The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Beautiful and Damned

Hans Christian Andersen, having been born in 1805, has been in the news this year. The lucid beauty and stark tragedy of his tales has been commented on in many other reviews. I would like to add a comment on why Andersen's use of inhuman and even inanimate characters, rather than diluting this tragedy, instead enhances it.

Consider the brutally abrupt ending of "The Shepherdess and the Sweep":
And so the little china people remained together, and were glad of the grandfather’s rivet, and continued to love each other till they were broken to pieces.
The finitude of "happily ever after" is implicit in tales with mortal protagonists. Here is it brought starkly to light.

Bear in mind that Andersen wrote in the period before Christianity retired from public discourse. The promise of immortality of the soul would have vitiated the tales of complete tragedy he wished to tell. The Fir Tree and the Steadfast Tin Soldier are preterite, and thus their tragedy is complete:

By this time the soldier was reduced to a mere lump, and when the maid took away the ashes next morning she found him, in the shape of a small tin heart. All that was left of the dancer was her spangle, and that was burnt as black as a coal.