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Hans Christian Andersen

File:Constantin Hansen 1836 - HC Andersen.jpg

Hans Christian Andersen (April 2, 1805 – August 4, 1875) was a Danish author and poet noted for his children's stories. These include "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", "The Snow Queen", "The Little Mermaid", "Thumbelina", "The Little Match Girl", and the "The Ugly Duckling".

During his lifetime he was acclaimed for having delighted children worldwide, and was feted by royalty. His poetry and stories have been translated into more than 150 languages. They have inspired motion pictures, plays, ballets, and animated films.


Hans Christian Andersen was born in the town of Odense, Denmark, on Tuesday, April 2, 1805. "Hans" and "Christian" are traditional Danish names.

Andersen's father considered himself related to nobility. According to scholars at the Hans Christian Andersen Center, his paternal grandmother had told his father that their family had in the past belonged to a higher social class, but investigations prove these stories unfounded. The family apparently was affiliated with Danish royalty, but through employment or trade. Today, speculation persists that Andersen may have been an illegitimate son of the royal family. Whatever the reason, King Frederick VI took a personal interest in him as a youth and paid for a part of his education. According to writer Rolf Dorset, Andersen's ancestry remains indeterminate. 1816. Hans Christian was forced to support himself. He worked as a weaver's apprentice and later, for a tailor. At 14, he moved to Copenhagen to seek employment as an actor. Having an excellent soprano voice, he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre, but his voice soon changed. A colleague at the theatre told him that he considered Andersen a poet. Taking the suggestion seriously, he began to focus on writing.

Jonas Collin, who, following a chance encounter with Andersen, immediately felt a great affection for him, sent him to a grammar school in Slagelse, covering all his expenses. Andersen had already published his first story, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave in 1822. Though not a keen student, he also attended school at Elsinore, until 1827.

He later said his years in school were the darkest and bitterest of his life. At one school, he lived at his schoolmaster's home. There he was abused in order "to improve his character", he was told. He felt alienated from his classmates, being older than most of them. Considered unattractive, he suffered also from dyslexia. He later said the faculty had discouraged him from writing in general.


Early Works

In 1829, Andersen enjoyed considerable success with a short story titled "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager". He also published a comedy and a collection of poems that season. Though he made little progress writing and publishing immediately thereafter, in 1833 he received a small traveling grant from the King, enabling him to set out on the first of his many journeys through Europe. At Jura, near Le Locle, Switzerland, he wrote the story, "Agnete and the Merman". He spent an evening in the Italian seaside village of Sestri Levante the same year, inspiring the name, The Bay of Fables. (See Voyagefever.com — an annual festival celebrates it). In October, 1834, he arrived in Rome. Andersen's first novel, The Improvisatore, was published at the beginning of 1835, becoming an instant success. During these traveling years, Hans Christian Andersen lived in an apartment at number 20, Nyhavn, Copenhagen. There, a memorial plaque was unveiled on May 8, 1835, a gift by Peter Schannong.

Fairy Tales

Paper chimney sweep cut by Andersen.

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 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.


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, "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, Andersen 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 Orsted, the daughter of the physicist Hans Christian Orsted, 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."


Photograph dated 1860 of Harald Scharrf, a ballet dancer at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen, Denmark in "Napoli".

In 1857, following a visit to Charles Dickens in England, Andersen was returning to Copenhagen via Paris when he made the acquaintance of fellow Danes Harald Scharff, a handsome twenty-one-year-old ballet dancer and Scharff's twenty-eight-year-old Copenhagen housemate, the Danish actor Lauritz Eckardt. Andersen and Scharff toured Notre-Dame de Paris together. In July 1860, Andersen was in Bavaria where he was pleasantly surprised to meet Scharff and Eckardt again. The three attended the Passion Play at Oberammergau together and then spent a week in Munich. They kept constant company, and it is probable that Andersen fell in love with Scharff at this time. According to his diary, Andersen did not "feel at all well" when the two young men left Munich on 9 July 1860 for Salzburg. A liaison with a celebrated and distinguished man such as Andersen must have held some attraction for the young Scharff, and a correspondence between the two began. Andersen sent Scharff his photograph.

Following the departure of Scharff and Eckardt for Salzburg, Andersen traveled to Switzerland but grew despondent and then depressed. In November, he returned to Copenhagen and spent Christmas at Basnæs, the estate of an aristocratic patron and friend on the coast of Zealand. His spirits lifted with the festivities and "The Snowman” was composed on New Year’s Eve 1860–61. The tale was published with several others by Andersen two months later on 2 March 1861 in Copenhagen by C.A. Reitzel in New Fairy Tales and Stories. Second Series. First Collection. 1861.

During the winter following his holidays at Basnæs, Andersen determined to fully open his heart to Scharff. He sent the young dancer a photograph of himself in a languid and seductive pose with a salutation using the intimate “Du” form: "Dear Scharf, here you have again Hans Christian Andersen." The two men exchanged birthday gifts in the early months of 1861: Andersen gave Scharff a five-volume collection of his tales, and Scharff gave Andersen a reproduction of Danish sculptor Herman Bissen's Minerva. Copenhagen left Andersen restless and ill-tempered, however, and he left for Rome on 4 April 1861.

When Andersen returned to Copenhagen at the start of the new year 1862, Scharff was waiting for him. In his diary entry for 2 January 1862, Andersen noted that Scharff "bounded up to me; threw himself round my neck and kissed me!" In other entries for January 1862, he described Scharff as "deeply devoted…very intimate…ardent and loving". In February, the poet observed that Scharff was "intimate and communicative" and in March he noted "a visit from Scharff...exchanged with him all the little secrets of the heart; I long for him daily." Later in March he wrote, "Scharff very loving...I gave him my picture." Scharff gave a silver toothbrush engraved with his name and the date to Andersen on his fifty-seventh birthday. In the winter of 1861–62, the two men entered a full-blown love affair that brought Andersen "joy, some kind of sexual fulfillment and a temporary end to loneliness." He was not discreet in his conduct with Scharff, and displayed his feelings much too openly. Onlookers regarded the relationship as improper and ridiculous. In his diary for March 1862, Andersen referred to this time in his life as his "erotic period".

The affair eventually came to an end. Scharff withdrew gradually from the relationship as he focused on his friendship with Eckardt, who had married the actress Josephine Thorberg. In late August 1863, Andersen was a dinner guest at the Eckhardts and sensed Scharff was no longer interested in him as an intimate friend. On 27 August 1863, the poet noted in his diary that Scharff’s passion had cooled and the dancer (whom he at one time described as a "butterfly who flits around sympathetically") wrote in his diary:

"Dinner at the Eckhardts. Scharff's infatuation with me has now passed, "now another object has captured the hero's eye." I'm not dejected about it, as I have been previously at similar disappointments."

As the intensity of the relationship waned, Andersen felt like an old man. He speculated that he would never have another affair. In September 1863, he wrote "I cannot live in my loneliness, am weary of life." In October, he noted, "Felt old, downhill", and later in October, he visited Scharff who gave him his photograph. He wrote, "Poor young love, I can do nothing there", and on 13 November 1863, "Scharff has not visited me in eight days; with him it is over." In December, he read fairy tales at Eckhardt's house. Scharff and a dancer named Camilla Petersen were present; the two would become engaged though they would never marry. Like the other young men with whom Andersen was involved at various points in his lifetime, Scharff would move from homosexual to heterosexual relationships. The passionate relationship was over between Andersen and Scharff, but they would meet in overlapping social circles without bitterness or recriminations.


In the spring of 1872, Andersen fell out of bed and was severely hurt. He never fully recovered, but he lived until August 4, 1875, dying of insidious causes 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.


Andersen's Fairy Tales

Pictures of Sweden

Stories from Hans Andersen

The True Story of My Life