Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark on 2 April 1805. He had a stepsister named Karen. His father, also named Hans, considered himself related to nobility (his paternal grandmother had told his father that their family had belonged to a higher social class, but investigations have disproved these stories). Although it has been challenged, a persistent speculation suggests that Andersen was an illegitimate son of King Christian VIII. Danish historian Jens Jørgensen supported this idea in his book H.C. Andersen, en sand myte [a true myth].
Hans Christian Andersen was baptised on 15 April 1805 in Saint Hans Church (St John's Church) in Odense, Denmark. His certificate of birth was not drafted until November 1823, according to which six Godparents were present at the baptising ceremony: Madam Sille Marie Breineberg, Maiden Friederiche Pommer, shoemaker Peder Waltersdorff, journeyman carpenter Anders Jørgensen, hospital porter Nicolas Gomard, and royal hatter Jens Henrichsen Dorch.
Andersen's father, who had received an elementary school education, introduced his son to literature, reading to him the Arabian Nights. Andersen's mother, Anne Marie Andersdatter, was an illiterate washerwoman. Following her husband's death in 1816, she remarried in 1818. Andersen was sent to a local school for poor children where he received a basic education and had to support himself, working as an apprentice to a weaver and, later, to a tailor. At fourteen, he moved to Copenhagen to seek employment as an actor. Having an excellent soprano voice, he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre, but his voice soon changed. A colleague at the theatre told him that he considered Andersen a poet. Taking the suggestion seriously, Andersen began to focus on writing.
Jonas Collin, director of the Royal Danish Theatre, held great affection for Andersen and sent him to a grammar school in Slagelse, persuading King Frederick VI to pay part of the youth's education. Andersen had by then published his first story, "The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave" (1822). Though not a stellar pupil, he also attended school at Elsinore until 1827.
He later said that his years at this school were the darkest and most bitter years of his life. At one particular school, he lived at his schoolmaster's home. There he was abused and was told that it was done in order "to improve his character". He later said that the faculty had discouraged him from writing, which then resulted in a depression.
It doesn't matter about being born in a duckyard, as long as you are hatched from a swan's egg
A very early fairy tale by Andersen, "The Tallow Candle" (Danish: Tællelyset), was discovered in a Danish archive in October 2012. The story, written in the 1820s, is about a candle that did not feel appreciated. It was written while Andersen was still in school and dedicated to one of his benefactors. The story remained in that family's possession until it turned up among other family papers in a local archive.
In 1829, Andersen enjoyed considerable success with the short story "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager" (locations in central Copenhagen and a few miles to the East of Copenhagen). Its protagonist meets characters ranging from Saint Peter to a talking cat. Andersen followed this success with a theatrical piece, Love on St.Nicholas Church Tower, and a short volume of poems. He made little progress in writing and publishing immediately following the issue of these poems but he did receive a small travel grant from the king in 1833. This enabled him to set out on the first of many journeys throughout Europe. At Jura, near Le Locle, Switzerland, Andersen wrote the story "Agnete and the Merman". The same year he spent an evening in the Italian seaside village of Sestri Levante, the place which inspired the title of "The Bay of Fables". He arrived in Rome in October 1834. Andersen's travels in Italy were reflected in his first novel, a fictionalized autobiography titled The Improvisatore (Improvisatoren), published in 1835 to instant acclaim.
Literary fairy tales
Fairy Tales Told for Children. First Collection. (Danish: Eventyr, fortalt for Børn. Første Samling.) is a collection of nine fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen. The tales were published in a series of three installments by C. A. Reitzel in Copenhagen, Denmark between May 1835 and April 1837, and represent Andersen's first venture into the fairy tale genre.
The first installment of sixty-one unbound pages was published 8 May 1835 and contained "The Tinderbox", "Little Claus and Big Claus", "The Princess and the Pea" and "Little Ida's Flowers". The first three tales were based on folktales Andersen had heard in his childhood while the last tale was completely Andersen's creation and created for Ida Thiele, the daughter of Andersen's early benefactor, the folklorist Just Mathias Thiele. Reitzel paid Andersen thirty rixdollars for the manuscript, and the booklet was priced at twenty-four shillings.
The second booklet was published on 16 December 1835 and contained "Thumbelina", "The Naughty Boy" and "The Traveling Companion". "Thumbelina" was completely Andersen's creation although inspired by "Tom Thumb" and other stories of miniature people. "The Naughty Boy" was based on a poem by Anacreon about Cupid, and "The Traveling Companion" was a ghost story Andersen had experimented with in the year 1830.
The third booklet contained "The Little Mermaid" and "The Emperor's New Clothes", and it was published on 7 April 1837. "The Little Mermaid" was completely Andersen's creation though influenced by De la Motte Fouqué's "Undine" (1811) and the lore about mermaids. This tale established Andersen's international reputation. The only other tale in the third booklet was "The Emperor's New Clothes", which was based on a medieval Spanish story with Arab and Jewish sources. On the eve of the third installment's publication, Andersen revised the conclusion of his story, (the Emperor simply walks in procession) to its now-familiar finale of a child calling out, "The Emperor is not wearing any clothes!"
Danish reviews of the first two booklets first appeared in 1836 and were not enthusiastic. The critics disliked the chatty, informal style and immorality that flew in the face of their expectations. Children's literature was meant to educate rather than to amuse. The critics discouraged Andersen from pursuing this type of style. Andersen believed that he was working against the critics' preconceived notions about fairy tales, and he temporarily returned to novel-writing. The critics' reaction was so severe that Andersen waited a full year before publishing his third installment.
The nine tales from the three booklets were combined and then published in one volume and sold at seventy-two shillings. A title page, a table of contents, and a preface by Andersen were published in this volume.
In 1851 he published In Sweden, a volume of travel sketches. The publication received wide acclaim. A keen traveler, Andersen published several other long travelogues: Shadow Pictures of a Journey to the Harz, Swiss Saxony, etc. etc. in the Summer of 1831, A Poet's Bazaar, In Spain and A Visit to Portugal in 1866. (The last describes his visit with his Portuguese friends Jorge and José O'Neill, who were his friends in the mid-1820s while he was living in Copenhagen.) In his travelogues, Andersen took heed of some of the contemporary conventions related to travel writing but he always developed the style to suit his own purpose. Each of his travelogues combines documentary and descriptive accounts of his experiences, adding additional philosophical passages on topics such as what it is to be an author, general immortality, and the nature of fiction in literary travel reports. Some of the travelogues, such as In Sweden, even contain fairy-tales.
In the 1840s, Andersen's attention again returned to the theatre stage, but with little success. He had better luck with the publication of the Picture-Book without Pictures (1840). A second series of fairy tales was started in 1838 and a third series in 1845. Andersen was now celebrated throughout Europe although his native Denmark still showed some resistance to his pretensions.
Between 1845 and 1864, H. C. Andersen lived at Nyhavn 67, Copenhagen, where a memorial plaque is placed on a building.
In 'Andersen as a Novelist', Søren Kierkegaard remarks that Andersen is characterized as, "...a possibility of a personality, wrapped up in such a web of arbitrary moods and moving through an elegiac duo-decimal scale [i.e., a chromatic scale including sharps and flats, associated more with lament or elegy than an ordinary scale] of almost echoless, dying tones just as easily roused as subdued, who, in order to become a personality, needs a strong life-development."
Meetings with Charles Dickens
In June 1847, Andersen paid his first visit to England, enjoying a triumphal social success during this summer. The Countess of Blessington invited him to her parties where intellectual people would meet, and at one such party he met Charles Dickens for the first time. They shook hands and walked to the veranda, which Andersen noted in his diary: "We were on the veranda, and I was so happy to see and speak to England's now-living writer whom I do love the most."
The two authors respected each other's work and as writers, they shared something important in common: depictions of the poor and the underclass who often had difficult lives affected both by the Industrial Revolution and by abject poverty. In the Victorian era there was a growing sympathy for children and an idealization of the innocence of childhood.
Ten years later, Andersen visited England again, primarily to meet Dickens. He extended the planned brief visit to Dickens' home at Gads Hill Place into a five-week stay, much to the distress of Dickens' family. After Andersen was told to leave, Dickens gradually stopped all correspondence between them, to the Anderson' great disappointment and confusion; he had quite enjoyed the visit and could never understand why his letters went unanswered.
Andersen experienced same-sex attraction; he wrote to Edvard Collin: "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 preferred women, wrote in his own memoir: "I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering." Andersen's infatuation for Carl Alexander, the young hereditary duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, did result in a relationship:
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.
There is a sharp division in opinion over Andersen's physical fulfillment in the sexual sphere. The Hans Christian Andersen Center of University of Southern Denmark and biographer Jackie Wullschlager hold contradictory views.
Wullschlager's biography maintains he was possibly lovers with Danish dancer Harald Scharff [da] and Andersen's "The Snowman" was inspired by their relationship. Scharff first met Andersen when the latter was in his fifties. Andersen was clearly infatuated, and Wullschlager sees his journals as implying that their relationship was sexual. Scharff had various dinners alone with Andersen and his gift of a silver toothbrush to Andersen on his fifty-seventh birthday marked their relationship as incredibly close. Wullschlager asserts that in the winter of 1861–62 the two men entered a full-blown love affair that brought "him joy, some kind of sexual fulfillment, and a temporary end to loneliness." He was not discreet in his conduct with Scharff, and displayed his feelings much too openly. Onlookers regarded the relationship as improper and ridiculous. In his diary for March 1862, Andersen referred to this time in his life as his "erotic period". On 13 November 1863, Andersen wrote, "Scharff has not visited me in eight days; with him it is over." Andersen took the end calmly and the two thereafter met in overlapping social circles without bitterness, though Andersen attempted to rekindle their relationship a number of times without success.[note 1][note 2]
In contrast to Wullschlager's assertions are Klara Bom and Anya Aarenstrup from the H. C. Andersen Centre of University of Southern Denmark. They state "it is correct to point to the very ambivalent (and also very traumatic) elements in Andersen's emotional life concerning the sexual sphere, but it is decidedly just as wrong to describe him as homosexual and maintain that he had physical relationships with men. He did not. Indeed, that would have been entirely contrary to his moral and religious ideas, aspects that are quite outside the field of vision of Wullschlager and her like."
Andersen also fell in love with unattainable women, and many of his stories are interpreted as references. At one point, he wrote in his diary: "Almighty God, thee only have I; thou steerest my fate, I must give myself up to thee! Give me a livelihood! Give me a bride! My blood wants love, as my heart does!" A girl named Riborg Voigt was the unrequited love of Andersen's youth. A small pouch containing a long letter from Voigt was found on Andersen's chest when he died several decades after he first fell in love with her, and after, he presumably fell in love with others. Other disappointments in love included Sophie Ørsted, the daughter of the physicist Hans Christian Ørsted, and Louise Collin, the youngest daughter of his benefactor Jonas Collin. One of his stories, "The Nightingale", was written as an expression of his passion for Jenny Lind and became the inspiration for her nickname, the "Swedish Nightingale". Andersen was often shy around women and had extreme difficulty in proposing to Lind. When Lind was boarding a train to go to an opera concert, Andersen gave Lind a letter of proposal. Her feelings towards him were not the same; she saw him as a brother, writing to him in 1844: "farewell ... God bless and protect my brother is the sincere wish of his affectionate sister, Jenny". It is suggested that Andersen expressed his disappointment by portraying Lind as the eponymous anti-heroine of his Snow Queen.
In early 1872, at age 67, Andersen fell out of his bed and was severely hurt; he never fully recovered from the resultant injuries. Soon afterward, he started to show signs of liver cancer.
He died on 4 August 1875, in a house called Rolighed (literally: calmness), near Copenhagen, the home of his close friends, the banker Moritz G. Melchior and his wife. Shortly before his death, Andersen had consulted a composer about the music for his funeral, saying: "Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps."
His body was interred in the Assistens Kirkegård in the Nørrebro area of Copenhagen, in the family plot of the Collins. In 1914, however, the stone was moved to another cemetery (today known as "Frederiksbergs ældre kirkegaard"), where younger Collin family members were buried. For a period, his, Edvard Collin's and Henriette Collin's graves were unmarked. A second stone has been erected, marking H.C. Andersen's grave, now without any mention of the Collin couple, but all three still share the same plot.
At the time of his death, Andersen was internationally revered, and the Danish Government paid him an annual stipend as a "national treasure".
Archives, collections and museums
The Hans Christian Andersen Museum or H.C. Andersens Odense, is a set of museums/buildings dedicated to the famous author Hans Christian Andersen in Odense, Denmark, some of which, at various times in history, have functioned as the main Odense-based museum on the author.
The Red Shoes (1948) British drama film written, directed, and produced by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger based on "The Red Shoes".
Hans Christian Andersen (1952), an American musical film starring Danny Kaye that, though inspired by Andersen's life and literary legacy, was meant to be neither historically nor biographically accurate; it begins by saying, "This is not the story of his life, but a fairy tale about this great spinner of fairy tales"
^While on holiday, for example, Andersen and Scharff were forced to spend the night in Helsingør. Andersen reserved a double room for them both but Scharff insisted upon having his own.
^Andersen continued to follow Scharff's career with interest but in 1871 an injury during rehearsal forced Scharff permanently from the ballet stage. Scharff tried acting without success, married a ballerina in 1874, and died in the St. Hans insane asylum in 1912.
^"International Children's Book Day". International Board on Books for Young People. Retrieved 17 December 2012. Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen's birthday, 2 April, International Children's Book Day (ICBD) is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children's books.