Andersen, Hans Christian


Andersen, Hans Christian
(1805-1875)
   A Danish fairy tale writer, novelist, dramatist, and poet, Andersen came from a working-class background and felt like an outsider all of his life. However, he is Scandinavia's best-known writer, and his stories are known and loved throughout the world. Andersen did not hit on the idea of writing tales until well into his career. His first significant published work was a collection of sketches entitled Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Østpynten af Amager i Aarene 1828 og 1829 (1829; A Walking Tour from Holmen's Canal to the Eastern Point of Amager in the Years 1828 and 1829), in which he described his observations while walking through Copenhagen. He also published an early poetry collection, Digte (1830; Poems), as well as Phantasier og Skizzer (1831; Fantasies and Sketches), which contains additional poems.
   Andersen's main object in the early years of his career was to become a dramatist. An example of his efforts in this vein is his play Mulatten (1840; The Mulatto), an interracial love story set on the island of Martinique. His earliest success, however, came through his novels. Written after a journey to Italy, where it is set, the novel Improvisatoren (1835; tr. TheImprovisatore, 1845) became agreat success. Andersen also received much favorable attention for his other novels, O. T. (1836; tr. 1845), Kun en Spillemand (1837; tr. Only a Fiddler, 1845), De to Baronesser (1848; tr. The Two Baronesses, 1848), At være eller ikke være (1857; tr. To Be, or Not To Be? 1857), and Lykke-Peer (1870; tr. Lucky Peer, 1871). Most of these books contain autobiographical references.
   Autobiographical elements are also present in Andersen's fairy tales, the genre which brought him his worldwide reputation. He produced a total of 156 tales that were published in 11 volumes with such titles as Eventyr, fortalte for Børn (1835; Tales Told for Children), Historier (1852; Stories), and Eventyr og Historier (1858; Tales and Stories). The tales vary greatly by content. Some are simply retellings of well-known folktales or folklore; others have a point that one would associate neither with a children's story nor with a folklore text. For example, "Skyggen" (1847; tr. "The Shadow," multiple publication dates) features a scholar who searches for the good, the true, and the beautiful, only to have his social position taken over by his shadow, who finally arranges to have the man killed. Other tales have slightly different messages for adults and children. For example, "Den grimme Ælling" (1844; tr. "The Ugly Duckling," multiple publication dates) makes a philosophical point that is probably lost on most children, namely, that memories of having been raised by ducks will color one's life even if most of it is lived among swans. Many of Andersen's tales owe their power to the presence of different layers of meaning as well as to the simple colloquial language Andersen employs.
   Andersen traveled widely and used his experiences in a number of travel narratives, most of which were translated into English during his lifetime. He published several versions of his autobiography, the final version being Mit Livs Eventyr (1855; tr. and expanded as The Story of My Life, 1871). His diaries were published in 10 volumes 1971-1977. A selection in English bears the title The Diaries of Hans Christian Andersen (1990).
   See also Children's books.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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  • Andersen, Hans Christian — born April 2, 1805, Odense, near Copenhagen, Den. died Aug. 4, 1875, Copenhagen Danish writer of fairy tales. Though reared in poverty, he received a university education. In his many collections of tales, published 1835–72, he broke with… …   Universalium

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