Who Was Hans Christian Andersen?
Hans Christian Andersen achieved worldwide fame for writing innovative and influential fairy tales. Many of his stories, including "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Princess and the Pea," remain classics of the genre.
Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark. Hans Andersen Sr. died in 1816, leaving his son and a wife, Anne Marie. While the Andersen family was not wealthy, young Andersen was educated in boarding schools for the privileged. The circumstances of Andersen's education have fueled speculation that he was an illegitimate member of the Danish royal family. These rumors have never been substantiated.
In 1819, Andersen traveled to Copenhagen to work as an actor. He returned to school after a short time, supported by a patron named Jonas Collin. He began writing during this period, at Collin's urging, but was discouraged from continuing by his teachers.
Andersen's work first gained recognition in 1829, with the publication of a short story entitled "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager." He followed this with the publication of a play, a book of poetry and a travelogue. The promising young author won a grant from the king, allowing him to travel across Europe and further develop his body of work. A novel based on his time in Italy, The Improvisatore, was published in 1835. The same year, Andersen began producing fairy tales.
Despite his success as a writer up to this point, Andersen did not initially attract attention for his writing for children. His next novels, O.T. and Only a Fiddler, remained critical favorites. Over the following decades, he continued to write for both children and adults, penning several autobiographies, travel narratives and poetry extolling the virtues of the Scandinavian people. Meanwhile, critics and consumers overlooked volumes including the now-classic stories The Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes.
In 1845, English translations of Andersen's folktales and stories began to gain the attention of foreign audiences. Andersen forged a friendship with acclaimed British novelist Charles Dickens, whom he visited in England in 1847 and again a decade later. His stories became English-language classics and had a strong influence on subsequent British children's authors, including A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter. Over time, Scandinavian audiences discovered Andersen's stories, as did audiences in the United States, Asia and across the globe. In 2006, an amusement park based on his work opened in Shanghai. His stories have been adapted for stage and screen, including a popular animated version of The Little Mermaid.
Andersen sustained a serious injury in 1872 after falling from bed in his Copenhagen home. His final publication, a collection of stories, appeared the same year.
Around this time, he started to show signs of liver cancer that would take his life. The Danish government began commemorating Andersen's life and work before his death. Plans got underway to erect a statue of the author, whom the government paid a "national treasure" stipend. Andersen died on August 4, 1875, in Copenhagen.
Although he fell in love many times, Andersen never married. He directed his unrequited affections at both men and women, including the famed singer Jenny Lind and Danish dancer Harald Scharff. Andersen's personal life has fueled academic analyses of possible homoerotic themes in his work.
Andersen's life and stories were displayed on the big screen in the 1952 musical Hans Christian Andersen, with Danny Kaye playing Andersen.
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