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Hans Christian Andersen: biography, fairy tales and quotes

Updated on November 21, 2014

Hans Christian Andersen, greatest master of fairy tales

Was H. C. Andersen greatest writer of fairy tales of all times or was he simply at the right time in the right place? Why is his work so appealing even now, a century and a half after first publication?

What do we really know about great master who's youth dream was to become famous, but not through writing? And what can we say about most famous fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen?

Were Little Mermaid, Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina and other masterpieces made purely of his imagination, adapted from folk motifs, or only artistic expressions of the most important elements from his own life?

(Image credit: Wikimedia.org, PD licence)

Andersen's home in Odense, source: Wikipedia.org
Andersen's home in Odense, source: Wikipedia.org

H. C. Andersen's childhood

Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2 1805 in Odense, third biggest city in Denmark. His father was a shoemaker struggling to support himself and the family, so at some point he enrolled in the army to earn at least some extra money. He didn't experience any battle but rough army life ruined his weak health and after a year he returned home and soon after died at the age of only 33 years.

Hans Christian had health issues too. He was extremely emotional and had episodes of hysterical attacks with cramps. For some time he was wrongly diagnosed as an epileptic. He cherished many of his youth phobias through all of his life.

About one year after his father's death Andersen's mother married another poor shoemaker. He also died soon and Hans Christian's mother supported her and her two children as a washing lady. Hans Christian helped to improve family budget with working for a weaver, than a tailor and for some time as worker in a tobacco factory, where other workers humiliated him. They mocked him being to girlish and on one occasion even pulled his trousers down!

Andersen's mother was very superstitious and she was the one who introduced Hans Christian to the mysterious world of folklore. Hard working helped turning her into heavy drinker. She became an alcoholic and eventually died of delirium tremens but Hans Christian Andersen left her and his six years older half sister (she was illegitimate daughter of his mother and well known womanizer) in the quest for fortune many years before. He was only 14 years old when he departed for Copenhagen to become famous.

From Odense to Copenhagen

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A markerOdense, Denmark -
Odense, Denmark
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B markerKopenhagen, Denmark -
Copenhagen, Denmark
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Andersen's quote on fame:

“I am going to be famous. First you suffer terribly, and then you are famous.”

He probably felt like an ugly duckling waiting to transform into beautiful swan

The Ugly Duckling by Vilhelm Pedersen
The Ugly Duckling by Vilhelm Pedersen

Hans Christian Andersen had poor background and wasn't of very attractive look. His biggest treasure was his imagination. Anyway he truly believed he can achieve something if only he tries hard enough. One of his most famous fairy tales The Ugly Duckling resembles his life in many points.

(Image credit: Wikipedia.org, PD licence)

Little Match Girl by Alice Havers, PD licence
Little Match Girl by Alice Havers, PD licence

Copenhagen

In Copenhagen he tried his luck at Royal Danish Theater as singer and with his astonishing tenor he was accepted but soon his voice changed because of puberty and he lost his position in the choir. Andersen's next mission was dancing.

Being about 185 centimeters (more than 6 foot) tall and wearing shoes size 46 or more he didn't have a chance. He than tried to become an actor. This was another failure. Everything he tried was connected with theater but one of his colleague told him he seems more like an author than actor, so he should focus on writing.

Andersen listened this advice and started to write. He returned to school, although being much older than other students (he was 17 and they were 11 or 12), he felt excluded again and he later remembered these years as maybe most bitter of is life.

H. C. Andersen never really mastered the grammatical rules but later this actually proved as maybe his most powerful weapon because his writing to the very end of his life stayed very similar to real life language and even today it still sounds fresh and lively.

Another interesting glimpse from his first years in Copenhagen: when he came into the city, he searched for one of his aunts, who was relatively well situated, to live under her roof for a while. Officially she was a rich widow but in reality she gained her wealth with the oldest profession in the world...

One of his most saddest fairy tales Little Match Girl is probably loaded with Andersen's bitter and lonely memories from his early years in Copenhagen.

Hans Christian Andersen: dramatist and poet

Wild Swans by Alice Havers, PD licence
Wild Swans by Alice Havers, PD licence

Hans Christian Andersen wrote several plays and all of them were rejected. Most of times he didn't get any answer from editors and others, but sometimes they wrote simply: Do not send us your texts anymore, please. He managed to publish some shorter texts at his own expense, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave being first (1822), but without any real success.

He didn't loose courage and in 1828 he published short story with rather long title: A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager. This fantasy story (also published at his expense) in then popular romantic style, followed by collection of poems, comedy and some other texts brought him enough publicity to earn him travelling stipend from king Frederick VI. He used it for a journey to Italy, first of his many European journeys which inspired several of his travelogues.

Of course he continued with other writings and his improved style, supported with more and more personal connections established his reputation of a good and interesting author who really came in demand after his first fairy tales.

His luck changed for good like in so many of his stories for kids!

He wrote:

- poems

- plays

- novels

- stories

- essays

- travelogues

- autobiographies

- fairy tales!

Tinder Box by Anne Anderson, for more just press here
Tinder Box by Anne Anderson, for more just press here | Source

Andersen's Fairy Tales

Hans Christian was thirty years old when he wrote his first fairy tale: Tinder Box, based on old Scandinavian tale and influenced with Aladdin and Magic Lamp from 1001 Nights.

His next fairy tales were also rewritings of old folk tales (Little Claus and Big Claus, The Princess and the Pea, The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina and others) but in all of them we can already notice very personal author's touch and even recognize some important characters from his private life.

His first work not based on folk or literary models was The Steadfast Tin Soldier. It is a story about toy soldier with only one leg, who falls in love with a ballerina made of paper.

After series of adventures set in environment of child's fantasy world with different toys boy throws the soldier into fire and a blow of wind throws the ballerina after him. Not exactly a happy end, but beautiful tribute to love, desire and fate.

(Image credit: Anne Anderson, Public Domain, for more of her illustrations of Andersen's Fairy Tales, press the image)

Which is your favorite fairy tale by Hans Andersen?

Pick just one!

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Charles Dickens, source: Wikipedia.org, PD liocence
Charles Dickens, source: Wikipedia.org, PD liocence

H. C. Andersen: Celebrity

After many years of struggling recognition finally came to Andersen. Critics never liked him but more and more people enjoyed his romantic and imaginative narration and after first collections of his fairy tales came money, translations, more journeys and invitations from high society.

Hans Christian wined and dined with many royalties and noble men in Europe and he also personally met many famous artists of his era. Honore de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Heinrich Heine, Victor Hugo, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner were only few of them. He enjoyed their company but feelings were not always mutual.

In 1857 he visited Charles Dickens in London for holidays. He enjoyed his supposed to be two weeks long visit so much he decided to extend it to full five weeks. When he finally left Charles Dickens wrote on the mirror in guestroom:

"Hans Christian Andersen slept here for five weeks but for our family it seemed like ages!"

Andersen's love of music can be seen from one of his quotes:

"Where words fail, music speaks."

Image of Jenny Lind on baknote
Image of Jenny Lind on baknote

Private life

Andersen and The Nightingale

Hans Christian Andersen didn't find much love in his life although he was in love several times. He wasn't even sure of his sexual orientation because for some time he was attracted to ladies and others to gentlemen.

His most known sympathy and unrequited love was by huge margin Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, famous soprano, known as Swedish Nightingale. She couldn't return him love and have told she "sees him as a brother".

Nobody knows how intimate really was her relationship with famous conductor Felix Mendelssohn, but we know she later married a pianist Otto Goldschmidt with whom she had three kids. We also know (from her letters) her 'only true love' Frederick Chopin was her unrequited love.

None of Andersen's loves never result in a relationship, but they can certainly be felt in his fairy tales. The aforementioned Jenny Lind inspired at least three of his works with Nightingale being most famous of all. The setting in China was inspired by fantasy motifs from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen where Jenny Lind had first performance in Denmark.

Similar to a a bird nightingale she wasn't attractive by first sight but astonished her audience when she started to sing. And we can easily recognize Hans Christian Andersen in kitchen helper who was the only one able to find the precious bird. But when the bird performed in front of the Chinese emperor kitchen's helper could not see that because she was not of noble origin.

This beautiful fairy tale, the story about loyalty, disappointment, love, art, nature, loneliness and ephemerality is too rich in its undertones to be labeled as only a tribute (and what a tribute!) to a famous singer but we can probably learn a lot more about Andersen's feelings and doubts than from his many biographies including three (yes, three!) autobiographies.

(Image credit: Wikipedia.org, copyright holder allows using it for any purpose)

Did you know?

Especially in his later years Andersen was very afraid of being buried alive. So every evening he put a note to his night table, where was written: "I am not dead. I just look so!"

The death of the greatest fairy tale writer

Princess and the Pea by Vilhelm Pedersen, PD licence
Princess and the Pea by Vilhelm Pedersen, PD licence

Hans Christian Andersen felt out his bed in 1872 and suffered several injuries. He never regained full health again. Soon after he got bronchitis and after that signs of liver cancer showed up.

He died in august 4, 1875, but thanks to his works he is immortal.

Annotated collection of Fairy Tales by H. C. Andersen

The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen
The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen

Talking about fair tales, Maria Tatar is one of greatest experts in the world.

This annotated edition of Andersen's Fairy Tales is perfect example of her wide knowledge on the subject.

Andersen's stories are beautiful as they are but knowing many 'behind the scene' facts and connections with historical events and other influences makes them even more interesting.

 

My resources in Slovene language

Here are two of my articles and a minisite with some of Andersen's fairy tales summaries and interesting background. All written in my native Slovene language.

What do you think about Andersen's life and fairy tales?

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    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Sorcerers Stone: Thank you very much!

    • Sorcerers Stone profile image

      Sorcerers Stone 3 years ago

      Thanks for another well organized lens. I linked your Sleeping Beauty on my Sleeping Beauty.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @rking96: He was definitely not an easy person to live with.

    • rking96 profile image

      Rick King 3 years ago from Charleston, SC

      Very interesting to read the biography of this well-known author. Well-known by name but not by his real life. Funny that other authors did not really want to spend a lot of time with him, as indicated by Dickens' quote.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Gypzeerose: Thanks, you are very generous:) Another great lens of yours, by the way!

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 4 years ago

      Another wonderful lens. Pinned, and linked to my own lens: https://hubpages.com/holidays/international-childr... - about Andersen's birthday.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @jayavi: Andersen is really special... Thank you.

    • jayavi profile image

      jayavi 4 years ago

      I love his tales since i was a kid. Enjoyed this lens lots of lovely pictures. Thanks for sharing about this great auther.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @kabbalah lm: There can only be one number one, right?

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      He is the most well known of all of the authors that I know of

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 4 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      I enjoyed this lens. I have included it and a couple more of your lenses in my lens about Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. Thank you for all your efforts to promote fairy tales as a genre and as a study in psychology. :-) Blessed by TonyB

      TonyB

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @DrBillSmithWriter: Thanks!

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      I really enjoyed this lens - thanks for sharing with us. SquidAngel Blessed! ;-)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: ;)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Its great to stop by here again, you have done a wonderful presentation on this. Really! :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @norma-holt: Thanks, I appreciate it. Have a great new year!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 4 years ago

      Lovely tribute to a great author. Blessed and have a wonderful, happy and safe holiday season and extra great 2013. Hugs

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @askformore lm: Best wishes to Denmark!

    • askformore lm profile image

      askformore lm 4 years ago

      I am Danish. My childhood was full of H.C.Andersen fairy tales.

      Your lens is great! Thumbs up!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @fuzzybear2: I have never been in Denmark, but if I go Andersen and Lego would be my priorities:)

    • fuzzybear2 profile image

      fuzzybear2 4 years ago

      reading this lens reminds me when I was child and visited Andersons home in Denmark.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Melissa Miotke: Yes, he was really special1

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 4 years ago from Arizona

      Andersen was a wonderful writer of fairy tales!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: I love all kind of stories too, so I am with you 100 percent!

    • KandH profile image

      KandH 4 years ago

      Very interesting - nicely done!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @KandH: Great to hear that!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I'm a big fan of Andersen, but I also tend to be more a lover of the old-school creepy fairytales. ;-)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @gaser983: Thanks!

    • profile image

      gaser983 5 years ago

      Awesome lens, great job!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Thank you for your visit.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wonderful tribute lens on H C Anderson... Thanks for sharing this narrative!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @sukkran trichy: He was great storyteller!

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 5 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      thanks for sharing this interesting read on hans christian andersen. i love it

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you very much:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      @TolovajWordsmith: No, we all know what his true calling was. Blessed!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Yes, for some time he was doing great as a singer, but this was not his call in life:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Wow! Great info and trivia, Never knew he used to sing.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @siobhanryan: Thank you very much. Appreciated!

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 5 years ago

      Brilliant read Angel Blessed

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @getstuffed: I still am:)

    • getstuffed profile image

      getstuffed 5 years ago

      i used to be keen on hans' tales when i was a kid

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @gypsyman27 lm: Thanks:)

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 5 years ago

      Very good lens on the author, well done. See you around the galaxy...

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @akunsquidoku: He really was about 185 cm, when average size was less than 160 cm...

      ;)

    • profile image

      akunsquidoku 5 years ago

      great man:)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Ajeet: They can really be fascinating, yes:)

    • profile image

      Ajeet 5 years ago

      @TolovajWordsmith: Based on your recommendation, I went ahead and read H C A again. I was fascinated by the kind of images used in the book.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Ajeet: He made all sorts of houses:)

    • profile image

      Ajeet 5 years ago

      Aah! The man who made the gingerbread house.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @bilafond lm: He really was self made man:)

    • bilafond lm profile image

      bilafond lm 5 years ago

      Interesting lens. A self made man. Thanks for sharing his life and works

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: I hope I provided some interesting stuff... Thanks for your kind words.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Interesting facts about one of the greatest authors in our lifetime.

    • dogface lm profile image

      dogface lm 5 years ago

      @TolovajWordsmith: I'm talking about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamse

      And whoops... x) Looks like I confused the names Andréasson and Andersen. :P

      But Bamse is still a great character! :D

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @dogface lm: No, Banse is new name to me. I have heard about Bamse, bear from Norway, not Bamse from Denmark (Andersen). Maybe it is translated to other name? Or maybe you know it by translated name?

    • dogface lm profile image

      dogface lm 5 years ago

      H. C. Andersen really is an interesting person. One of my favorite characters by him is Bamse. Have you ever heard of Bamse? :-)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Yes, he was right. But we should not forget he, despite his huge success in his lifetime, never found happiness in his private life... So we can say he could tremendously enrich our lives but couldn't help himself...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I like how you say Hans Christian Andersen's greatest treasure was his imagination and he sure did share that treasure with the whole world beyond what he could even dream, he suffered and he is very famous...he was right!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Frednun1965: Thanks, his work is really special:)

    • Frednun1965 profile image

      Fred Alb 5 years ago from Uruguay

      Very interesting biography of Hans Christian Andersen.

      As a child I really enjoyed your stories!

      Exelete work, congratulations and thanks.