Narration and Narrative Techniques in Andersen's Fairy Tales

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Editor: Kathy D. Darrow
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,392 words

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[(essay date 2005) In the following essay, Holmgaard centers on the role of the narrator in Andersen's works and the variety of narrative positions and devices employed by the author.]

Almost everywhere in Andersen's fairy tales and stories the narrator is relatively easy to locate and we can easily fix a point of view of what is narrated. So far, narration in these texts does not vary much from what we generally meet in early and mid 19th century prose fiction, i.e. before the more oblique techniques of third person narration start to flourish as they do in the later part of the century, heralded above all by the narrative techniques that [Gutave] Flaubert introduces. But as soon as we take a closer view at Andersen's tales, conventional standards of narration tend to fade away, most strikingly due to the strange but simple fact that even inside very short texts, their narrative positions and view-points defy normal kinds and levels of stability in literary prose narration.

This paper will examine the role of the narrator and the leaps between various narrative positions, devices and modes inside and in-between the entire body of his fairy tales and stories, written between 1835 and 1872.1 Furthermore, I shall discuss whether certain patterns in his use of narrative positions and techniques can be detected. I shall not conceal from you that I am going to claim a great division located inside this body, or rather a break in the long line of fairy tales and stories. But let me start from the beginning, paraphrasing the words from "The Snow Queen": "when we get to the end we shall know more than we do now".

In "The Tinder-box" (1835)--the first tale in the first published volume of his fairy tales--the role of the narrator is still very conventional like in a folk tale. A number of original details appear in the course of events, in the imagery of the tale and in some metaphors, but the innovations as for the role of the narrator are not so obvious. However, already in the following tale--"Little Claus and Big Claus" (1835)--a very personal, tongue-in-cheek sort of ironic narrator is suddenly heard. After a conventional narrative set up, in the framework of the folk tale, has been established around a hero who has transgressed social norms and has consequently been expelled from his social surroundings,2 the narrator shall render some background information about the farmer who has been absent until then, but is now on his way to enter the scene, i.e. to take his adulterous wife and the sexton by surprise. A narrative shift of this kind is, of course, quite normal when character or other information is needed in relation to the reader's understanding of the course of events to follow. But the way this information is presented at once reveals a narrator of a more than twisted character who has not appeared in the text before: "[the farmer] was a...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420092114