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Hans Christian Andersen. On the Wave of Liberalism

From time to time Kierkegaard scholars and Andersen scholars have alike been taken back by the violent and voluminous criticism that the youthful Kierkegaard launched against one of Hans Christian Andersen's novels. It was, as it will be recalled, Søren Kierkegaard's first published book, Af en endnu Levendes Papirer1 (1838), a critical review of Andersen's third novel, Kun en Spillemand,2 which had been published the previous year.

Due to the fact that Andersen's novels have only few readers today, it has been an obvious contemporary point of view to regard Kierkegaard's academic high brow attack on Andersen as being out of all proportion, even though one might tend to agree with Kierkegaard's main argument - that Andersen does not master the novel form with its wide synthesizing description of life.

Acknowledged or not, Kierkegaard's criticism has had a longstanding effect on the perception of Andersen's writings - from Georg Brandes via Paul V. Rubow to Villy Sørensen, and further to all other subsequent interpreters of Andersen's works who are all more or less indebted to Sørensen. This criticism of Kierkegaard's also influenced Andersen himself who, after Kun en Spillemand waited 11 years before publishing his next novel, De to Baronesser.3

Kierkegaard's early aesthetic writings (also the treatise Om Begrebet Ironi,4 conceived for the Master of Philosophy degree) including the Andersen review have not played any appreciable role in the greater part of Kierkegaard research. In the USA this treatise on Andersen is classified under the designation Early Polemical Writings as a result of which it loses much of its impact. It is not given its initiatory position for the whole body of Kierkegaard's work, a fact which Kierkegaard himself did nothing to avoid. In his own exposition of his "authorship" he did not include any of his early works at all in the final summary of his work. In fact he did everything he could to induce his readers to believe that his "authorship" began in 1843 with Enten-Eller.5 5

What is contained in this "repressed" book in Kierkegaard's authorship, the book about Andersen? What was it that caused Kierkegaard to react so violently? And what kind of a person is this Andersen who makes his appearance in the papers of the "still living" Kierkegaard?

Perhaps Kierkegaard's book is not merely an immature literary exercise from his apprenticeship, before existential philosophy had matured. Perhaps it contained a decisive lead in his critique of the period - and perhaps in Andersen's position as an author of the 1830's.

Before we proceed further we must realize what kind of a literary phenomenon Kierkegaard had directed his criticism against. A real impression is not gained by simply reading the review which, by and large, only refers to the novel Kun en Spillemand.

By way of introduction Kierkegaard summarily refers to Andersen as "den af en temmelig betydelig [det må her være: omfattende] literair Virksomhed ikke ufordeelagtigt bekjendte Digter Hr. H. C. Andersen" (I, 28).6 Of this extensive literary activity only lyrical poetry is mentioned - because Kierkegaard takes Hegel-Heiberg aesthetics as his starting point, and places Andersen on its lowest level, the lyrical. The many epic and dramatic works from Andersen's hand, prior to 1838, would have a disturbing effect here on the systematicity and argumentation, and therefore remain unmentioned.

That Kierkegaard condescends to refer to "hans første Ungdoms enkelte virkelig skjønne lyriske Frembringelser"7 (ibid.), should be regarded only as an introductory finesse. Kierkegaard would not waste his time on Andersen's lyrical side, but states in simple negativity that this lyrical foghorn is

en gjennem en elegisk Duodez-Scala af ligesaa let vakte som igjen dæmpede og uden synderlig Efterklang hendøende Toner sig bevægende og i et saadant Væv af tilfældige Stemninger hildet Mulighed af en Personlighed, der for at blive en saadan behøver en stærk Livs-Udvikling" (I, 29).8

At the time Kierkegaard published his criticism of Kun en Spillemand, Andersen's "rather significant [i.e. extensive] literary activity" as Kierkegaard calls it, comprised Fodreise [Travel on Foot], several collections of poems, the travel book Skyggebilleder [Shadow Pictures], two vaudevilles, two ballad operas and a libretto, the dramatic poem Agnete og Havmanden [Agnete and the Merman], three novels and three booklets of fairy tales plus several other items.

The domestic image of the sparsely reviewed poet Andersen has no doubt been somewhat blurred because of this rapid and wideranging production. In addition, at this time as well as later - far beyond the time of Andersen's death and even up to the present time - the person Andersen was so overwhelming in his obtrusive eccentricity that he - at least in the eyes of the Danish public - more or less overshadowed his own literary work. It must have been so also for Kierkegaard who, although he spends 56 pages on reviewing a novel, is at the same time reviewing the person of Hans Christian Andersen.

In relation to the totally withering criticism of the person and poet Hans Christian Andersen, it is not only important to remember the extensive production that Kierkegaard leaves unmentioned, but also to emphasize the position that Andersen had already achieved in 1838. Several of Andersen's poems had been published in German (some of them had even been set to music by Robert Schumann), the travel book Skyggebilleder and the three novels had also been translated into German, the latter having created a genuine breakthrough for Andersen there, particularly the novels Improvisatoren [The Improvisatore] and the one Kierkegaard deals with: Kun en Spillemand.

The French man of letters Xavier Marmier had written an essay in 1837 on Andersen ("La vie d'un poète") published in the Revue de Paris together with a translation of "Det døende Barn" ["The Dying Child"] into French. His article appeared in a German periodical in the same year and formed the basis of an article on Andersen in Brockhaus's encyclopedia. In 1838 Marmier's article was published in a Russian periodical.

Kun en Spillemand had become an extremely great success in Germany where the version, as described by Ivy Möller-Christensen in her book about Andersen's reception in Germany,9 received increased reader interest by an introductory biography of the author written by Captain von Jenssen and based on Andersen's own information.

Kierkegaard's review appeared on 16 April 1838. At the same time, the Dutch and Swedish translations of Kun en Spillemand were ready for publication, and late in the same year the Swedish version of Improvisatoren and several fairy tales were published.

It was therefore not just a confused young poet that Kierkegaard chose to attack, nor was it merely a lyrical narcissist who had misunderstood himself and his talent, and had published a worthless novel which deserved savage criticism, an unsuccessful budding poet who required to be shown his place before he really got started.

On the contrary, it was an author who had made his mark in Germany, Holland and Sweden and had caused some notice in France and Russia. The first Danish international author since Adam Oehlenschläger, and already well on the way to achieving more than Oehlenschläger had ever achieved.

In 1838, Andersen was the one author on the domestic literary scene who had first and foremost demonstrated the breakthrough of the modern contemporary novel. Before Andersen only B. S. Ingemann had written novels of any importance, but these were historical novels. Andersen, together with his friend Carl Bagger, was the first to introduce the contemporary novel in Denmark, as Thomasine Gyllembourg's tales were only novellas, that is extended short stories which do not have the aspiration of the novel describing a large section of reality and a sequence of life within its internal continuity.

It was this novellist Andersen that foreign countries had acclaimed in the 1830's, and this acclaim did not diminish after this decade, as several of his novels were published in England and America (as well as in other countries), and as late as 1852 when he had long been known as "der Märchen-König", the uncrowned king of fairy-tales, Andersen was told by some Americans that he had met by chance in Munich, that in America his novels could be bought at any railway station.10

Kierkegaard could not have been ignorant of the success of these novels in Germany and Marmier's essay in France. It was the subject of conversation in literary Copenhagen. But neither this, nor all the other fame and publicity, could influence Kierkegaard's evaluation, except perhaps in a precisely negative direction. And perhaps Kierkegaard's review is, to a certain extent, an expression of his and the Heiberg-group's resentment at seeing - in their opinion an inferior literary phenomenon - the intolerably self-promoting upstart Andersen receiving acclaim in other countries, where they were not concerned with his ostensible personal eccentricities, but read him, and read him with an eye to originality. While Heiberg and the other local notabilities did not see much further than Kongens Nytorv (the site of The Royal Theatre).

The importance of the breakthrough of Andersen's novels in Denmark and their success abroad is, of course, no argument when viewed in relation to Kierkegaard's artistic and existential criticism. But it gives food for thought that precisely this novel, that Kierkegaard found fit to spend 56 pages in denying all worth and merit was, at this time, Andersen's greatest international success.

But precisely because Kierkegaard could not have been ignorant of what he was dealing with here, there is good reason to ask what it really was, in the innermost recesses of his soul, that caused him to make such a scathing criticism. The review has the character of an assassination: Andersen had to be stopped and shown his proper place. The red warning lights are flashing everywhere in Kierkegaard's text. There is invested so much passionate energy in it, that it seems out of all proportion if it was only about Mr. Andersen writing a poor novel. Even as an apparent expression of the Heiberg-group's jealousy, the review is totally exaggerated.

If we disregard the artistic and personal arguments that Kierkegaard presents, we can see that his main complaint refers to the fact that Andersen allows his protagonist not only to be overcome by events, but expresses his solidarity with this downfall, and uses it as an indictment of existence (and society). "Der maa i Romanen være en udødelig Aand, der overlever det Hele", says Kierkegaard (I, 40).11

Andersen's loyal description of human downfall - which, as a genre class, points towards the "Decadence" novels of naturalism/realism, which was unheard of at that time in Danish literature - provoked the following comment from Kierkegaard:12

[...] at Skepsis som saadan ikke er en Erkjendelsesens-Theorie, eller for at blive i mit Forehavende, at en saadan Mistillid til Livet vel indeholder en Sandhed, forsaavidt den leder til at finde en Tillid (f.Ex. naar Salomo siger, at Alt er forfængeligt), men derimod i samme Moment, som den determinerer sig til en endelig Afgjørelse af Livets Spørgsmaal, indeholder en Usandhed (I, 37).

A generous portion of Hegelian philosophy is containes in these words. According to this philosophy negation is both necessary and authentic, but only as a transitory stage towards its neutralization in the synthesis. It is not possible to "stay" at negation, it is necessary to "continue" - an expression that Kierkegaard subsequently has sneered at, but which, now at this point of his earlier career, he accepts without any reservation.

The criticism of Andersen's novel is essentially of the same type that the later Prime Minister and Bishop D. G. Monrad levelled against Fr. Paludan-Müller's Dandserinden from 1834. A large part of this review was concerned with what Monrad called,

en gjærende, urolig Stemning, der ifølge sin Natur medfører stor Eensidighed i Anskuelserne [] den Stemning, som næsten indtræder hos alle unge, kraftfulde, poetiske Gemytter i en Gjennemgangsperiode, og som ofte er en umiddelbar Forløber for Mandens rolige, klare Besindighed.13

With regard to the spirit of negation Monrad felt compelled to say that,

uagtet Tvivl og Uro saaledes gribe Hjertet, uagtet Troen paa det Uendelige næsten ganske tilintetgjøres [] saa kan dog Mindet om denne Troe ikke forsvinde, og omendskjøndt dens Toner mere og mere hendøe og tilsidst ganske ophøre, saa blive de dog ved at lyde for Sjelen i stille Øieblikke, ligesom Efterklangen af en Musik, der rører og bevæger os, selv længe efterat Musiken selv er forstummet. Dette er den Stemning, som synes at ligge til Grund for Reflexionerne i Dandserinden, enten det nu har været Forfatterens Hensigt at skildre en saadan Stemning, eller det maaske snarere er skeet ubevidst [] Dette Sidste forekommer os at være det Sandsynligste.14

When confronted with a work which expressed "negation" without explicitly showing the way to a "higher" level of insight, Monrad would be obliged to assume that the author and his readers would have this level in mind, as a matter of course, so although it was not heard, the "sound" would still be there.

Kierkegaard says about "negation", or "doubt" as he calls it here15 that,

en saadan Mistillid til Livet vel indeholder en Sandhed, forsaavidt den leder til at finde en Tillid [] men derimod i samme Moment, som den determinerer sig til en endelig Afgjørelse af Livets Spørgsmaal, indeholder en Usandhed (I,37).

When Kierkegaard is so much more pungent in his criticism of the "doubt" that he finds, than Monrad was, it is because for him, Kierkegaard, it is not only an expression of something philosophical or of a view of life. It is something much more concrete that is involved here, it is a crisis in contemporary trends that he discovers in Andersen's novel.

The "doubt", that Kierkegaard directs such a violent attack against, is a phenomenon that he identifies with the liberal, freedom-thirsting movements in Europe, movements that were also gradually appearing in Denmark in the 1830's, and whose advance Kierkegaard was watching closely. It is this "Tidsalderens Hovedretning i det Politiske" (I, 22)16 that he initially polemizes against and calls a "Vildfarelse" (ibid.).17 He calls the revolutionary fervour of liberal movements

Mangel paa Taalmodighed til at kunne finde sig ind i Livsforholdene, [] Afmagt til, udfyldende en bestemt Stilling i Staten, at bære med paa Historiens for den Fornuftige lette og velsignelsesrige Byrde (I, 23).18

In Andersen Kierkegaard finds this denial of established reality - also because Andersen places reality, that is social reality, under indictment in his novel. It is "Omstændighederne" (I, 44)19 which, according to the novel, are the main reason for the protagonist Christian's failure and all other human beings' success or failure, or whether what has been given by nature is allowed to blossom. This was completely unheard of at this time, which placed the responsibility on man's own ability to know himself, and recognize his own position, and act accordingly from a principle of free will. This freedom of action on the basis of cognition must - so it was claimed - necessarily find its (positive) answer in a metaphysically regulated world.

Monrad protested on behalf of metaphysics. Kierkegaard protests on behalf of reality ("Virkeligheden"), and by this is - at this stage of Kierkegaard's intellectual development - meant the reality of the existing social order. It is therefore he speaks so raptly of the goal that he calls, "en dyb og alvorsfuld Omfavnen af en given Virkelighed" (I, 29),20 and the "given reality" is quite simply the existing absolutist society, the bourgeois order, as expounded in the previously quoted lines about "Staten" and "Historien".21

This is the reason why Kierkegaard makes a frontal assault on Andersen's novel. Therefore he has no need to refer to other, and perhaps different, parts of Andersen's earlier production.

And this is why it is important for him to have this novel denied any justification or value - and why he wants to stop Andersen from moving in the direction that he has apparently chosen to take.

But it is also why he tries to 'tutor' Andersen, to draw him away from the dangerous trend he has submitted to with his novel, by establishing it in Danish literature. Kierkegaard tries to explain Andersen's problems by saying that he is really a type of personality and author who would have won more sympathy and response in an earlier and less unsettled period. Because as Kierkegaard says, the period in which Andersen is now writing is "den saa kaldte politiske Periode" (I, 30).22 Kierkegaard's pedagogical argument against Andersen is that the age, the period, is against him, precisely because it is political. This is to say that the road would be prepared for Andersen's withdrawal from the alliance with international literary scepticism and social critical liberalism, that he now seems to be expressing. And the pedagogy even goes so far as to praise Andersen for his lyrics because, in spite of its faults, it is much better than his political writing: "Andersens lyriske Selvfortabelse er glædeligere end den moderne politisk-episke Selvforgabelse" (I, 29).23

This is therefore again the reason why Kierkegaard, by way of introduction, praises the anonymous author of Hverdagshistorierne, Johan Ludvig Heiberg's mother, Thomasine Gyllembourg. She expresses "Tillid til Verden" (I, 25)24 and displays "i sin Positivitæt [] en saa stor Rigdom indefter og afgav et saa glædeligt Vidnesbyrd om Tilværelsens poetiske Vægtfylde" (I, 24).25 The main element of Thomasine Gyllembourg's influence on the reader is persuasion, Kierkegaard says eight years later in his book A Literary Review dealing with her last story To Tidsaldre:26 Hun "overtal[er] En til at blive, hvor man er" (XIV, 22),27 Kierkegaard says here in 1846, which is close to what his mentor, the poet and philosopher Poul Martin Møller had said in his review of her story Extremerne, that she expresses "en beroligende Contemplation" (Efterladte Skrifter, 2nd ed., Vol. VI, 61)28 viewed in relation to "det unge Tysklands og det unge Frankrigs vilde Literatur" (VI, 60),29 which is close to putting an end to the harmony of the Goethe-era (cf. VI, 68): "Man har nemlig villet gjøre Poesien til et Organ for den politiske Opposition" (VI, 59).30

It is not the idea here, with reference only to Kierkegaard's criticism, to nominate Andersen as an exponent of "the political opposition", as Poul Martin Møller called it.

On the other hand, it is worth considering that Hans Christian Andersen, with his novel Only a Fiddler, has nolens volens placed himself in the role of a potential fellow player on the liberal wing in the 1830's, and therefore a factor in the world of literature, and whom Kierkegaard, in complete agreement with the ideas of his mentor Poul Martin Møller, must try to deflate. Kierkegaard's criticism of Andersen concerns a relationship consisting of esthetics and philosophy of life, but its foundation is critical of the period or, in other words, political.

Has Kierkegaard then completely missed his mark, or has he found something about the early Andersen that posterity has tended to overlook?

If we look at the novel Only a Fiddler itself, we can clearly see a difference in comparison to the conventional standards of literature here in the bourgeois, late absolutist period, the 'Golden Age' as we like to call it.

Andersen's novel allows the downfall of one of the two main characters (Christian) without even a prospect of atonement in, or after, death. The demands of the period were harmony, serenity, a confirmation of a bond between the metaphysical and the mundane order.

The other main character (Naomi) admittedly achieves the social success that Christian lacks, but pays for it with internal futility and depression or ennui.

In its description of life the novel emphasizes man's lack of free will, due to social constraints and psychological inhibitions. The latter is particularly evident in the depiction of the main character Christian and one of the secondary characters, Luzie. Overall the novel strongly accentuates the impulsive, nature's part in humanity, in contrast to the social sphere of activity. The concept of human nature present in this novel also includes the unconscious that the novel attempts to describe in tense and suggestive symbolic picture sequences.

The dark side of man (the criminal violin-playing Norwegian) and the dark side of society (for instance the brothel milieu in Copenhagen) are forceful elements in the novel.

And then there are, as previously mentioned, the novel's general indictment of "circumstances" as being decisive for man's fate - and not man's free self-determination, but rather the interplay between circumstances and social opportunity, or lack of social opportunity.

Since Andersen was a successful representative of a genre, new in Denmark, and one with public appeal - the contemporary novel - this distinctive deviation from the established values and standards of the Golden Age must have clearly signalled danger, also political danger. And therefore provoked a politically motivated protest such as that of Kierkegaard.

But how was Andersen positioned in relation to the 'liberal opposition'? Andersen who, in the 1830's had become a constant guest at a number of country manors and who cultivated connections in the highest echelons of society, Andersen who would not have any mixing of poetry and politics, - it is difficult to imagine him as being an ally of the liberal opposition.

Nonetheless there is a current throughout his work, which as such does not provide sufficient evidence for making an 'author of the opposition' out of Andersen, but does point him out as an author who was sympathetic to the general direction of liberal opinion.

This area has not been mapped and it would therefore be impossible to go into detail about it right here. But some suggestions may be given as a draft for future discussion and research.

In both Fodreise and Skyggebilleder, from 1829 and 1831 respectively, there was a certain spirit of opposition present, in Skyggebilleder there was even an almost radical political expression following the French July-Revolution of 1830. In Leipzig, during the travel through Germany, which inspired the Skyggebilleder, Andersen heard Rossini's opera based on the champion of liberty, Wilhelm Tell, and afterwards went to visit

Reichenbachs Have for at see Stedet, hvor Poniatovsky, fandt sin Død i Elstyerfloden. Haven her, tilhører en riig Kjøbmand Gerhardt, der lader sig betale for at see dette Sted (edition: Danske Klassikere 1986, p. 84).31

Outrage blazes from the - by Andersen himself - accentuated words.

Here indignation - as so often later - is directed against the 'nouveau riche', the plutocracy who desecrate memorials.

With reference to the monument to Poniatowsky, Andersen has this to say,

et Stykke var ganske hugget bort af Stenen, man sagde, at her havde staaet Vers, som den sachsiske Regjering havde fundet for frit, og derfor skaffet bort. Det gaaer ogsaa forvidt, naar Stenene kunne tale! (p. 84-85).32

With regard to the fate of the dying Poland - a subject where a Danish citizen of an autocracy was allowed to express sympathy for freedom - Andersen makes the following pronouncement:

Med Kjæmpe-Skridt gaae vi en ny og bedre Tid imøde; men Europa maae have udkjæmpet, den vilde Lava maae først syde fra Bjerget, før det kan bære Fredens, Frugtbarhedens frodige Ranker. En fornuftig Frihed, en naturlig Oplysning vil da udbrede sin milde Sommervarme over Landene, da vil det nye Gimle stige bag det kjæmpende Ragnarokr! men vor Tidsalder er interessant! den vilde Gjæring i Naturen og Menneskelivet, er det ogsaa herligt at opleve! vi virke jo alle med til det store Maal (p. 85).33

Then follows an ironic denunciation of press censorship. Cautiously, particularly directed to foreign countries. A reference to "poor Poland", that is Poland's struggle for freedom, is also a convenient cover for the second attack which Andersen makes in chapter VI of Skyggebilleder in the form of morning impressions:

Fuglene begyndte at synge, Duggen laae i klare Draaber paa Blomsterne og Solen skinnede paa det store prægtige Landskab derude. Verden er dog smuk! Hvilken uendelig Herlighed, fra den mindste Blomst med sin Duft, til mit Hjerte med dets flammende Tanker og atter fra dette til den store Jordklode, med de herlige Bjerge og de svulmende Have!
Hvad bryder Hjertet sig om hvad Blomsten drømmer, idet den dufter saa veemodigt stærkt i Morgenduggen, der er noget langt Større, noget langt Vigtigere, der sætter dette i Bevægelse; hvad bryder Verden sig igjen om det enkelte Hjertes Længsel og Blomsterduft; mægtigere Lidenskaber, et heelt Folks Kamp og Undergang, Revolutioner i Naturen og Menneskelivet, ere dennes Drøm og Tanke.
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!
Nær havde jeg digtet en Sang til Folket: "uden Fædreland", endnu føler jeg Trang dertil, men - hvad kan den hjælpe dem! - jeg faaer desuden tidt et underligt Anfald af gediegen Fornuft, saaledes nu i dette Øieblik, og det er ret en Lykke for et ungt, brusende Gemyt, der saa let lader sig henrive af det glimrende Store, uden at tænke paa Politik, Forhold og Enden paa det Hele (56-57).34

Much in these outbursts in Skyggebilleder recurs, in one form or another, throughout Andersen's work: a belief in human progress towards better times, which displays a change from enthusiasm for freedom to optimism for the future and to a belief that society will find newer and more equitable forms, create freer exchange and interchange at all levels of society; a belief in enlightenment, which still reminds us here of Jens Baggesen's eulogy of the dawn of enlightenment in Labyrinten (which is, on the whole, the closest Danish literary model for Skyggebilleder), but which later allies itself with a reliance on the positive forces in science, technology and industrialization; last but not least a belief in the increased force of humanism, as thematized in Andersen's later work, for example the stories "Bispen paa Børglum og hans Frænde" (1861) and "Gudfaders Billedbog" (1868).35

There are direct connections from these tendencies in Andersen's early work to his repeated praise of 'nobility of the soul' in contrast to, and criticism of, the privelege of birth, a theme he has in common with most of bourgeois literature from the latter half of the 18th century and up to the abolition of the absolute monarchy (and thus the abolition of the remaining priveleges of the aristocracy). All this thematic treatment was part of the bourgeoisie's cultural struggle during the late period of absolute monarchy, an assertion of the self-created qualities of the bourgeoisie and entitlement to influence in society. This can be found in Thomasine Gyllembourg, in Carl Bernhard and right up to M. A. Goldschmidt's novel Arvingen (1865).36

Andersen makes common cause with this progressive bourgeois front, the liberal middle-class demand for a prominent position in society. This is one of his recurring themes from the novel O. T., the plays Mulatten and Kongen drømmer, the novel De to Baronesser via such stories as "Alt paa sin rette Plads" and "Gartneren og Herskabet" and then to the novella Lykke-Peer.37 With reference to Kongen drømmer, which had its premiere at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in February 1844 and was published in book form in the same month - submitted to the theatre and published anonymously - Andersen wrote a letter to Jette Wulff (of February 25th), in which he was amused by the conjectures as to who might be the author of the play:

et lille Stykke 'Kongen drømmer' gjør stor Lykke; der er en evig Gjætten paa hvem Forfatteren er, da det skal være politisk [] Der udtaler sig i Stykket en stor Vrede mod den danske Adel (HCA/Wulff I, 374-75).38

In this context, it is wise to remember that Andersen was a close friend of the leader of the liberal opposition, Orla Lehmann. Lehmann had been imprisoned, but when he was released on 21 April 1842, only three days elapsed before Andersen paid him a visit. An action which could not be attributed to Andersen's invariably emphasized need for self-promotion as, at this time, a visit to Lehmann could quite well be construed as an expression of sympathy. They met again in Paris in March the following year and agreed to see more of each other back in Copenhagen. After the introduction of democracy, Andersen visited Lehmann in Vejle in 1850 where Lehmann had been appointed prefect of the county - Andersen was at that time on a short domestic journey with Silkeborg as its main destination.

If we look further forward, it is also important to mention, when speaking of Andersen's political sympathies, that he did not in his old age forget his origins. From 1860 onwards he was a stable guest in the newly-founded 'Arbejderforeningen' (Workers' Club), an association for the advancement of workers' education organized by middle-class patrons. During reading evenings at Sølvgade's School and at the Casino he could draw full houses of worker audiences, comprizing from 500 up to 8-900 listeners.

In the continuation of Mit Livs Eventyr39 for the years 1855-68, Andersen says about himself addressing the workers, that he was "den, som 'brød Isen', og det er en Ære, jeg ikke vil give slip paa".40 The workers would not let him go either, but fêted him on several occasions in the 1860's. And at his funeral the 'Arbejderforeningen' mobilized some thousand mourners in his funeral procession.

Søren Kierkegaard's attempt to 'rescue' Andersen - or perhaps, through forceful criticism, to deflect him from the path that he was embarking upon, and which would lead him into the liberal opposition circle - had only the effect that Andersen took a break of 10 years from writing novels. But he did not give up his sympathies. In time they were given different expression, appeared in different forms - but they remained as a watermark in his work, which had, of course, its background of reality and social experience that predestined Andersen to have other thoughts and sympathies than those that could be met in the Golden Age's core readers and core authors.

It is no accident that Andersen in De to Baronesser describes the death of King Frederik VI as the end of an epoch, and that he inserted, into his otherwise cheerful and optimistic novel, documentary details from the King's funeral, the riots of the mob as the King's coffin was being transported to Roskilde:

der gik vilde Skarer og sang og raabte Hurra! de kastede Snebolde og Fakkelstumper efter os (part III, chapter 6; ed. Danske Klassikere 1997, p. 196).41

In spite of his official sympathy for King Frederik VI, expressed in the very same chapter of the novel, Andersen discreetly illuminates a different reality, a different 'populace'. He and they had witnessed a dying era!

Andersen worked his way into the dominant layer of society of his time, and was assimilated, to a great extent, into it. But something remained of his origins that he did nothing to hide in his work.

Kierkegaard saw it clearly: Andersen was not so harmless after all. But Kierkegaard wisely disguised his political attack on the upcoming literary star, Andersen, as a literary criticism of a poet misunderstanding his own skills and therefore being not only a fiddler, but a poor novelist.


Elias Bredsdorff: "H. C. Andersen - den forsigtige rebel". Lecture at the opening of the Hans Christian Andersen-Center, in Johan de Mylius (ed.): Udsyn over H. C. Andersen, publ. by H. C. Andersen Centret, Odense University 1989, p. 5-14.
Johan de Mylius: 'Hr. Digter Andersen.' Life, Works, Opinions (Coph. 1995).
Peer E. Sørensen: H. C. Andersen & Herskabet (Grenaa 1972).


1. From the Papers of One Still Living. back

2. Only a Fiddler. back

3. The Two Baronesses. back

4. The Concept of Irony. back

5. Either-Or. back

6. "the poet of a rather significant [should be: extensive] literary activity, the not unfavorably known poet Mr. H. C. Andersen". - Danish Kierkegaard-quotations refer to Søren Kierkegaard: Samlede værker, Vol. I, 3rd edition, 2nd impression, Cph. 1978. English qoutations refer to Kierkegaard's Writings, Vol. I, Early Polemical Writings, edited and translated with an introduction and notes by Julia Watkin. Princeton University Press, 1978. Here: p. 69. back

7. "the few really fine lyric productions of his early youth" (Watkin I, 70). back

8. "a possibility of a personality, wrapped up in such a web of arbitrary moods and moving through an elegiac duodecimo-scale of almost echoless, dying tones just as easily roused as subdued, who, in order to become a personality, needs a strong life-development" (Watkin I, 70). back

9. Ivy York Möller-Christensen: Den gyldne trekant. H. C. Andersens gennembrud i Tyskland 1831-1850. Odense University Press 1992. back

10. Cf. Johan de Mylius: H. C. Andersen - Liv og værk. En tidstavle 1805-1875, p. 104. Cph. 1993. (Also on the web: back

11. "In a novel there must be an immortal spirit that survives the whole" (Watkin I, 83). back

12. "[] that such a mistrust of life certainly contains a truth insofar as it leads to finding a trust (for example, when Solomon says that all is vanity), but, on the other hand, at the same moment as it ends up as a final decision on life's questions it contains an untruth" (Watkin I, 80). back

13. Signaturen D. G. M.: "Om Dandserinden betragtet som reflecterende Poesie", in J. L. Heiberg's periodical Kjøbenhavns flyvende Post, Interimsblad Nr. 2, Søndag d. 19. Januar 1834. ("A growing unsettled mood which, because of its character leads to prejudiced opinions [] the same mood that manifests itself in almost all young vigorous poetic natures in the period of transition that is often the precursor of the serene level-headedness of mature manhood"). back

14. Ibid. ("Although doubt and anxiety may grip the heart, although belief in eternity may be almost completely shattered [] the memory of this belief, however, will not disappear and, although its tones may languish more and more and finally disappear completely, they will still sound in the soul in silent moments, just as the echo of music which can still touch and move us long after the music itself has ceased. This is the sentiment that seems to be the reason for the contemplations in the Dandserinden, either because it was the author's intention to characterize this sentiment, or rather, because it just came so perhaps unconsciously [] The latter seems to us to be the most likely explanation"). back

15. Cf. note 12. back

16. "the main trend of the age in the political sphere" (Watkin I, 63). back

17. "delusion" (ibid.). back

18. "lack of patience to adapt oneself to the conditions of life, [] powerlessness, when filling a particular position in the state [should rather be: in filling], to share the burden of history, which is light and beneficent for the reasonable (ibid.). back

19. "chance occurrence" (Watkin I, 88) or: circumstances. back

20. "a deep and earnest embracing of a given actuality [or: reality]" (Watkin, I, 71). back

21. "the state", "history", cf. note 18. back

22. "the so-called political period" (Watkin I, 71). back

23. "Andersen's lyric self-absorption is [- here a misunderstanding in the translation is omitted! -] more gratifying than the modern political-epic self-admiration" (Watkin I, 71). back

24. "confidence in the world" (Watkin I, 65). back

25. "on its positive side [] such a great inner wealth and provided such a happy testimony to the poetic specific gravity of existence" (Watkin I, 65). back

26. Two Ages, 1845. back

27. "she persuades you to remain where you are". back

28. "a soothing contemplation". back

29. "the wild literatures of Young Germany and Young France". back

30. "They have attempted to make poetry a voice of the political opposition". back

31. "Reichenbach's Garden to see the place where Poniatowsky met his death on the river Elster. The garden here belongs to a rich merchant Gerhardt who charges to let people see this place". back

32. "A portion had been completely removed from the stone, it was said that the government of Saxony considered the words offensive and had therefore erased them. Things have certainly gone too far when stones make statements". back

33. "We are moving with giant steps towards better times; but Europe must struggle, the wild lava must first issue from the mountain before it can bear the lush vines of peace and fertility. A rational freedom, natural enlightenment will then spread its mild summer warmth across nations, then will the new 'Gimle' rise up behind the battling 'Ragnarokr'! But our age is interesting! the wild turmoil in Nature and in Man, it is exciting to witness! We are all acting as part of the great objective". back

34. "The birds began singing, the dew lay in bright drops on the flowers and the sun shone out on the exquisite landscape out there. How beautiful the world is. What infinite splendour, from the smallest flower, with its fragrance, to my heart, with its burning convictions, and further to the great globe with its magnificent mountains and its rolling oceans. // What does the heart care about what a flower is dreaming of when it so mournfully sheds its fragrance on the morning dew, there is something much greater, something much more important that sets this in motion; what does the world care about the yearnings of individual hearts and the scent of flowers; more powerful passions, an entire people's struggle and downfall, revolutions in nature and in the lives of men are its dreams and ideas. // The morning was so beautiful, therefore sang the birds, therefore the flowers shed their fragrance, and my heart itself was dissolved in scent and song, and the world, the great, wonderful world - felt and listened to all three. But the world also owns better flowers than those that grow here; it owns the flower of enlightenment whose fragrance permeates everything, ennobles and strengthens it; it knows a more powerful song than the bird on the bough, freedom's mighty morning song; and the heart - the visionary poet's heart, with its longing and pain, what is this compared to a whole nation's, a heroic heart's last strong blow for life and native land; unfortunate Poland! // I had almost composed a hymn to the people: 'without a fatherland', I would still like to do so - but what good would it do them - moreover I often suffer an attack of genuine sanity, such as the one now, at this moment, which is pure fortune for a young impetuous character, who easily lets himself be enraptured by the brilliance of the great, without thought of politics, circumstances and the outcome of it all". back

35. "The Bishop of Borglum and His Kinsman" and "Godfather's Picture Book". back

36. The Heir. back

37. The Mulatto, The King Dreams, The two Baronesses, "Everything in its Proper Place", "The Gardener and the Noble Family", Lucky Peter. back

38. "A little piece called The King Dreams is a big success; there is great speculation about the identity of the author, as it is said to be political [] Great resentment of the Danish aristocracy is expressed in the play". back

39. The Fairy Tale of My Life. back

40. Mit Livs Eventyr, edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen, 1975, II, 204. Transl.: "I broke the ice and that is an honour I will not let go". back

41. "wild crowds were singing and shouting hurrah! They threw snowballs and pieces of burning torch at us". back

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Bibliographic information about the text:

Mylius, Johan de: "Hans Christian Andersen . On the Wave of Liberalism". In: Hans Christian Andersen. A Poet in Time. Papers from the Second International Hans Christian Andersen Conference 29 July to 2 August 1996. Editors: Johan de Mylius, Aage Jørgensen and Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen. The Hans Christian Andersen Center, Odense University, and Odense University Press. 576 pages, Odense, Denmark 1999. P. 109-124., 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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