Born on April 2, 1805, in the little town of Odense, Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen lived a life that followed the pattern of some of his fairy story characters. His father was a poor cobbler; his mother took in laundry to help support the family. His grandmother cherished her grandson, telling him stories and myths and handing down tales of horror, superstition, and romance—the very fabric of Danish folk culture as it had come to her.
Andersen’s cobbler father implanted in his son the desire to lift himself above his humble cottage life. The father had read beyond his station in life; he questioned religion and abhorred superstition. He made toys as well as a small theater. He also gave the child companionship and passionately enjoined him to follow his imaginative interests so that he should not be bound to a menial trade.
When Andersen was eleven his father died, and the sheltered life he had led as a well-loved child came to an end. He attended the city school for poor children. There he learned rapidly what he wanted to learn, but he was jeered at by his schoolmates because of his gentle and artistic nature. He made friends with an assortment of adults who were more perceptive of his eagerness to make a mark in the world.
In 1819 he went to Copenhagen. Fiercely determined to find recognition, he tried ballet, singing, and acting, and he all but starved. He was snubbed by theater managers, but he attracted the attention of Jonas Collin, who was to be his lifelong friend. Andersen had already written a number of poems, and in 1829 his first play, Kjrlighed paa Nicolai Taarn: Elle, Hvad siger Parterret (love on St. Nicholas Tower), was performed in the Royal Theatre. He fell in love with Riborg Voigt; she inspired poems and sketches but never became his wife.
Andersen traveled throughout...
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