Hans Christian Andersen: A Great Life in Brief by Rumer Godden

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Hans Christian Andersen: A Great Life in Brief Summary

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Hans Christian Andersen: A Great Life in Brief recreates and celebrates the life of a teller of tales born 150 years earlier. Although it is but one of innumerable Andersen biographies, Godden's work is distinctive, uncommonly readable, and inviting. As a writer of fiction, Godden brings her seasoned storytellers craft to the task of rendering sensitively, but not sentimentally, a rich account of Hans, the mercurial man and his matchless work. The familiar facts of Andersen's life find expression in his tales, and Godden fuses fact and fiction beautifully in this book.

Andersen, a "lonely, gentle, grotesque figure," was well acquainted with despair and happiness, heartache and joy. Failure, however, never deterred him long from his stalwart determination to write. Ultimately, late in life, he achieved near-global recognition far beyond anything he expected. Andersen has written, "Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale."

Godden's biography, nonetheless, is no fairy tale; it has the "touch of wormwood" Andersen himself thought essential to his fiction. Godden traveled to Denmark to research the book, and she brings the Danish country and culture, past and present, vividly to life for her readers. She involves readers with the people and places that shaped Hans's character, but never drowns them in detail. While Andersen's life unfolds in the pages of this book, the ideas he valued speak quietly, insistently at every turn: faith, loyalty, simple tastes, unpretentious dignity, diligence, and the satisfaction of work well done and of a reputation unquestionably well earned.


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Rumer Godden’s Hans Christian Andersen: A Great Life in Brief encompasses its subject’s life from his birth in 1805 into very lowly circumstances to his death in 1875 as a highly acclaimed writer. Godden concentrates on the first thirty years of Andersen’s life, depicting in vivid detail Andersen’s childhood in Odense, Denmark. Andersen’s father was a moody cobbler who lamented his lowly social status, and his mother was a religious, superstitious woman who, after the death of her husband in 1816, had to provide for the household by taking in washing. His parents, in spite of their poverty, were protective of the boy and allowed him a life in which he could give free rein to his remarkable imagination, which led him to believe—and announce—that he would gain fame as an artist.

At the age of fourteen, Andersen left for the capital of Copenhagen, where he stubbornly attempted to become an actor or singer at the prestigious Royal Theater. Against all odds, he was accepted as an apprentice, only later to be informed that he had no talent. During that time, he had little money and experienced much deprivation.

Typically, Andersen did not give up but resolutely wrote and submitted plays to the Royal Theater. Even though they were justly rejected, some influential people who had taken note of his promising, if untrained, poetic gifts managed to secure him a stipend. This money would enable him to gain the formal education that was necessary to succeed in nineteenth century Danish culture....

(The entire section is 754 words.)