View Full Version : 'The Jewish Maiden', by Hans Christian Andersen (1856)

Tribunale Dei Minore
Thursday, October 7th, 2004, 11:48 PM
In a charity school, among the children, sat a little Jewish girl. She was a good, intelligent child, and very quick at her lessons; but the Scripture-lesson class she was not allowed to join, for this was a Christian school. During the hour of this lesson, the Jewish girl was allowed to learn her geography, or to work her sum for the next day; and when her geography lesson was perfect, the book remained open before her, but she read not another word, for she sat silently listening to the words of the Christian teacher. He soon became aware that the little one was paying more attention to what he said than most of the other children. “Read your book, Sarah,” he said to her gently.

But again and again he saw her dark, beaming eyes fixed upon him; and once, when he asked her a question, she could answer him even better than the other children. She had not only heard, but understood his words, and pondered them in her heart. Her father, a poor but honest man, had placed his daughter at the school on the conditions that she should not be instructed in the Christian faith.

But it might have caused confusion, or raised discontent in the minds of the other children if she had been sent out of the room, so she remained; and now it was evident this could not go on. The teacher went to her father, and advised him to remove his daughter from the school, or to allow her to become a Christian. “I cannot any longer be an idle spectator of those beaming eyes, which express such a deep and earnest longing for the words of the gospel,” said he.

Then the father burst into tears. “I know very little of the law of my fathers,” said he; “but Sarah’s mother was firm in her belief as a daughter of Israel, and I vowed to her on her deathbed that our child should never be baptized. I must keep my vow: it is to me even as a covenant with God Himself.” And so the little Jewish girl left the Christian school.

Years rolled by. In one of the smallest provincial towns, in a humble household, lived a poor maiden of the Jewish faith, as a servant. Her hair was black as ebony, her eye dark as night, yet full of light and brilliancy so peculiar to the daughters of the east. It was Sarah. The expression in the face of the grown-up maiden was still the same as when, a child, she sat on the schoolroom form listening with thoughtful eyes to the words of the Christian teacher.

Every Sunday there sounded forth from a church close by the tones of an organ and the singing of the congregation. The Jewish girl heard them in the house where, industrious and faithful in all things, she performed her household duties. “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath holy,” said the voice of the law in her heart; but her Sabbath was a working day among the Christians, which was a great trouble to her.

And then as the thought arose in her mind, “Does God reckon by days and hours?” her conscience felt satisfied on this question, and she found it a comfort to her, that on the Christian Sabbath she could have an hour for her own prayers undisturbed. The music and singing of the congregation sounded in her ears while at work in her kitchen, till the place itself became sacred to her.

Then she would read in the Old Testament, that treasure and comfort to her people, and it was indeed the only Scriptures she could read. Faithfully in her inmost thoughts had she kept the words of her father to her teacher when she left the school, and the vow he had made to her dying mother that she should never receive Christian baptism. The New Testament must remain to her a sealed book, and yet she knew a great deal of its teaching, and the sound of the gospel truths still lingered among the recollections of her childhood.

One evening she was sitting in a corner of the dining-room, while her master read aloud. It was not the gospel he read, but an old story-book; therefore she might stay and listen to him. The story related that a Hungarian knight, who had been taken prisoner by a Turkish pasha, was most cruelly treated by him. He caused him to be yoked with his oxen to the plough, and driven with blows from the whip till the blood flowed, and he almost sunk with exhaustion and pain. The faithful wife of the knight at home gave up all her jewels, mortgaged her castle and land, and his friends raised large sums to make up the ransom demanded for his release, which was most enormously high. It was collected at last, and the knight released from slavery and misery. Sick and exhausted, he reached home.

Ere long came another summons to a struggle with the foes of Christianity. The still living knight heard the sound; he could endure no more, he had neither peace nor rest. He caused himself to be lifted on his war-horse; the color came into his cheeks, and his strength returned to him again as he went forth to battle and to victory. The very same pasha who had yoked him to the plough, became his prisoner, and was dragged to a dungeon in the castle. But an hour had scarcely passed, when the knight stood before the captive pasha, and inquired, “What do you suppose awaiteth thee?”

“I know,” replied the pasha; “retribution.”

“Yes, the retribution of a Christian,” replied the knight. “The teaching of Christ, the Teacher, commands us to forgive our enemies, to love our neighbors; for God is love. Depart in peace: return to thy home. I give thee back to thy loved ones. But in future be mild and humane to all who are in trouble.”

Then the prisoner burst into tears, and exclaimed, “Oh how could I imagine such mercy and forgiveness! I expected pain and torment. It seemed to me so sure that I took poison, which I secretly carried about me; and in a few hours its effects will destroy me. I must die! Nothing can save me! But before I die, explain to me the teaching which is so full of love and mercy, so great and God-like. Oh, that I may hear his teaching, and die a Christian!” And his prayer was granted.

This was the legend which the master read out of the old story-book. Every one in the house who was present listened, and shared the pleasure; but Sarah, the Jewish girl, sitting so still in a corner, felt her heart burn with excitement. Great tears came into her shining dark eyes; and with the same gentle piety with which she had once listened to the gospel while sitting on the form at school, she felt its grandeur now, and the tears rolled down her cheeks. Then the last words of her dying mother rose before her, “Let not my child become a Christian;” and with them sounded in her heart the words of the law, “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

“I am not admitted among the Christians,” she said; “they mock me as a Jewish girl; the neighbors’ boys did so last Sunday when I stood looking in through the open church door at the candles burning on the altar, and listening to the singing. Ever since I sat on the school-bench I have felt the power of Christianity; a power which, like a sunbeam, streams into my heart, however closely I may close my eyes against it. But I will not grieve thee, my mother, in thy grave. I will not be unfaithful to my father’s vow. I will not read the Bible of the Christian. I have the God of my fathers, and in Him I will trust.”

And again years passed by. Sarah’s master died, and his widow found herself in such reduced circumstances that she wished to dismiss her servant maid; but Sarah refused to leave the house, and she became a true support in time of trouble, and kept the household together by working till late at night, with her busy hands, to earn their daily bread. Not a relative came forward to assist them, and the widow was confined to a sick bed for months and grew weaker from day to day. Sarah worked hard, but contrived to spare time to amuse her and watch by the sick bed. She was gentle and pious, an angel of blessing in that house of poverty.

“My Bible lies on the table yonder,” said the sick woman one day to Sarah. “Read me something from it; the night appears so long, and my spirit thirsts to hear the word of God.”

And Sarah bowed her head. She took the book, and folded her hand over the Bible of the Christians, and at last opened it, and read to the sick woman. Tears stood in her eyes as she read, and they shone with brightness, for in her heart it was light.

]“Mother,” she murmured, “thy child may not receive Christian baptism, nor be admitted into the congregation of Christian people. Thou hast so willed it, and I will respect thy command. We are therefore still united here on earth; but in the next world there will be a higher union, even with God Himself, who leads and guides His people till death. He came down from heaven to earth to suffer for us, that we should bring forth the fruits of repentance. I understand it now. I know not how I learnt this truth, unless it is through the name of Christ.”

Yet she trembled as she pronounced the holy name. She struggled against these convictions of the truth of Christianity for some days, till one evening while watching her mistress she was suddenly taken very ill; her limbs tottered under her, and she sank fainting by the bedside of the sick woman.

“Poor Sarah,” said the neighbors; “she is overcome with hard work and night watching.” And then they carried her to the hospital for the sick poor. There she died; and they bore her to her resting-place in the earth, but not to the churchyard of the Christians. There was no place for the Jewish girl; but they dug a grave for her outside the wall. And God’s sun, which shines upon the graves of the churchyard of the Christians, also throws its beams on the grave of the Jewish maiden beyond the wall.

And when the psalms of the Christians sound across the churchyard, their echo reaches her lonely resting-place; and she who sleeps there will be counted worthy at the resurrection, through the name of Christ the Lord, who said to His disciples, “John baptized you with water, but I will baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”

Source: Fairy Tales Collection (http://www.fairytalescollection.com/Hans_Christian_Anderson/The_Jewish_Maiden.htm)

friedrich braun
Monday, January 10th, 2005, 02:18 PM
January 08, 2005

The little prince
Hans Christian Andersen won literary immortality with his stories of an outcast boy made good. But were his timeless fairytales thinly veiled parables of his own life as the illegitimate son of a future king? Neil Philip investigates

Hans Christian Andersen spent most of 1848 feeling sorry for himself. It was not an unusual state for this hypersensitive hypochondriac, with his conflicted sexuality and his tortured awareness of his own genius. He had been flung into a gloom that January by the death of King Christian VIII of Denmark, “whom I loved unspeakably”, and had been unable to shake himself out of the depression.

His closest confidante, Henriette Wulff, sent him a letter on November 18 to try to cheer him up. “You have discovered that you are that prince’s child we talked about the other day,” she wrote, “and you are feeling it too much! But I wish you wouldn’t, because if you were descended from all the world’s kings, I could not be any more fond of you.”

“You have discovered that you are that prince’s child . . .” What does she mean? Is it a private joke, or a reference to a story? Or an inexplicable aberration, like the time in 1830 when Bishop Blok wrote to Andersen as “Your Majesty”? The whole world knows that Hans Christian Andersen was the son of a poor shoemaker and a washerwoman, who through his own efforts and the kindness of strangers raised himself from the gutter to become a great poet.

Andersen himself called this rags-to-riches story “the fairytale of my life”. But fairytale characters are not always what they seem. At the end of Adam Oehlenschläger’s play Aladdin, a favourite of Andersen’s, it turns out that Aladdin is not the son of a poor tailor, but instead the son of an emir. Andersen’s childish imagination cast himself in the same scenario; he was, he told his first schoolfriend, a switched child of noble birth.

It is not an uncommon fantasy; just the sort of thing to expect from a solitary and dreamy boy such as Hans Christian Andersen. But in Andersen’s case it is just possible that behind the consoling fantasy lies the naked truth.

Rumours about Andersen’s true parentage have swirled around Denmark for a century or more. The most persistent, championed in books published there by Jens Jørgensen and Rolf Dorset, is that he was the illegitimate son of Countess Elise Ahlefeldt-Laurvig by Crown Prince Christian Frederik, the future King Christian VIII. If true, it was not just Andersen’s king who died that January, but also his father.

Many Andersen experts dismiss this theory as preposterous. It relies on circumstantial evidence, gossip and guesswork. Royal patronage does not prove royal parentage, and without a DNA test it remains pure supposition. But it does raise some intriguing questions about the accepted “fairytale” of Andersen’s life.

Prince Christian Frederik and Elise Ahlefeldt-Laurvig's love affair was ignited in the summer of 1804. Gossip spoke of a baby, and even of a clandestine marriage, forbidden by the king. In 1807 Elise had a second child, Adolphine, who in old age claimed that Christian Frederik was her father.

Andersen was born in 1805. At this time, Denmark was still an absolute monarchy. Society was rigidly stratified, and there was little social mobility. A few managed, by hard work or exceptional talent, to climb the social ladder. One such was Andersen’s friend, the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. But a pauper boy stood little chance of escaping his class. As the heedless aristocratic children say in his story Kids’ Talk (given a sprightly new translation in the Franks ’ The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen): “Those people whose names end with sen, they can never, ever become anything in the world!”

Andersen’s father, Hans Andersen, who died when the boy was 11, was a shoemaker with few or no clients. His mother, Anne Marie Andersdatter, was an alcoholic washerwoman. His aunt ran a brothel in Copenhagen; his half-sister Karen Marie (always referred to as “my mother’s daughter”) was probably also a prostitute. Yet the young Hans Christian was coddled like a nobleman’s child.

His family, despite having few sources of income, wanted for nothing. There was no pressure on the boy to work. In fact, before the days of free universal education, he was sent to school. His mother even felt able to insist on an extraordinary proviso: in no circumstance was the boy to be beaten. When a teacher forgot this and birched him, Hans Christian was withdrawn and sent to another establishment.

In those days, corporal punishment, ranging from the birch to a clip around the ear, was the rule for all pupils save the children of royalty and the upper nobility — and Hans Christian Andersen. At his grammar school in Slagelse the same rule applied. His Latin master, Mr Snitker, was so frustrated by it that he kept his own son Georg handy, so that he could thwack him whenever Andersen made a mistake. “He is my own flesh and blood, so I am allowed to punish him.”

Andersen was miserable at Slagelse. He was dyslexic, his basic education was woefully deficient, and he was six years older than his fellow pupils. Worse, he was forbidden to write stories, plays or poetry. He was convinced that Simon Meisling, the principal, was trying “to destroy my soul”. Andersen had been sent to school after three wasted years spent hanging around the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen. Nobody seems to have seriously thought he showed great promise as a singer, dancer, actor or writer. Nevertheless he was indulged and financially maintained by a number of high-born people with close relations to the royal family.

The general view of Andersen in these years was that he was a figure of fun. The aim of sending him to school was not to fulfil his artistic ambition but to stamp it out. But why should this gawky boy, with his hopelessly misdirected enthusiasms, have seemed a suitable candidate to turn from a guttersnipe into a gentleman? His fees — twice those paid for other pupils — came directly from a royal fund. The Crown Princess sent him pocket money; all kinds of important people, most notably the State Councillor Jonas Collin, kept a careful eye on him. Andersen was to become Denmark’s greatest writer, the supreme master of the literary fairytale, but few would have predicted it then. They were more likely to agree with Simon Meisling’s furious description of his lanky pupil: “an insufferable skittle, a mad person, a stupid numskull!”

Could it be that Andersen really was the Crown Prince’s son? Contemporary rumour and oral tradition have it that such a child existed, and was given “into the hands of good people”. Was Andersen foisted on Hans and Anne Marie to raise as their own, like the unwanted baby in Andersen’s story Anne Lisbeth, who is given to the ditch digger’s wife because she asks the smallest payment?

Anne Marie and Hans had been married in St Knud’s Church two months before Andersen’s birth. She was in her late thirties, and already had one illegitimate daughter, who was raised by her parents; Hans was 22. Both were servants — Hans on the estate of the Ahlefeldt-Laurvigs, and Anne Marie with a family closely tied to Broholm Castle, where Elise Ahlefeldt-Laurvig’s baby is said to have been born.

The boy lived a life of extraordinary social isolation. But the young Hans Christian nevertheless received favourable attention from some of the Odense gentry, who had been asked by Rural Dean Gutfeldt (called by Andersen “my benefactor”) to keep their eyes on “a certain little boy”.

In 1816 the Crown Prince and his family moved to Odense Castle, as Christian Frederik had been made governor of Funen. In his early memoirs, privately written for a friend, Andersen describes how his mother used to take him to play at the castle with Prince Frits (later King Frederik VII), who was three years his junior. This pauper boy had no playmates on the street; only a royal prince in a castle.

When Andersen came to write his autobiography for publication he made no mention of this story, an odd omission for someone as vain as he was. But the closeness with Frits continued into adulthood. After he became king, Frits treated Hans Christian as an old friend. He liked to hear Andersen tell his fairytales, and once asked him: “How can you think up all these things? How does it all come to you? Have you got it all inside your head?” When Frits died, Andersen was the only non-family member allowed a private visit to the king’s body in its coffin.

Andersen looks back on this unlikely childhood friendship in one of his most finely crafted fairytales, The Bell, which is included in Tiina Nunnally’s meticulous translation of 30 of his best stories, Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales. The story tells of two boys who search for the source of a great bell that sounds through the forest. One is a pauper, the other is a king’s son. Although they take different routes, one in sunshine and one in shadow, in the end they arrive at the same place and embrace like brothers: “The two boys ran to each other and held hands in the great cathedral of nature and poetry. Above them rang the invisible sacred bell, and blessed spirits hovered and danced around them to a jubilant ‘Hallelujah!’ ”

If it is true that Andersen himself had come to believe that he was the older son of King Christian VIII, the story becomes a parable of destiny in which both boys represent Andersen himself. If he were a king’s son or a pauper, it did not matter, for he would still achieve his goal.

It is possible that, despite his relentless hobnobbing with royalty, Andersen even felt some relief to have been allotted the role of the poor boy rather than the king’s son. His diary records a meeting with King Maximilian II of Bavaria in 1851: “I sat alone with the king on a bench. He spoke about everything God had given me, about the fates of men, and I said I would not like to be a king, it was such a great responsibility, I would be incapable of fulfilling the task; he said that God must give one power, and through him one did what one was capable of.”

The Bell was written in 1842. Prince Christian Frederik had become King Christian VIII in 1839, and it may be that Andersen was subsequently made aware of his true parentage. He was certainly from this time included in the intimate circle of the royal family. For instance, in 1844 he was invited to join them for a 12-day holiday on the island of Føhr; a fellow guest was the king’s illegitimate daughter, Franziska Enger, known as Fanny. She was born at Castle Ludwigslust in Schleswig four months after Andersen, and given away to a castle servant to raise.

Another of Andersen’s best-known stories, The Ugly Duckling, dates from this same period. It is usually seen as a fable of a disadvantaged child overcoming all obstacles to rise from obscurity to fame. But read in the context of the king’s-son theory, the tale’s conclusion has a slightly different ring. It becomes a story about an adopted child who rejects and is rejected by his adoptive milieu, but finds true happiness when he meets his own kind, the “regal” swans. Its moral is simple: It’s no wonder you don’t feel at home in the duckyard if you’ve been hatched from a swan’s egg.

Andersen was first formally introduced to Christian Frederik, his putative father, at Odense Castle in 1819. Advised to tell the prince that he wanted to go to the grammar school, Andersen blurted out that he longed to be a singer or a dancer. The answer did not please the prince.

In 1832, when Andersen had been published but had not yet made his name, Christian Frederik sought out Anne Marie Andersdatter in the almshouse where she was spending her last years in an alcoholic haze, especially to tell her that Hans Christian was a credit to her.

Elise Ahlefeldt-Laurvig lived out her life in Germany. Although they shared a passionate interest in the theatre, music, and literature, it does not seem that Hans Christian Andersen ever met her. In his later years he was once seen picking up a picture and sighing, “If only you were still alive”; it was a portrait of Elise.

Andersen’s cagey diaries are little help in solving the mystery of his parentage. But on January 3, 1875, the last year of his life, he does allow himself one bone-dry joke. Noting how many letters he has received asking for autographs, he writes: “One has my name and address: King Christian the Ninth.”

It does not really matter; whoever his parents were, Andersen remains one of literature’s great originals. And as the old baroness says in his 1848 novel The Two Baronesses: “We are all of one piece — all made from the same clod of earth; one came in a newspaper wrapping, another in gold paper, but the clod should not be proud of that. There is nobility in every class; but it lies in the mind, not in the blood, for we are also of one blood, whatever they may say.”

Read on

The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank (Granta); £15, offer £12

Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales by Tiina Nunnally and Jackie Wullschläger (Penguin); £20, offer £16

Hans Christian Andersen: The Fan Dancer by Alison Prince (Allison & Busby); £10.99, offer £8.79

Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller by Jackie Wullschläger (Penguin); £9.99, offer £8.49

Andersen: A Biography by Jens Andersen, trans Tiina Nunnally (forthcoming, Duckworth)

Neil Philip’s translations of Andersen’s tales can be found in Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (forthcoming, Reader’s Digest)