A Caricature The shadow - an anti-fairy-tale Jørgen Dines Johansen
I The Shadow and fairy tales; The shadow as fairy tale Most of Andersen's best known fairy tales are strange and wrong - both generally and viewed in relation to the Scandinavian folktales. For while Andersen's texts employ the structures and elements of folktales, they also work against their foremost distinguishing feature, namely wish fulfillment. The set pattern of the folktale dictates that the hero and heroine must ultimately be united, but not until they have cleared away two types of obstacles. They must first defeat demonic forces within themselves and afterwards convince their surroundings - that is to say, their parents and the general social order - to accept something unheard of a marriage that is a misalliance, uniting a representative of the top of society with one from the bottom. Studies of the Scandinavian folk tales have shown that these tales, like other IndoEuropean tales, are structured by a set of only three major oppositions that have been related as follows in the well-known model by Köngas and Pierre Maranda: HOM
HOF H high L low
O old Y young
s HOF t a t u s
M male F female
LOF (Maranda & Maranda 1971: 23)
It is seen that the folk tale characters are related to each other by way of a system built on three oppositions: age, sex, and status. In a tale with a male protagonist, the central characters are the hero, i.e., the low, young male (LYM, and sometimes his poor parents), the princess (HYF) who is captured by a troll, dragon, etc., and her ungrateful parents, the
king and the queen (HOM/HOF) who, despite the fact that the poor protagonist has saved their daughter, object to and attempt to prevent that he marry the princess. In tales with a female protagonist (LYF), it is very often a prince (HYM) whose spell is broken by a young female of the people. The great Danish folklorist Bengt Holbek has analyzed the tales’ narrative structure as a drama in five acts (see Holbek 1989) 1st act: Testing the maturity of the young hero(ine). An interdiction is announced, the young high status character fails to pass the test, and an interdiction is violated, and disaster follows (the young high status person is the prey of demonic forces). 2nd act: Testing of the hero/heroine (i.e., LYM or LYF), and he/she passes the test and is awarded a magical gift. 3rd act: The two young characters meet, and the hero/heroine, i.e., the low status character, breaks the spell that binds the young high status character (by defeating and killing the monster in combat, by solving a riddle, etc.) According to Holbek it is important that the meeting between the young couple is unknown to others because, at this point clandestine love and a sexual relationship is established between them. A relationship that, in the eyes of the high status parents is illegitimate, a misalliance (Holbek relates their sexual relationship to the custom of bundling, which in older times was widespread all over Europe). 4th act: In this act the others turn against the relationship between the hero and the heroine. Several possibilities exist, the three most common are 1. rivals, for instance a traitorous courtier who attempts to take the prince/princess away from the hero(ine), or 2. jealous sibling who attempt to break up the relationship, or 3. the parents of the prince/princess will prevent the misalliance. In this act there very often is an important change because the until now passive hero(ine) takes over and becomes active while the one who has been active in saving the other now becomes passive. The princess may, for instance, start fighting for her savior whereas the other party sleeps, passes out, is caught, etc.
5th act: In this act the opposition to the marriage of the young couple is finally defeated, and they are recognized as successors to the throne (most often voluntarily, the couple are immediately given half the kingdom and the will inherit the other half. Sometimes, however, the parents must be forced to recognize the young couple, indeed, sometimes they must be removed). The point is, however, that, at the end of the tale, the low status hero(ine) has been integrated into the highest stratum of society. There is no doubt that Andersen used the system of the folktale as his model in The Shadow. The Shadow, a low status character, fights his way up into society and ends up marrying the princess. The advantage of using this narrative procedure is that the reader is encouraged to activate his knowledge and expectations of fairy tales as a genre. At the same time, however, Andersen's story breaks with folktale conventions right from the start. The first part of the fairy tale can be read as a pastiche of folktale elements. Our hero, the learned man, lives opposite a mysterious house, seemingly uninhabited, with no entrance, yet with a balcony full of beautiful flowers that someone must water. In the evening delightful music can be heard from the interior of the house. One night “a curious blaze of light seemed to come from the opposite neighbor’s balcony. All the flowers shone like flames in the loveliest colours”. And that is not all: “amidst the flowers stood a graceful slender girl; she too seemed to glitter, and the sight of her quite dazzled his eyes”1. As he gets out of his bed to take a closer look, she disappears like a vision in a dream, and the brightness with her. All that is left is a half-open door, from which music flows, producing pleasant, dreamlike thoughts. "[S]o soft and enchanting” (ibid. 175). Here we have no interdiction and subsequent violation of the interdiction as in folktales, nor does the learned man have to, save the lovely, slender maiden, but there are echoes of the captive princess with whom the hero falls in love at the mere sight of her, and who seems impossible to reach. In folktales the hero frequently has a helper with special talents who can clear away the obstacles that prevent the hero from reaching his desired object. The learned man does in fact, if only half jokingly, say to his shadow as it falls on the balcony of the opposite house that it should pop “inside have a look around and then come and tell me what it has seen! Now then, make yourself useful” (ibid. 176). The shadow enters the opposite house, but does not return until many years have passed, and in a changed form.
Contrary to what usually happens in fairy tales about heroes who lose their shadow, the shadow in Andersen's tale is not sold, nor is the learned man tricked out of it, so Andersen's story is not about selling one's soul to the devil. And unlike the fairy tale to which Andersen's text refers directly, Adalbert von Chamisso's Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte, (1814), the loss initially is not irreparable. Indeed, after a short time a new shadow grows to the learned man. His first concern when the shadow fails to return is that he will not be able to tell the story of his missing shadow, because at home, in his own country, everyone knows Chamisso's story and therefore will believe his to be an imitation! Another significant break with the fairy tale tradition is that the learned man is not socially or religiously stigmatized by the shadow's disappearance. Indeed, nobody notices it until the shadow has grown back. This is remarkable, for shadows as symbols are traditionally ambiguous. Although they are very often associated with death and are symbolic of the transience and unreality of life on earth, the loss of one's shadow also symbolizes that one has ceased to be fully human. This is because shadows are traditionally linked to the soul. Having no shadow or no reflection in a mirror, means that you have lost your soul and are damned. The shadow acts as a guarantee that he who casts it has not lost his soul, since shadows owe their existence to light, thus connecting the subject with light and ultimately with the divine. However, as the otherly, as the part of the subject shrouded in darkness, shadows are also associated with the irrational, subconscious, untamed and dangerous forces of the human mind. Shadows are associated with the soul, but they also denote its negative sides; although preconditioned by light, they are linked to darkness, not to light. In this respect, Chamisso is closer to traditional ideas about shadows than Andersen, for Schlemihl's loss of his shadow instantly leads to social stigmatization; even the street urchins shout at him and throw dirt on him. And when his prospective father-in-law discovers that he has no shadow, it costs him his beloved, despite the fact that he is the wealthiest man in the land, and despite the fact that the father-in-law thus makes his own daughter unhappy, for she truly loves Schlemihl. In Peter Schlemihl, as in more traditional texts, the experience of the consequences of losing one's shadow leads to an attempt to recover the shadow in order to salvage lost happiness or avoid damnation. If this fails, the unhappy protagonist is expelled
from his society or leaves it voluntarily. In the unpretentious folk tale ”The Man and His Shadow” which was printed in Matthias Winther’s collection of Danish folk tales from 1823, a collection that Andersen knew, it is laconically said: Some time afterwards [i.e., some time after he sold his shadow to the devil, JDJ] he was walking in the fields with his wife […] and, as they were strolling over the fields, his wife suddenly exclaimed: “Look, what a shadow I have, how it is big and broad, but husband, you have no shadow whatsoever!” The husband, however, tried to get away form this question, but the wife continued to speculate about it. Eventually the children and the neighbors too got to know that he had no shadow. Everybody distanced oneself from him; and to avoid the sneers that always followed him, he left his home town, and ended his life in a foreign country. (Winther 1823 in Barlby (ed.) 1998: 124) In Andersen's tale, the learned man, with or without his shadow, is marginalized right from the start for entirely different reasons. In the South, he is marginalized as a stranger (in the opening episode he is called alternately “the learned man” and “the stranger”). Upon his return to the cold North, he is marginalized because he writes books about what is “true and good and beautiful in the world”. The problem, as the learned man tells the Shadow the second time they meet, is that “no one bothers his head about that sort of thing. It makes me quite desperate, for it means so much to me”. (ibid. 186). What the learned man considers valuable, he is unable to communicate in such a way that others, the reading public, will recognize the meaning and significance of it. It is hardly accidental that he writes about goodness, truth and beauty, for these three concepts are, after all, central to Plato's philosophy, and thus we learn that the learned man is a Platonist, or at any rate an idealist, and, according to the narrator, the times lack understanding of idealism. But what about the Shadow? Having gone on a tour of discovery in the enchanted house across the street, encouraged by the learned man himself, it is able to tell him that Poetry dwelled there. The Shadow's account of its stay in the house of Poetry is quite inconsistent, however. On the one hand, it claims that in the three weeks it stayed there it "saw everything” and now “know[s] everything”. At the same time it reveals that it only ever went as far as the front room, for the inner rooms were all so brightly lit that the blaze would have been intolerable, had it ventured any closer. That the Shadow stays in the twilight of the front room might be an
allusion to Plato's parable of the cave, in which the prisoners see only shadows of the real world, that of ideas, because they are unable to tolerate the blinding sunlight. The learned man's questions make it clear that the Shadow in fact has nothing to tell, for despite claiming to have seen and learnt everything in the house of Poetry, it has seen nothing. Nevertheless it claims that the stay in Poetry's front room has transformed it from a shadow to a man. At the same time, the Shadow claims: “I also learnt to know my innermost nature, as I received at birth, my relationship to Poetry”. (ibid.184). But along with its transformation, or rebirth, the Shadow also, with a Biblical allusion, experiences the shame of being nude: “As a man, I was ashamed to go about as I did; I was in need of boots, clothes, all that human varnish by which man can be recognized”. (ibid. 184-5). As the Shadow sees it, being human is an external, not an internal condition. You become human by acquiring the attributes that make you look like the others. But until the Shadow succeeds in purchasing these attributes, or rather obtaining them by threats, it must hide by day so as not to be conspicuous. And Andersen has the Shadow hide under the skirts of a cake-peddling woman! This ambiguous mixture of humor and monstrosity, far exceeding the merely piquant, if you consider the full implications of the hiding place, is shocking, but also in accordance with what has gone before and what follows. The Shadow boasts that in Poetry's front room it became aware of its own inner nature and also of the nature of its affinity to Poetry. This kinship is real enough, in its own way, for the Shadow is able to see what is hidden, and tell about it. The Shadow is quite a story-teller, but sees what accords with its own nature, and also exploits it according to its own nature. In The Snow Queen, pieces of a magic mirror enable people, among them little Kay, to see all that is negative in the world, but this way of seeing is not part of the inner nature of the person. In The Shadow, the matter is more complex, for the Shadow's way of seeing is certainly part of its nature. Indeed, its nature may consist of nothing else. The Shadow itself explains it to the learned man in this way: “I saw the most inconceivable things happening among women, men, parents and their own dear darling children. I saw,' added the Shadow, what none are supposed to know, but what all are dying to know - trouble in the house next door”. (ibid. 185). And the overture under the cake woman's dress leaves no doubt as to the kind of evil perceived by the Shadow, namely that which above all is linked to man's creatureliness and basic drives. The Shadow thus in more than one sense becomes a
cynic from seeing what it sees. “When all is said and done it's a low-down world we live in. I would never be a man if it weren't generally considered to be worth while”. (ibid.185). Here Andersen lets the Shadow reveal its own innermost nature which is social ambition, a deep felt and insatiable desire to succeed in the world according to the world's standards and on its terms. The possible way of achieving this goal is mentioned by the Shadow itself, namely through the poor, sometimes crooked cousin of poetry, journalism. “If I had edited a newspaper, it would have had plenty of readers!” (ibid. 185-6). However, in stead of turning to journalism, it uses its knowledge simply to blackmail people. And, to ensure his silence, everybody gives it what they are able to, the professors make him a professor, the tailors give him clothes, and the women, well, they find him “so handsome”. The blackmail is rewarded by prostitution in the literal and the figurative sense. The course of the learned man's life and that of the Shadow take opposite directions; things go well for the Shadow and badly for the learned man. While the Shadow grows fat, which, it says, is what one should try to be, the learned man comes to look more and more like a shadow. The Shadow's knowledge is both in demand and marketable, while no one cares about what the learned man has to say. Finally the learned man is so ill from grief and trouble that he agrees to travel to a spa with his former shadow - all expenses paid - promising in return to keep the Shadow amused by writing an account of the journey. They travel as friends, as the Shadow puts it, but the master-servant relationship is now reversed, even though the learned man has refused to act as the Shadow's shadow. The Shadow's own reason for going to the spa is that his beard is not growing as it should, and “none can do without a beard!” To the Shadow's problem of not being able to cast a shadow is now added the problem of the beard. When the Shadow visited the learned man for the first time, it announced its intentions to marry. At the time of its second visit, nothing has come of this yet, and quite possibly the failure to become engaged has to do with the beard problem, for without a beard the Shadow is perhaps not fully a man?
In order to resolve this situation of need, the story once more makes use of the folktale model. The variant Andersen employs here is that of winning the princess by solving riddles. Andersen has used this plot several times, for instance in Hopeless Hans and The Snow Queen. In The Shadow it
is combined with another, similar plot element, namely that of winning the princess by curing her of an illness. Andersen's irony triumphs in the type of sickness for which the princess is seeking a cure at the spa, for her disease is said to be that she sees things too clearly, which can be most disturbing. Her penetrating gaze apparently sees through all pretense, and ”that is most disturbing”, and she soon offers a demonstration of her talent when she perceives the real cause of the Shadow's problem to be, not the beard, but its inability to cast a shadow. But from this point on, the princess is no longer sharp-sighted, for she has been cured, as the Shadow claims, which is to say that from now on she is fooled by appearances, like everyone else. She even begins, quite naively, to reflect on the curative powers of the waters, accepting the Shadow's false explanation without hesitation. Andersen uses irony unsparingly in the depiction of the relationship between the Shadow and the princess. As a dance partner, it is to the Shadow's advantage that it is lighter than the princess. This she has never experienced before. And thus its lack of substance becomes an important reason for her falling in love. Another fine touch is that the Shadow senses this, for she could very nearly see right through him. The ironic point is that this is precisely what she is unable to do. Soon after this episode, the text reverts to the pattern of the fairy tale, for now the Shadow's knowledge has to be tested. He passes the first test with flying colors, for he is able to tell the princess the latest gossip from her own country, even things she herself did not know. The Shadow's negative, but exciting knowledge of “trouble in the house next door” convinces her that he must be the wisest man in the world. Still, some vestige of common sense makes her test his knowledge concerning the great questions in life, i.e. questions concerning goodness, truth and beauty. The Shadow, who would in no way be able to answer these questions himself, fools her into believing that to him they are so elementary that even his shadow, if treated well - that is to say, as a man - will be able to answer her. And so it happens that the thoughts and knowledge that no one cared about - since goodness, truth, and beauty are not in demand - now come to benefit the deceitful Shadow. In folktales it is quite common that the hero(ine) has one or more helpers whose special talents help the hero(ine) out of a tough spot, by producing an object which the sorcerer, the king, or their beloved desires, or, as in The Shadow, by answering the questions or solving the riddles that allow the hero(ine) to obtain the desired object. It is also quite common that the helper, or helpers, disappear after solving the problem. What is not at all common in folktales, if indeed
any examples can be found, is that the hero and the princess kill the hero's helper. This, however, is what happens in The Shadow. The reason is that the learned man has unknowingly served as the hero's helper, and when he refuses to accept working for the Shadow as its shadow, deciding instead to expose the fraud, he changes from helper to adversary. “Goodness gracious!” said the learned man, “what could be worse than that? No, I won't, I won't do it. We'd be swindling the whole country, Princess and all. I'll tell them everything—that I am the man and you are the shadow, and that you are only dressed up”. (ibid. 194). There are two important elements in the learned man's protest. First of all, the timing of it. He has known ever since the Shadow's first visit that its progress in life was built on deception and extortion. Nevertheless, his own misery makes him accompany the Shadow at the latter's expense, and it is not until his own identity is threatened that he begins to resist. Up to that point, the learned man's occupation with goodness, truth and beauty has not involved any active fight against evil, lies and ugliness. Secondly, the description of the Shadow as dressed up goes to the core of the deception, which is not only pretending to be, rather than being - i.e. placing appearance above reality. The Shadow's illusory tricks also consist, because of the clothes, in pretending to a normality it does not possess. For the Shadow's ideal is in fact merely a potentiation of the philistine concept of happiness; it is about social success. “Listen, my friend”, the Shadow says, after having finally reached an agreement with the princess, “I've now become as happy and powerful as a man can be”. (ibid. 194). His happiness, apparently, is not due to his being in love with the princess, for this receives no mention. Instead we hear of the couple in conclusion: “The princess and the Shadow came out onto the balcony to show themselves and to get one more round of cheering—hooray!” (ibid. 196). Even though the princess is in love with the Shadow, the most important thing for both of them is to be seen and celebrated. And the phrase “to get one more round of cheering" is not exactly an indication of authorial sympathy. As for the learned man, his end confirms the heartlessness of the Shadow, and of the princess as well. Not only does she consider it a good deed to “relieve him of the scrap of life that's left him”; giving it more thought, she also finds that it would be the right policy to “put him quietly out of the way”. (ibid. 195). To claim that the princess knows or senses that the Shadow is a shadow and the learned man human, would no doubt be an overinterpretation. She probably believes the Shadow's explanation, but her suggestion to have the learned man executed in secret—for this is what it is
about—is motivated by the fact that it would be inconvenient if the story of the Prince Consort having had a living shadow were to come out. Also, in that case, the question of his casting no shadow would invariably arise. In all events, both stories would connect the Shadow with something abnormal and demonic. This raises questions about the princess' view of the Shadow; for although she is both in love and naive, she cannot help knowing that the Shadow is linked to things of a sinister nature that would not bear the light of day. The answer is probably that she is aware of this, but considers it an added attraction. At the point when she believes herself cured, she tells herself: “But I won't go away; the place is beginning to amuse me. I like this foreigner immensely. I do hope his beard won't grow, because then he would be off at once”. (ibid. 191). As the daughter of a king, she considers herself immune to the demonic forces that may harm others. She feels above law and morality, takes her pleasures as she sees fit, but also knows that she is not immune to people's desire to hear about “trouble in the house next doors”. To her, killing the learned man to prevent gossip, is not a crime, it is sound politics. We see how Andersen makes use of the structures and elements of the folktale, but twists and turns them around, almost sneering at them, and the universe he creates is very different from that of the folktale. Folktales are brutal and cynical too; but the Alpha and Omega of folktales, certainly of fairy tales: the reconciliation of differences in status, age and gender, so as to allow the family to continue and social conflicts to be momentarily resolved - is not what Andersen is seeking in The Shadow. Rather, this fairy tale is about the impossibility of reconciliation. II Figurations of the split character Andersen scholars have naturally been aware that shadow symbolism has to do with split characters. In Western literature we have a large body of mutually related motifs, such as twins and doubles, shadows and mirror reflections. Of these, the double is the most common, appearing as far back as in the Greek myth of Zeus, Amphitrion and Alkmene, moving up through Plautus, Shakespeare and the German Romanticists to Dostoyevsky and contemporary writing. However, the motif of the double differs from the shadow motif in that confused identities play a very large role in doubling; for identical appearances can fool other people, as in the case of Alkmene who is tricked into lying with Zeus in the shape of Amphitrion. In later, more psychology-conscious versions of this motif, the encounter with the double is fear-provoking and may even lead to madness and death. The shadow motif involves no quid pro quo; it is the figuration of a split
subject. Such a split can also be formulated directly, as in Goethe's Faust, where Faust himself expresses it almost programmatically: “Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, And either would be severed from its brother; The one holds fast with joyous earthy lust Onto the world of man with organs clinging; The other soars impassioned from the dust, To realms of lofty forebears winging”.2 This division of the soul, between ideal goals and the pleasurable indulgence of the senses, is quite common in life - and in literature. But Faust's painful awareness of it distinguishes his experience from the one usually represented by the shadow motif, at least in the literature of the 1800s and 1900s, namely the opposition between conscious and unconscious, with the shadow as a figuration of the unconscious and repressed. Still, one must proceed with caution, for as Chamisso's story of Peter Schiemihl shows, the old idea of the sinfulness of selling your soul (to the devil) for money was still alive. The shadow in the Schlemihl story is not animate, nor does it play an independent role; here the emphasis is on the consequences of the shadow's absence, not on its deeds. It should also be mentioned that shadows represent only one among several possible figurations of a split. Another important variant is the temporary transformation. In connection with fairy tales and myths, we might mention the numerous transformations Zeus undergoes in order to sleep with nymphs and earthly women. These myths were severely criticized as early as by Plato in The State, based on the argument that since deity is perfect, it cannot assume another form. The most impressive examples from antiquity, however, are Ovid's monumental and humorous accounts of humans turning into animals or plants in Metamorphoses, 2 A.D. and The Golden Ass by Apuleius, 150 A. D. For our present purposes, however, the countless transformations of humans into animals described in folklore (werewolves, ravens, mares, etc.) are at least as relevant. This is also true of other creatures of legend that, by contrast, are partly transformed into humans, for instance mermaids, or snakes, as in the story of the beautiful Melusine in Friedrich de la Motte Fouqués' novellette Undine (1811), and in Andersen's masterpiece The Little Mermaid (1837).
To this should be added that the representation of a split personality does not have to take the traditional form of people being transformed into animals and vice versa. It can just as well be described by two, different human figures, as in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), which is not a story of a double either, for the doctor and the murderous Mr. Hyde cannot be mistaken for each other, even though they are one and the same person. Rather, it is a story of the repressed, but incontrollable basic drives which in Stevenson's story materialize in a thorough transformation of not only the doctor's mind, but his body. As should be clear from the above, the shadow motif is only one of several ways of representing division in the human mind. But it should also be clear that there is no consistency in the meaning of the motif; its content changes over time and from one writer to another. Especially the difference between the metaphysical and the psychological interpretation and use of it is obvious. In folktales the metaphysical interpretation dominates. Although the split is not without psychological relevance, it is interpreted metaphysically, since it is a question of sin and punishment - and sometimes mercy. The devil in his many guises is the active part, while God is most often a hidden actor in a drama of integration versus expulsion and, ultimately, of damnation or redemption. From the end of the 1700s, a psychologizing of the motif takes place; expulsion versus integration still plays a role, while the question of damnation and redemption, without disappearing completely, becomes subordinate to the analysis of the human mind. For instance, in the early1800s, Chamisso's Peter Schiemihl, 1814, combines a rather traditional story of selling your soul to the devil, the passivity of the shadow, and the expulsion of the hero with an original form of atonement: Schlemihl becomes a natural scientist and geographer. His seven-league boots enable him to explore the furthest regions of the earth, and the study of nature gives his life meaning and direction after he has forfeited the love and companionship of other people. The same year E.T.A. Hoffmann writes Die Geschichte vom verlorenen Spiegelbilde as a response and counter piece to Chamisso's story (he even jokingly suggests that the two characters join forces, in which case his Erasmus Spikher could act as Schlemihi's shadow, while the latter could act as the mirror image of the other). Hoffrnann's story, likewise known to Andersen, also follows the tradition: The lovely Giulietta, who in Florence lures the family man, Erasmus Spikher, off the narrow path of virtue, despite the fact that he has a wife and child at home in Germany, turns out to be the devil's accomplice, and his wife banishes him from their home when she discovers that he has no mirror image (but he would be welcomed back if he finds it). What is interesting, besides the strong
presence of eroticism, is the recurrent mention of the mirror image as a “dream self”; the mirror image is said to split the self into truth and dream. And the reason why the lovely but demonic Giulietta insists on keeping his mirror image, but willingly leaves his body to the wife, is that the passions are linked to the dream self. With this text, as with Hoffmann generally, we are far into the obscure corners of the mind, into its fantasies and incontrollable passions. Toward the end of the century, Stevenson's account of the scientist who experiments with himself, hoping to plumb the depths of the human mind, and who pays the price—as does the one he kills—can be seen as an example of a secular and modern version of the split. One no longer sells one's soul to the devil but to the depths of the autonomous human mind and to science, that is to say modernity. The question now is: how does Andersen's story of The Shadow relate to this development? III Andersen’s rag mat In order to understand The Shadow it is very helpful to know something about Andersen’s way of writing. As it has been pointed out in the first section, he most often uses the fairy tale tradition, and its elements and structures certainly play a prominent role in our tale. However, Andersen also happily and rather directly writes into his tales what he has experienced himself. In The Shadow these experiences relate to his trip to Naples in the summer of 1846 where he started to write the tale. In this city he suffered very much form the heat which is repeatedly mentioned in the diary. In one place, for instance, he writes that he sweats from every pore, and in next day’s record (6.9.1846) he says “written on the tale of my shadow” (Andersen 1974: III, 127). There is no doubt that this heat has gone directly into The Shadow. Furthermore, Andensen, like the learned man, sleeps with the doors of the balcony wide open (diary of 6.18.1846, ibid. 131). More interesting is it, however, that the music that, in the tale, comes from the house across the street did so in reality. In the diary we read: “It is not possible to sleep a little because of the noise, especially the opposite neighbor is annoying, this repeated finger exercise, this eternal practicing scales, it is as if one is tickled mentally in the same place from morning till night”. (ibid. 130). It is seen how Andersen, in transferring this episode to the tale, let the landlord express his own complaints, whereas the learned man of the tale finds the music exquisite, indeed enchanting, indeed, it makes him dream sweat dreams, and wonder who is living there. The most important is, however, that, in the diary, the heat is, in addition to being a physical plague, explicitly related to sexuality. For instance, Andersen notes in his diary, May 10: “My
blood is full of carnal desire +. I am burning like Vesuvius (ibid. 130, “+” is Andersen’s way of indicating that he has been pleasuring himself. He also, for instance, indicates this on May 15 and 16). And that, at the beginning of the tale, the Shadow is a figuration of unrefined sexual desire cannot be disputed because, in an equivocal manner it transpires from the Shadow’s priceless reflections on it own nature: “… at sunrise and at sunset, you remember, I always grew remarkably large—in the moonlight I stood out almost plainer than yourself In those day I didn’t understand my own nature; in the antechamber it dawned upon me—I was a man … When I came away, I was changed, ripened […]. (ibid. 184). Its sexual nature is also made clear both by its first abode under the skirts of the cake-peddler and by its behavior at night when it rubs it back against the walls of the houses because “that tickles”. Furthermore, a goodly part of the secrets that the Shadow sees through the windows must be sexual acts and transgressions of the norms for such behavior. And, indeed, looking through windows in this way is in itself a violation of a taboo, a voyeuristic activity. Hence, The Shadow is originally conceived as a projection, a splitting and making independent of a part of the learned man psyche, and, at the beginning of the tale, this means fore and foremost his sexual desires. It is, after all, first after the learned man—for a single moment and somnolent—has seen the young woman from across the street that he requests his shadow to look into what he himself is not able to investigate. He says that in doing this for once the Shadow would “make itself useful” The real interesting point is, however, that even if the tale starts out as if the sexual thematics that dominates its first pages would be developed throughout the narrative, this doesn’t happen. The tale is given a twist because another theme is introduced that outdoes the sexual one. This theme, however, is also autobiographical because here Andersen is returning to and exploring a traumatic episode. This happened when, fifteen years before starting at writing The Shadow, he in a letter of 5.19.1831 to the Edvard Collin, the son of his benefactor Jonas Collin, suggested that they agree to discard the formal address of “De” for the familiar “du”. Andersen receives, however, a refusal that is worded very much in the way the Shadow insists the learned man addresses him in a formal way. And Andersen writes to Edvard Collin concerning The Shadow: “Well, I suppose that you have noticed that this malice has reference to you” (here quoted from Andersen 1986: VII, 119). Problems of form of address are complex; they concern questions of recognition and respect, reciprocity, perhaps equality, and the degree of intimacy between the parties. In the tale, Andersen
turns the tables around: At first the Shadow successfully attempts to assert its newly won status by insisting on being addressed with the formal “De” in order to create a distance and ensure recognition from its former master. The claim for recognition is also the explanation why the Shadow returns at all, for nothing would have been easier than staying away. Its own reason for visiting its former master, that it wants to pay any possible debt to him, is rather unlikely considering the way in which the Shadow has made its way in the world. And it is precisely for moving upwards in the world that it claims recognition of the learned man. This recognition is the first step in the Shadow quest for obtaining seemingly full humanity. Being generous the learned man is pleased with the Shadow’s metamorphosis and success, and he willingly accept the Shadow’s request to be addressed formally. However, from the point of view of the Shadow there are still two fundamental problems: First, obligingness and politeness are not the same as recognition of equality, and to the learned man the Shadow remains a shadow. And, second, even if the Shadow is rich, feared and praised, it still lacks the important human attribute, a shadow. Hence, the second step in fulfilling the Shadow’s ambition is much more radical because it aims at reversing their roles, i.e., recognition is sought through the submission of the other party. And, the second time the Shadow visits the learned man, it suggests that he, in order to join the trip to the health resort, shall act as its shadow, i.e., as a shadow’s shadow. This, however, the learned man refuses to do so: “That really is the limit”, the learned man says. Consequently, the Shadow is forced to give up getting the learned man’s recognition and accepting of switching roles. What the Shadow does achieve, however, is a turning around of the form of address: After having refused to let the learned man address it with the informal “du”, it itself starts addressing the learned man in this way, and, although he finds it absurd, he tolerates the “du”. This episode is the second large scrap in the rag-mat of the tale. But just as the outer and inner burning heat suffer changes from diary to tale, so does Andersen successfully attempts to makes the trauma caused by Edvard Collin’s social and personal rejection by giving it a wider signification in the context of the tale. It might be considered a fault that the sexual theme isn’t unfolded in the tale, and claimed that Andersen starts at something that he doesn’t complete. In the context of this particular tale this may, however, precisely be the point. Quite apart from the fact that sexuality and eroticism only are
tolerated as a longing, not as a reality in his oeuvre, it is in agreement with the Shadow’s nature that its sexuality is manifested as malicious curiosity, and as calculation. With regard to the learned man, he is introverted, and nothing but inhibitions. The princess craves first and foremost amusement—and to have it her way. Hence, nobody in this tale has any talent for loving. Andersen has written unforgettably about passionate, but unrequited love, just read the Little Mermaid, but since The Shadow is about the meanness of this world, it is no wonder that sexuality is mean as well. IV The Shadow as anti-fairy-tale The learned man's protest against acting as shadow forces the Shadow to deceive both him and the princess. Since the princess has found out that it casts no shadow, the Shadow must pretend to her that the learned man is its shadow, but is so proud that he wants to be treated as a man. There is a wonderful irony in this, since it is actually the Shadow itself that is so proud that it wants to be treated as a man. When the princess has been won, and the learned man for the second time refuses to play the Shadow's shadow, deciding instead to disclose the reality of the situation, his fate is sealed. The Shadow and the princess agree to secretly getting rid of him. The Shadow's reason for doing so is obvious; the learned man's revelation could cost him, the princess. As for the princess, the matter is more complicated. I have suggested above that to her the execution of the learned man is purely a matter of rational politics, since her people probably would not accept a shadow as Prince Consort. But in addition to this, the princess does not really care at all whether the Shadow itself has a shadow, i. e. whether it has what is normally considered an inalienable human attribute. According to the literary tradition to which Andersen belongs, people without shadows are expelled from society as they are thought to be connected with metaphysical evil. Even if we assume that the princess believes the Shadow's explanation that its shadow has grown independent and is now unfortunately seized by delusions of grandeur, she still fails to ask how it is at all possible to acquire a living shadow and instead accepts the Shadow's explanation that it is a question of money. “I have had my shadow tricked out as a human being” he says, and continues, “Yes look, I've even given him a shadow. It was very expensive, but I like having something that nobody else has got”. (ibid.191). This is not the first time the Shadow has boasted of its wealth and suggested that money rules the world. Earlier, it has pointed out that the learned man does not understand the world, for in the real “world it is a question of getting fat”.
This explanation is at the core of the cultural criticism that characterizes Andersen's tale and makes it an anti-fairy-tale rather than a fairy tale. And the cultural criticism is also what sets Andersen's tale apart from the popular as well as the German romantic tradition to which the fairy tale belongs. Both shadows and mirror images are phenomena that—in our everyday world—are linked to the existence of something corporeal, in the case of human beings to their own body; no body, no shadow. We have examples of imaginary shadow worlds—for instance the idea in Greek mythology of an afterworld, Hades, where the dead exist as shadows—but these places are separate from the real world. According to popular belief, the living can also lose their shadows, but with expulsion and damnation as a consequence. In this story, however, the Shadow does exceedingly well in the everyday world, and no one, apart from the princess who merely finds it exciting, seems to have noticed what the Shadow lacks. There are several reasons for this. First of all, the princess is said to suffer from the disease of over-sharp sight, and this “was most disturbing”. In other words, the ability to see through the surface of things and to reflect has become so rare that it is considered a disease that needs to be treated. This does not mean that the difference between what is visible and what is hidden has disappeared, for on the one hand, people are very concerned with keeping up appearances, and, on the other, they greatly desire to know the trouble in the house next door. “I saw added the Shadow, what none are supposed to know, but what all are dying to know trouble in the house next door... If I had a newspaper, it would have had plenty of readers!" (ibid. 185-6). Andersen's bleak point is that here we are not faced with a difference between inner and outer, or between phenomenon and substance, but merely with the difference between what goes on behind open and closed doors. In our particular context, it is interesting to note that the Shadow's preoccupation with all that is embarrassing, lewd and disgraceful in others corresponds exactly to what people in general want to poke their noses into. Indeed, even the princess who is so clever that she has to be cured of it responds with admiration to the Shadow's stories of her own country. But even though the princess is in love—and also, as the story makes very dear, is no great soul-searcher—she nevertheless wants to test the Shadow's knowledge, i. e., his knowledge of the great questions concerning the universe and human existence. The irony here is that the learned man—perceived as a shadow, however—is the one whose answers convince the princess that the Shadow himself must be very wise, since even his shadow is. The learned man has been preoccupied with writing about goodness, truth and beauty, but his knowledge is not worth much, for the public does not care to hear about it. To most people his
knowledge was as attractive as “roses to a cow” (ibid.187), that is to say, a useless kind of knowledge, since it cannot be consumed (due to its thorns). It consequently has no general or practical use; instead it becomes examination material, - required reading. This state of affairs has made the learned man sick at heart and so harrowed that people say of him that he looks like a shadow of himself- and “this made him shudder, for it set him thinking” (ibid. 187-8). The role change of the learned man and the Shadow is thus no longer an individual event that concerns only them. The issue is rather that contemporary man, according to this fairy tale, views the learned man's understanding of life as being without substance, as a useless reflection of the material world. It is thus extremely ironic that the examination of the learned man and his good answers is what finally convinces the princess that she must marry the Shadow—also for the sake of her people. For the point of the fairy tale is not that when all is said and done, you cannot do without goodness, truth and beauty; On the contrary; the point is that—such as the world is—thoughts on the ideal can also be used to progress in the world by deceit. Just because the princess is impressed with the learned man's answers, it does not mean that she hesitates even a second to have him executed in order to avoid questions about her future husband. Knowledge, ideals and moral integrity are simply not the guidelines of the world depicted in The Shadow. It could be argued that Andersen in this fairy tale does not plead the learned man's case convincingly. First of all, it is pointed out that the learned man sees the lovely woman in the opposite house only once, with sleepy eyes, and does not realize who he is seeing. It is the Shadow who must tell him that the house is the dwelling place of Poetry. Also, he himself lets his shadow loose, out of desire and curiosity. What he writes about remains unspecified. The only glimpse of it we receive is the princess' satisfaction with his answers. The reading public, however, does not at all care about his views or his message. This could, of course, be due to the outwardness and materialism of the times, but he himself does not appear to fight for his cause either, he merely gets depressed. Furthermore, he does not oppose the Shadow from the start, despite the fact that at their very first meeting its total lack of morality is evident. Instead he lets himself be manipulated. And his rebellion occurs too late and without vigor. Finally, he is left to himself, not a single person or power is on his side. There are many fairy tales by Andersen in which the forces of good intervene actively in the events of the story; although salvation usually, but not always, only occurs after death. Not so in The
Shadow. Here we have no hint of any active, metaphysical dimension, apart from the learned man's vision of the young woman who, even though he writes about her, he is unable to recognize. In this story, the religious, indeed pious Andersen reduces the universe to a manipulated world governed by ambition, the desire for power, and vicious deception. When humanity becomes mere surface, being is replaced by seeming, and clothes are what make the man (The Shadow, among other things, is also a grim version of The Emperor’s New Clothes). It is in this connection that the powerlessness of the humanitarian and idealistic corrective represented by the learned man is remarkable. In Andersen’s highly original interpretation of the shadow motif, the Shadow has not only freed itself from the bond to its master and turned the master-servant relationship upside-down. Indeed, Andersen's interpretation is far more radical, for what makes it possible for the Shadow to achieve the same goal as the traditional hero of the folktale—winning the princess—is that he and the world are in complete agreement with each other. And since the Shadow has not acquired anything remotely resembling genuine humanity; it is the world that has been reduced to a world of shadows. Andersen's The Shadow is not a traditional text. It uses, or abuses and distorts, the set patterns of the folktale without taking them seriously and is far more contemporary than the models provided by German romanticism. The Shadow is a modern text, pieced together and with visible seams that it does nothing to hide, but also a text about modernity in its negative form. It depicts the modern break with tradition and with a sense of community; the fall of idealism, and the cynical, individual striving for profit by any means, while the world in general is described as anonymous, sensation-starved, malicious and naive. And the worst part of Andersen's merciless analysis of modernity is perhaps that the reader—unwillingly and in spite of knowing better—at the end of the story is inclined to agree with the princess when she says of the learned man (who to her is a shadow): “a Poor shadow! said the Princess. How unfortunate for him! It would be a real kindness to relieve him of the scrap of life that is left him.” (ibid. 195). Andersen's text is no fairy tale. It is a frightening tale of the apparently necessary rejection of the ideal dimension in our interpretation of life, because it has lost all power of conviction. And this text is written by a man who himself did not really believe in the necessity of this—but who was a very great writer. .
[Translated from the Danish by Annette Mester and Jørgen Dines Johansen]
References Andersen, Hans Christian (1963-90). H.C. Andersens eventyr I-VII (Fairy Tales).Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag (Det danske sprog- og litteraturselskab). ——— (1971-76). H.C. Andersens Dagbøger I-XII ( Diaries, T. Gad, H. Vang Lauridsen, H. Topsøe-Jensen and K.Weber, eds.). Copenhagen: Gads Forlag (Det danske Sprogog Litteraturselskab). ——— (1955). Fairy Tales I-III.(Translated by R. P. Keigwin). Odense: Flensted Det dæmoniske spejl. Analyser af H.C. Andersens “Skyggen” (Barlby, Finn red.). København: Dråben. (denne bog rummer ud over en række tolkninger af ”Skyggen” også en bibliografi, ved Aage Jørgensen, over yderligere litteratur om dette eventyr). Goethe, Johan W. (1976 ). Faust. A Tragedy. (Translated by Walter Arndt, ed. By Cyrus Hamlin) New York: Norton. Holbek, Bengt (1986). Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Helsinki: Academia Scientarum Finnica. FF Communications No. 239. –––––– (1989) Tolkning af trylleeventyr.Copenhagen: Nyt nordisk forlag Arnold Busck. Maranda, Köngäs & Maranda, Pierre (1971). Structural Models in Folklore and Transformational Essays. The Hague/Paris: Mouton.
Andersen, H.C. (1955). Fairy Tales.(Translated by R. P. Keigwin), Vol. II, p. 174 (references to The Shadow will be put in parentheses after the quotation. In this case (Andersen 1955: II, 174), by consecutive quotes “ibid.” will be used. 2
Goethe, Johan W. v. (1976 ). Faust. A Tragedy (Translated by Walter Arndt, edited by Cyrus Hamlin). New York: Norton, p.27, vv. 1112-18.