• 96 pages
  • 10/11/2016
  • Paperback 978-0946162895
  • £8.95

Hans Christian Andersen

The Ice Virgin

translated with an afterword by Paul Binding

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales have always overshadowed his other works, among them The Ice Virgin. Paul Binding’s new translation is the first to present this very special story on its own for full appreciation.

Previous English translations have placed The Ice Virgin among fairy tales and classified it as one. But while Andersen uses the terrifying figure of the Ice Virgin and her eerie minions to personify the hostile forces of nature, the tale is a novella for a mature readership, among the most ambitious and searching of all Andersen’s narratives and set firmly in the real world.

That world is Switzerland, which Andersen visited in 1861. He sees the country as something of a paradigm of the human condition. The relationship between a daring young chamois hunter, his earliest years spent in the Bernese Oberland, and a prosperous miller’s daughter living in the comfortable and progressive French-speaking Swiss canton of Vaud plays out a complex of themes. In the context of contrasted Swiss communities within the mighty Swiss landscape, we witness the role of early experience in shaping identity, the irreconcilability of ambition and security, instinctive life versus rational civilisation. At the ‘tragic’ denouement, Andersen invites the reader to answer his question: ‘Would you call that a sorrowful story?’

After many readings of the original over the years, Paul Binding felt a compulsion to undertake his own translation; it happily captures Andersen’s unique style, combining a fresh, informal directness with profound penetration. In his Afterword he explains why he places this novella in the first rank of world literature.


Hans Christian Andersen was born in 1805 in Odense, then the second city of Denmark, the son of a shoemaker and a washerwoman. After a problematic and protracted education, he travelled widely throughout Europe and met and befriended many writers and artists of the day. Although his fame rests on his fairy tales, he also wrote novels and work in other genres, especially the extended tale for an adult readership. He died in Copenhagen in 1875.

Paul Binding is a leading British literary critic and writer on Scandinavian literature and culture; he has also published novels and a prizewinning memoir. He is the author of the literary-biographical study Hans Christian Andersen: European Witness, 2014. He lives in Bishop's Castle, Shropshire.