“The art of flying high” — Peter Fogtdal on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling in the light of the postmodern reality of existence

Aldona Zańko


As noticed by some of the most acknowledged scholars of the genre, fairy tales have enjoyed an explosive popularity in the second half of the twentieth century, both in Western Europe and North America. At the same time, rather than asserting the universal appeal of the fairy-tale tradition, the majority of contemporary writers inspired by classic fairy tales stay focused on testing the relevance of their sources by revising traditional plots, characters and images against the backdrop of contemporary existence. In the present paper, the practice of literary revision is explored as one of the most recent and innovative strategies within the intertextual use of fairy-tale motifs drawn from the literary oeuvre of the Danish fairy-tale master Hans Christian Andersen. As an illustrative example of this approach, I examine a short story entitled The ugly girl (Den grimme kælling, 1996), by a contemporary Danish writer Peter Fogtdal, which is a postmodern take on The ugly duckling (Den grimme ælling, 1843). The article discusses the main aspects of Fogtdal’s revision, centered around the way, in which Andersen renders the relation between individual and society, as reflected in his depiction of the hero, as well as his understanding of the nature-culture dichotomy. Preceded by an outline of the view of life conveyed in Andersen’s autobiographical writings, the analysis seeks to identify, to what extend the existential truths expressed in The ugly duckling are challenged in Fogtdal’s revision, contributing to a change in its further reception.

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