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Hans Christian Andersen
1805 - 1875

The Danish author Hans Christian Andersen 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.


Andersen, Hans Christian (1805–75), Danish writer, often regarded as the father of modern fairy tales. Son of a cobbler and a washerwoman, he rose to the position of a national poet and is the most well-known Scandinavian writer of all times.

Although Andersen considered himself a novelist and playwright, his unquestionable fame is based on his fairy tales. He published four collections: Eventyr, fortalte for børn (Fairy Tales, Told for Children, 1835–42), Nye eventyr (New Fairy Tales, 1844–8), Historier (Stories, 1852–5), and Nye eventyr og historier (New Fairy Tales and Stories, 1858–72), which already during his lifetime were translated into many languages.

The sources of his stories were mostly Danish folk tales, collected and retold by his immediate predecessors J. M. Thiele, Adam Oehlenschläger and Bernhard Ingemann. Unlike the collectors, whose aim was to preserve and sometimes to classify and study fairy tales, Andersen was in the first place a writer, and his objective was to create new literary works based on folklore. As exceptions, some fairy tales have their origins in ancient poetry (‘The Naughty Boy’) or medieval European literature (‘The Emperor's New Clothes’).

There are several ways in which Andersen may be said to have created the genre of modern fairy tale. First, he gave the fairy tale a personal touch. His very first fairy tale, ‘The Tinder Box’, opens in a matter-of-fact way, instead of the traditional ‘Once upon a time’, and its characters, including the king, speak a colloquial, everyday language. This feature became the trademark of Andersen's style. Quite a number of his early fairy tales are retellings of traditional folk tales, such as ‘Little Claus and Big Claus’, ‘The Princess and the Pea’, ‘The Travelling Companion’, ‘The Swineherd’, ‘The Wild Swans’; however, in Andersen's rendering they acquire an unmistakable individuality and brilliant irony. Kings go around in battered slippers and personally open gates of their kingdoms; princesses read newspapers and roast chicken; and many supernatural creatures in later tales behave and talk like ordinary people. An explicit narrative voice, commenting on the events and addressing the listener, is another characteristic trait of Andersen's tales. It is not accidental that many fairy tales were told by Andersen to real children before he wrote them down. However, there are no conventional morals in them, possibly with the exception of ‘The Red Shoes’.

Secondly, Andersen brought the fairy tale into the everyday. His first original fairy tale, ‘Little Ida's Flowers’, recalls the tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann in its elaborate combination of the ordinary and the fantastic, its nocturnal magical transformations, and its use of the child as a narrative lens. Still closer to Hoffmann is ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ with its animation of the realm of toys. However, in both tales Andersen's melancholic view of life is revealed: both end tragically, thus raising the question whether children's literature must depend on happy endings. These may be counterbalanced by more conventional stories of trials and reward, such as ‘Thumbelina’ or ‘The Snow Queen’, the latter based on the popular Norse legend of the Ice Maiden.

In a group of fairy tales, Andersen went still further in animating the material world around him and introducing everyday objects as protagonists: ‘The Sweethearts’ (also known as ‘The Top and the Ball’), ‘The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep’, ‘The Shirt Collar’, ‘The Darning-Needle’; he is credited with being a pioneer in this respect. Also, flowers and plants are ascribed a rich spiritual life, as in ‘The Daisy’, or arrogance, as in ‘The Fir Tree’, or otherwise are depicted as having a limited petty bourgeois horizon, as in ‘Five Peas from One Pod’.

Andersen's animal tales are also radically different from traditional fables. While in ‘The Storks’ he makes an original interpretation of the popular saying that babies are brought by storks, in several stories (‘The Happy Family’, ‘The Sprinters’, ‘The Dung-Beetle’) Andersen makes animals represent different perspectives on life, and the stories themselves are more like satirical sketches of human manners than fairy tales for children. ‘The Ugly Duckling’, probably one of Andersen's best-known stories, is a camouflaged autobiography, echoing the writer's much-quoted statement: ‘First you must endure a lot, then you get famous.’ The animals, including the protagonist, possess human traits, views, and emotions, making the story indeed a poignant account of the road from humiliation through sufferings to well-deserved bliss. The message is, however, ambivalent: you have to be born a swan in order to become one.

Another programmatic fairy tale is ‘The Little Mermaid’, based on a medieval ballad, eagerly exploited by romantic poets. Andersen, however, reversed the roles and, toning down the ballad's motif of the Christian versus the pagan, created a beautiful and tragic story of impossible love, which certainly also reflected his personal experience.

While most of Andersen's fairy tales are firmly anchored in his home country and often mention concrete topographical details, like the Round Tower in Copenhagen, some fairy tales have exotic settings, like China in ‘The Nightingale’, or unspecified ‘Southern countries’ in ‘The Shadow’. This tale, based loosely on a story by Adelbert von Chamisso, which it also mentions indirectly, is probably the most enigmatic and disturbing of his tales. Published in 1847, it marked a general change in Andersen tales, from being addressed to children to a wider audience, even primarily adults. In fact, his late tales, which he himself characterized as ‘Stories’ rather than ‘Fairy Tales’, are much less known and almost never published in contemporary collections for children. Among them is Andersen's tribute to modern technology, ‘The Great Sea-Serpent’, depicting the first transatlantic telegraph cable.

The significance of Andersen may be illustrated by the fact that the world's most prestigious prize in children's literature, the Andersen Medal, is named after him, and that his birthday, 2 April, is celebrated as the International Children's Book Day.


Hans Christian Andersen in Danish, or simply H. C. Andersen (April 2, 1805 – August 4, 1875) was a Danish author and poet, most famous for his fairy tales. Among his best-known stories are The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling and The Red Shoes. During Andersen's lifetime he was feted by royalty and acclaimed for having brought joy to children across Europe. His fairy tales have been translated into over 150 languages and continue to be published in millions of copies all over the world and inspired many other works.


Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, on Tuesday, April 2, 1805. 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 without the other. It is an accepted custom in Denmark to use only the initials in this and a few other names.

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 were unfounded. The family apparently did have some connections to Danish royalty, but these were only work-related. Nevertheless, the theory that Andersen was the illegitimate son of royalty continues to persist in Denmark, bolstered by the fact that the Danish king at the time 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 ancestry.

Andersen displayed great intelligence and imagination as a young boy, traits that were 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.


In 1816, his father died in a fire and, in order to support himself, Andersen worked as an apprentice for both a weaver and a tailor. He 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. He had a half-sister to whom only spoke to once or twice before she died. Her name was Karen Marie.

Following an accidental meeting, Jonas Collin started taking an interest in the odd boy and sent Andersen to the grammar school in Slagelse, paying all his expenses. Before being admitted to grammar-school, Andersen had succeeded in publishing his first story, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave in 1822. Though an unwilling pupil, Andersen studied both in Slagelse and at a school 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 alienated from his fellow students, being much older than most of them, homely and unattractive. Furthermore, he was dyslexic, a very likely reason for his learning difficulties and he later said that the school faculty forbade or discouraged him to write.


Early works

In 1829, Andersen enjoyed a considerable success with a short story entitled "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager". During the same season, he published both a farce and a collection of poems. He had little further progress, however, until 1833 when he received a small traveling grant from the King, making the first of his long European journeys. At Le Locle, in the Jura, he wrote "Agnete and the Merman"; in 1833 he visited the Italian seaside village of Sestri Levante (and is credited with naming its two bays) (see -- annual festival celebrates this); 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. During these years, H.C. Andersen resided in 20, Nyhavn, Copenhagen, where a memorial plaque unveiled on the 8th of May in 1935 as a gift from Peter Schannong was placed.

Andersen's Fairy Tales

It was during 1835 that 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. His Specialty book that is still known today was the Ugly Duckling. (1837).

Jeg er en Skandinav

After a visit to Sweden in 1837, Andersen became inspired by Scandinavism and committed himself to writing a poem to convey his feeling of relatedness between the Swedes, the Danes and the Norwegians. It was in July 1839 during a visit to the island of Funen that Andersen first wrote the text of his poem Jeg er en Skandinav (I am a Scandinavian). Andersen designed the poem random to capture "the beauty of the Nordic spirit, the way the three sister nations have gradually grown together" as part of a Scandinavian national anthem. Composer Otto Lindblad set the poem to music and the composition was published in January 1840. Its popularity peaked in 1845, after which it was seldom sung.


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 (A Poet's Bazaar (560), In Spain , and A Visit to Portugal in 1866 (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 at all. 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. Between 1845 and 1864, H. C. Andersen lived in 67, Nyhavn, Copenhagen, where a memorial plaque is placed.

Meetings with Dickens

In June 1847, Andersen paid his first visit to England and enjoyed a triumphal social success during the summer. The 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 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."

Ten years later, Andersen visited England, primarily to visit Dickens. He stayed at Dickens' home for five weeks, oblivious to Dickens' increasingly blatant hints for him to leave. Dickens' daughter said of Andersen, "He was a bony bore, and stayed on and on." Shortly after Andersen left, Dickens published David Copperfield, featuring the obsequious Uriah Heep, who is said to have been modeled on Andersen. Andersen himself greatly enjoyed the visit, and never understood why Dickens stopped answering his letters.


Modern biographies often portray him as attracted to both women and men, and there is very clear evidence for both.

Andersen often fell in love with unattainable women and many of his stories are interpreted as references to his sexual grief. The most famous of these was the opera soprano Jenny Lind. One of his stories is "The Nightingale", was a written expression of his passion for 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 take her to an opera concert, Anderson gave Lind a letter of proposal. Her feelings towards him were not mutual; 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." A girl named Riborg Voigt was the unrequited love of Andersen's youth. A small pouch containing a long letter from Riborg was found on Andersen's chest when he died. 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!" 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.

Just like his interest in women, Andersen would become attracted to nonreciprocating men. For example Andersen 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 did not prefer 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 and Carl Alexander, the young hereditary duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, did not result in any relationships. Four of his letters to Carl are edited in an anthology by Rictor Norton.

In Andersen's early life, his private journal records his refusal to have sexual relations.


In the spring of 1872, Andersen fell out of bed and was severely hurt. He never quite recovered, but he lived until August 4 1875, dying painfully in a house called Rolighed (literally: calmness), near Copenhagen, the home of his close friends Moritz Melchior, a banker and his wife. Shortly before his death, he 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. At the time of his death, he was an internationally renowned and treasured artist. He received a stipend from the Danish Government as a "national treasure". Before his death, steps were already underway to erect the large statue in his honour, which was completed and is prominently placed at the town hall square in Copenhagen.


In the English-speaking world, stories such as "Thumbelina", "The Snow Queen", "The Ugly Duckling", "The Little Mermaid", "The Emperor's New Clothes", and "The Princess and the Pea" remain popular and are widely read. "The emperor's new clothes" and "ugly duckling" have both passed into the English language as well-known expressions.
Puppet Theatre of Hans Christian Andersen in Lublin (Poland) - old entrance gate

In the Copenhagen harbor there is a statue of The Little Mermaid, placed in honour of Hans Christian Andersen. 2 April, Andersen's birthday, is celebrated as International Children's Book Day.

The year 2005 was the bicentenary of Andersen's birth and his life and work was celebrated around the world. In Denmark, particularly, the nation's most famous son has been feted like no other literary figure.

In the city of Lublin, Poland is the Puppet Theatre of Hans Christian Andersen.

A $12.5 million theme park based on Andersen's tales and life opened in Shanghai at the end of 2006. Multi-media games as well as all kinds of cultural contests related to the fairytales are 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.











This web page was last updated on: 08 December, 2008