Kierkegaard as Philanthropist

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.

Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen

Kierkegaards København

I wrote earlier that hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard had been found a few years ago in a publication called Folkets Nisse (the people’s elf) (see “Newly Discovered Caricatures of Kierkegaard,” post from 1/31/11). Well, those aren’t the only hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard to have been discovered recently. Peter Tudvad discovered some in the satirical newspaper Corsaren (the corsair).

Yes, we’ve known Kierkegaard was caricatured in the pages of Corsaren, but it had been assumed the caricatures appeared only in 1846. Tudvad discovered, however, that Corsaren continued to publish caricatures of Kierkegaard after 1846 and, in fact, right up until his death in 1855. That is just one of what the then director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, called the “monumental” discoveries Tudvad published in his best-selling book Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen) (Politiken, 2004). Tudvad’s discoveries, asserted Cappleørn, “cast an entirely new light on Kierkegaard’s character.”

“One of the myths among Kierkegaard scholars,” explained Cappelørn in an article in the Danish newspaper Information, “is that Kierkegaard kept monotonously repeating the same criticism against Corsaren for its lampooning of him long after the practice had stopped. People had seen this as a sign of Kierkegaard’s hypersensitivity, as evidence that he was so sensitive that he simply couldn’t forget this brief attack. Now we have to rethink this conception of him.”

How is it that scholars failed to look at any of the issues of Corsaren after 1846? It would appear, explains Cappelørn, that what we have here is a phenomenon “we are familiar with from other areas of scholarship. One reads the secondary literature and simply repeats what earlier scholars have said without going to the original sources.”

That caricatures of Kierkegaard continued to appear in Corsaren long after scholars had earlier assumed they had stopped, is not the only revelation in Tudvad’s book. Kierkegaards København is full of important revelations. Unfortunately, it is also full of beautiful color illustrations so, although I’ve tried to get an English-language publisher interested in issuing it in translation, I have not yet had any luck with that project. I’m afraid that for now, anyway, you are going to have to make do with the Danish edition. I can’t say I feel very sorry for you though. It is an absolutely gorgeous book! Check it out.