Andersen, Hans Christian

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Hans Christian Andersen


Born April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark; died of complications resulting from cancer of the liver, August 4, 1875, at Rolighed, near Copenhagen, Denmark; son of Hans (a shoemaker) and Anne Marie (a washerwoman) Andersen. Education: Schooled but illiterate at the age of fourteen, he began grammar school studies at the age of seventeen and finally attended the University of Copenhagen, passing degree examinations in 1829.


Author of fairy tales, playwright, novelist, and writer of travel books. From the age of eleven, worked in a cloth factory, a tobacco factory, and later as an apprentice to a shoemaker; tried unsuccessfully to become an actor, singer, and dancer.

Awards, Honors

Grants from the King of Denmark, 1833-35, for travel in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy; Swedish Order of the Knight of the Polar Star, White Falcon of Weimar, Red Eagle of Prussia; Order of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Honorary Danish Councillor of State.



Eventyr (title means "Tales"), Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1835, the first of many collections published between 1835 and 1872. The first illustrated edition was done by Thomas Vilhelm Pedersen in 1850. The complete collection of 168 tales is contained in Eventyr og historien (title means "Tales and Stories"), illustrated by T. V. Pedersen, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1862-63, and in Nye eventyr og historien (title means "New Tales and Stories"), illustrated by Lorenz Froelich, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1870-74.


Wonderful Stories for Children, translated by Mary Howitt, Chapman & Hall, 1st series, 1835-37, 2nd series, 1838, 3rd series, 1845.

Danish Fairy Legends and Tales, translated by Caroline Peachey, Pickering, 1846, 2nd edition, Addey, 1852, 3rd edition, Bohn, 1861.

A Danish Story-Book, translated by Charles Boner, illustrated by Count Pocci, Cundall, 1846.

A Poet's Day Dreams, translated by Anne S. Bushby, Bentley, 1853.

Stories and Tales, translated by H. W. Dulcken, illustrated by A. W. Bayes, Routledge, 1864.

Fairy Tales and Stories, illustrated by A. W. Bayes, Warne, 1865.

Wonder Stories Told for Children, illustrated by M. L. Stone, and with the original illustrations by T. V. Pedersen, Hurd & Houghton, 1871.

Fairy Tales, illustrated by E. V. B. (pseudonym of Eleanor Vere Boyle), Sampson, Low, 1882.

Stories and Fairy Tales, illustrated by Arthur J. Gaskin, G. Allen, 1893.

Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales, illustrated by John R. Weguelin, Lawrence & Bullen, 1893.

Danish Fairy Tales and Legends, illustrated by William H. Robinson, Bliss, Sands, 1897.

Fairy Tales from Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Thomas H. Charles and William H. Robinson, Dent, 1899.

Fairy Tales of Hans Andersen, illustrated by Helen Stratton, Newnes, 1899.

Twenty Best Fairy Tales by Hans Andersen, illustrated by Lucy Fitch Perkins, Stokes, 1907.

Fairy Tales from Hans Andersen, illustrated by Maxwell Armfield, Dutton (New York, NY), 1910.

Three Tales of Hans Andersen, illustrated by Edward L. Sambourne, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1910.

Stories from Hans Andersen, illustrated by Edmund Dulac, Hodder & Stoughton, 1912.

Fairy Tales and Wonder Stories, illustrated by Louis J. Rhead, Harper (New York, NY), 1914.

Forty Stories, illustrated by Christine Jackson, Faber, 1930, new edition published as Forty-two Stories, illustrated by Robin Jacques, 1953.

Four Tales from Hans Andersen, illustrated by Gwendolyn Raverat, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1935.

Fairy Tales and Legends, illustrated by Rex J. Whistler, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1936, new edition, Dufour (Chester Springs, PA), 1959.

Andersen's Fairy Tales, translated by Jean Hersholt, illustrated by Fritz Kredel, Heritage Press, 1942.

The Complete Andersen, six volumes (includes all 168 tales), translated and edited by Jean Hersholt, illustrated by Fritz Kredel, Heritage Press, 1952.

Seven Tales, translated by Eva Le Gallienne, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.

Favorite Fairy Tales, illustrated by Paul Durand, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1974.

The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, translated by Erik Christian Haugaard, foreword by Virginia Haviland, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1974.

Elf Hill: Tales from Hans Christian Andersen, edited by Naomi Lewis, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark, Star Bright Books, 1999.


Shoes of Fortune and Other Tales, illustrated by Otto Speckter and others, Chapman & Hall, 1847, Wiley (New York, NY), 1848.

The Dream of Little Tuk and Other Tales, illustrated by Count Pocci, Grant & Griffith, 1848.

The Story Teller and Other Fairy Tales, Francis, 1850.

Little Ellie and Other Tales, Francis, 1856.

The Nightingale, illustrated by Mary J. Newill, Napier, 1864, also published as The Emperor and the Nightingale, illustrated by Bill Sokol, Pantheon, 1959.

The Sand-Hills of Jutland and Other Stories, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1860.

The Ice Maiden, illustrated by John B. Zwecker, Bentley, 1863.

Little Rudy and Other Stories, Miller, 1864.

What the Moon Saw and Other Stories, illustrated by Alfred W. Bayes, Routledge, 1866.

The Will-o'-the-Wisp and Other Stories, Routledge, 1869.

The Marsh King's Daughter and Other Stories, Routledge, 1869.

The Snow Man and Other Stories, Routledge, 1870.

The Wood-Nymph, Sampson, Low, 1870.

The Snow Queen, illustrated by T. Pym (pseudonym of Clara Creed), Wells, Gardner, 1883.

Little Thumb, illustrated by Laura Troubridge, Mansell, 1883, also published as Thumbelina, illustrated by Hilda Scott, Holiday House, 1939.

The White Swans and Other Tales, illustrated by Alice M. Havers, Hildesheimer, 1885, also published as The Wild Swans and Other Stories, illustrated by Elenore Plaisted Abbott and Edward Shenton, Jacobs, 1922.

The Little Mermaid and Other Stories, illustrated by J. R. Weguelin, Lawrence & Bullen, 1892.

The Old House, illustrated by Hugh Wallis, Beaver Press, 1904.

Little Klaus and Big Klaus, illustrated by Charles Pears, Gowans & Gray, 1906.

The Ugly Duckling, illustrated by Maxwell Armfield, Dutton (New York, NY), 1914.

The Flower Maiden and Other Stories, illustrated by Elenore Plaisted Abbott and Edward Shenton, Jacobs, 1922.

The Garden of Paradise and Other Stories, illustrated by Dugald S. Walker, Heinemann, 1923.

The Little Fairy Sleepy-Eyes, illustrated by Andre Helle, Duffield, 1925.

The Story of a Mother, illustrated by Fritz Syberg, V. Christensen, 1929.

The Real Princess, illustrated by Hedvig Collin, Whitman, 1932, also published as The Princess and the Pea and Other Famous Stories, illustrated by Jan Balet, Parents' Magazine Press, 1962.

It's Perfectly True! and Other Stories, translated by Paul Leyssac, with the original illustrations by T. V. Pedersen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1937.

The Old Man Is Always Right, illustrated by Feodor S. Rojankovsky, Harper (New York, NY), 1940.

Tumblebug and Other Tales, translated by Paul Leyssac; illustrated by Hertha List, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1940.

The Red Shoes, illustrated by V. G. Messenger, Lapworth, 1943.

The Beetle, Sandle Brothers, 1944.

The Little Match Girl, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1944.

The Fir Tree, illustrated by Alice Schlesinger, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1947.

The Emperor's New Clothes, illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1949.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier, illustrated by Marcia Brown, Scribner (New York, NY), 1953.

The Swineherd, translated and illustrated by Erik Blegvad, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1958.

The Magic Suit, retold by Elizabeth Rose, illustrated by Gerald Rose, Faber, 1966.

The Tinder Box, illustrated by Cyril Satorsky, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1970.

The Jumping Match, illustrated by Gaynor Chapman, Hamish Hamilton, 1973.

Hans Clodhopper, retold and illustrated by Leon Shtainmets, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1975.

The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep, illustrated by Fleur Brofos Asmussen, Kaye & Ward, 1975.


(Under pseudonym Villiam Christian Walter) Ungdoms-forsoeg, privately printed, 1822, published as Gjenfaerdet ved Palnatokes grav, og Alfsol (title means "The Ghost of Palnatoke's Grave, and Alfsol"), Schovelin, 1827.

Improvisatoren, Reitzel, 1835, translation by Mary Howitt published as The Improvisatore; or, Life in Italy, Harper (New York, NY), 1845.

O.T. (also see below), Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1836.

Kun en Spillemand (title means "Only a Fiddler"; also see below), Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1837.

Billedbog uden billeder, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1840, translation by Mary Howitt published as A Picture Book without Pictures, Francis, 1848.

Only a Fiddler [and] O.T.; or, Life in Denmark (translations of O.T. and Kun en Spillemand), translated by Mary Howitt, Harper (New York, NY), 1845.

De to baronesser, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1848, translation by Charles Beckwith Lohmeyer published as The Two Baronesses, Bentley, 1848.

At vaere eller ikke vaere, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1857, translation by Anne S. Bushby published as To Be or Not to Be?, Bentley, 1857.

Lykke-Peer (title means "Lucky Peer"), Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1870.

Short Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, edited by Sarah Matthews and Mike Royston, translated by Erik Christian Haugaard, Trans-Atlantic Publications, 1996.

A Treasury of Stories from Hans Christian Andersen, re-told by Jenny Keraick, illustrated by Robin Lawrie, Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, 1996.


Kjaerlighed paa Nicolae taarn, eller, Hvad siger parterret: Heroisk vaudeville i een act (title means "Love on St. Nicholas Tower"), Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1829.

Maurerpigen: Tragedie i fem acter, privately printed, 1840.

Mulatten: Romantisk drama i fem acter, [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1840.

Lykkens blomst: Eventyr-comedie i to acter, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1845.

Kunstens Dannevirke: Forspil ved kongelige danske Theaters Hundredaars Fest, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1848.

Meer end perler og guld: Eventyr-comedie i fire acter, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1849.

Den nye barselstue: Lystspil i een act, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1850.

En Nat i Roeskilde: Vaudeville-spoeg i een act, [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1850.

Liden Kirsten: Romantisk Sygestykke i een act, [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1850.

Ole Lukoeie: Eventyr-comedie in tre acter, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1850.

Hyldemoer: Phantasiespil i een act, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1851.

Nokken: Opera i een act, [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1853.

En lands by historie: Folke-skuespil i fem acter, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1855.

Paa Langebro: Folkekomedie med chor og sange i fire acter, [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1864.

Da Spanierne var her: Romantiskt lystspil in tre acter, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1865.

Ravnen: Eventyr-opera i fire acter, [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1865.


Digte (title means "Poems"), C. H. Robert (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1830.

Samlede Digte (title means "Collected Poems"), Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1833.

Digte, Gamle og nye (title means "Poems, Old and New"), Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1847.

Poems, translated and edited by Murray Brown, Elsinore Press, 1972.


Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Oestpynten af Amager (title means "A Journey on Foot from Holman's Canal to the East Point of Amager"), [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1829.

Skyggebilleder af en reise til Harzen, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1831, translation by Charles Beckwith Lohmeyer published as Rambles in the Romantic Regions of the Hartz Mountains, Bentley, 1848.

En Digters bazar, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1842, translation by Charles Beckwith Lohmeyer published as A Poet's Bazaar, Bentley, 1846.

I Sverrig, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1851, translation by Charles Beckwith Lohmeyer published as Pictures of Sweden, Bentley, 1851.

I Spanien, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1863, translation by Anne S. Bushby published as In Spain, Bentley, 1864.

Et Besoeg i Portugal, [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1866, translation published in In Spain [and] A Visit to Portugal, Hurd & Houghton, 1870, new edition, translated and edited by Grace Thornton, published as A Visit to Portugal, 1866, Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1974.

Et Besoeg hos Charles Dickens i sommeren, 1857, [Copenhagen, Denmark], 1868, translation published in Pictures of Travel in Sweden, among the Hartz Mountains, and in Switzerland, with a visit at Charles Dickens's House, Hurd & Houghton, 1871.

A Visit to Spain and North Africa, 1862, translated and edited by Grace Thornton, P. Owen, 1975.


Levnedsbog: Digterens liv, 1805-1831, nedskrevet 1832 (draft, written in 1832), Aschehoug, 1926.

Das Maerchen meines lebens ohne Dichtung: Eine Skizze (in German; first publication of the completed autobiography), C. B. Lorck, 1847, English translation by Mary Howitt from the German published as The True Story of My Life: A Sketch, Monroe, 1847.

Mit Livs eventyr, Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1855, revised version published as Mit Livs eventyr fortsaettelse, 1855-1867, translation published as The True Story of My Life … to the Odense Festival of 1867, Hurd & Houghton, 1871.

Mit Eget eventyr uden Digtning (manuscript that became the basis for the later autobiography), edited by Helge Topsoe-Jensen, Nyt Nordisk Forlag, 1942.


Collected Works, ten volumes, Hurd & Houghton, 1869-71.

Hans Christian Andersen's Correspondence with the Late Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Charles Dickens, etc., edited by F. Crawford, Dean & Son, 1891.

Hans Christian Andersen's Visits to Charles Dickens, as Described in His Letters, edited by Ejnar Munksgaard, Levin & Munksgaard, 1937.

The Andersen-Scudder Letters: Hans Christian Andersen's Correspondence with Horace Elisha Scudder, edited by Jean Hersholt and Waldemar Westergaard, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1949.


The Woman with the Eggs was adapted by Jan Wahl from a poem by Andersen, illustrated by Ray Cruz, Crown, 1974. Plays based on Andersen's work include Robin Short, The Red Shoes (two-act), Samuel French, 1956; George H. Holroyd, Little Plays from Andersen, illustrated by Branney Williams, G. Philip, 1963; Alan Broadhurst, The Tinder Box, Children's Theatre Press, 1963; Dean Wenstrom, Big Klaus and Little Klaus (one-act), Anchorage Press, 1966; Pat Hale, The Little Mermaid (two-act), music by Al Bahret, New Plays for Children, 1968; and Anthony Drewe, author and lyricist, Honk! the Ugly Duckling (musical), music by George Stiles, produced in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, at Stephen Joseph Theater, 1997, then in London, England, at Royal National Theater, 1999, and later in Nyack, NY, at Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center, 2000. Film adaptations of Andersen's work include Little Claus and Big Claus, Dania Biofilm Co., 1914; The Ugly Duckling (animated short subject), Walt Disney Productions, 1931; The Ugly Duckling (animated short subject), Walt Disney Productions, 1939; Christmas Rhapsody (based on The Fir Tree), Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, 1948; The Red Shoes, starring Moira Shearer, J. Arthur Rank/Eagle Lion Films, 1948; The Ugly Duckling, Coronet Films, 1953; The Emperor'sNew Clothes, Columbia Pictures Corp., 1953; The Little Match Girl, Castle Films, 1954; The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Brandon Films, 1955; The Emperor's New Clothes, Brandon Films, 1959; Reading out Loud: Eva Le Gallienne (a filmed reading of The Ugly Duckling), Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., 1960; The Snow Queen (Russian animated picture), Universal, 1960; The Emperor's New Clothes, McGraw-Hill, 1966; The Princess and the Pea, McGraw-Hill, 1966; The Tinder Box, Graphic Curriculum, 1968; The Little Match Girl, International Communication Films, 1968; Thumbelina, Coronet Instructional Films, 1970; The Tinder Box, Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corp., 1971; The Emperor's Nightingale, McGraw-Hill, 1967; The Fir Tree, Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corp., 1971; The Little Match Girl (television movie), starring Keshia Knight Pulliam, William Daniells, and Rue McClanahan, first broadcast on NBC-TV, December 21, 1987; and The Little Mermaid (animated film), adapted by John Musker and Ron Clements, featuring the voices of Jodi Benson and Christopher Daniel Barnes, Walt Disney Productions, 1989. Andersen's tales have also been recorded as the audio books Hans Christian Andersen Stories for Children: Grown-ups May Listen If They Wish and Hans Christian Andersen Stories for Grown-ups: Children May Listen If They Wish, both read by Aurora Wetzel and published by Aurora Wetzel Association, 1997.


Hans Christian Andersen, recognized as one of the masters of the fairy-tale genre, based much of his work on his own life. "Recollections of childhood and youth," wrote Reginald Spink in Hans Christian Andersen and His World, "sometimes idealized and transmuted, often only thinly disguised as fiction, inform almost everything that he wrote.… They inspired the novels through which he first became internationally famous, his many plays and poems, and above all many of the celebrated fairy tales, those simple-seeming but many-levelled stylistically sophisticated masterpieces, written, he insisted, for readers of all ages."

Like a character from one of his stories, Andersen followed his own dreams, fighting his way up from poverty to become one of the most famous and best-loved authors of all time. Or so the author liked to portray himself. "One of the difficulties in writing about Andersen as Denmark's most versatile and famous writer," Jack Zipes maintained in an essay for European Writers, "is that he himself wrote three autobiographies, all of which tend to distort facts." Zipes noted that "even today the world-famous Hans Christian Andersen is really unknown. The public image of Hans Christian Andersen still prevalent is one fed by the lies and myths he created. For instance, most of the photographs and portraits of Andersen reveal a man at ease with himself, a gentle, composed man often telling stories benevolently to children. He is always well dressed and appears in poses of perfect propriety. He is tall, gaunt, and not particularly handsome. Like the photographers and painters, most biographers have contributed to the deception of the public by emphasizing the quaint and gentle composure of the imaginative writer. They have associated him with the ugly duckling and sketched his life as the poor, gifted son of a cobbler who transformed himself into a successful, 'beautiful' writer through his magical, innate talents: Hans Christian Andersen as fairy tale. His name has become virtually synonymous with the genre."

Born in Odense, Denmark

Andersen was born in the spring of 1805 in the Danish town of Odense. His parents were "an oddly-matched pair," declared Erik Haugaard in Writers for Children, "his father some seven years younger than his mother. She was an illiterate and very superstitious woman; for her the world of dark powers, ghosts, and goblins was a reality. His father could both read and write and would have liked to have been more broadly educated." Bo Gronbech in his Hans Christian Andersen noted: "His father, Hans Andersen, was a shoemaker." Andersen recollected in The Fairy Tale of My Life that "once, as a child, I saw tears in his eyes, and it was when a youth from the grammar school came to our house to be measured for a new pair of boots, and showed us his books and told us what he had learned."

Several other of Andersen's relatives figured prominently in his early life. "Andersen," Gronbech explained, "relates that his grandparents had been well-to-do farmers, but had suffered misfortunes, and in 1788 had moved to Odense where they lived in poverty. The latter information is correct, the former certainly not. The grandfather probably was a shoemaker like his son and moreover had become insane and wandered the streets of Odense, a mad eccentric, the laughing stock of the street urchins." His grandfather "employed himself in cutting out of wood strange figures—men with beasts' heads and beasts with wings," Andersen stated; "these he packed in a basket and carried them out into the country, where he was everywhere well received by the peasant women, because he gave to them and their children these strange toys." His grandmother was a favorite visitor; young Hans occasionally went with her to her work in the local insane asylum. Near the asylum was the place where the poor women of the town spun thread. "I often went in there," Andersen related, "and was very soon a favorite.… I passed for a remarkably wise child, that would not live long; and they rewarded my eloquence by telling me tales in return; and thus a world as rich as that of the Thousand and One Nights was revealed to me."

The elder Hans Andersen also encouraged his son's imagination. He often read to his son from the works of the Danish playwright Holberg, The Arabian Nights, and the fables of Jean de la Fontaine. He even constructed a toy theater for his son, in which the younger Hans staged dramas of his own composition and acted them out with dolls. Andersen always suffered from ill health, although Gronbech explained that "his tall, strongly built body might convey a different impression. Andersen appears to have been neurasthenic from birth, and this gave rise throughout his life to such symptoms as fainting, dizziness, depressions, and other nervous disorders. He was nearly always feeling ill."

Eventually Andersen's father declared a desire to enter the army and fight for Napoleon. "Enthusiasm for the 'liberator,'" declared Spink, "was probably a less powerful motive in this decision than social ambitions and economic considerations." However, his regiment got no further than the German border before peace was signed and the elder Hans was sent home. "But his health had begun to decline, and soon, it would seem, his mental faculties also. In 1816, he fell into a delirious fever," and died a few days later.

Hans Andersen had often declared his desire that his son should be well educated, and his widow did her best to carry out his wishes. She remarried and sent young Hans to a variety of schools, but he had other plans for his future. "Talk about the glamours of theatrical life in Copenhagen worked on his imagination," wrote Spink, "and already he saw himself achieving fame and fortune there." One day, Spink continued, an influential acquaintance, Colonel Hoegh-Guldberg, "had business at the palace and (if this sounds like a fairy tale we have to remember that this small town was the second city in a benevolent autocracy) he recommended the boy to the crown prince, who granted him an audience. Christian Frederik—he was to become Christian VIII in 1839—received him graciously and questioned him about his ambitions. The colonel had advised him to say that he was anxious to get a better education, and he dutifully did so, while hastening to add that his real ambition was to go on the stage." The prince suggested he might be better off learning a trade, but the young man remained undaunted. In 1819, at the age of fourteen, he left Odense for Copenhagen to make his fortune.

Hans Christian spent three years in Copenhagen trying to become an actor. Initially rejected by the manager of the theater because of his poor education, he spent six months studying voice with an Italian opera singer. Although he soon exhausted his savings, friends came to his rescue, providing him with money to continue his studies. Although he did eventually secure some small roles in the theater and submitted a play (rejected because of its elementary mistakes in spelling and grammar), he was discharged in May, 1822. "He survived," Haugaard declared, "because he had taken the fairy tales he had heard as a child for truth. He believed that you could win the princess and half a kingdom."

At this point one of Andersen's friends again inter-ceded on his behalf. Recognizing the young man's enthusiasm and potential, "a senior government official, Jonas Collin, a member of the theatre's governing body and later its director … applied for and secured a royal grant with which to pay for Andersen's education," explained Spink, "and made all the arrangements for it." Collin, a government official and close advisor to the King, became a father-figure for Andersen, and the writer maintained close relations with the Collin family throughout his life. After six years of intensive study Andersen completed his schooling and embarked on a literary career.

Publishes His First Book

Andersen published his first book, A Journey on Foot from Copenhagen to the Eastern Point of Amager, in 1829. "An entertaining collection of capricious incidents in the manner of the German romantic writer E. T. A. Hoffman," Spink declared, it presaged Andersen's most famous writings. In the trip, which Andersen made daily, Haugaard explained, "he meets an amazing array of characters on his wanderings, among them Saint Peter, the shoemaker of Jerusalem, and a cat that can talk." He followed this success with his first theater piece, Love on St. Nicholas Church Tower, and a short volume of poems. He also fell in love with the sister of one of his fellow-students, Riborg Voigt—one of Andersen's best-loved poems is addressed to her—but she married someone else. Although he fell in love with many other women—including Louise Collin, the daughter of his benefactor, and Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish singer—he never married; when he died, a letter from Riborg was discovered in a bag around his chest.

A hypersensitive man, prone to burst into tears at an imagined insult, Andersen brooded over his unsuccessful courtship. Seeking forgetfulness, he spent much time over the next several years traveling, first through Denmark and Germany, and later to Switzerland and Italy. The first of his travel books, Shadow-Pictures of a Journey to the Harz Mountains and Saxony, was published in 1831. But his later works, said critics, did not measure up to St. Nicholas Church Tower and his early poems. "Far from being finished, however," wrote Spink, "Hans Christian Andersen was just about to begin. It is characteristic of this extraordinarily resilient man that he never, even in his blackest moods, admitted defeat—at least not for long—but always fought back again." During his residence in Italy he produced his best long work, The Improvisatore, essentially the story of Andersen's own life as it would have been had he been born in Italy. It was published in 1835 and in its various translations earned him a reputation as a writer of international standing.

The First Collection of Fairy Tales

Another publication, equally as significant as The Improvisatore, also appeared that same year. In May, 1835, Andersen brought out the first collection of his fairy tales, or Eventyr. "With its overtones of the nursery," stated Spink, "the term [fairy tale] is misleading. The Danish word eventyr (cognate with the German Abenteuer and English 'adventure') is untranslatable. The first English versions, in an attempt to convey the sense of the original title, were called 'wonderful stories.' An eventyr maybeany sort of fantastic or fabulous tale, not necessarily for children."

Andersen's first story collection included "'The Tinderbox,' 'Little Claus and Big Claus,' 'The Princess and the Pea,' and 'Little Ida's Flowers,' of which only the last is original," explained Haugaard. "The others are retellings of stories he had heard in his childhood. However, he borrowed only the basic plots. He seems never to have been interested in collecting and preserving fairy tales. They belonged to him; the fairy tale is the dream of the poor, and he had been poor." Andersen's second collection, produced in 1836, included "Thumbelina," "The Naughty Boy," and "The Travelling Companion," while the third collection included "The Little Mermaid" (an original story), and "The Emperor's New Clothes." "The Wild Swans," a variant of a traditional tale, appeared in the fourth collection in 1838. New fairy tales appeared almost every year from then until his death. "'The Nightingale,' 'Sweethearts' and 'The Ugly Duckling' appeared in 1843," stated Spink. "Two of the greatest tales, 'The Snow Queen' and 'The Fir Tree,' came in 1844. Another, 'The Bell,' a poetic parable about the quest for truth in nature, was published in 1845 along with three of the wittiest, 'The Darning Needle,' 'The Jumpers' and 'The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep,' and a major serious tale, 'The Little Match Girl.'"

"Andersen," declared Haugaard, "used fairy tales for his own purposes and thus reformed the genre, whereas the Grimms were interested only in preserving them." Andersen worked his autobiography into many of his fairy tales, Spink explained. "In tale after tale … he is the hero, who triumphs over poverty, persecution and plain stupidity, and who sometimes, in reversal of the facts, marries the princess ('Clodpoll') or scorns her ('The Swineherd'). In 'Little Ida's Flowers' he is the jolly student.…In 'The Naughty Boy,' … he is the old poet who is shot through the heart by Cupid as he sits by his fireside. Louise [Collin] is the prince in 'The Little Mermaid,' as Andersen himself is the mermaid. Riborg Voigt appears with Andersen in 'Sweethearts'; Andersen and Jenny Lind in 'The Nightingale'; and Andersen and Kierkegaard in 'The Snail and the Rosebush.'" The essayist for the Reference Guide to World Literature concluded that "Andersen's great achievement was to develop the form of the folktale into original, mature art in a way which has not been surpassed, and he did so partly by creating a new literary language which was essentially that of spoken narration, free of abstractions, concrete and deceptively simple. His best tales reveal his keen sense of observation of human behaviour and his deep understanding of the major issues of human existence, told with humour and sympathy."

Speaking of the animal characters in Andersen's fairy tales, Haugaard found that "although the fantastic world in Andersen's fairy tales is strange, it is, at the same time, familiar. Its inhabitants may be able to perform and use magic, but they are also subject to the same vices as human beings.… The animals in the fairy tales are also individuals, easily distinguishable from each other. In the fables of Jean de La Fontaine they are used to illustrate a moral; they are stereotypes. In Andersen's tales animals live a life of their own. Like the figures of fantasy, they manifest the same virtues and vices as human beings, but the world with which they are familiar is the animal's."

Publishes His Play The Mulatto

The works Andersen produced during the 1840s and early 1850s are ranked among his finest writings. His play The Mulatto was published in 1840, as was the miscellany Billedbog uden billeder. The Mulatto proved to be Andersen's most successful play. Zipes recounted that "the drama concerns a young, sophisticated mulatto named Horatio who writes poetry and runs his own plantation in Martinique. He rescues Cecille, the ward of a white plantation owner named La Rebellière, and La Rebellière's wife. Both women are captivated by Horatio's noble nature, and their esteem for the mulatto infuriates La Rebellière. So he contrives to have Horatio declared a slave and sold at auction. But Cecille comes of age at this point, declares her independence, and rescues Horatio by offering to marry him. The mulatto is thus vindicated in the eyes of society. As in the best of Andersen's plays and other works, this compelling social drama emphasizes his favorite fairy-tale themes, or what might be called his Aladdin-and-Cinderella syndrome: the gifted pariah, a neglected genius, shunned and persecuted by society, manages to overcome adversity and shine in the eyes of the world. This theme of emancipation appealed to the rising middle and lower classes in Denmark and reflected the dreams of glory shared by the people in this tiny nation as a whole."

In June of 1847, Gronbech recounted in his Hans Christian Andersen, the author "traveled to England via Holland, where his books had long been known and where he was celebrated by all leading Dutch men of letters. He was deeply gratified but not surprised, for he was growing accustomed to being regarded as a European figure. Nevertheless, when he arrived in London at the end of June his reception almost took his breath away. During his six weeks in London he was feted and celebrated to exhaustion. He was pleased with his fame but admitted that it had its price. Meeting so many people was tremendously exhausting for him, and having to speak English with them was a trial for both him and them; his English was so bad that Dickens had had to ask him to speak Danish as that language was easier for him to understand. He made a visit to Scotland too, but the innumerable invitations tired him out completely, so that he was compelled to leave. By September he was back in Copenhagen." Dickens, as much an admirer of Andersen's work as Andersen was of his, became a personal friend, and when the Danish writer returned to England ten years later, Dickens invited him to stay at his home, Gad's Hill Place.

By 1855 when Andersen published his autobiography Mit Livs eventyr, stated Bo Gronbech in Danish Journal, "his career was over. He had satisfied the great ambitions he had cherished from childhood; he had succeeded in creating literature that made his name internationally known, and he had got to the top in society. The goal had been reached. There was no more to fight for, no aim to pursue, nor anything exciting or picturesque to tell. That does not, however, mean that he rested in his laurels or that his life from then on became uneventful. His artistic ability was undiminished." Andersen continued writing about his travels, composing poems, even-tyr, and historier, as well as plays and novels. On December 6, 1867, his hometown of Odense recognized his contribution to Danish literature by making him an honorary citizen and illuminating the city in his honor. Andersen wrote in his reply to the town council, "It was forty-eight years ago this year that I left my native town a poor boy, and now, rich in happy memories, I am being admitted to it like a dear child to his father's house."

The Final Days

Andersen's health, never very robust, began to fail him altogether in the early 1870s. He made his last trip abroad in 1873, when it became obvious that he would not recover. Nonetheless, he lived through his seventieth birthday on April 2, 1875. Gronbech recounted that Andersen "lived to enjoy his seventieth birthday on 2 April 1875; perhaps the expectation had kept him going, and he was not disappointed. The day proved an orgy of tributes from the whole world: flowers and telegrams, deputations from Odense and Copenhagen, a special audience with the king and queen, a gala performance at the Royal Theatre, and a dinner party at the Melchior's." The festivities, however, proved a strain and he became bedridden at Rolighed, the home of his close friends the Melchiors, where he died on August 4. "His life," declared Elias Bredsdorff in Danish Journal, "is not the rosy fairy tale he liked to pretend it was. Nor was it as tragic as he sometimes tried to convince himself it was. But it is a strange and fascinating story about a strange and remarkable outsider whose language of communication proved to be more universally intelligible than that of any other writer."

If you enjoy the works of Hans Christian Andersen

you might want to check out the following books:

The Brothers Grimm, The Illustrated Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, 1988.

Andrew Lang, The Blue Fairy Book, 1903.

Charles Perrault, The Complete Fairy Tales, translated by Neil Philips, 1993.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Andersen, Hans Christian, The True Story of My Life, Longman, Brown (London, England), 1847.

Andersen, Hans Christian, The Fairy Tale of My Life, Paddington Press, 1975.

Bingham, Jane H., editor, Writers for Children: Critical Studies of Major Authors since the Seventeenth Century, Scribner (New York, NY), 1988.

Bredsdorff, Elias, Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of His Life and Work, Scribner (New York, NY), 1975.

Brown, Marion Marsh, The Pauper Prince, Crescent Publications, 1973.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 6, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984.

European Writers, Volume 6, Scribner (New York, NY), 1985.

Gronbech, Bo, Hans Christian Andersen, Twayne (New York, NY), 1980.

Langley, Andrew, Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Tony Morris, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Montgomery, Elizabeth Rider, The Story behind Great Stories, Dodd (New York, NY), 1947.

Reference Guide to World Literature, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.

Short Story Criticism, Volume 6, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.

Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.

Spink, Reginald, Hans Christian Andersen and His World, Thames & Hudson (London, England), 1972.

Toksvig, Signe, The Life of Hans Christian Andersen, Macmillan (London, England), 1933, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1934.

World Literature Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

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


Anderseniana, Volume 2, 1976, Ann Born, "Hans Christian Andersen: An Infectious Genius," pp. 248-260.

Danish Journal (special Andersen issue), August 4, 1975, Bo Gronbech, "He Struck Chords That Reverberated in Every Human Breast," pp. 2-4, and Elias Bredsdorff, "Andersen: What Was He Like?," pp. 6-17.

Scandinavian Review, Volume 14, 1975, Erik C. Haugaard, "Hans Christian Andersen: A Twentieth-Century View," pp. 1-15.

Scandinavian Studies, Volume 40, 1968, Erik Dal, "Hans Christian Andersen's Tales and America," pp. 1-25; Volume 50, 1978, William Mishler, "H. C. Andersen's 'Tin Soldier' in a Freudian Perspective," pp. 389-395.

Scandinavica, Volume 14, 1975, L. Y. Braude, "Hans Christian Andersen and Russia," pp. 1-15.

Scholia Satyrica, Volume 1, 1975, A. M. Atkins, "The Triumph of Criticism: Levels of Meaning in Hans Christian Andersen's The Steadfast Tin Soldier," pp. 25-28.


Arts Edge, (August 19, 2001).

Hans Christian Andersen Center, (August 19, 2001).

Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales and Stories, (August 19, 2001).*

Andersen, Hans Christian

views updated May 18 2018

Christian, Andersen Hans

BORN: 1805, Odense, Denmark

DIED: 1875, Rolighed, Denmark


GENRE: Children's literature, fiction, drama

“The Little Mermaid” (1837)
“The Emperor's New Clothes” (1837)
“The Ugly Duckling” (1843)
“The Snow Queen” (1845)


Danish author Hans Christian Andersen is perhaps the foremost writer of fairy tales in world literature. Known for such stories as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” and “The Ugly Duckling,” he expanded the scope of the fairy tale genre by creating original stories drawn from a wealth of folklore and personal experience.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Impoverished Childhood Enhanced by Imagination The story of Andersen's life is one of unparalleled social and artistic success, rising as he did from the lowest and poorest layer of society to achieve not only the acceptance but the utter devotion of the highest social groups, the artistic elite and royal houses of many European countries. Outwardly, his story was a tremendous success, but he achieved it at great personal and psychological cost.

Andersen's childhood experiences greatly influenced his literary perspective and are reflected in his fairy tales. He was born in Odense, Denmark, to a poor shoemaker and his superstitious, uneducated wife. Andersen's father, in keeping with the spirit of the eighteenth century, declared himself to be a freethinker and, much to his wife's dismay, insisted on regarding Jesus as a great man but not the son of God. As an adult, his son also accepted this understanding of who Jesus was.

Andersen's father did not enjoy being a cobbler and encouraged his son to aspire to a better life by telling him glamorous stories about the theater and opera and by sending him to school at an early age. The elder Andersen also encouraged his son's vivid imagination, reading to the boy from the comedies of Ludvig Holberg, The Arabian Nights, and the fairy tales of Jean de La Fontaine. He also built his son a puppet theater. Andersen was a shy child so instead of playing with other children, he wrote puppet dramas and designed costumes for his characters.

Lost Father Amidst Tumultuous Era in Danish History Andersen's father died in 1816, before the boy turned eleven, two years after serving as a soldier. At the time, Denmark was involved in the Napoleonic Wars, siding with the French led by Napoleon Bonaparte against various European countries including Great Britain. In 1801 and again in 1807, Copenhagen came under British attack. In the second, decisive battle, the English armada shelled Copenhagen and captured the Danish navy, thus ending a half century of progress and middle-class prosperity built on overseas trade. As a result of the wars, Andersen's childhood years were marked by great catastrophes in Denmark and the beginning of a lengthy economic recession. Oddly enough, however, this period was followed by a cultural explosion known as the Golden Age of Denmark—an age in which Andersen figured prominently.

Encouraged as a Writer In 1819, three years after his father's death, Andersen moved to Copenhagen to pursue an acting career. As a young boy without references, he was denied admittance to the Royal Theater and was rejected by Copenhagen's opera company. However, Jonas Collin, a director of the Royal Theater, was impressed by the promise Andersen showed as a writer. Collin took Andersen into his home, sent him to grammar school, and supported him until he passed the entrance exams to the University of Copenhagen. He was Andersen's confidant, critic, and friend, and Andersen remained closely connected to the Collin family throughout his life.

Andersen began writing in the 1830s. Thanks to the enthusiastic response to his work, the author received a government grant with a yearly stipend. The grant, combined with the earnings from his writings, gave him a solid financial basis, and his income grew steadily during the following years. As he began writing his fairy tales, he drew on the fantasy world he created as a child to deal with his difficult childhood and early adulthood.

Found Success with Fairy Tales In 1839, Andersen's fairy tales began appearing in German translations, and their popularity among readers was quickly ensured. Throughout the 1840s, Andersen's reputation in Europe grew rapidly and he traveled extensively. By 1843, when he made a trip that took him to Germany, Belgium, and France, Andersen was able to enjoy his celebrity. He also consorted on equal footing with such writers and artists as Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Alphonse de Lamar-tine, Henrick Heine (exiled by then), and sculptor Pierre-Jean David in Paris. While Andersen's career soared, Denmark edged closer to war and eventually became engulfed in the Three Years' War (1848–1851), a conflict between the Danes and the German duchies of Schleswig and Holstein over who should control the duchies.

During this time period, Andersen's fairy tales were no longer labeled “for children” and he was fully in control of his narrative form. He published such beloved stories as “The Ugly Duckling” in 1843 and “The Snow Queen” in 1845, and, by the end of the decade, his collected works began appearing in German. A similar edition in Danish would appear in the early 1850s. Andersen also published the first illustrated book in Denmark in 1849, a collection of his fairy tales with drawings by Vilhelm Pedersen. In addition, Andersen published his autobiography, The True Story of My Life, in 1847, and another novel, The Two Baronesses, in 1848.

Shades of Real Life in Best-Loved Stories Of all his stories, Andersen's semiautobiographical sketches are considered his most enduring. Stories like “The Little Mermaid,” “The Nightingale,” and “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” reflect in part Andersen's own unrequited love affairs in varying degrees of melancholy and satire. “The Ugly Duckling,” the story of a homely cygnet who becomes the most beautiful of all swans, is probably Andersen's best-loved and most popular work of this type. Just as the snubbed duckling becomes a beautiful swan, so did the lonely cobbler's son become the pride of Denmark and its international literary representative.

More Open Society After the death of Danish King Christian VIII in 1848, Denmark abolished absolute rule and adopted a constitution in 1849. A new era in Danish history was dawning, which included more modernization and openness, and it affected what Andersen wrote. He became the “house playwright” at the new Casino theater in Copenhagen—the first private theater in the city—and saw a number of his plays staged there in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Andersen also published a poetic travel book, Pictures of Sweden (1851), as well as more fairy tales. After 1855 and until he stopped publishing in the early 1870s, however, he insisted on calling his fairy tales “stories” as well to distance them from the fairy tale genre and its link to Romanticism. His later, often more experimental, tales included “The Auntie Tooth-ache” (1872) and “The Flea and the Professor” (1873).

Resided with Melchior Family Until End of Life After an illness, Andersen died in August 1875 at the summer residence of the wealthy Melchior family. The estate, known as Rolighed (Tranquility), was located in Osterbro, which is today part of Copenhagen. For many years, Andersen had been a permanent guest of the Melchiors. The cause of death was determined to be liver cancer.


Hans Christian Andersen's famous contemporaries include:

Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881): English politician and novelist. Disraeli was prime minister twice, overseeing Britain's colonization of India. He also found time to write ten novels and numerous nonfiction works.

John Quincy Adams (1767–1848): Sixth president of the United States. He was most effective as a politician and diplomat before and after his presidency. Adams secured Florida from Spanish rule and he promoted the Monroe Doctrine, which was designed to keep Europe from colonizing or interfering with any more territory in the Americas.

Emma Lazarus (1849–1887): American poet most famous for her poem “The New Colossus,” inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ….”

George du Maurier (1834– 1896): English novelist and illustrator. Du Maurier's novels, including his famous Trilby, are social satires that are often based on his time as an art student in Paris. Du Maurier illustrated many of the most popular novels of his day and drew famous caricatures in Punch magazine.

Wilhelm Raabe (1831–1910): German novelist noted for his pessimistic realism and bitter irony. His later novels are highly experimental in their time structures and narrative.

Josh Billings (1818–1885): American auctioneer, real estate agent, and essayist. His humorous writings used deliberately bad spelling and grammar, and his numerous collections of sayings and observations were popular throughout the century.

Works in Literary Context

During his lifetime, Andersen was well-known in both Europe and the United States for his novels, fairy tales, and stories, as well as for his literary travel books and autobiography. Today, he is known the world over for his fairy tales, which are particularly popular in China and Japan, and many of his works have been translated into more than 150 languages. Nevertheless, his worldwide

acclaim is based largely on the mistaken perception that he is primarily a children's author. Many people now find it surprising that Andersen was recognized by his contemporaries as an author of adult fiction, with an adult sensibility inherent in his fairy tales and stories.

Melding the Supernatural and the Realistic Andersen himself divided his original tales into two distinct classes: “eventyr” and “historier.” The “eventyr” are fairy tales in which a supernatural element contributes to the outcome of the narrative. “The Little Mermaid,” for example, is set in a kingdom beneath the sea and tells the story of a mermaid who drinks a magical potion brewed by a sea witch in hopes that she will be metamorphosed into a human.

Andersen's “historier” are stories that do not employ a supernatural element. Frequently, the “historier” starkly portray poverty and suffering, leaving readers disturbed when good is not necessarily rewarded at a story's conclusion. The “historier” also often reveal their author's strong moral and religious attitudes: Andersen had a childlike faith in God and perceived death as a reward for a difficult life.

This perception is perhaps most vividly portrayed in “The Little Match Girl,” a grim story in which an impoverished child dies from exposure on Christmas Eve when no one will buy her matches. The child is finally freed from her suffering when her deceased grandmother arrives to lead her to heaven. Although many of Andersen's “historier” and fairy tales end unhappily, most critics concur that his underlying attitude in his stories is positive.

Traditional Folktale Influences Andersen won a place in the literary world because he revitalized children's literature by creating a fairy-tale form and narrative style that was all his own, but there were many forerunners to the fairy-tale side of his literary production. The long tradition of folktales includes A Thousand and One Nights (first mentioned in the ninth century), which stood on the bookshelf of his impoverished childhood home. Andersen also heard folktales recounted by the poor women of Odense and he later renewed acquaintance with these stories by reading Child and Household Tales (1812–1815) by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. In addition, Andersen was influenced by German and Danish folktale writers such as Ludwig Tieck, E. T. A. Hoffman, and B. S. Ingemann.

But unlike so many other folktale authors, Andersen's deeply original style was fully developed from the start. While the Grimm brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm) refined and polished the folktales they had collected to achieve a normalized prose style without any particularly significant characteristics, Andersen took the opposite approach. He created a style and narrative voice that largely stayed close to colloquial speech and thus held a lively appeal for children (though he was never writing exclusively for them). His groundbreaking contribution is that he neither addresses children as adults nor talks down to them, as was the custom in literature at the time. On principle, he chose his perspective from below, from the children's level, and thereby seemed to show a solidarity with his audience.

Works in Critical Context

In general, Andersen's works have been consistently well received. Georg Brandes, one of the first prominent critics to recognize Andersen's literary significance, especially commended Andersen's use of conversational language, which he claimed distinguished the author from other children's writers and prevented his stories from becoming outdated. Later, such Danish critics as Elias Bredsdorff and Erik Haugaard praised the uncluttered structure of Andersen's tales. Some twentieth-century commentators have considered Andersen's work maudlin and overly disturbing for small children. Nevertheless, he is usually recognized as a consummate storyteller who distilled his vision of humanity into a simple format that has proved universally popular.


Children's tales from times past are often more disturbing, violent, or horrific than their modern equivalents. They were created largely as cautionary tales, meant to provide lessons to young readers about how to behave properly. Here are some other works that focus on lessons for children:

Slovenly Peter (1845) by Heinrich Hoffmann. This collection of tales instructs children in the punishments that await improper behavior; in one, for example, a girl named Pauline plays with matches and ends up burning to death.

The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) by Carlo Collodi. This novel about the virtues of telling the truth is far darker than modern adaptations. The kind Blue Fairy of the Disney version is the ghost of a dead child in the original, and early in the book Pinocchio smashes the Talking Cricket with a hammer and kills it.

Tales of Mother Goose (1697) by Charles Perrault. French author Perrault's book, filled with moral tales intended for children, includes many of the most enduring fairy tales of our time, such as “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,“and” Little Red Riding Hood.” However, the level of violence in these stories is not downplayed as it is in more modern adaptations.

Fairy Tales By 1835, when his Fairy Tales (Eventyr in Danish) was published, Andersen was well-known in Denmark for other travel books, plays, and a novel, The

Improvisatore; or, Life in Italy (1845). However, early critical reception of Fairy Tales was generally negative. At first, Andersen agreed with his detractors, calling his tales smaating, or trifles. However, he soon realized that these short works were the perfect outlet for his messages to the world, so he continued to write stories in this vein. Andersen also discovered that his tales commanded his greatest audience and could bring him the international fame he craved. His popularity increased in Europe and America, and he traveled extensively throughout Germany, Holland, and England.

As well-known as he was around the world, critics in Denmark often did not recognize or acknowledge Andersen's talent. Both those who addressed him in private and those who wrote publicly failed to see the originality of his language and often reproached him for not being able to write “proper Danish.” They attributed his inability to his having so much faith in his own talent that he did not wish to submit to any kind of serious studies or to learn from the great classical authors. Even his old friend Edvard Collin, who assisted him by copying out and proofing his manuscripts, repeated the criticism in the book he published after the author's death, Hans Christian Andersen and the Collin Family (1882). He also stated that Andersen regrettably lacked the desire or ability for any kind of rigorous study.

Responses to Literature

  1. Andersen's critics often stated that his work was not sophisticated enough to reach the level of art. Yet his work was and is very popular with readers around the world, especially children. What do you think are the most important characteristics that identify a work of literature as art? Using these criteria, do Hans Christian Andersen's tales qualify as art?
  2. Read Andersen's first published story, “The Tinder Box.” How is his upbringing and cultural background reflected in this story? In what ways is the author's young life similar to the soldier's life in his story?
  3. Like many tales for children, Andersen's stories usually contain an instructional message for readers meant to help them lead successful lives. These are similar to the “morals” found at the end of Aesop's fables but may not be stated as explicitly. Pick one of Andersen's fairy tales and explain the message or messages found within it. Provide specific details from the story to support your explanation.
  4. Select one of the many retellings, edited versions, or dramatizations of Andersen's stories and compare it carefully to the original. What do the changes reveal about the difference between our time and place and Andersen's? What do they reveal about the changing concepts of children?



Bingham, Jane H., ed. Writers for Children: Critical Studies of Major Authors since the Seventeenth Century. New York: Scribner, 1988.

Bredsdorff, Elias. Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of His Life and Work, 1805–75. New York: Scribner, 1975.

Brown, Marion Marsh. The Pauper Prince. Los Angeles: Crescent Publications, 1973.

Groenbech, Bo. Hans Christian Andersen. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.

Prince, Alison. Hans Christian Andersen: The Fan Dancer. London: Alison & Busby, 1998.

Spink, Reginald. Hans Christian Andersen and His World. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1972.

Stirling, Monica, The Wild Swan: The Life and Times of Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Harcourt, 1965.

Toksvig, Signe. The Life of Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Macmillan, 1933.

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

Web sites

The Hans Christian Andersen Center. Retrieved April 6, 2007, from

Andersen, Hans Christian

views updated May 23 2018

ANDERSEN, Hans Christian

Nationality: Danish. Born: Odense, 2 April 1805. Education: Schools in Odense to age 14; loosely associated with the singing and dancing schools at Royal Theater, 1819-22, and attended Slagelse grammar school, 1822-26, and Elsinore grammar school, 1826-27, all in Copenhagen; tutored in Copenhagen by L. C. Muller, 1827-28; completed examen artium, 1828. Career: Freelance writer from 1828. Royal grant for travel, 1833, 1834, and pension from Frederick VI, 1838. Given title of professor, 1851; Privy Councillor, 1874. Awards: Knight of Red Eagle (Prussia), 1845; Order of the Danneborg, 1846; Knight of the Northern Star (Sweden), 1848; Order of the White Falcon (Weimar), 1848. Died: 4 August 1875.



Samlede Skrifter [Collected Writings]. 33 vols., 1853-79; 2nd edition, 15 vols., 1876-80.

Romaner og Rejseskildringer [Novels and Travel Notes], edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 7 vols., 1941-44.

Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, edited by Erik Haugaard. 1974.

Samlede eventyr og historier [Collected Tales and Stories], edited by Erik Dal. 5 vols., 1975.

Short Stories

Eventyr: Fortalte for Børn [Fairy Tales for Children]. 6 vols., 1835-42; Nye Eventyr [New Fairy Tales], 4 vols., 1843-47; edited by Erik Dal and Erling Nielsen, 1963—

. Billedbog uden Billeder [Picture Book Without Pictures]. 2 vols., 1838-40; as Tales the Moon Can Tell, 1955.

Eventyr og Historier [Tales and Stories]. 1839; Nye Eventyr og Historier, 6 vols., 1858-67; edited by Hans Brix and Anker Jensen, 5 vols., 1918-20.

Later Tales. 1869.


Improvisatoren. 1835; as The Improvisatore; or, Life in Italy, 1845.

O.T. 1836; as O.T.; or, Life in Denmark, with Only a Fiddler, 1845.

Kun en Spillemand. 1837; as Only a Fiddler, with O.T., 1845.

De to Baronesser. 1848; as The Two Baronesses, 1848.

A Poet's Day Dreams. 1853.

To Be, or Not to Be? 1857.

Lykke-Peer [Lucky Peer]. 1870.


Kjaerlighed paa Nicolai Taarn [Love on St. Nicholas Tower](produced 1829). 1829.

Skibet, from a play by Scribe. 1831.

Bruden fra Lammermoor, music by Ivar Bredal, from the novel The Bride of Lammermoor by Scott (produced 1832). 1832.

Ravnen [The Raven], music by J.P.E. Hartmann, from a play by Gozzi (produced 1832). 1832.

Agnete og Havmanden [Agnete and the Merman], music by Nils V. Gade, from Andersen's poem (produced 1833). 1834.

Festen paa Kenilworth [The Festival at Kenilworth], music by C.E.F. Weyse, from the novel Kenilworth by Scott (produced 1836).

Skilles og Mødes [Parting and Meeting] (produced 1836). In Det Kongelige Theaters Repertoire, n.d. Den Usynlige paa Sprogø [The Invisible Man on Sprogø] (produced 1839).

Mulatten [The Mulatto], from a story by Fanny Reybaud (produced1840). 1840.

Mikkels Kjaerligheds Historier i Paris [Mikkel's Parisian Love Stories] (produced 1840).

Maurerpigen [The Moorish Girl] (produced 1840). 1840.

En Comedie i det Grønne [Country Comedy], from a play by Dorvigny (produced 1840).

Fuglen i Paeretraeet [The Bird in the Pear Tree] (produced 1842).

Kongen Drømmer [Dreams of the King] (produced 1844). 1844.

Dronningen paa 16 aar [The Sixteen-Year-Old Queen], from a play by Bayard. 1844.

Lykkens Blomst [The Blossom of Happiness] (produced 1845). 1847.

Den nye Barselstue [The New Maternity Ward] (produced1845). 1850.

Herr Rasmussen (produced 1846), edited by E. Agerholm. 1913.

Liden Kirsten [Little Kirsten], music by J.P.E. Hartmann, from the story by Andersen (produced 1846). 1847.

Kunstens Dannevirke [The Bulwark of Art) (produced 1848). 1848.

En Nat i Roskilde [A Night in Roskilde], from a play by C. Warin and C.E. Lefevre (produced 1848). 1850.

Brylluppet ved Como-Søen [The Wedding at Lake Como], music by Franz Gläser, from a novel by Manzoni (produced 1849). 1849.

Meer end Perler og Guld [More Than Pearls and Gold], from a play by Ferdinand Raimund (produced 1849). 1849.

Ole Lukøie [Old Shuteye] (produced 1850). 1850.

Hyldemoer [Mother Elder] (produced 1851). 1851.

Nøkken [The Nix]. music by Franz Gläser (produced 1853). 1853.

Paa Langebro [On the Bridge] (produced 1864).

Han er ikke født [He Is Not Well-Born] (produced 1864). 1864.

Da Spanierne var her [When the Spaniards Were Here] (produced1865). 1865.


Digte [Poems]. 1830.

Samlede digte [Collected Poems]. 1833.

Seven Poems. 1955.


Ungdoms-Forsøg [Youthful Attempts]. 1822.

Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Ostpynten af Amager i 1828 og 1829 [A Walking Trip from Holmen's Canal to Amager]. 1829.

Skyggebilleder af en Reise til Harzen. 1831; as Rambles in the Romantic Regions of the Harz Mountains, 1848.

En Digters Bazar. 1842; as A Poet's Bazaar, 1846.

Das Märchen meines Lebens ohne Dichtung (in collected German edition). 1847; as The True Story of My Life, 1847; as Mit eget Eventyr uden Digtning, edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen, 1942.

I Sverrig. 1851; as Pictures of Sweden, 1851; as In Sweden, 1851.

Mit Livs Eventyr. 1855; revised edition, 1859, 1877; edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen, 1951; as The Story of My Life, 1871; as The Fairy Tale of My Life, 1954.

I Spanien. 1863; as In Spain, and A Visit to Portugal, 1864.

Collected Writings. 10 vols., 1870-71.

Breve, edited by C.S.A. Bille and N. Bøgh. 2 vols., 1878.

Briefwechsel mit den Grossherzog Carl Alexander von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, edited by Emil Jonas. 1887.

Correspondence with the Late Grand-Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Charles Dickens, etc., edited by Frederick Crawford. 1891.

Optegnelsesbog, edited by Julius Clausen. 1926.

Breve til Therese og Martin R. Henriques 1860-75 [Letters to Therese and Martha R. Henrique 1860-75], edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 1932.

Brevveksling med Edvard og Henriette Collin [Correspondence between Edvard and Henriette Collin], edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 6 vols., 1933-37.

Brevveksling med Jonas Collin den Aeldre og andre Medlemmer af det Collinske Hus [Correspondence between Jonas Collin the Elder and Other Members of the House of Collin], edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 3 vols., 1945-48.

Romerske Dagbøger [Roman Dairies], edited by Paul V. Rubow and H. Topsøe-Jensen. 1947.

Brevveksling [Correspondence], with Horace E. Scudder, edited by Jean Hersholt. 1948; as The Andersen-Scudder Letters, 1949.

Reise fra Kjøbenhavn til Rhinen [Travels from Copenhagen to the Rhine], edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 1955.

Brevveksling [Correspondence], with Henriette Wulff, edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 3 vols., 1959-60.

Breve til Mathias Weber [Letters to Mathias Weber], edited by Arne Portman. 1961.

Levnedsbog 1805-1831 [The Book of Life], edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 1962.

Breve til Carl B. Lorck [Letters to Carl B. Lorck], edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 1969.

Dagbøger 1825-75 [Diary], edited by Kåre Olsen and H. Topsøe-Jensen. 1971—

. Tegninger til Otto Zinck [Drawings for Otto Zinck], edited by Kjeld Heltoft. 2 vols., 1972.

Rom Dagbogsnotater og tegninger [Dairy and Drawings from Rome], edited by H. Topsøe-Jensen. 1980.

Album, edited by Kåre Olsen and others. 3 vols., 1980.

A Visit to Germany, Italy, and Malta. 1985.

A Poet's Bazaar: A Journey to Greece, Turkey, and Up the Danube. 1987.

Diaries, edited by Patricia L. Conroy and Sven H. Rossell. 1989.


Critical Studies:

Andersen and the Romantic Theatre by Frederick J. Marker, 1971; Andersen and His World by Reginald Spink, 1972; Andersen: The Story of His Life and Work by Elias Bredsdorff, 1975; Andersen by Bo Gronbech, 1980; Deconstructing Hans Christian Andersen: Some of His Fairy Tales in the Light of Literary Theoryand Vice-Versa by Thomas Bredsdorff, 1993; Hans Christian Andersen: The Dreamer of Fairy Tales by Andrew Langley, 1998.

* * *

Born in Odense, Denmark, the son of a poor journeyman shoemaker and his ill-educated wife, Hans Christian Andersen described himself in a letter to a friend as "a plant from the swamp." But swamp plants flourish. It might be the story line from one of his own tales in which the hero rises above his station and achieves success in a milieu other than that to which he was born. In fact, there is an element of the fairy tale about Andersen's early life. As a pauper, he should have had little chance of meeting Prince Christian and of going to court, but meet him he did. He said of himself, "My life is a beautiful fairy tale, rich and happy." Like the hero of "The Travelling Companion" (1836) Andersen set out when very young and with little money to make his fortune, in his case as an actor. He subsequently was helped financially by King Frederik VI after his first books of poetry were published.

As a child, he had listened avidly to the tales told by the local old women, and this oral tradition no doubt provided him with the inspiration for and literary style of his future work. His first serious essay into literature was Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Ostpynten af Amager i 1828 og 1829 ("A Walking Trip from Holmen's Canal to Amager"), in which a young student meets a variety of strange characters ranging from St. Peter, the shoemaker of Jerusalem, to a talking cat. The work's imagination and literary style set the tone for his future tales, the first installment of which contained, among others, "The Tinderbox" and "The Princess and the Pea," embroidered retellings of stories heard as a child. His second pamphlet included "Thumbelina," and his third, two of his most famous tales—"The Little Mermaid" and "The Emperor's New Clothes," both classics of their kind. All three instalments were published in book form in 1837.

From then on Andersen kept writing fairy tales until shortly before his death. Their continuing fascination is explained by the author's ability to combine fantasy and realism and by his method of telling the stories as if in person to a child, in language a child could comprehend. Unlike the brothers Grimm (collectors rather than creative writers, whose stories sometimes live up to their name), Andersen peoples his tales with characters who are made familiar. A king wears a dressing gown and embroidered slippers; the Trolls have family problems and seem to be almost human, despite their being able to perform magic.

His animals (homely, familiar ones—no jungle beasts) behave as we would expect animals to behave, according to their nature and habitat. They also have problems and human characteristics. The rats, for example, are bored by Humpty Dumpty and find it "a fearfully dull story," and they ask the Fir Tree if it did not know one about "pork and tallow candles." Andersen never places his creatures in an environment with which they would not normally be familiar. The mother duck in "The Ugly Duckling" has no personal knowledge of what lies beyond her own pond.

Flowers and inanimate objects, too, have their own characteristic qualities. In "The Snow Queen" (1846) the flowers tell their stories: the flamboyant Tiger Lily is ferocious; the modest Daisy is sentimental; while the gentle Rose, Andersen's favorite flower, is content with her lot. The Market Basket in "The Flying Trunk" (1839) believes, because of its knowledge of the outside world, that it should be master of the kitchen rather than the stay-at-home pots and pans. An over-anthropomorphic approach in literature can become somewhat tedious, but this is not the case with Andersen. He does not sentimentalize his creatures. For example, the stork of "The Ugly Duckling" is "on his long red legs chattering away in Egyptian, for he had learnt the language from his mother," who wintered there.

While humans, animals, and inanimate objects are subject to failings such as vanity and pride (the needle of "The Darning Needle" [1845] was so refined that she fancied herself a superior sewing needle, and looked down on the inferior pin), Andersen does not burden his tales with moralistic strictures. In his world there is not always a happy-ever-after ending, and wickedness is not always punished. The little mermaid, for instance, does not marry the prince whose life she has saved, and the hero of "Under the Willow Tree" dies a miserable failure. The Victorian reader must have found this overturning of moral expectations somewhat shocking but would have approved of the implied moral of "The Nightingale" (1843). Set in exotic China, a highly decorative mechanical nightingale is brought to court and enchants all from the emperor to the lackeys, "the most difficult to satisfy." The real bird is despised and flies away. The artificial bird breaks down, and when the dying emperor longs to hear its beautiful music, it cannot oblige. But on its return the real nightingale wrestles with death in an effort to save the emperor's life with her song.

Of direct appeal to children is Andersen's delightful humor. "The Nightingale" begins: "You know of course that in China the Emperor is a Chinese and his subjects are Chinese too." In "The Snow Queen" the Lapp woman writes a letter on a dried cod fish, and the Finnish woman later makes supper of it. Adults can appreciate the sly humor of the flea who "had of course gentle blood in his veins and was accustomed to mix only with mankind, and that does make such a difference." Frequently the human learns from the animal; indeed, the Tom Cat says that "Grown-ups say a lot of silly things," and the storks, too, have a poor opinion of humans. Andersen never lost his ability to penetrate a child's mind.

Andersen did write other fiction, and his ambition was to excel as a novelist, but it is as a writer of enchanting tales that his fame is ensured, largely because both child and adult can identify with the characters. The crows prefer security to freedom; the snails are much engaged in finding a suitable wife for their adopted son. What neurotic schoolgirl does not sympathize with the Ugly Duckling and hope that she, too, will grow into a beautiful swan?

—Joyce Lindsay

See the essay on "The Steadfast Tin Soldier."

Hans Christian Andersen

views updated May 14 2018

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). □

Andersen, Hans Christian (1805-1875)

views updated Jun 11 2018

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.


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

Jackie Wullschlager

Andersen, Hans Christian

views updated May 23 2018

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.

Hans Christian Andersen

views updated Jun 27 2018

Hans Christian Andersen ★★ 1952

Sentimental musical story of Hans Christian Andersen, a young cobbler who has a great gift for storytelling. Digitally remastered editions available with stereo sound and original trailer. ♫The King's New Clothes; I'm Hans Christian Andersen; Wonderful Copenhagen; Thumbelina; The Ugly Duckling; Anywhere I Wander; The Inch Worm; No Two People. 112m/C VHS, DVD . Danny Kaye, Farley Granger, Zizi Jeanmaire, Joey Walsh; D: Charles Vidor; W: Moss Hart; C: Harry Stradling Sr.; M: Frank Loesser.

Andersen, Hans Christian

views updated May 14 2018

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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