Many friends, male and female
His male and female friends. He had lots of the latter. Clearly, he was neither shy nor afraid of the sex; it was not there that the bachelordom lay. He called his own temperament "half feminine": which, especially in 1975, proclaimed as "international women's year", must be seen against the general sex-role patterns of the time. There was no particular underlying hormonal disposition. The fact that he found it so easy to associate with and understand women was no doubt connected with the circumstance that his own social
Jenny Lind, "The Swedish Nightingale". Andersen met her for the first time in 1840.
situation in many respects resembled the classical woman's role: he was a treasure, and a treasure must be seen and not heard. He was deeply dependent on other people's assessment, appreciation and favour; exactly like contemporary women, whose only social potentiality lay mostly in the ability to get accepted by the sex in power. If there was no suggestion of discrimination in him, the reasons were neither ideological nor moral: his whole psychological method was so alien to generalizations and systematizations that anything of the sort was excluded. To him, all were unique. Today we would consider these characteristics, which he calls "half feminine", something very advanced. What his contemporaries regarded as weakness, we can now begin to envisage as strength.
And precisely this natural feeling of equality was a hindrance to him when he went wooing. In the courting situation one had to be, as it were, unequal; one had to go down on one's knees. And his intuition told him that it was as degrading a situation for the one knelt to as for the one kneeling. He tried feverishly to dodge the issue: he always preferred to be absent while the girl was thinking over his little proposal.
His last great love is said to have been the Swedish singer Jenny Lind, who had a little of his own background of poverty, and the same naturalness and warmheartedness at the centre of her art. At one point he handed her a letter, "which she could not fail to understand ", at some juncture that prevented him from seeing the reaction. She did not reply; but neither did she get engaged all at once. Apparently, she was quite unaffected.
"You wouldn't have an honest prince. .. but the swineherd
you could kiss for a musical-box"
The relationship grew into a close and enduring friendship. In The Fairy Tale of My Life he tells of a little event at Christmas 1845, when both were in Berlin. He complains about not having heard from her; he had been so sure of being with her that he had refused every other invitation (though he writes that he is only telling her this). This is greatly exaggerated, but she takes it literally, pats him on the cheek, and says "Child!" Whereafter she decorates a Christmas tree for the New Year, where all the presents are for him, but where there is also a lady friend present, to avoid any misunderstanding. I do not think one needs to have any other details about Andersen and Jenny Lind in order to appreciate how beautifully she knew how to transform undesired passions into a sisterly-motherly poetry, which he drank from in full draughts.
Andersen so arranged it that a leather pouch was found round his neck when he died, a pouch containing a letter from
Riborg. The letter was to be burnt unread. He could not possibly have worn this all his life: as the matter-of-fact Professor Brix observed, it would have fallen to pieces. So it was arranged. And what then? Attitudinizing can in some cases be the last resort in getting things said, also (or especially) in the case of great artists.
Attitudinizing can be most genuine; can, as art, be the point where a person lives full out, more genuine and more wide-ranging than in reality.
In Andersen's heart there was more than the ugly duckling that became a swan, or the happy witless Clodpoll. His life was a fine fairy tale: not an almanac story about how all turns out as it should and the best man wins. In his heart there were also the Little Mermaid, who was drawn to an element in which she had to die; the Mother, who was good for something, though she ended up in drink; the Snowman that with unerring tragedy fell in love with a stove; and, apropos wooing, the Prince who had to humble himself, disguising himself as a swineherd and pop artist, in order to have any chance at all with the stupid princess. "You wouldn't have an honest prince. ..but the swineherd you kiss for a musical-box! "
That was Andersen's judgement on the world when he was in a baleful mood. But it is seldom that his knowledge of the wasted, the rejected, the failed devolves into severity. You would not have the best, nor the next-best in me: or what everyone else can imitate!
The old bachelor found his quiet home in the end, in his own good company. He is said to have remarked as an old man: "Now I only go out once a week, so they can please themselves!"
But he did want to be found wearing that leather pouch. Perhaps because it testified to his inmost pride: fidelity to all that was lost. Like the clergyman's painting that wanted to include the reality of death on equal terms with that of life. A testimony to everything that never came to anything -though it was good for something.
Andersen's pouch and the note about it by lonas Collin Ir.: "This leather pouch was found on the chest of Hans Christian Andersen after his death. I t contained a long letter from the love of his youth, Riborg Voigt. I burned the letter without reading it. J. Collin".
The author: Lise Sørensen, born Copenhagen 1926. Married to author Erik Knudsen. Has published five collections of poems, a volume of short stories, a children's book and two collections of essays which include articles on Hans Christian Andersen. She is professionally employed as a publisher's reader.