Hans Christian Andersen. Shadow Pictures from a Journey to the Harz Mountains, Saxon Switzerland, Etc. Etc., in the Summer of 1831

By Hugus, Frank | Scandinavian Studies, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Hans Christian Andersen. Shadow Pictures from a Journey to the Harz Mountains, Saxon Switzerland, Etc. Etc., in the Summer of 1831


Hugus, Frank, Scandinavian Studies


Hans Christian Andersen. Shadow Pictures from a Journey to the Harz Mountains, Saxon Switzerland, etc. etc., in the Summer of 1831. Trans. Anna Halager. Ed. Sven Hakon Rossel and Monica Wenusch. Vienna: Praesens Verlag, 2011. Pp. 161.

According to translator Anna Halagers introduction, Shadow Pictures (which is intended to be volume 1 in a series of translations of each of Hans Christian Andersen's [1805-1875] five "travelogues" that he wrote over a period of many years) represents die first complete translation into English of Andersen's Skyggebilleder af en Reise til Harzen, det sachsiske Schweitz etc. etc., i Sommeren 1831 based on die recent version edited by fohan de Mylius and published in the Danske Klassiker series by the Danske Sprog og Litteraturselskap in 1986. (All page numbers after Danish citations refer to this edition.) Her enumeration, however, discounts Charles Beckwith's somewhat maligned (and in any case long out of print) 1848 Englishing of this work (7). A reliable English translation of this slender volume from Andersen's youth is in fact gready overdue, especially for those Andersen devotees whose command of Danish may not be quite equal to the task of reading die author's works in the original. Skyggebilleder, although it is one of Andersen's very early pieces, truly has much to offer both to die literary specialist and to the general reader. When first published, Skyggebilleder proved to be an effervescent and entertaining work that showed the versatility of the young (twenty-six-year-old) and not at all well-known Andersen to considerable advantage. In retrospect we can see that it contains many of the endearing artistic qualities, conceits, and themes which came to characterize the author's later output.

By way of illustration, Skyggebilleder demonstrates many instances of Andersen's acute powers of observation. The reader is drawn in, for instance, by such memorable scenes as the author's account of the meager funeral procession of the poor man in Hamborg--with its touching (and probably spurious) vignette of the simple act of kindness on the part of the wealthy couple whose missing pet canary is returned by the grieving widow (36-7). And Andersen's brief sketch of one of his mountain guides, the wife of the tailor who would rather be a poet, is as sympathetic as it is wistful (84-5).

Andersen the humorist is equally well in evidence in Skyggebilleder, as he pokes gentle fun both at himself and at those he meets along the way. When one of his fellow stagecoach passengers, for example, complains that the German romantic poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) had written "that we Germans have 'Kartoffel-Gesichter,'" and asks Andersen "Do our faces look like potatoes?" Andersen drily reports, "He showed me a face, which quite honestly resembled a potato" (43). Likewise, Andersen's wry description of die bookseller cum archeologist, who takes what by all appearances seems clearly to be a mere cow's bone (at least according to the skeptical and bemused Andersen) as a rare pre-historical find of great significance (79) is delightfully subtle in its humor. And Andersen nearly outdoes himself in describing the mental agony that he undergoes during and after the performance of a very badly written play that he had attended in Braunschweig, Drei Tage aus dem Leben eines Spielers. The first act (or day), he tells the reader, ends with the protagonist's killing his old father, the second by his shooting a totally innocent person, at which point Andersen remarks, "I felt my blood boil and fully expected the third day would be devoted to murdering the audience." And further, "I walked home but everywhere I saw human outcasts, broken-hearted mothers, and desperate gamblers. I felt so disgusted with cards that I immediately burnt a pack of innocent visiting cards I bought in Hamborg just because the word card was written on them" (52).

This same fiasco of a stage work, however, serves to inspire Andersen to conjure up the tale of the king who would not believe that anyone would tell a lie and who is consequently doomed to wander the world aimlessly and alone after death until he encounters someone who will tell him a lie. …

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