Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), Danish author and poet, wrote many poems, plays, stories and travel essays, but is best known for his fairy tales of which there are over one hundred and fifty, published in numerous collections during his life and many still in print today.
His first collection of Fairy Tales, Told for Children was published in 1835. He broke new ground for Danish literature with his style and use of idiom, irony and humor, memorable characters and un-didactic moral teaching inspired by the primitive folk tales he had learned as a child. Though they do not all end happily his Fairy Tales resound with an authenticity that only unabashed sincerity can produce from a man who could still see through a child’s eyes;
“Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when--the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire.” —from “The Little Match Girl”
Andersen’s fairy tales of fantasy with moral lessons are popular with children and adults all over the world, and they also contain autobiographical details of the man himself. Born on 2 April, 1805 in Odense, on the Danish island of Funen, Denmark, he was the only son of washerwoman Anna Maria Andersdatter (d.1833) and shoemaker Hans Andersen (d.1816). They were very poor, but Hans took his son to the local playhouse and nurtured his creative side by making him his own toys. Young Hans grew to be tall and lanky, awkward and effeminate, but he loved to sing and dance, and he had a vivid imagination that would soon find its voice.
After the death of his father, Andersen traveled to Copenhagen to pursue an acting career at the Royal Theatre. Under the patronage of the Theatre’s Jonas Collins, he attended the Copenhagen University which were formative but difficult years for him. Coming from a humble provincial background he had to adjust to bourgeois life in the capital city and competitive realm of the theatre. Collins’ daughter Louise and son Edvard were soon the objects of his affection. Andersen turned his pen to writing poems, plays and stories, his first poem “The Dying Child” published in the Copenhagen Post in 1827.
The Improvisatore (1835) received international acclaim for Andersen, published by the University, and with this encouragement he set off on his literary career. Based in Italy, it is the story of young boy’s coming of age, not unlike Andersen’s own introduction into society. Many of Andersen’s plays including Love at St. Nicholas’ Tower and The Mulatto were performed at the Royal Theatre. He had a keen interest in other cultures and traveled extensively throughout Europe during his life and wrote a number of travel books including; A Walking Tour from the Holmen Canal to the Eastern Point of the Amager (1829); Shadow Pictures (1831), the result of his travels in Germany; O.T.: Life in Denmark (1836), and Pictures of Sweden (1851).
Now that Andersen had achieved success by his pen he was not without his critics including philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, but fellow Dane Georg Brandis wrote his praises in many essays. He had met many other illustrious figures in his day including Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Honore de Balzac, Robert Browing and his wife and fellow poet and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Heinrich Heine, Henrik Ibsen, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt, and Bertel Thorvaldsen. He stayed with friend Charles Dickens in London for a time, and was friends with the hereditary Grand Duke Carl Alexander of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach. He received the Knighthood of the Red Eagle from King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia in 1846, and the Maximilian Order of Art and Science from King Maximilian II of Bavaria in 1859. He was made an Honorary Citizen of Odense in 1867.
“He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the newcomer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.” —from “The Ugly Duckling”
After suffering from liver cancer and in the care of his friends the Melchiors, Hans Christian Andersen died at their home on 4 August, 1875 in Copenhagen, Denmark. He lies buried in the Assistens Cemetery in the same city. “First, you undergo such a terrible amount of suffering, and then you become famous.” —from The Fairy Tale of My Life (1855).
Other Andersen titles include;
Only a Fiddler (1837),
A Poet’s Bazaar (1842),
A Christmas Greeting to my English Friends (1847),
The Two Baronesses (1848),
To Be or Not To Be (1857), and
New Tales and Stories (1858-59).
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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