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Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen

The Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) enjoyed fame in his own lifetime as a novelist, dramatist, and poet, but his fairy tales are his great contribution to world literature.

Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark. His father was a shoemaker and his mother a washerwoman, and he was the first Danish author to emerge from the lowest class. At the age of 14, Andersen convinced his mother to let him try his luck in Copenhagen rather than be apprenticed to a tailor. When she asked what he intended to do there, he replied, "I'II become famous! First you suffer cruelly, and then you become famous."

For 3 years he lived in one of Copenhagen's disreputable districts. He tried to become a singer, dancer, and actor but failed. When he was 17, a prominent government official arranged a scholarship for Andersen in order to repair his spotty education. But he was an indifferent student and was unable to study systematically. He never learned to spell or to write the elegant Danish of the period. Thus his literary style remained close to the spoken language and is still fresh and living today, unlike that of most of his contemporaries.

After spending 7 years at school, mostly under the supervision of a neurotic rector who seems to have hated him, Andersen celebrated the passing of his university examinations in 1828 by writing his first prose narrative, an unrestrained satirical fantasy. This, his first success, was quickly followed by a vaudeville and a collection of poems. Andersen's career as an author was begun, and his years of suffering were at an end.

A lifelong bachelor, he was frequently in love (with, among others, the singer Jenny Lind). He lived most of his life as a guest on the country estates of wealthy Danes. He made numerous journeys abroad, where he met and in many cases became friends with prominent Europeans, among them the English novelist Charles Dickens. Andersen died on Aug. 4, 1875.

Literary Career

In 1835 Andersen completed his first novel, The Improvisatore, and published his first small volume of fairy tales, an event that went virtually unnoticed. The Improvisatore has a finely done Italian setting and, like most of Andersen's novels, was based on his own life. It was a success not only in Denmark but also in England and Germany. He wrote five more novels, all of them combining highly artificial plots with remarkably vivid descriptions of landscape and local customs.

As a dramatist, Andersen failed almost absolutely. But many of his poems are still a part of living Danish literature, and his most enduring contributions, after the fairy tales, are his travel books and his autobiography. In vividness, spontaneity, and impressionistic insight into character and scene, the travel books (of which A Poet's Bazaar is the masterpiece) rival the tales, and the kernels of many of the tales are found there.

World fame came to Andersen early. In 1846 the publication of his collected works in German gave him the opportunity to write an autobiography (published in both German and English in 1847). This book formed the basis of the Danish version, The Fairy Tale of My Life (1855).

Fairy Tales

Andersen began his fairy-tale writing by retelling folk tales he had heard as a child. Very soon, however, he began to create original stories, and the vast majority of his tales are original. The first volumes in 1835-1837 contained 19 tales and were called Fairy Tales Told for Children. In 1845 the title changed to New Fairy Tales. The four volumes appearing with this title contained 22 original tales and mark the great flowering of Andersen's genius. In 1852 the title was changed to Stories, and from then on the volumes were called New Fairy Tales and Stories. During the next years Andersen published a number of volumes of fairy tales, and his last works of this type appeared in 1872. Among his most popular tales are "The Ugly Duckling," "The Princess and the Pea," and "The Little Mermaid."

At first Andersen dismissed his fairy-tale writing as a "bagatelle" and, encouraged by friends and prominent Danish critics, considered abandoning the genre. But he later came to believe that the fairy tale would be the "universal poetry" of which so many romantic writers dreamed, the poetic form of the future, which would synthesize folk art and literature and encompass the tragic and the comic, the naive and the ironic.

While the majority of Andersen's tales can be enjoyed by children, the best of them are written for adults as well and lend themselves to varying interpretations according to the sophistication of the reader. To the Danes this is the most important aspect of the tales, but it is unfortunately not often conveyed by Andersen's translators. Indeed, some of the finest and richest tales, such as "She Was No Good," "The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream," "The Shadow," "The Wind Tells of Valdemar Daae and His Daughter," and "The Bell," do not often find their way into English-language collections. More insidious, though, are the existing translations that omit entirely Andersen's wit and neglect those stylistic devices that carry his multiplicity of meanings. Andersen's collected tales form a rich fictive world, remarkably coherent and capable of many interpretations, as only the work of a great poet can be.

Further Reading

The only complete collection of Andersen's tales in English is the translation by Jean Hersholt, The Complete Andersen: All of the 168 Stories (6 vols., 1949). His novels and travel books have all been translated but not in this century. Still one of the best sources of information about Andersen's life is his autobiography, The Fairy Tale of My Life, in a translation by W. Glyn Jones (1954). Excellent biographies are Fredrik Böök, Hans Christian Andersen (1938; trans. 1962), and Monica Stirling, The Wild Swan: The Life and Times of Hans Christian Andersen (1965). A good introduction to Andersen's method is Paul V. Rubow's essay, "Idea and Form in Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales," in Svend Dahl and H.G. Topsöe-Jensen, eds., A Book on the Danish Writer Hans Christian Andersen: His Life and Work (trans. 1955). □

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Andersen, Hans Christian

Hans Christian Andersen

Born: April 2, 1805
Odense, Denmark
Died: August 4, 1875
Copenhagen, Denmark

Danish writer, author, and novelist

Hans Christian Andersen was the first Danish author to emerge from the lowest class. He enjoyed fame as a novelist, dramatist, and poet, but his fairy tales are his greatest contribution to world literature.

Early life

Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark. His father was a shoemaker, and his mother earned money washing other people's clothes. His parents spoiled him and encouraged him to develop his imagination. At the age of fourteen, Andersen convinced his mother to let him try his luck in Copenhagen, Denmark, rather than studying to become a tailor. When she asked what he planned to do in Copenhagen, he replied, "I'll become famous! First you suffer cruelly, and then you become famous."

For three years Andersen lived in one of Copenhagen's most run-down areas. He tried to become a singer, a dancer, and an actor, but he failed. When he was seventeen, a government official arranged a scholarship for him in order to give him a second chance to receive an education. But he was a poor student and was never able to study successfully. He never learned how to spell or how to write in Danish. As a result his writing style remained close to the spoken language and still sounds fresh today, unlike the work of other writers from the same era.

After spending seven years at school, mostly under the supervision of a principal who seems to have hated him, Andersen celebrated the passing of his university exams in 1828 by writing his first narrative. The story was a success, and it was quickly followed by a collection of poems. Andersen's career as an author had begun, and his years of suffering were at an end.

Literary career

In 1835 Andersen completed his first novel, The Improvisatore, and he published his first small volume of fairy tales, an event that attracted little attention at the time. The Improvisatore, like most of Andersen's novels, was based on his own life. It was a success not only in Denmark but also in England and Germany. He wrote five more novels, but as a writer of drama, Andersen failed almost completely. Many of his poems are still a part of popular Danish literature, however, and his most lasting contributions, after the fairy tales, are his travel books and his autobiography (the story of his own life).

A lifelong bachelor, Andersen was frequently in love (with, among others, the singer Jenny Lind). He lived most of his life as a guest at the country homes of wealthy Danish people. He made many journeys abroad, where he met and in many cases became friends with well-known Europeans, among them the English novelist Charles Dickens (18121870).

Fairy tales

Andersen began his fairy-tale writing by retelling folk tales he had heard as a child from his grandmother and others. Soon, however, he began to create his own stories. Most of his tales are original. The first volumes written from 1835 to 1837 contained nineteen stories and were called Fairy Tales Told for Children. In 1845 the title changed to New Fairy Tales. The four volumes appearing with this title contained twenty-two original tales and are considered Andersen's finest works. In 1852 the title was changed to Stories, and from then on the volumes were called New Fairy Tales and Stories. During the next years Andersen published a number of volumes of fairy tales. His last works of this type appeared in 1872. Among his most popular tales are "The Ugly Duckling," "The Princess and the Pea," and "The Little Mermaid."

At first Andersen was not very proud of his fairy-tale writing, and, after talks with friends and Danish critics, he considered giving them up. But he later came to believe that the fairy tale would be the "universal poetry" (poetry that exists in all cultures) of which so many romantic writers dreamed. He saw fairy tales as the poetic form of the future, combining folk art and literature and describing both the tragic and the comical elements of life. Andersen's tales form a rich, made-up world. While children can enjoy most of the tales, the best of them are written for adults as well. The tales also take on different meanings to different readers, a feat only a great poet can accomplish. Andersen died in Copenhagen, Denmark, on August 4, 1875.

For More Information

Bredsdorff, Elias. Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Scribner, 1975.

Wullschläger, Jackie. Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. New York: Knopf, 2001.

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Andersen, Hans Christian (1805-1875)

Andersen, Hans Christian (1805-1875)


Hans Christian Andersen is considered the father of the modern fairy tale. While a few authors before him (such as Charles Perrault in France and the Grimm brothers in Germany) collected folk tales deriving from oral lore, Andersen was the first to treat this peasant form as a literary genre. Many of his original tales, such as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Snow Queen" entered the collective consciousness with the same mythic power as the ancient, anonymous ones.

Andersen was born in 1805 in provincial Odense, Denmark, the son of an illiterate washerwoman and a poor shoemaker, who died when Andersen was eleven. An important influence during his childhood was his grandmother, who told him folk tales. At fourteen, Andersen went alone to Copenhagen to seek his fortune in the theater. Patrons funded his study, between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, at a grammar school, where his life was very much like that of the unhappy, over-large duckling of his story.

At a time when children's books were mostly formal, instructive texts, intended to educate rather than entertain, the appearance of his Eventyr (Fairy tales) in 1835 marked a revolution in children's literature. The colloquial manner, the humor, the exuberant detail, and the fantastical imaginings in his stories all distinguished them from traditional folk tales, which are generally characterized by an anonymous tone and formulaic structure.

Between 1835 and 1845 Andersen wrote "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Little Mermaid," "The Nightingale," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Snow Queen," and many other tales whose grace, simplicity, and penetrating insight into the human condition won him a wide following. These tales were translated throughout Europe and in America (they were translated into English in 1846), making him one of the most famous writers of the nineteenth century.

With his use of comedy and fantasy, Andersen determined the course of children's literature right through to the twenty-first century, and his influence as the world's first great fantasy storyteller is inestimable. He created speaking toys and animals, and he gave them colloquial, funny voices that children could instantly identify with. Yet he suffused his domestic settings with the fatalism of legend and his own modern sense of the absurd, so that in stories such as "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Fir Tree," and "The Top and the Ball" he became the artist of the idealized world of middle-class childhood. His appeal to a joint audience of parents and children set the standard for the double articulation that has marked all great children's booksas the British Daily News said of him in 1875, "it is only a writer who can write for men that is fit to write for children."

Despite his fame, Andersen always remained an outsider: lonely, gauche, sexually uncertain, and socially uneasy. He travelled widely across Europe and had several unhappy, unfulfilled love affairswith both men and women. His tales are, in fact, often veiled autobiographies: the gawky duckling, the restless fir tree, the poor match girl, the mermaid unable to speak her love; these are self-portraits whose honesty to experience reveals universal truths.

See also: Children's Literature.

bibliography

Wullschlager, Jackie. 2001. Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. New York: Knopf.

Jackie Wullschlager

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Andersen, Hans Christian

Hans Christian Andersen, 1805–75, Danish poet, novelist, and writer of fairy tales. Born to an illiterate washerwoman and reared in poverty, he left Odense at 14 for Copenhagen, where he lived with a wealthy family. He failed as an actor, but his poetry won him generous patrons including King Frederick VI. In 1829 his fantasy A Journey on Foot from the Holmen Canal to the Eastern Point of Amager was published, followed by a volume of poetry in 1830. Granted a traveling pension by the king, Andersen wrote sketches of the European countries he visited. His first novel, Improvisatoren (1835), was well received by the critics, and his sentimental novels were for a time considered his forte. However, with his first book of fairy tales, Eventyr (1835), he found the medium of expression that was to immortalize his genius. He produced about one volume a year and was recognized as Denmark's greatest author, a storyteller without peer, and one of the giants of European literature. His tales are often tragic or gruesome in plot. His sense of fantasy, power of description, and acute sensitivity contributed to his mastery of the genre. Among his many beloved stories are "The Fir-Tree," "The Little Match Girl," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Snow Queen," "The Little Mermaid," and "The Red Shoes."

See his Fairy Tales, tr. by R. P. Keigwin (4 vol., 1956–60); The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, tr. by E. Hougaard (1983); M. Tator, ed., The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen (2007); his autobiography (1855, tr. 1871); A River—A Town—A Poet, autobiographical selections by A. Dreslov (1963); his diaries, tr. by S. Rossel and P. Conroy (1990); biographies by F. Böök (tr. 1962), R. Godden (1955), M. Stirling (1965), S. Toksvig (1934, repr. 1969), E. Bredsdorff (1975), J. Andersen (2005), and P. Binding (2014).

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Andersen, Hans Christian

Andersen, Hans Christian (1805–75) Danish writer of some of the world's best-loved fairy tales. He gained a reputation as a poet and novelist before his talent found its true expression. His humorous, delicate but frequently melancholic stories, were first published in 1835. They include “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Little Match Girl” and “The Emperor's New Clothes”.

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