Hans Christian Andersen
The Ice Virgin
Translated 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.
Andersen saw Switzerland, which he was visiting in 1861 when he began to write this story, as a paradigm of the human condition. The relationship between the daring young chamois hunter brought up 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 – the role of early experience in shaping personal identity; the power of natural forces against human endeavour; ambition versus security, the instinctive life versus rational civilisation.
In the terrifying Ice Virgin and her eerie minions, with their implacable hatred of humankind, we have a glimpse of the fairy tale Andersen. But this is a thoroughly absorbing narrative of the real world. In his Afterword Paul Binding explains why he places this underappreciated novella in the first rank of world literature.
‘We tend to think of Hans Christian Andersen as a writer for the young. But Denmark’s greatest storyteller also brought his vivid prose style to bear in works for adults, and his gifts are on display in Paul Binding’s new translation of “The Ice Virgin”. ‘At once sparkling and frighteningly deep, like the glaciers that cut through the mountain passes of Switzerland in the 1850s, the story’s setting, this novella traces the fate of a handsome chamois hunter who pursues a girl of higher social rank. Andersen’s writing is a joy . . . Nothing in this tale makes it inappropriate for younger readers, but older ones are likelier to find resonance in Andersen’s ambiguous, sophisticated vision.’ Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Wall Street Journal
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN (1805–75) was born in 1805 in Odense, then the second city of Denmark, the son of a shoemaker and a washerwoman. His father died when he was eleven. He left home for Copenhagen at the age of fourteen in an unsuccessful attempt at a career on the stage. He managed to complete secondary education in his early twenties. After early difficulties with social acceptance as a young man, he travelled widely throughout Europe and met and befriended many writers and artists of the day. He died in Copenhagen at the age of seventy.