Hans Christian Andersen: his life and his fairy tales

by Tolovaj

Hans Christian Andersen is famous author of fairy tales. Less known are similarities of his life with his fairy tales.

There is a debate about Hans Christian Andersen going on. Is he really best fairy tales author of all times or he was just in the right time in the right place? Will be his work covered with dust after century or two? Or it can stay fresh as is today or was more than hundred years ago when his fairy tales were written?

May I provide some interesting facts and a speculation or two? Here goes a top 10 list of tidbits from Andersen's life!

(Image credit Wikipedia.org, PD licence)

Top 10 facts from Hans Christian Andersen's life to amaze your friends

His life was like a fairy tale in many ways...

1. Hans Christian Andersen's father (his name was Hans too) believed he was of noble origin. Historic documents don't prove that but there was probably connection of Andersen's family with Danish royalty through some sort of business and there are still some indirect proves that one of Hans' paternal ancestors was illegitimate son of  high noble person, probably one from king's close family.

2. Hans Christian's first profession was apprentice of a tailor. He never liked school and he spent most of his childhood playing with puppets dressed in costumes he made himself. So tailoring seemed logic direction. When he was 14, he left his birthplace Odense to become an actor in Kopenhagen. He also tried to become a singer and dancer but his beautiful tenor changed after the audition and with almost 190 centimeters he was simply too tall to be a dancer.

3. He started to write on advice of some friends from theater. It have passed almost ten years since he left Odense before he accomplished first moderate success. He wrote short stories, plays and poems. In Denmark he still has a reputation as a great poet. Of course the rest of the world knows him mostly by his fairy tales...

Andersen most of his life felt like an Ugly Duckling

This story can be understood as allusion on his royal origin
Ugly Duckling by Vilhelm Pedersen
Ugly Duckling by Vilhelm Pedersen
Wikipedia.org, PD licence
Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales

4. Lacking formal education Andersen never mastered grammar rules and his first writing attempts were condemned to failure. Only few editors took time to provide him an answer. It was almost the same in all cases: don't send any more texts. But his biggest problem actually proved as his biggest advantage. Andersen's writings stayed as much close to spoken word as possible. This was good in his times because masses easily accepted his work and this is still good now, because his language still sounds honest and fresh.

5. Hans Christian Andersen was tremendous story teller in front live audience. He wasn't just telling, he incorporated all sorts of sound effects, he developed different voices for different characters and he also provided enormous amount of emotions. He wanted to be a professional actor after all!

6. Tons of emotions, ironic humor and witty dialogues are still obvious characteristics of Andersen's fairy tales. Before his works written fairy tales looked much more dull. There was action and reaction, hero and opponent, plot and resolution. With Andersen's ability to empathize characters in fairy tales suddenly looked more believable and easier to identify with.

Typical characteristics of Anderesen's fairy tales are...

Thumbelina certainly doesn't lack of emotions, colorful characters and interesting dialogues

Thumbelina by Vilhelm Pedersen
Thumbelina by Vilhelm Pedersen
Wikipedia.org, PD licence
Andersen was always differen

7. First Andersen's fairy tales were rewritings of folk tales, some of them only by distant memory (for example Princess and the Pea is probably inspired by Swedish (!) folk tale Princess Who Lay on Seven Peas). Of course his rewritings were very imaginative and original, but his first fairy tale not based on folk tales was Steadfast Tin Soldier, written after Thumbelina, Little Mermaid or Emperor's New Suit...

8. Another important characteristic of Andersen's fairy tales is ending. He wrote many fairy tales with unhappy endings. Little Match-Seller, Flying Trunk, Little Mermaid and some others don't have a happy ending but they still offer consolation through religious messages. Andersen was very religious all of his life.

Steadfast Tin Soldier was first Andersen original fairy tale

Steadfast Tin Soldier by Vilhelm Pedersen
Steadfast Tin Soldier by Vilhelm Pedersen
Source: Wikipedia.org, PD licence
Hans Christian Andersen was famous but alone

9. He wrote numerous plays, librettos, essays and travelogues, three autobiographies and 168 fairy tales. His stories are translated in about 150 languages. In his days he was famous as some sort of rock star. He was dining with kings and befriended with many contemporary celebrities as Richard Wagner, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo and Franz Liszt.

Despite that he really never felt to be accepted in high society. This can be felt in many of his fairy tales through irony, mocking and bitterness. Thumbelina, Ugly Duckling, Nightingale and others all carry a lot of his life experiences in them.

10. Hans Christian Andersen never married. He was in love several times and he was attracted to both sexes but just couldn't find a proper partner for at least some time. His most famous unfulfilled love was famous opera singer Jenny Lind who was more attracted to famous composers as Mendelssohn and Chopin.

He remained single all of his life. Andersen's health deteriorated three years before his death when he felt of bed and never fully recovered. Soon after that he got bronchitis and symptoms of liver cancer. He expected the end and helped to prepare music for his funeral. He said: "Most of people who will walk behind my coffin will be children, so keep the beat of the music with short steps."

My main resources for this article

(they are written in Slovene language)

Andersen in njegove pravljice
Short biography of H. C. Andersen and even shorter summaries of his most famous fairy tales.

Hans Christian Andersen
Biography of probably greatest fairy tales writer ever.

Andersenove pravljice
An article about Andersen's fairy tales with emphasis on autobiographical elements in his writings.

Updated: 01/14/2013, Tolovaj
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Can you add another interesting glimpse from Andersen's life?

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DerdriuMarriner on 11/24/2020

Tolovaj, Thank you for the prescient practicalities and pretty pictures.
Do you prefer the princess and the pea or the princess who lay on seven peas?
Is it known whether Andersen had Ehlers/Danlos or Marfan syndrome? He somewhat makes me think of Niccolò Paganini in his long fingered-hands and tall thinness.

Tolovaj on 09/07/2013

He stayed faithful to his unique sense of humor to the very end of his life. One theory says the reason for this was he had Asperger's Syndrome, but this is totally new story. Thanks for stopping by, jptanabe.

jptanabe on 09/06/2013

Thanks for sharing about Andersen's life. I love that he wanted his funeral music to be appropriate for the children to march to!

Tolovaj on 09/03/2013

So true, WriterArtist! I believe his evergreen charm is essentially result of integrating stories from his personal life with traditional storytelling.

WriterArtist on 09/03/2013

Hans Christian Andersen was one of the talented fairy tale author whose magic of story-telling remains. I would love to read his stories again and again, he has a typical style and charisma which reflects in his creations.

Tolovaj on 11/07/2012

I love them too. Thanks for your comment:)

whitemoss on 11/04/2012

I can't add anything, but I've always loved his stories.

Tolovaj on 08/19/2012

Thank you, Mira, for your kindness:)

Mira on 08/19/2012

Pinned to my Literature Board at Pinterest :-)

Tolovaj on 08/10/2012

Thanks, Mira, for your visit and comment. Sometimes (well, probably always) knowing the background of the story adds another perspective and in HC Andersen's case we really see his writing in new light if we know the circumstances in which he was living and writing.

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