Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life by Jens Andersen

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Hans Christian Andersen

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In his biography of Hans Christian Andersen, Jens Andersen (no relation) deploys a style that is breezier than that found in most examples of the form. In addition, he risks a more inventive structure. For instance, an entertaining italicized vignette taken from Andersen's life prefaces each chapter to indicate that chapter's overall spirit or theme. And although loosely chronological, the author subverts this structure by moving backward and forward in Andersen's life in a way that allows him to freely introduce material as needed. This means that Andersen's childhood, for instance, is not really broached until more than halfway through the book—although at that point much valuable information is provided with regard to Andersen's family background.

Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life adds significantly to readers’ knowledge of many aspects of Andersen's life, including new information about the lower class milieu of his childhood and new insights into Andersen's sexuality, here interpreted within the discourse of sensitive male friendships prevalent in the nineteenth century. In addition, the author examines Andersen's writing beyond his classic fairy tales, as well as his religious beliefs, the meaning of his travels, his relationship with rival Danish genius Soren Kierkegaard, the connection between his childlike personality and his lifelong creativity, and his intense but platonic relationships with members of both sexes. The author also explores the way in which Andersen's life and work could exist nowhere else but within the Romantic movement of his day.

Included also are excellent photographs, including Andersen's own extraordinary art work, which Jens Andersen convincingly puts forward as an integral part of Hans Christian Andersen's creativity. Despite the somewhat unusual presentation of its material, this is a thorough and thoughtful biography, one that in many ways surpasses its predecessors.