Hans Christian Andersen
Best known for his children’s stories such as The Little Mermaid and Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, in a one-bedroom house in one of the poorest quarters of Odense in Denmark, the only child to Hans Andersen and Anne Marie Anders. His father died when he was only eleven years old, and at the young age of 14, he decided to move to Copenhagen and seek his fortune. He lived his first three years there in extreme poverty until he met, at the age of seventeen, Jonas Collin, the director of the Royal Danish Theatre who managed to raise some funding and pay for Andersen’s education first at the grammar school of Slagelse and then at the grammar school of Helsingør. Andersen did not excel as a student. Alienated by his fellow students, he was continuously mocked by his teachers for his ambition to become a writer. In 1828, he passed the required exams and was admitted into the prestigious University of Copenhagen.
Andersen’s work first gained recognition in 1829, with the publication of a short story entitled A Journey on Foot from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager, followed by the publication of a play, a book of poetry and a travelogue. He managed to win a grant from the king, allowing him to travel for the next 16 months through Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. A novel based on his time in Italy, The Improvisatore, was published in 1835, which was an instant success.
The same year, he began writing fairy tales. Andersen’s first book of tales, Eventyr, fortalte for børn (Tales, Told for Children), included stories such as The Tinderbox, Little Claus and Big Claus, The Princess and the Pea, and Little Ida’s Flowers. Hans Christian Andersen would go on to publish over 160 fairy tales. It is curious that a man who never married or had any children of his own managed to write such an immensely successful and diverse set of fairy tales. Although some of his tales show an optimistic belief in the ultimate triumph of goodness and beauty (The Snow Queen), others are deeply pessimistic and end unhappily (The Little Match Girl). In 1845, English translations of Andersen’s fairy tales began to gain international attention; however, in these translations, many passages of brutality, misery and even death were intentionally omitted.
In the spring of 1872, Andersen fell out of his bed and was severely hurt; he never fully recovered and soon afterwards, he started to show signs of liver cancer. He died on August 4, 1875, in Copenhagen.