Wilde versions of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories
journal contributionposted on 22.08.2012, 13:36 by Kirsten S. Malmkjær
During the nineteenth century, translations of continental European fairytales helped reinstate the genre in England, where the traditional folktale had fallen into disrepute during the preceding centuries. Now, a number of Victorian writers turned to the fairytale for its potential as an agent in child socialisation, and as a vehicle for protest against the negative effects of the industrial revolution. Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was one of the most translated writers. By the middle of the nineteenth century, 44 of Andersen's stories were available in English, in between one and four different versions and he had been very well received by the critics (see Bredsdorff). In this paper, I want to examine Oscar Wilde's (1854-1900) use of themes which are obviously borrowed from Andersen. Both writers address questions of life, art, and God. But whereas Andersen might almost be called a-political, Wilde's socialist/individualist political persuasions are clearly perceptible in his stories. The fact that Wilde only had access to translations of Andersen's texts further complicates the relationship between the two. In the translations, Andersen's philosophy tends to be obscured, or altogether lost, and the kind of story which remains must have been tempting prey for Wilde.