Today in Literary History – April 2, 1805 – Hans Christian Andersen is born

Hans Christian Andersen, the author of numerous fairy tales and children’s stories, was born in Denmark on April 2, 1805. His fairy tales have become part of western culture’s common currency (despite the Disneyfication of some of his stories).

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Tales such as “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Nightingale,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Ugly Duckling” and ” Thumbelina” are well known and well loved to this day.

Andersen  grew up in poverty. After his father’s death when Andersen was eleven years old he was apprenticed to a weaver and a tailor. At 14 he set out for Copenhagen with dreams of becoming an actor on the stage. He was taken under the wing of the director of the National Theatre who sent him to a boarding school where Andersen later said he was abused by the headmaster.

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Andersen wrote poetry and unsuccessful plays before discovering his talent with fairy tales. Originally he wrote imaginative versions of stories he remembers having heard as child, but as he became more confident he began to devise his own stories.

He began publishing books and serializations of his stories in the mid-1830s but it took him a decade until he found real success.

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His stories were translated into English beginning in the mid-1840s and he initially found more favour among English audiences than he did at home.

He corresponded with Charles Dickens, with whom he shared a harsh childhood, and visited him in England in 1847 and again 10 years later when he was a guest at Dickens’ home. Andersen obliviously outstayed his welcome and after five weeks Dickens had to ask him to leave and stopped corresponding with him.

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Andersen seems to have had romantic and sexual attractions to both men and women but due to his strict Christian views appears never to have consummated his desires. He died of liver cancer in 1875 at the age of 70.

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