Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen
By Kate Ashton
Kate Ashton is a Scots-born writer and translator, now at home in the Highlands. For nearly 25 years she lived and worked in The Netherlands, predominately in Friesland, a part of the world she will always love and return to. She reads, reviews, and translates from Dutch, Frisian and Flemish.
Her writing career began in the mid-’70s, when she went into nursing journalism after nurse training in Edinburgh. Moving to The Netherlands, she continued medical feature writing and reporting, and wrote hospital-based romantic fiction before establishing her own freelance editorial services business. Two works of Frisian social history, biography and literary monograph, were translated and published in Frisian. Meanwhile she began actively exploring her own form of narrative non-fiction.
Her prose style is ‘modernist’ and freely oscillates between realism and impressionism, constantly mutating in response to content. Her poems appear in UK literary magazines, and a full poetry collection, Who by Water, came out from Shearsman Books in 2016.
A double biography charting the parallel lives of two towering figures of European and world literature, from their youthful days as drinking companions in a nineteenth-century Copenhagen student dive to the palpably reverberating effects of their respective legacies on the world today. This book illuminates the extraordinary personal and creative relationship between the two writers: a literary history which has gone largely unrecognised and undocumented.
Kierkegaard began reading Andersen’s work from long before the fairy tales, the future philosopher dedicating his own debut publication to an excoriating critique of the storyteller’s first novel. The humble acceptance with which Andersen accepted this as forward impetus for his writing set the tone for their relationship. Both men were to live solitary lives; each tortured and fatally impeded by early sexual and emotional trauma, each recognising the very different integrity of the other’s oeuvre.
They would continue to read each other’s work, largely without comment, each respectful of the other’s immense literary output and personal suffering. Their experience was sublimated in entirely divergent ways, Andersen existing in a constant state of denial and escapism, Kierkegaard relentlessly facing down his personal past and present reality in his attempt to attain spiritual wholeness.
The lasting influence of these two writers of Golden Age Denmark on European cultures and the wider world cannot be over-estimated. In delineating the core of Christian teaching as the power of the individual to shape their own moral character Kierkegaard conceived the central tenet of ‘existentialism’; while Andersen deflected the Western mind from both the simplistic sermon-speak of the Reformation and painful introspection, leading it instead into a bright new mythology of happy endings in which darkness is tolerated and its lessons taught only by the subconscious. We have taken the latter path.
To be published (The Lutterworth Press) - 87.500 words