Little known in the U.S., the writer Tove Ditlevsen (1917–1976) is widely beloved in her native Denmark. She wrote dozens of books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, but her crowning literary achievement is the Copenhagen Trilogy, a trio of frank, riveting memoirs published stateside by Farrar, Straus and Giroux earlier this week. An excerpt from the third volume, Dependency, newly translated from the Danish by Michael Favala Goldman, appears below.
Everything in the living room is green—the carpet, the walls, the curtains—and I am always inside it, like in a picture. I wake up every morning around five o’clock and sit down on the edge of the bed to write, curling my toes because of the cold. It’s the middle of May, and the heating is off. I sleep by myself in the living room, because Viggo F. has lived alone for so many years that he can’t get used to suddenly sleeping with another person. I understand, and it’s fine with me, because now I have these early morning hours all to myself. I’m writing my first novel, and Viggo F. doesn’t know. Somehow I think that if he knew, he would correct it and give me advice, like he does all the other young people who write in Wild Wheat, and then that would block the flow of sentences coursing through my brain all day long. I write by hand on cheap yellow vellum, because if I used his noisy typewriter, which is so old it belongs in the National Museum, it would wake him up. He sleeps in the bedroom looking out on the courtyard, and I don’t wake him until eight o’clock. Then he gets up in his white nightshirt with the red trim, and with an annoyed look on his face, he walks out to the bathroom. Meanwhile I make coffee for both of us and butter four pieces of bread. I put a lot of butter on two of them, because he loves anything fattening. I do whatever I can to please him, because I’m so thankful he married me. Although I know something still isn’t quite right, I carefully avoid thinking about that. For some incomprehensible reason, Viggo F. has never taken me in his arms, and that does bother me a little, as if I had a stone in my shoe. It bothers me a little because I think there must be something wrong with me, and that in some way I haven’t lived up to his expectations. When we sit across from each other, drinking coffee, he reads the newspaper, and I’m not allowed to talk to him. That’s when my courage drains away like sand in an hourglass; I don’t know why. I stare at his double chin, vibrating weakly, spilling out over the edge of his wing-tip collar. I stare at his small, dainty hands, moving in short, nervous jerks, and at his thick, gray hair which resembles a wig, because his ruddy, wrinkle-free face would better suit a bald man. When we finally do talk to each other, it’s about small, meaningless things—what he wants for dinner, or how we should fix the tear in the blackout curtains. I feel glad if he finds something cheerful in the newspaper, like the day when it said people could buy alcohol again, after the occupying forces had forbidden that for a week. I feel glad when he smiles at me with his single tooth, pats my hand, says goodbye, and leaves. He doesn’t want false teeth, because he says that in his family men die at fifty-six, and that’s only three years away, so he doesn’t want the expense. There’s no hiding the fact that he’s stingy, and that doesn’t really match the high value my mother put on being able to provide. He’s never given me a piece of clothing, and when we go out in the evening to visit some famous person, he takes the streetcar, while I have to ride my bicycle alongside it, speeding along so I can wave to him when he wants. I have to keep a household budget, and when he looks at it, he always thinks everything is too expensive. When I can’t get it to add up, I write “miscellaneous,” but he always makes a fuss about that, so I try not to miss any expenses. He also makes a fuss about having a housekeeper in the mornings, since I’m home anyway, doing nothing. But I can’t and won’t keep house, so he has no choice. I feel glad when I see him cut across the green lawn toward the streetcar, which stops right in front of the police station. I wave to him, and when I turn away from the window, I completely forget about him until he shows up again. I take a shower, look in the mirror, and think to myself that I am only twenty years old, and that it feels like I have been married for a generation. It feels like life beyond these green rooms is rushing by for other people as if to the sound of kettledrums and tom-toms. Meanwhile I am only twenty years old, and the days descend on me unnoticeably like dust, each one just like the rest. Read More