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Andersen, Hans Christian

Category: Writer

Hans Christian Andersen (2 April 1805 – 4 August 1875) was a Danish author, best remembered for his fairy tales of which no fewer than 3,381 works have been translated into more than 125 languages.   His stories have inspired ballets, plays, and animated and live-action films.  He was also a prolific writer of plays, travelogues, novels, and poems. 

Although readily accessible to children, they have an almost universal appeal for mature readers as well. 

The Athenæum (February 1846) reviewing Wonderful Stories

This is a book full of life and fancy; a book for grandfathers no less than grandchildren, not a word of which will be skipped by those who have it once in hand.

Much of Anderson’s work was influenced by his Christian faith, which was essentially Protestant and thus emphasised ‘virtue’ and ‘sin’.

The biography by Wikipedia provides considerable detail, which we don’t intend to reproduce, as the principle reason he is on the site is that he was able to sense the death of his friend Olaf Linden via Olaf Linden’s dog ‘Love’, - a most unusual case of telepathy – by both the dog and Anderson.

Andersen's early life

Anderson’s fairy tales are based a great deal on his own experiences, they are both biographical and escapist.  Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark on 2 April 1805. He was an only child.    Andersen's father, who had received an elementary school education, introduced Andersen to literature, Andersen's mother was illiterate.   

Anderson’s father died in 1816, when Hans was just 11 and his mother remarried not long after.  Hans was sent to a local school for poor children where he received a basic education and had to support himself.  He later said his years in school were the darkest and most bitter of his life. At one school, he lived at his schoolmaster's home, where he was abused, being told that it was "to improve his character".

It is clear from Andersen's private journal records that his childhood had a profound effect upon him.  He appears to have been suffering from PTSD for most of his life.  He refused to have sexual relations and often fell in love with unattainable women and men. 

His unrequited female loves included Riborg Voigt, Sophie 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".  This early abuse, loneliness, trauma and neglect, appears to have completely confused him.  Andersen certainly experienced same-sex love as well as heterosexual love: he wrote to Edvard Collin: "... my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery."  He developed infatuations for a whole series of unattainable men - Danish dancer Harald Scharf, Carl Alexander, and the young hereditary duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach.

Anne Klara Bom and Anya Aarenstrup from the H. C. Andersen Centre of University of Southern Denmark,

….. 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, …. Andersen … most likely remaining celibate his whole life.

There is safety in unattainability and one can make use of ‘love with visualisation’ as one’s means of gaining inspiration.  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! … My blood wants love, as my heart does!"

In ‘Andersen as a Novelist’, 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. Proceeding by semitones, and therefore including sharps as well as flats, such a scale is associated more with lament or elegy than is an ordinary diatonic scale] of almost echoless, dying tones just as easily roused as subdued, who, in order to become a personality, needs a strong life-development.”

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, was about a candle that was very close to being extinguished. It was written while Andersen was still at school.

His folk tales

Many of Anderson’s folk tales deliberately relate lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity.  They were essentially an escape into another realm. In 1835, Andersen published the first two instalments of his Fairy Tales and more stories, the second was published in 1837. The collection comprises nine tales, including

  •   "The Tinderbox",
  •  "The Princess and the Pea",
  •   "Thumbelina",
  •  "The Little Mermaid" and
  •  "The Emperor's New Clothes".

At the same time, Andersen enjoyed more success with two novels, O.T. (1836) and Only a Fiddler (1837).   In 1838 he published another collection, Fairy Tales Told for Children, with

  •  "The Daisy",
  •  "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", and
  •  "The Wild Swans".

He went on to publish "New Fairy Tales volumes 1 and 2 in 1844, which contained

  •  "The Nightingale"
  •  "The Ugly Duckling" and
  •  "The Snow Queen"
  •  "The Little Match Girl"

Andersen would continue to write fairy tales and published them in instalments until 1872.


Another very key influence upon Anderson’s life were his travels abroad.  When he was young all he could afford or attempt were local journeys, nevertheless his accounts were well received.  In 1829, aged 24, for example, Andersen enjoyed considerable success with the short story "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager".  He couldn’t resist making the travelogue into a story and its protagonist meets characters ranging from Saint Peter to a talking cat.

The major change came when, in 1833, he received a small travel grant from the king, thus enabling him to travel through Europe. At Jura, near Le Locle, Switzerland, Andersen wrote the story "Agnete and the Merman". He spent an evening in the Italian seaside village of Sestri Levante the same year, inspiring the title of "The Bay of Fables". In October 1834, he arrived in Rome. Andersen's travels in Italy were to be reflected in his first novel, a fictionalized autobiography titled The Improvisatore (Improvisatoren), published in 1835 to instant acclaim.

As he became bolder and obtained more money, he travelled more widely.  In 1851, he published to wide acclaim In Sweden, and Shadow Pictures of a Journey to the Harz, Swiss Saxony, etc. etc. was published in the Summer of 1831, A Poet's Bazaar, In Spain and A Visit to Portugal were published in 1866.

Each of his travelogues combined documentary and descriptive accounts of the sights he saw with more philosophical passages 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.

Final life and death

There is no doubt that Anderson’s views on life were bleak.  He never married, on the other hand he was surrounded by kindness. 

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, where a colleague at the theatre, told him that he considered Andersen a poet.  Boosted by this help, Anderson took the suggestion seriously, and in this way began his writing career. 

Jonas Collin, director of the Royal Danish Theatre, held great affection for Andersen and helped him with his education. 

In the spring of 1872, 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 Melchior and his wife [see right].  And this is where he died, surrounded and supported by his friends.


Hans Christian Anderson’s works can be found free at  Project Gutenberg;  works by or about Hans Christian Andersen found at Internet Archive; at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks); and at Open Library.

There is also a Hans Christian Andersen Centre – which contains many Andersen's stories in Danish and English.  The Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense has a large digital collection of Hans Christian Andersen papercuts, drawings and portraits.



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