Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Hans Christian Andersen
Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, on April 2 1805. He was the son of a sickly young shoemaker of twenty-two, who believed he might be of aristocratic origin, and his several years older wife who worked as a laundress. The whole family lived and slept in one little room.
Hans Christian showed imagination early, which was fostered by the indulgence of his parents and by his mother's superstition. He built himself a little toy-theatre and sat at home making clothes for his puppets, and reading all the plays that he could borrow; among them were those of Ludvig Holberg and William Shakespeare. Andersen, throughout his childhood, had a passionate love for literature. He was known to memorize entire Shakespeare plays and recite them using his wooden dolls as the characters.
In 1816, the shoemaker died and the child was forced to go to work. He apprenticed variously as a weaver and tailor, and worked in a cigarette factory where co-workers had a bet that he was actually a girl and pulled his pants down to see. At age 14, Andersen moved to Copenhagen to look for work in show business. He had a pleasant soprano voice and succeeded in getting into the Royal Danish Theatre but had to leave when his voice changed. A co-worker at the theatre referred to him as a poet, and he took it very seriously and began to focus on writing.
King Frederick VI became interested in the strange boy after a chance meeting and sent him for some years, free of charge, to the grammar-school at Slagelse. Before he started for school, Andersen published his first volume, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave (1822). Andersen, a very backward and unwilling pupil, actually remained at Slagelse and at another school in Elsinore until 1827. These years, he says, were the darkest and bitterest in his life. He lived in the home of the schoolmaster, who abused him to "harden his character". He felt out of place among the other students, who were mostly much younger than he.
Some hold that his works express the sorrow of being different. One of the most telling stories in that respect is the tale of the Little Mermaid, who takes her own life since she cannot be loved by her beautiful prince. It is thought to exemplify his love for the young Edward Collin, 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 Memoirs: 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 Harlod Scharf and the young duke of Weimar probably remained on a Platonic level. Andersen's private journal records his refusal to have sexual relations with either men or women and his release through masturbation. Today he would have been considered asexual.
In the spring of 1872, Andersen fell out of bed and severely hurt himself. He was never again quite well, but he lived until the August 4 1875, when he died very peacefully in the house called Rolighed, near Copenhagen. He is buried in the Assistens Cemetery , in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Life as an author
In 1829, Andersen had considerable success with a fantastic volume entitled A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager , and he published in the same season a farce and a book of poems. Thus, he suddenly came into request at the moment when his friends had decided that no good thing would ever come out of his early eccentricity and vivacity. He made little further progress, however, until 1833, when he received a small travelling stipend from the King, and made 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.
Early in 1835, Andersen's first novel, The Improvisatore , appeared, and achieved real success. The poet's troubles were at an end at last. In the same year, Andersen published the earliest installment of his immortal Fairy Tales (Danish: Eventyr). Other parts, completing the first volume, appeared in 1836 and 1837. The value of these stories was not at first perceived, and they sold slowly. Andersen was more successful for the time being with other 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). In his travelogues Andersen took heed of some of the contemporary conventions about travel writing, but he also always developed the genre to suit his own purposes: Each of his travelogues combines documentary, descriptive accounts of what he saw while abroad with more philosophical excurses on topics such as authorship, 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 turned his attention, with but ephemeral success, to the theatre, but was recalled to his true genius in the charming miscellany of 1840, the Picture-Book without Pictures . The fame of his Fairy Tales had been steadily rising; a second series began in 1838; a third in 1845.
Andersen was now celebrated throughout Europe, although in his native Denmark there was still some resistance to his pretensions. In June 1847, he paid his first visit to England and enjoyed a triumphal social success. When he left, Charles 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 left-handed compliment, to say the least).
Andersen continued to publish much, as he still desired to excel as a novelist and a dramatist, which he could not do. He disdained the enchanting Fairy Tales, in the composition of which his unique genius lay. Nevertheless, he continued to write them, and in 1847 and 1848 two fresh volumes appeared. After a long silence, Andersen published another novel in 1857, To be or not to be . His Fairy Tales continued to appear, in installments, until 1872, when, at Christmas, the last stories were published.
In the English-speaking world, the stories of The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor's New Clothes, and The Princess and the Pea, are cultural universals; everyone knows them, though few could tell you their author. They have become part of the common heritage, and, like the tales of Charles Perrault, are not distinguished from actual folk-tales such as those of the Brothers Grimm. Andersen himself was highly inspired by Arabian Nights. A few of his stories such as "Wild Swans" and The Rose-Elf are retellings of older folktales.
Andersen is often thought of as a children's writer. However, he did not like to be stereotyped. The overall character of Andersen's stories is dark, even cruel, and redemption often comes at a high price.
- The Danish Broadcasting Corp. (DR)has a comprehensive website in celebration of the bicentenary of Hans Christian Andersen's birth. In Danish and in English. Hear fairytales online, read essays and articles about Hans Christian Andersen and delve into the writer's life and times. The celebration took place in Parken, Denmark's National Stadium situated in Copenhagen, on April 2 2005.
- Official web site for the Hans Christian Andersen 2005 Bicentenary Festival.
- Orders and Medals Society of Denmark web-site with decriptions of Hans Christian Andersen's Medals.
- And the cobbler's son became a princely author Details of Andersen's life and the celebrations.
- Hans Christian Andersen: Fairytales and Stories Text of most of Andersen's fairy tales, with an extensive introduction and art based on Andersen's papercuts.
His best-known fairy tales include:
- The Angel 
- The Bell 
- The Emperor's New Clothes 
- The Emperor's Nightingale 
- The Fir Tree 
- The Little Match Girl 
- The Little Mermaid 
- The Real Princess 
- Red Shoes 
- The Snow Queen 
- The Steadfast Tin Soldier 
- The Swineherd 
- Thumbelina 
- The Ugly Duckling 
- The Old House 
- The Happy Family 
- The Story of a Mother 
- The Shadow 
- The Dream of Little Tuk 
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 "H. C. Andersen". It is an accepted convention in Denmark to use only the initials instead of the full name of some persons, just as strong as the American "middle initial" tradition.
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