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.

Newly Discovered Caricatures of Kierkegaard

Women fight over one of Kierkegaard’s shirts

One of the most important discoveries Peter Tudvad made when working on his book, Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen), was that the attacks on Kierkegaard in the satirical newspaper The Corsair, were not confined to 1846, as scholars had assumed, but actually spanned the period from 1846 until Kierkegaard’s death in 1855. This makes Kierkegaard’s continued preoccupation with the Corsair, and its merciless caricaturing of him, appear less neurotic than has been assumed. He continued to be preoccupied with the newspaper because it continued to be preoccupied with him. Kierkegaard was hence not exaggerating when he described himself as an object of public ridicule.

The situation was even worse though than scholars have assumed. The Corsair was not the only paper to ridicule Kierkegaard. Another paper, Folkets Nisse (the people’s elf) also published caricatures of or relating to Kierkegaard over an extended period. The drawing above is one such caricature. Apparently, Kierkegaard’s effects were auctioned off after his death. The drawing depicts two women fighting over one of Kierkegaard’s shirts. It’s interesting not simply as an example of a hitherto unknown collection of contemporary caricatures but also because it tells us something about how Kierkegaard was viewed around the period of his death. Scholars have often portrayed him as a marginal figure in Danish history, one whose brilliance was really first discovered beyond the borders of his own country. The drawing makes clear, however, that he had become a kind of cult figure by the time of his death and that there was thus probably far more sympathy with his attack on the Danish Lutheran Church than is ordinarily assumed.

There are many more drawings like the one above in Folkets Nisse. I cannot claim credit for having discovered them. They were discovered by Paul A. Bauer in the late 1990s when he purchased a bound volume of Folkets Nisse from an antiquarian book dealer in Copenhagen. I am indebted to Anne Marie Furbo of the The Royal Library in Copenhagen for tracking down this particular drawing which I had remembered only vaguely but which I wanted to use for the cover of my forthcoming book, Fear and Dissembling: The Copenhagen Kierkegaard Controversy.

If you plan to go to Copenhagen, stop by The Royal Library. I’m sure the folks there will be similarly helpful to you if you want to track down more of these hitherto unknown caricatures.