Hans Christian Andersen Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111204740-Andersen.jpg Hans Christian Andersen Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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...

(The entire section is 760 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The son of a shoemaker, who died when he was eleven, and an illiterate servant mother, Hans Christian Andersen from his early childhood loved to invent tales, poems, and plays and to make intricate paper cuttings; he loved to recite his creations to any possible listener. Later he yearned to be a creative writer of divine inspiration and an actor. In 1819 he journeyed to Copenhagen where he lived through hard times but developed a talent for attracting benefactors. Among them was Jonas Collin, whose home became Andersen’s “Home of Homes,” as he called it, who acted as a foster father, and whose son Edvard became a close friend. Through Jonas’s influence and a grant from the king, Andersen attended grammar school (1822-1827) and struggled with a difficult headmaster as well as with Latin and Greek. Andersen never married, although he was attracted to several women, among them the singer Jenny Lind. Although he was very tall and ungainly in appearance, with large feet, a large nose, and small eyes, and although he was sentimental and exceptionally concerned with himself, his fears and doubts, Andersen enjoyed the company of Europe’s leading professionals and nobility, including kings and queens; in later life many honors were bestowed on him. His last nine years he lived at the home of the Moritz Melchiors, just outside Copenhagen, and he died there on August 4, 1875.