Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"More could not be done for him," a Hans Christian Andersen amuse-bouche

And so the butterfly proposed to the mint at last.

But the mint stood stiff and still, and at last it said, "Friendship, but no more! I'm old, and you're old! We could live for each other very well, but get married--no! Let's not make fools of ourselves in our old age!"

And so the butterfly got no one at all. He had searched too long, and that is something one shouldn't do. The butterfly became a bachelor, as it is called.

It was late autumn with rain and drizzle. The wind sent shivers down the backs of the old willow trees so that they creaked. It wasn't good flying outside in summer clothes--you'd be in for an unpleasant surprise, as they say. But the butterfly didn't fly outside, either. He had accidentally gotten inside, where there was a fire in the stove, yes, just as hot as summer. He could survive. But "surviving isn't enough!" he said. "One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower!"

And he flew against the windowpane, was seen, admired, and stuck on a pin in the curio chest. More could not be done for him.
That's from "The Butterfly," by Hans Christian Andersen, Patricia Conroy translation. This is not the promised Pontoppidan excerpt post. I have interrupted Lucky Per off and on over the last couple of days to read Mr Andersen, and I wanted to put this snippet onto the blog because I might refer to it when I post some Pontoppidan stuff from Lucky Per very soon. It's the knowing fairy tale tone of voice I want to remember here. The breezy casual brutality.


  1. That is what I have always loved the fairy tale tone of voice because of that very reason. Many of them are truly horrific and violent, but are still "gentle" enough to read to a kid. It's bizarre, heh.

  2. Yeah, the whole "the witch threw the little girl into the oven, because as you know, that's what witches do" matter-of-factness. "It's a horrible, horrible world. More buttercake, dear?" There's a bit of this quality, I've always thought, in the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov. Though Nabokov would add, "You are such a stupid, stupid child. I spend far too much time looking after you. For example, I must now remind you to beware the razor blade in the cake."

  3. I often try to capture this tone in my writing. It's powerful because the telling of the story is not at all self-conscious. The narrator feels invisible and the reader is just left to deal with the events of the story.