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Author Comment
redtriskell
Unregistered User
(4/23/04 12:19 am)
Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde
I have been re-reading the collected fairy tales of both Andersen and Wilde and was struck by the similarity of atmosphere and tone in their tales. Has anyone else out there noticed this? Also, I am deeply moved by the bleakness of the settings and the almost-but-not-quite cynicism. I am not an historian-were they friends? contemporaries? Is it just the coincidence of their times that the feel is so poignant? I would love some feedback. Thanks.

Terri Windling
Registered User
(4/23/04 8:58 am)
Re: Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde
Andersen, born in Denmark, lived from 1805-1875. He was a contemporary of Charles Dickens rather than Wilde (and was friends with Dickens for awhile, until he stayed at Dickens home and proved himself to be a terrible houseguest!) Wilde, born in Ireland, lived from 1854-1900 -- so he would have been only 21 at the time of Andersen's death.

Wilde certainly knew Andersen's fairy tales. Andersen's work was first publish in English in the 1840s, and was enormously popular in England and Ireland throughout the rest of the 19th century. The fairy tales of these two authors do share certain sensibilities (although Wilde's tales, coming much later, have a more modern feel) -- in particular, a lingering sadness, and an emphasis on giving voice to the powerless: to the young, the poor, the outcast.

In her excellent biography Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller, Jackie Wullschlager notes that Andersen:

"...was a product of his times of Romanticism, of the revival of the imaginative spirit and of the growth of democratic ideas in addressing himself to the child in the adult through a shift in perspective, by allowing the child, or toy, or later farmyard animal, to speak with his or her own voice and feelings. In doing so, he joined the wider movement of cultural decentralization, which was beginning to dominate in Europe and America in the early nineteenth century. In Denmark, Blicher gave voice to Jutland peasants for the first time; in Britain, the rural themes and regional speech and images of peasant life in Sir Walter Scott's novels shaped the Victorian novel; across the Atlantic, James Fenimore Cooper painted pictures of pioneer and American Indian life on the prairies. Suddenly the disposed and the poor were acceptable literary subjects. The crucial contributions of Andersen and Dickens in the 1830s and 1840s were to focus on children, another traditionally mute and oppressed group. The urge to speak out, to claim equality of talent and emotional need . . . was a driving force for the new nineteenth century writers who did not come from genteel urban classes, and none came from so deprived and uneducated a background as Andersen. "

I highly recommend Wullschlager biography if you want to know more about Andersen. There's also an on-line article about Andersen's life and work on the Endicott site: www.endicott-studio.com/jMA03Summer/hans.html.
We also have an article in works about Wilde and his fairy tales, but it won't be on the site 'til this autumn.

Charles Vess
Unregistered User
(4/23/04 2:09 pm)
The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde
Terri,

I hope that keep in mind for that article the 4 or possibly 5 volume series of GN adaptations of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales by artist P. Craig Russell published by NBM. These are beautifully drawn and colored stories that stay VERY true to Wilde's original texts. Russell you may remember is the artist of a wonderful string of top notch adaptations of various operas such asTHE RING, THE MAGIC FLUTE, PARSIVAL, etc. Good stuff indeed!

Best,
Charles

redtriskell
Unregistered User
(4/23/04 4:04 pm)
Andersen and Wilde
Thanks for the input. I hadn't really conidered the commonalities of their protagonists; it was more the haunted quality of the prose, as if their characters were somehow ghosts. Which I suppose supports the idea that they wrote about the unseen outcasts. I recently read an article that claimed both Andersen and Wilde were not really writing fairy tales at all, that their bodies of work were closer to the social criticism of both Dickens and Swift. I'm not sure I agree, but it is an interesting angle.

Terri Windling
Registered User
(4/24/04 8:18 am)
Re: Andersen and Wilde
Hmmm. I would say that their stories were fairy tales *and* social criticisms. As were some of the salon fairy tales of 17th century France. Andersen said specifically that he wrote his tales to be read one way by children and another by adults.

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