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Scholars Want to Restore Fairy Tale Writer to Adult Literature

October 25, 1991

ODENSE, Denmark (AP) _ It’s partly Hans Christian Andersen’s own fault that he’s known mainly as a children’s writer and not taken seriously in adult literature, according to a scholar of the famous Dane’s works.

Bad translations, bowdlerization of his works in Victorian times, Hollywood’s Danny Kaye and Denmark’s tourist promoters didn’t do Andersen’s literary reputation much good, either, said Johan de Mylius, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Andersen.

Of his 156 stories and fairy tales, only a dozen or so are popularly known -even in Denmark. Andersen’s poetry, plays, novels, memoirs, travel writings, published letters and notebooks are virtually forgotten.

Andersen was fond of talking about his life as a fairy tale, and he wrote three autobiographies, the first at age 27.

But this ″myth-making″ was a decisive factor in preventing him from being taken seriously as a writer for adults, which he also was, said de Mylius.

″Andersen consciously marketed himself on the American model of the poor boy who makes good,″ he said. ″First you go through a lot of hardship, then you become famous.″

De Mylius recently played host to 70 scholars from 16 countries, including the United States, at a conference on Andersen. The scholars looked at Andersen’s vast, varied literary production in ″an adult perspective.″

The 19th-century Danish philosopher-theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, in a book dealing with Andersen as a novelist, accused him of having ″no general view of life″ and of lacking the ability ″of organizing a poetic world″ meaningful for others.

Many of Andersen’s stories have unhappy endings and are about people who behave immorally or unethically, just like the inhabitants of his hometown, Odense.

Andersen was born in 1805 the son of a poor shoemaker’s apprentice and a charwoman. He died in Copenhagen in 1875. Andersen suffered several bouts of unrequited love, and never married.

Although he called his fairy tales ″trifles,″ he often read them to adult friends, including the king of Denmark, according to Lily Owens, editor of an American edition of the complete tales.

″At some point Andersen must have been taken over by the myth he himself created,″ said professor Glyn Jones of East Anglia University, England.

″Bowdlerized translations still abound,″ said Jones. ″The damage has been done; English readers can’t know the real Andersen tales.″

The tale of the Little Mermaid - her statue graces Copenhagen harbor and is by far the city’s biggest tourist attraction - is often missing in American editions, as is ″The Emperor’s New Clothes.″ Both involve nudity.

The soldier overnighting with the princess in ″The Tinder Box,″ and the wife hiding the sexton in a chest so that her husband won’t discover her guest in another tale flew in the face of conventional morality, said de Mylius.

Jones, an authority on Nordic literature, said Andersen’s novels and stories were criticized for ″moral laxity″ in Victorian England.

In the tale of the Two Baronesses, for instance, Andersen wrote about marital infidelity and life in a brothel, of which he had personal experience from his Copenhagen days.

″Such realism was a no-no, not only in England but also in Denmark at the time,″ said de Mylius.

Andersen’s light conversational style was hard for classically minded translators to render into English, de Mylius and Jones agreed.

The new grown-up attitude toward the eccentric Dane, on the part of academics at least, is seen in books dealing with the fairy tales in psychoanalytic terms.

De Mylius unveiled a databank of all Anderson’s works, plus commentaries, in English and Danish, and conference delegates established a yearly seminar in Odense for foreign translators.

The tiny cottage of Andersen’s boyhood years is open to visitors to the old town of cobblestone streets and low, half-timbered houses.

An 18th-century house contains the H.C. Andersen Museum, which has a chronological exhibit of his life and work, a kind of illustration of his most famous autobiography, ″The Fairy Tale of My Life.″

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