Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen books and biography


Hans Christian Andersen


Pseudonym(s): HC Andersen
Born: April 2, 1805
Odense, Denmark
Died: August 4, 1875
Copenhagen, Denmark
Occupation(s): novelist, short story writer, poet
Nationality: Dane
Genre(s): Children's literature, travelogue
Influences: Ludvig Holberg, William Shakespeare

Hans Christian Andersen [ˈhænˀs ˈkʰʁæsd̥jæn ˈanɔsn̩] or simply HC Andersen [ho̞ se ˈanɔsn̩], (April 2, 1805 – August 4, 1875) was a Danish author and poet most famous for his fairy tales.


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Personal life

Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, on Tuesday, April 2, 1805.

Andersen's father apparently believed that he might be related to nobility, and according to scholars at the Hans Christian Andersen Center, his paternal grandmother told him that the family had once been in a higher social class. However, investigation proves these stories unfounded. The family apparently did have some connections to Danish royalty, but these were work-related. Nevertheless, the theory that Andersen was the illegitimate son of royalty persists in Denmark, bolstered by the fact that the Danish King took a personal interest in Andersen as a youth and paid for his education. The writer Rolf Dorset insists that not all options have been explored in determining Andersen's heritage.

Andersen displayed great intelligence and imagination as a young boy, a trait fostered by the indulgence of his parents and by the superstition of his mother. He made himself a small toy-theatre and sat at home making clothes for his puppets, and reading all the plays that he could lay his hands upon; among them were those of Ludvig Holberg and William Shakespeare. Throughout his childhood, he had a passionate love for literature. He was known to memorize entire plays by Shakespeare and to recite them using his wooden dolls as actors. He also had a great love of the art of banter, and assisted in initiating a society of like minded banterers amongst his friends.

In 1816, his father died and the young boy had to start earning a living. He worked as an apprentice for both a weaver and a tailor, and later worked in a cigarette factory where his fellow workers humiliated him by betting on whether he was in fact a girl, pulling down his trousers to check. At the age of fourteen, Andersen moved to Copenhagen seeking employment as an actor in the theatre. He had a pleasant soprano voice and succeeded in being admitted to the Royal Danish Theatre. This career stopped short when his voice broke. A colleague at the theatre had referred to him as a poet, and Andersen took this very seriously and began to focus on writing.

Hans Christian Andersen in 1869
Hans Christian Andersen in 1869

Following an accidental meeting, King Frederick VI of Denmark started taking an interest in the odd boy and sent Andersen to the grammar school [1] in Slagelse, paying all his expenses. Before even being admitted to grammar-school, Andersen had already succeeded in publishing his first story, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave in (1822). Though a backward (perhaps learning-disabled[citation needed]) and unwilling pupil, Andersen studied both in Slagelse and at a school [2] in Elsinore until 1827. He later stated that these years had been the darkest and most bitter parts of his life. He had experienced living in his schoolmaster's own home, being abused in order to "build his character", and he had been the odd man out among his fellow students, being much older than most of them, homely and unattractive.

The feeling of "being different", usually resulting in pain, is a recurrent motif in his work. This is both attributed to his early life in poverty, his homeliness and in particular to his lack of romantic and sexual life. His sexuality is somewhat controversial and covered in a section below.

In the spring of 1872, Andersen fell out of bed and severely hurt himself. He never quite recovered, but he lived until August 4, 1875, dying [3] very peacefully in a house called Rolighed (literally: calmness), near Copenhagen. His body was interred in the Assistens Kirkegård in the Nørrebro area of Copenhagen. At the time of his death, he was an internationally renowned and treasured artist.

2005 was the bicentenary of Andersen's birth and his life and work was celebrated around the world. The interest in Andersen's person, legacy and writing has never been greater. In Denmark, particularly, the nation's most famous son has been feted like no other literary figure. The Hans Christian Andersen Bicentenary Website is an excellent resource.



The sexuality of Andersen is much discussed. Biographies usually portray him as either homosexual or bisexual.

Many stories are interpreted as references to his sexual grief. One of these stories is The Nightingale which is a tribute to the "Swedish Nightingale" Jenny Lind, a famous swedish opera singer, whom Andersen was in love with. His feelings towards her were not mutual; she saw him as a brother at most.[1][2]. One other story is "The Little Mermaid", who takes her own life since she cannot be loved by a beautiful prince. Some biographers think this story exemplifies Andersen's homosexual love for the young Edvard Collin,[3] to whom he wrote: "I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench... my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery." Collin, who was not erotically attracted to men, wrote in his own memoir: "I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering." Likewise, the infatuations of the author for the Danish dancer Harald Scharff[4] and Carl Alexander, the young hereditary duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach,[5] did not result in notable partnerships. Four of his letters to Carl are edited in the anthology by Rictor Norton.

The question of Andersen's homosexuality is a matter of controversy in academic circles.[6] The discussion began in 1901 with the article "Hans Christian Andersen: Evidence of his Homosexuality" by Carl Albert Hansen Fahlberg (using the pseudonym Albert Hansenin) in Magnus Hirschfeld's publication Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufe (Yearbook on Ambiguous Sexuality).

In Andersen's early life, his private journal records his refusal to have sexual relations and his release through masturbation.[7][8]

Life as an author

In 1829, Andersen enjoyed a considerable success with a fantastic story entitled "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager", and during the same season, he published both a farce and a collection of poems. His first success happened at a time when his friends had ultimately given up hope for him, deciding that his early eccentricity and vivacity would never lead to anything good. He had little further progress, however, until 1833, when he received a small travelling grant from the King, making the first of his long European journeys. At Le Locle, in the Jura, he wrote "Agnete and the Merman"; and in October 1834 he arrived in Rome.

Andersen's first novel, The Improvisatore, was published in the beginning of 1835, and became an instant success. His humble beginnings as a poet had finally come to an end. During the same year, Andersen published the first installment of his immortal Fairy Tales (Danish: Eventyr). More stories, completing the first volume, were published in 1836 and 1837. The quality of these stories was not immediately recognised, and they sold poorly. At the same time, Andersen enjoyed more success with two novels: O.T. (1836) and Only a Fiddler (1837).

In 1851, he published to wide acclaim In Sweden, a volume of travel sketches. A keen traveller, Andersen published several other long travelogues: Shadow Pictures of a Journey to the Harz, Swiss Saxony, etc. etc. in the Summer of 1831 (1831), A Poet's Bazaar (1842), In Spain (1863), and A Visit to Portugal in 1866 (1868). The latter describes his visit with his Portuguese friends Jorge and Jose O'Neill, who were his fellows in the mid 1820s while living in Copenhagen. In his travelogues, Andersen took heed of some of the contemporary conventions about travel writing; but always developed the genre to suit his own purposes. Each of his travelogues combines documentary and descriptive accounts of the sights he saw with more philosophical excurses on topics such as being an author, immortality, and the nature of fiction in the literary travel report. Some of the travelogues, such as In Sweden, even contain fairy-tales.

In the 1840s Andersen's attention returned to the stage, however with no great success. His true genius was however proved in the miscellany the Picture-Book without Pictures (1840). The fame of his Fairy Tales had grown steadily; a second series began in 1838 and a third in 1845. Andersen was now celebrated throughout Europe, although his native Denmark still showed some resistance to his pretensions. In June 1847, he paid his first visit to England and enjoyed a triumphal social success during the summer. Countess of Blessington invited him to her parties where intellectual and famous people could meet, and it was at one party that he met Charles Dickens for the first time. They shook hands and walked to the veranda which was of much joy to H.C.Andersen. He wrote in his diary "We had come to the veranda, I was so happy to see and speak to England's now living writer, whom I love the most". [9]

10 years later Andersen and Dickens would meet again when Andersen visited England (the main goal was to visit Dickens). Andersen stayed for 5 weeks, not understanding Dickens' increasingly blatant hints that Andersen should leave (Dickens would later say "He was a bony bore, and stayed on and on" about Andersens visit).[10] When he left, Dickens saw him off from Ramsgate pier. Shortly thereafter Dickens published David Copperfield, in which the character Uriah Heep is said to have been modelled on Andersen — a backhanded compliment, to put it mildly. Andersen would never understand why Dickens stopped answering his letters. From his viewpoint he had had a wonderful time at Dickens'.

Andersen continued to publish many works, although still hoping to excel as both novelist and dramatist, but was unsuccessful in the attempt. He disdained the enchanting Fairy Tales, the composition of which had proved his unique genius. He did, however, continue to write them, and two more collections appeared in 1847 and 1848. After a long silence, Andersen published a new novel To Be Or Not to Be in 1857. He continued publishing his Fairy Tales in installments, until 1872. He published his last stories at Christmas in this year.

In the English-speaking world, the stories "The Ugly Duckling", "The Little Mermaid, "The Emperor's New Clothes", and "The Princess and the Pea" are cultural universals; everyone knows them, though few can name the author. They have become part of our common heritage, and, like the tales of Charles Perrault, are no longer distinguished from actual folk-tales such as those of the Brothers Grimm. Andersen himself was highly inspired by the Arabian Nights. A few of his stories such as "The Wild Swans" and The Rose-Elf are adaptations of older folktales (for example, "The Wild Swans" might be a retelling of The Six Swans as recorded by the Brothers Grimm.)

Andersen's work is often categorised as children's literature, though, he did not like to be stereotyped. [citation needed] The overall character of Andersen's stories is dark, sometimes even cruel, and redemption often comes at a high price. It is therefore a mistake – as it is with most literature for children – to think of his work as innocent. One of his famous stories, "The Ugly Duckling", is a story that Anderson explained in his personal correspondence as a story that could be generalized broadly. In particular, he was writing the story as a tribute to those who like himself had (what were regarded at the time as) deviant sexual feelings. In that vein, Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland claim to have been inspired by Anderson's story of the Ugly Duckling in their controversial work King and King. [citation needed]

Fairy tales

Some of his most famous fairy tales include:

  • The Angel [4]
  • The Bell [5]
  • The Emperor's New Clothes [6]
  • The Fir Tree [7]
  • The Happy Family [8]
  • It's Quite True! [9]
  • The Little Match Girl [10]
  • The Little Mermaid [11]
  • Little Tuk [12]
  • The Nightingale [13]
  • The Old House [14]
  • Ole-Lukøie [15]
  • The Princess and the Pea (also known as The Real Princess) [16]
  • The Red Shoes [17]
  • The Shadow [18]
  • The Snow Queen [19]
  • The Steadfast Tin Soldier [20]
  • The Story of a Mother [21]
  • The Swineherd [22]
  • Thumbelina [23]
  • The Tinder Box [24]
  • The Ugly Duckling [25]
  • The Wild Swans [26]

Naming conventions

Most English (as well as German and French) sources use the name "Hans Christian Andersen", but in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia he is usually referred to as merely "H. C. Andersen". His name "Hans Christian" is a traditional Danish name (and is used as a single name, though originally a combination of two individual names. It is incorrect to use only one of the two parts). It is an accepted custom in Denmark to use only the initials in this and a few other names (other examples include "H.P.", short for "Hans Peter" and "J.C." or "I.C" short for "Jens Christian" and "H.H" short for "Hans Henrik")

Miscellaneous trivia

  • 2 April, Andersen's birthday, is celebrated as International Children's Book Day.
  • H.C. Andersen is also a Finnish band. Its name is a pun: they play hardcore punk and "hardcore" is often abbreviated "HC".
  • A $12.5m theme park based on Andersen's tales and life will open in Shanghai by the end of 2006. Multi-media games as well as all kinds of cultural contests related to the fairytales will reportedly be available to visitors. He was chosen as the star of the park because he is a "nice, hardworking person who was not afraid of poverty", Shanghai Gujin Investment general manager Zhai Shiqiang was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying. (BBC Asia-Pacific 8/11/06)
  • He is the first known person to write a novel about a Philosopher's Stone.

Contemporary literary works inspired by Andersen's stories

  • The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis: a contemporary novel about fairy tales and opera
  • The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge: an award-winning novel that reworks the Snow Queen's themes into epic science fiction
  • The Nightingale by Kara Dalkey: a lyrical adult fantasy novel set in the courts of old Japan
  • The Wild Swans by Peg Kerr: a novel that brings Andersen's fairy tale to colonial and modern America
  • Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier: a romantic fantasy novel, set in early Ireland, thematically linked to "The Wild Swans"
  • The Snow Queen by Eileen Kernaghan: a gentle Young Adult fantasy novel that brings out the tale's subtle pagan and shamanic elements
  • "The Snow Queen," a short story by Patricia A. McKillip (published in Snow White, Blood Red)
  • "You, Little Match Girl," a short story by Joyce Carol Oates (published in Black Heart, Ivory Bones)
  • "Sparks," a short story by Gregory Frost (based on The Tinder Box, published in Black Swan, White Raven)
  • "Steadfast," a short story by Nancy Kress (based on The Steadfast Tin Soldier, published in Black Swan, White Raven)
  • "The Sea Hag," a short story by Melissa Lee Shaw (based on The Little Mermaid, published in Silver Birch, Blood Moon)
  • "The Real Princess," a short story by Susan Palwick (based on The Princess and the Pea, published in Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears)
  • "Match Girl," a short story by Anne Bishop (published in Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears)
  • "The Pangs of Love," a short story by Jane Gardam (based on The Little Mermaid, published in Close Company: Stories of Mothers and Daughters)
  • "The Chrysanthemum Robe," a short story by Kara Dalkey (based on The Emperor's New Clothes, published in The Armless Maiden)
  • "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," a short story by Joan Vinge (published in Women of Wonder)
  • "In the Witch's Garden," a short story by Naomi Kritzer (based on The Snow Queen, published in Realms of Fantasy magazine, October 2002 issue)
  • "The Last Poems About the Snow Queen," a poem cycle by Sandra Gilbert (published in Blood Pressure)
  • In Regina Spektor's song "Prisoners" off of her album "Songs", she sings, "If Hans Christian Andersen could have had his way with me, then not of this sh** would have ever gone down."


  • Jackie Wullschläger, Hans Christian Andersen. The Life of a Storyteller, Penguin, 2000, ISBN 0-14-028320-X
  • Stig Dalager, Journey in Blue, historical, biographical novel about H.C.Andersen, Peter Owen, London 2006, McArthur & Co., Toronto 2006.
  • Norton, Rictor (ed.) My Dear Boy:Gay Love Letters through the Centuries. Leyland Publications, San Francisco. 1998 ISBN 0-943595-71-1


  1. ^ H.C. Andersen homepage (danish)
  2. ^ English source
  3. ^ Hans Christian Andersen's correspondence, ed Frederick Crawford, London. 1891
  4. ^ Andersen wrote about Scharff in his diary, on 6 March 1862: "I long for him daily." From de Mylius, Johan. The Life of Hans Christian Andersen. Day By Day.. Hans Christian Andersen Center. Retrieved on 2006-07-22.
  5. ^ Andersen wrote in his diary: "The Hereditary Grand Duke walked arm in arm with me across the courtyard of the castle to my room, kissed me lovingly, asked me always to love him though he was just an ordinary person, asked me to stay with him this winter... Fell asleep with the melancholy, happy feeling that I was the guest of this strange prince at his castle and loved by him... It is like a fairy tale." From Pritchard, Claudia. "His dark materials", The Independent, 2005-03-27. Retrieved on 2006-07-23.
  6. ^ Dag Heede writes that "the ‘War About Hans Christian Andersen’s Sexuality’ ... has lasted over a century and ... is far from over." Heede, Dag. Hans Christian Andersen's (Homo) Sexuality. Danish Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved on 2006-07-19.
  7. ^ Lepage, Robert. "Bedtime stories", The Guardian, 2006-01-18. Retrieved on 2006-07-19.
  8. ^ Recorded using "special Greek symbols".Garfield, Patricia (2004-06-21). The Dreams of Hans Christian Andersen (PDF) pp. 29. Retrieved on 2006-07-20.
  9. ^
  10. ^

Jens Andersen; Andersen, En Biografi; Gyldendal, Copenhagen, 2 volumes, 2003

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