Hans Christian Andersen

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Hans Christian Andersen’s first publication was a poem in 1828, and his first prose work, a fantasy of a nightly journey titled Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Østpynten af Amager (1829; a journey on foot from Holman’s canal to the east point of Amager), was an immediate success. He wrote six novels, of which Improvisatoren (1835; The Improvisatore, 1845) securely established his fame. His nine travel books began with En digters bazar (1842; A Poet’s Bazaar, 1846) and mainly concern his European travels. Other works are Billebog uden billeder (1840; Tales the Moon Can Tell, 1855) and I Sverrig (1851; In Sweden, 1852). His autobiographies are Levnedsbogen, 1805-1831 (1926; Diaries of Hans Christian Andersen, 1990), discovered fifty years after his death; Mit Livs Eventyr (1847; The Story of My Life, 1852); and the revised The Fairy Tale of My Life (1855). Other publications include his correspondence, diaries, notebooks and draft material, drawings, sketches, paper cuttings, and plays.


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Although hailed as the greatest of all fairy-tale writers in any language, throughout most of his life, Hans Christian Andersen considered his fairy tales to be of far less importance than his other writings. He considered himself much more of a novelist, playwright, and writer of travel books. It was his fairy tales, however, that spread his fame across Europe and, immediately upon publication, were translated into every European language. Andersen was much more famous, courted, and honored abroad than in his native Denmark. In his later years, however, his compatriots did at last recognize Andersen’s greatness. He became a friend and guest to royalty, was made a state councillor, and had a touching tribute paid to him in the form of the statue of the Little Mermaid, which sits in the Copenhagen harbor.

Discussion Topics

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How is Hans Christian Andersen’s extreme emotional sensitivity reflected in “The Ugly Duckling”?

In a letter to his mother, Andersen wrote: “First you go through a cruel time, and then you become famous.” This process does not always work; what caused it to work with Andersen?

How did Andersen take advantage of the nickname “the Swedish nightingale” of the famous singer Jenny Lind?

What might be gained from reading more than one translation of an Andersen story?

In injecting material for people of all ages into his stories for children, was Andersen like many writers today?

What moral lessons do you see in Andersen’s tales other than the ones pointed out at the end of his stories?

Obtain and watch the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen. Determine how closely this filmed version resembles the facts of his life.


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Andersen, Jens. Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 2005. A highly readable and useful biography examining the writer’s life and literary work.

Book, Frederik. Hans Christian Andersen. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962. This biography studies Andersen’s personal and literary history. It considers how psychiatry, folklore, and the history of religion affected Andersen’s life. Andersen’s autobiographies are examined in the light of what was real and what was the fairy tale he was creating about his life. Contains illustrations of his fairy tales and photographs.

Bresdorff, Elias. Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of His Life and Work, 1805-1875. New York: Noonday Press, 1994. This book is divided in two sections: The first part is a biographical study of Andersen’s complex personality; the second is a critical study of his most famous fairy tales and stories.

Conroy, Patricia L., ed. The Diaries of Hans Christian Andersen . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990. A wide selection of excerpts from Andersen’s diaries written from as early as when he was a schoolboy and throughout the artist’s...

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life. Complete diaries from two trips to England are translated in entirety. Includes illustrations of his drawings and paper cuttings, plus a useful bibliography.

Dollerup, Cay. “Translation as a Creative Force in Literature: The Birth of the European Bourgeois Fairy-Tale.” The Modern Language Review 90 (January, 1995): 94-102. Discusses the European bourgeois fairy tale’s development as the result of translation of the stories of the brothers Grimm into Danish and the stories of Hans Christian Andersen into German because children would not be familiar with foreign languages. Argues that the Grimms and Andersen were adapted to European middle-class values.

Grobech, Bo. Hans Christian Andersen. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Grobech provides a solid introduction to Andersen’s life told in entertaining narrative style. The book includes studies of Andersen’s fairy tales, his international influence, and his influence in the twentieth century. It can be read by the general reader as well as literary specialists.

Johansen, Jorgen Dines. “The Merciless Tragedy of Desire: An Interpretation of H. C. Andersen’s Den lille Havfrue.” Scandinavian Studies 68 (Spring, 1996): 203-241. Provides a psychoanalytic interpretation of “The Little Mermaid,” focusing on the tension between earthly love and religious reparation in the story. Discusses the themes of love and salvation in an extensive analysis of love and sexuality in the tale.

Nassaar, Christopher S. “Andersen’s ‘The Shadow’ and Wilde’s ‘The Fisherman and His Soul’: A Case of Influence.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 50 (September, 1995): 217-224. Argues that Oscar Wilde’s tale is a Christian response to Andersen’s nihilistic tale. Claims that, while Andersen’s tale is about the triumph of evil, Wilde’s story is about the triumph of Christian love.

Nassaar, Christopher S. “Andersen’s ‘The Ugly Ducking’ and Wilde’s ‘The Birthday of the Infanta.’” The Explicator 55 (Winter, 1997): 83-85. Discusses the influence of Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” on Wilde’s story. Argues that, in spite of the surface differences, Wilde’s story is a direct reversal of Andersen’s.

Rossel, Sven Hakon, ed. Hans Christian Andersen: Danish Writer and Citizen of the World. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996. This scholarly collection of essays establishes Andersen as a major European writer of the nineteenth century. Special attention is given to his biography as well as his travel writing and fairy tales.

Spink, Reginald. Hans Christian Andersen and His World. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972. An excellent overview of Andersen’s life. Emphasizes how his background and childhood affected his art. Extensively illustrated with photographs, drawings, and reprints of the illustrated fairy tales in several foreign-language editions.

Toksvig, Signe. The Life of Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1934. An in-depth biography that provides valuable information in spite of its early publication date. Illustrated.

Wullschlager, Jackie. Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. A thorough biography of the writer.


Critical Essays