“Auntie Toothache” by Hans Christian Andersen

Auntie Toothache by Hans Christian Andersen

Who says that emergency dentistry cannot be a subject for great literature?

“Aunty Toothache” by Hans Christian Andersen is a parable about friendship and art. In the story, teeth serve as symbols of friendship, and losing a tooth foreshadows the death of a friend. Tooth pain accompanies, and is compared with, the pain of attempting to produce art.

The story is told from the point of view of an artistically-inclined student who lives in a boarding house. The student has a beloved great aunt, nicknamed “Aunty Toothache,” who has been spoiling him with sweets since he was a child. “She was,” says the student, “the most sympathetic of friends, both in my poetical troubles and dental troubles, for I have attacks of both.”

Aunty Toothache sees in her nephew the makings of a great poet, and he too has poetic ambitions, despite the pain associated with creating art. “The night after she said this, I lay awake, full of longings and anguish, with anxiety and fond hopes to become the great poet that Aunty saw and perceived in me; I went through all the pains of a poet! But there is an even greater pain – toothache – and it was grinding and crushing me.”

His aunt got her nickname because she used to suffer from toothaches and would often speak of them. She has a male friend, a retired brewer named Rasmussen, who has no teeth because he ate too much sugar as a child. One night, she has a dream that a tooth has fallen out. “That means,” she says, “that I shall lose a true friend.” Shortly afterwards, Rasmussen dies.

After the death of Rasmussen, on a snowy night, the student picks his aunt up from the theatre with the intention of walking her home. But the snowstorm is so bad that his landlady persuades his aunt to spend the night in the front parlour. That night, the student is visited by a diabolical apparition who calls herself “Madam Toothache.” The ghost announces that she will torture his teeth unless he acknowledges that toothaches are more powerful than art. He readily concedes, making a pact with the devil not to write poetry in exchange for being freed from tooth pain.

Source: Hans Christian Andersen. “Aunty Toothache.” Translated by Jean Jean Hersholt. November 23, 1872.

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