replies darkly in his most lengthy monologue in the novel:
Kald Ingen lykkelig før han er i sin Grav jeg er taknemmelig for det mig Betroede, men dette selv vurderer jeg anderledes end Andre. Det er et smukt Fyrværkeri, der farer hen og slukkes! den sceniske Konstners Værk er forsvindende. De evigt lysende Stjerner kunne glemmes for Øieblikkets Meteorer, men naar disse slukkes er der intet blivende Spor af dem uden de gamle Optegnelser. Langt lykkeligere stillet, end den sceniske Konstner, er Digteren, Billedhuggeren, Maleren og Componisten. De kunne i levende Liv prøve trange Kaar, savne den fortjente Erkjendelse, medens Bæreren af deres Værker lever i Overdaad og Forgudelsens Overmod; lad Mængden beundre den stærktfarvede Sky og glemme Solen, Skyen fordunster, Solen lyser og straaler for nye Slægter. (LP, 309)
Painfully aware of his own impermanence, perhaps with premonitions of his own impending death, Peer seems willing to renounce his present fame, his love, and even his life to achieve artistic immortality.
It is at this point that he secretly begins the musical and literary composition that he hopes will be a creation which will bring him undying fame, his opera "Aladdin". He succeeds in creating a work that does just that, but in a way which Peer seems not to have intended and could hardly have anticipated; for, as we know, Peer dies on stage as he accepts the ovation from the audience for his opera and his performance in it.
The conclusion to Andersen's last novel stands as one of the most brilliantly ironic endings that the author ever wrote. Peer, who yearned for immortality, has been granted his wish by a whimsical fate at the very moment of his greatest triumph and happiness. Peer will be long remembered, but whether he will go down in the annals of music history as a genius like Mozart who died before his time or whether as a curious footnote, the narrator leaves unspoken.
And there is perhaps one additional irony in Peer's sudden death: we can not even be certain whether Peer has finished performing his opera when his coronary artery bursts. The narrator provides lyrical glimpses into the structure and performance of both the first and the second acts of "Aladdin". But there is no mention of anything beyond the second act. Furthermore, as the narrator carefully points out, the final curtain falls for Peer, "da han greb Lykkens Lampe ombruset af Aandernes Sang" (LP, 317). Those familiar with Oehlenschläger's drama (upon which Peer's opera is based) will know that this scene occurs at the very beginning of Aladdin's long journey toward selfrealization and triumph.16
If Peer has not managed to perform the entire opera before he dies, he has not managed to be fully triumphant. Like Oehlenschläger's young Aladdin who has just gained possession of the lamp, Peer has reached the moment of his greatest potential. Unlike Oehlenschläger's Aladdin, however, Peer will never realize this potential. If, on the other hand, this scene does represent the end of the opera as Peer composed it, we can reasonably conclude that not only did the narrator intend to deny Peer his Gulnare, he also intended to spare his protagonist the torments that beset Oehlenschläger's protagonist - just as Antonio, thirtyfive years earlier, had wished to spare the diva in Improvisatoren (as noted above).
Throughout his life, Peer remained true to his art. It is the ultimate irony of this novel that art proves to be overwhelming even for this natural artistic genius, and in the end Peer is totally consumed by his artistic passion.17 Yet, the reader must not be misled, as were so many of Andersen's contemporaries, into seeing this conclusion as the defeat of the protagonist. Andersen himself clearly did not interpret the ending this way. As he wrote to Vilhelm Boye about "Fædrelandet"'s review of LykkePeer (referred to above): "Der har en ung Mand, Winkelhorn, leveret sin Mening, der slet ikke er min. Han gaaer ud fra, at det er aldeles feil, at LykkePeer døer, at det er en tilfældig Ulykke; jeg mener, at det er hans høieste Maal af Lykke, og det vilde jeg just."18
1. LykkePeer numbers a mere 72 pages in H. TopsøeJensen's annoted edition: H.
C. Andersen, Romaner og Rejseskildringer, Vol. V,
At være eller ikke være, Lykke
Peer, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1944, pp. 245317. back
2. Johan de Mylius aptly labels LykkePeer, "på mange måder, både i enkeltmotiver og hovedmotiv, tematisk og stilistisk, en opsummering af forfatterskabet" (Myte og roman. H. C. Andersens romaner mellem romantik og realisme. En traditionshistorisk undersøgelse, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1981, p. 210). back
6. Ibid., pp. xxixxxx; of Andersen's tales, Niels Kofoed has noted: "Only about onesixth of his 156 tales and stories are without any reference to death. In twentyfour of them death is the main theme and in another twentyfive death is part of the conclusion". Niels Kofoed, "Hans Christian Andersen and the European Literary Tradition", Chapter 4 in Hans Christian Andersen. Danish Writer and Citizen of the World, ed. Sven Hakon Rossel, Amsterdam / Atlanta: Rodopi, 1996, p. 248. back
9. Romaner og Rejseskildringer, Vol. V, p. xxix; see also Elias Bredsdorff, H. C. Andersen. Mennesket og Digteren, Copenhagen: Fremad, 1988, p. 333, and Johan de Mylius, Myte og roman, pp. 21112. back
10. It seems hardly coincidental that the theme of the first theatrical performance that Peer attends involves the betrayal and death of the protagonist at the hands of a woman. Could this be a subtle caveat about women to an impressionable young Peer? back
11. Andersen here is of course alluding to the well known folksong "Elverskud", in which Herr Oluf dies because he refused to dance with "Ellerkongens datter", an even more dire warning for Peer who likewise resists the blandishments of the "Elverpiger". (See Dansk Folkedigtning, ed. Erik Dal, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1972, pp. 21214.) back
12. The last scene of Thomas's opera ends with Hamlet's killing his uncle and, confronted by the ghost of his father, agreeing to live and become king of Denmark. As indicated in Thomas's score: "Hamlet: 'Mon âme est dans la tombe, helas! et je suis Roi!' Tutti: 'Vive Hamlet, vive Hamlet! - notre Roi!'" These are the concluding lines of the opera. Hamlet. Opéra en cinq Actes, paroles de MM. Michel Carré et Jules Barbier, musique de Ambroise Thomas, Paris: Heugel et Cie, n.d., pp. 35051. This ending seems to have been the version that Andersen saw in Paris on February 18, 1870 (the year he wrote LykkePeer). The unnumbered title page indicates that it is the 1868 redaction, and the cast included the two singers, M. Faure and Mlle Nilsson, whom Andersen mentions in his diary as having heard in these roles. Of this performance, he wrote in part in his diary: " saae Hamlet, som Faure udførte; Christine Nielsen gav Ophelia Shackspear er nøie fulgt, " (Dagb., VIII, 333). back
13. As Johan de Mylius has pointed out, Andersen was an adherent of the music of Wagner; Andersen began LykkePeer the evening before Lohengrin's first performance at Copenhagen's Royal Theater (see "Hans Christian Andersen and the Music World", Chapter 3 in Hans Christian Andersen. Danish Writer and Citizen of the World, pp. 199201). back
15. Sven H. Rossel writes: "In all likelihood, Andersen suffered from a fear of losing personal and artistic independence through a relationship such as marriage", in Sven Hakon Rossel, "Hans Christian Andersen: The Great European Writer", Chapter 1 in Hans Christian Andersen. Danish Writer and Citizen of the World, p. 24. Bo Grønbech asserts that, for Andersen, marriage would have meant an end to his freedom of movement and would have prevented him from being faithful to his artistic calling, in Hans Christian Andersen, Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980, p. 32. back
16. In Adam Oehlenschläger's Aladdin eller Den forunderlige Lampe (Poetiske Skrifter, Vol. II, 1805), the scene which clearly appears to be the one upon which Andersen based the final scene of Peer's opera shows the young Aladdin descending into an "underjordisk Hvælving høi, ret som en Have", where Aladdin finds himself surrounded by trees of metal, precious gems, their fruits, a mountain stream, etc.; this visual scenery is accompanied by an "Usynligt Kor af Bjergaander", "Andre Stemmer", and a "Stemme fra Lampen". See Adam Oehlenschläger, Aladdin eller Den forunderlige Lampe. Dramatisk Eventyr, ed. Svend Norrild, Copenhagen: Martins Forlag, 1926, pp. 3236. back