Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), Danish author and poet, wrote many poems, plays, stories and travel essays, but is best known for his fairy tales of which there are over one hundred and fifty, published in numerous collections during his life and many still in print today.
His first collection of Fairy Tales, Told for Children was published in 1835. He broke new ground for Danish literature with his style and use of idiom, irony and humor, memorable characters and un-didactic moral teaching inspired by the primitive folk tales he had learned as a child. Though they do not all end happily his Fairy Tales resound with an authenticity that only unabashed sincerity can produce from a man who could still see through a child’s eyes;
“Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when – the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire.” – from “The Little Match Girl”
Andersen’s fairy tales of fantasy with moral lessons are popular with children and adults all over the world, and they also contain autobiographical details of the man himself. Born on 2 April, 1805 in Odense, on the Danish island of Funen, Denmark, he was the only son of washerwoman Anna Maria Andersdatter (d.1833) and shoemaker Hans Andersen (d.1816). They were very poor, but Hans took his son to the local playhouse and nurtured his creative side by making him his own toys. Young Hans grew to be tall and lanky, awkward and effeminate, but he loved to sing and dance, and he had a vivid imagination that would soon find its voice.
After the death of his father, Andersen traveled to Copenhagen to pursue an acting career at the Royal Theatre. Under the patronage of the
Theatre’s Jonas Collins, he attended the Copenhagen University which were formative but difficult years for him. Coming from a humble provincial background he had to adjust to bourgeois life in the capital city and competitive realm of the theatre. Collins’ daughter Louise and son Edvard were soon the objects of his affection. Andersen turned his pen to writing poems, plays and stories, his first poem “The Dying Child” published in the Copenhagen Post in 1827.
The Improvisatore (1835) received international acclaim for Andersen, published by the University, and with this encouragement he set off on his literary career. Based in Italy, it is the story of young boy’s coming of age, not unlike Andersen’s own introduction into society. Many of Andersen’s plays including Love at St. Nicholas’ Tower and The Mulatto were performed at the Royal Theatre. He had a keen interest in other cultures and traveled extensively throughout Europe during his life and wrote a number of travel books including; A Walking Tour from the Holmen Canal to the Eastern Point of the Amager (1829); Shadow Pictures (1831), the result of his travels in Germany; O. T.: Life in Denmark (1836), and Pictures of Sweden (1851).
Now that Andersen had achieved success by his pen he was not without his critics including philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, but fellow Dane Georg Brandis wrote his praises in many essays.