M.G. Piety

Kierkegaard as Philanthropist

In Publishing News, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on March 8, 2011 at 11:01 am

Peter Tudvad discovered while doing research for Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen) (Politiken, 2004) that Kierkegaard gave shelter to a journeyman carpenter named Frederik Christian Strube and his family. Kierkegaard described Strube as “the man I trusted as I trusted no other, the man I inherited from my father.” Joakim Garff assumes in his book Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton, 2005) that Strube had been one of Kierkegaard’s servants and in fact refers to him as “the servant Strube” (647).

Strube did some carpentry work for Kierkegaard and shortly thereafter moved, with his wife and two daughters, into Kierkegaard’s approximately 200 square meter large apartment on Rosenborggade. “Although Kierkegaard could hardly complain about a lack of space,” writes Garff, “there of course also had to be room for servants. And there were more than a few” (532). The status of the Strube family in the Kierkegaard household is, however, far from clear.

Kierkegaard appears to have had only one servant, Anders Christensen Westergaard. Strube, on the other hand, continued to work 12 hours a day as a carpenter while he lived with Kierkegaard. Both Strube and his wife occasionally did odd jobs for which Kierkegaard paid them. This would seem poor compensation, however, for the inconvenience of having to lodge an entire family in an apartment it would appear Kierkegaard had initially intended only for himself and his personal servant.

Shortly after Strube and his family moved in with Kierkegaard he began to show sings of mental illness. Kierkegaard appears to have used his friendship with one of the chief physicians at the Frederiks Hospital, to get Strube admitted to the posh facility which, according to its own rules was not supposed to admit the mentally ill. When Strube finally moved out of Kierkegaard’s apartment in 1852, Kierkegaard continued to offer him support. In fact, Rune Lykkeberg observes in an article entitled “Geniet som omsorgsfuldt menneske” (the genius as philanthropist) (Information, 5/28/04) that Tudvad’s research revealed that “Kierkegaard appears to have continued to support Strube, to the best of his ability, right up until the latter’s death after which time Stube’s nephew thanked him.”

I’ve written about Strube before (see “Some Reflections on Academic Ethics“). His case bares repeating, however, because the portrayal of Kierkegaard’s relation to Strube in Garff’s biography is much less sympathetic. Although the paperback edition of the Princeton translation of Garff’s book incorporates extensive corrections made necessary by Tudvad’s revelations (compare, for example the top of page 402 in the hardcover and paperback editions), Garff remains adamant that Strube and his family were servants, thus the material relating to Strube is unchanged.

Oh yes, one other thing: There is no indication in the paperback edition of Garff’s book that it is a corrected edition, which is to say that it is not the same edition as the hardcover, at least there is no such indication in the copy I have.

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