- The Fairy Tale and the PeriodicalHans Christian Andersen’s Scrapbooks
On December 1, 1873, armed with tailor’s scissors, glue, and stacks of illustrated newspapers, Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875) began his last major creative work of art: a big folding screen.1 From his Danish publisher Reitzel, the aging fairy-tale writer, novelist, poet, and playwright received engravings and English illustrated periodicals. The court photographer gave Andersen 150 photographs of famous Danish men and women, including photographs of Andersen himself. Other friends procured pictures from Germany, and the editor Delbanco offered Andersen a heap of issues of his Danish weekly illustrated news, Illustreret Tidende.2 With this extensive visual archive of nineteenth-century art, popular culture, and historical events, he created eight thematic screens (dedicated to Germany-Austria, France, England, the Orient, Childhood, Danes, Denmark, and Sweden-Norway) in which portraits of famous personalities, landscapes, buildings, fable characters, and historical and social scenes comprise a vertical and overflowing topography of the author’s European and, at the same time, idiosyncratic worldview. The resulting folding screen is a collage of a turbulent Europe, cut and pasted from the modern mass media of illustrated periodicals, wood engravings, and photography, glued onto an Oriental piece of furniture.
Although they were well-known, decorative, and practical pieces of furniture in Europe since the seventeenth century, traditional Chinese and Japanese screens were first popularized in Europe with the 1867 Paris World Exposition.3 The folding screen then became a fashionable commodity that enhanced interest in the decorative arts toward the end of the century. Andersen, who had a lifelong passion for the decorative arts, and a curiosity for technological wonders and the fashionable, visited the exhibition grounds in Paris on several occasions. He had also been provoked by a Danish journalist who claimed that only Charles Dickens could turn the exhibition into a story, to write what would become the tale “Dryaden: En [End Page 132] Fortælling fra Udstillingstiden i Paris 1867” (The Wood Nymph: A Tale from the 1867 Paris Exposition, 1868). In this tale (one of Andersen’s less-known modern tales), a wood nymph leaves the safety of her rural home to explore and eventually find her demise in the modern wonder of Paris. It is possible that Andersen found inspiration for creating his own folding screen while visiting the exhibition grounds in Paris. His screen includes two illustrations of the exposition’s spectacular aquarium (the “Orient” and the “Childhood” screens) most likely cut out of the pages of Illustreret Tidende. The illustration on the “Childhood” screen provides a backdrop for one of Vilhelm Pedersen’s illustrations for Andersen’s tale “Thumbelina.”4 In the folding screen, Andersen’s fairy-tale world is never separated from the visual spectacles of modernity, from the personalities or the architectural edifices that came to define his age in the pages of illustrated periodicals.
The aesthetic potential of the folding screen was not an entirely new idea to Andersen. Although he never created other folding screens, he did refer to and describe such screens in his early poetry. Already in 1829, well before the publication of his first collection of fairy tales and his first novel in 1835, Andersen published a series of five poems in the newspaper Kjøbenhavns-Posten with the title “Skjærmbræts-Billeder 1–5” (Folding-Screen Pictures), and the following year he published the poem “Mosters Skjærmbræt” (Auntie’s Folding Screen) in which the poet describes a series of biblical scenes from recollection that decorated his aunt’s folding screen. Curiously, it seems Andersen’s career was framed by verbal and visual folding screens. In his early ekphrastic poems as in his own decorative folding screen, the inspiration and the materials came from the popular, visual culture of the day, and in words or images Andersen always tried to capture the fairy tale in available materials from popular culture.
Writing to a friend in 1874 after three and a half months of obsessive work on the folding screen, Andersen reflected on his labors:
I have had no thought of any creative writing; my only occupation has been to make a screen...