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Hans Christian Andersen, 1805 - 1875
Danish Writer, Poet and Playwright

Prolific Danish writer H.C. Andersen has inspired generations of young and adults with his popular fairy tales. A classic children's author in world literature, Andersen wrote more than one hundred and fifty fairy tales and his stories have been translated into over 100 languages

A troubled chilhood in Odense

Hans Christian Andersen's childhood was not a happy one and his troubled life in the the slums of the city of Odense would influence forever his personality and his writing. Born in a very poor family, his father was a shoemaker, her mother a washerwoman and her half-sister had to work as a prostitute. Andersen himself was often teased and humiliated by other boys because of his effeminate manners and his physical look: he had a big nose and was disproportionately tall.

Despite their poor situation, his parents encouraged him to cultivate his artistic interests. His father would take Andersen to the playhouse and her mother would tell him colourful old Danish folktales and superstitions. His humble social background, his troubled chilhood and both the literary support of his father and the Danish popular folklore received from the mother would shape the writing of Andersen.

Copenhaguen and the raise to fame

After his father death in 1816 Andersen had to go to work to help his family. He soon left home to go to Copenhaguen, at the age of 14, where he intended to make his fortune as a singer or an actor.

His first three years in the capital of Denmark were desperate and full of hardships. He was not successful at all and often did not have anything to eat. His luck was soon going to change: he befriended an influential family in Copenhaguen, the Collins, and in 1822 Andersen received a grant from Jonas Collin, director of the Royal Theatre, to attend the grammar school of Slagelse.

With further assistance from Mr. Collin, Andersen eventually completed his education at the University of Copenhagen and began to earn a name as a poet, playwright and novelist. In 1829 the Royal Theatre produced his musical drama "Phantasier og Skisser". As his reputation grew, so did his social circles. But Hans Cristian Andersen was still unlicky in love: the passion he felt for men and for women was rarely reciprocal.

The most widely travelled Danish writer of his time

Andersen's feelings for Denmark showed a relation of love and hate: he could not live without his native country, nor could he stand her pettiness and parochialism. A passionate traveller all his life, he felt well at home elsewhere in Europe and most particularly in Germany, his second home.

His travels throughout Europe gave him a broader artistic inspiration and accelerated his journey into international literary fame. By the mid-1830's he already was an exceptionally acclaimed writer in Germany, and a decade later he would become popular in England and America as well.

Less known than his fairy tales, Andersen wrote travel accounts about Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Middle East. In Paris he met Heinrich Heine and Victor Hugo; in London he befriended Charles Dickens. He also met Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt, Brahms, Henrik Ibsen and Richard Wagner. During one of his travels in Italy he met Bjørnstjerne Björnson. Italy always caused a great influence on Andersen's perception of art and life.

A respected writer and progressive intellectual, Andersen became a regular guest at European palaces and royal courts, befriending the kings of Sweden, Prussia and Bavaria. But he never forgot his humble origins and was the first Danish writer to read for the Workers' Association, an enthusiastic audience who would gather regularly in their hundreds to listen to his tales.

Hans Christian Andersen, the king of fairy tales

Besides his works as a poet and playwright, Hans Christian Andersen made his international breakthrough as a novelist in 1835 with the autobiographical "The Improvisatore", the story of a poor boy's integration into the Italian society. For many years, The Improvisatore remained the most widely read of all his works.

However, everybody associate Andersen's fame with his Tales and Stories for Children, written between 1835 and 1872. He is called "the king of fairy tales", since most of his stories are part of the world's popular culture: tales such as "The Little Mermaid", "The Nightingale", "Little Ugly Duckling", "The Emperor's New Clothes", "The Tinderbox", "Princess and the Pea" or "The Snow Queen" have been translated into more than 100 different languages and have influenced other famous authors like Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde or C.S. Lewis.

Andersen lived two different social realities, misery and celebrity, and two literary periods, Romanticism and Realism. His literary style was innovative as he was the first to use colloquial Danish in writing. He wrote about the unfortunate and the poor. As in life, some if his tales ended unhappily.

Hans Christian Andersen died in his home in Rolighed, on August 4, 1875. His funeral at the cathedral of Copenhagen gathered the whole Danish society of the time: The Workers' Association and The Students' Association formed a guard of honour at the funeral ceremony. Andersen is buried at the Assistens Kirkegård in Copenhagen.

The Hans Christian Andersen Awards

Often called the "Little Nobel Prize", the biennual Hans Christian Andersen Award is the highest prize in children’s literature given to an author and a illustrator whose works have made a lasting contribution to children's literature.

Awarded since 1956, it is presented by Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, under nomination by the BBY, the "International Board on Books for Young People".

Want to know more about Hans Christian Andersen?
- H.C. Andersen Centret, at the University of Southern Denmark

- Odense Bys Museer, Odense City Museums and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum.
- H.C. Andersen 2005, celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Hans Christian Andersen in 2005.

Complete Collection of Andersen's Fairy Tales, Videos, DVDs:

The Scandinavian Shop > Nordic Kids


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Andersen is called "the king of fairy tales". Tales such as "The Little Mermaid", "The Nightingale", "Little Ugly Duckling" or "The Tinderbox" are part of the world's popular culture and have influenced other famous authors like Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde or C.S. Lewis.
Picture by courtesy of HCA2005

«Andersen became a regular guest at European royal courts, befriending the kings of Sweden, Prussia and Bavaria. But he never forgot his origins and was the first Danish writer to read for the Workers' Association»

Andersen's travels in Europe gave him a great artistic inspiration and accelerated his journey into international literary fame. Soon after his success in Germany he became popular in England and America as well.
© Odense City Museums/ The Hans Christian Andersen Museum

Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories: The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Tinderbox, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea... They are all at The Scandinavian Shop!

Hans Christian Andersen in Video and DVD: Andersen is a cobbler who can't stop telling stories for the little kiddies. He moves to Copenhagen, falls in love with a beautiful French ballerina, and gets himself famous for his stories..

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