Biography of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)

Hans Christian Andersen

Danish writer, born in Odense on April 2, 1805 and died in Copenhagen on August 4, 1875. On April 2, the day of his birth, is celebrated the international day of the child book.

Hans Christian Andersen was a multifaceted author, who wrote serious plays, Vaudevilles, libretti of opera, novels, poems, books of travel, several autobiographies and a huge amount of letters and diaries. However, they are their stories, including some famous such as the Little Mermaid and the ugly duckling, written especially (but not exclusively) for the children, who have turned him into one of the most well-known, translated and classics of universal literature authors.

Andersen was born in a suburb of Odense, in a very poor family. His father was a freethinking man who was devoted to various craftsmen, while his mother was one woman older than her father, illiterate and very superstitious. The child also had to live with his grandfather, who was suffering a serious mental illness, and his grandmother, also sick. For much of his childhood he/she suffered the absence of his father, who had enlisted in the war against Napoleon, and that died very shortly after returning from the same. Soon, his wife returned to marry, and as soon as he/she could put to work his small son as an apprentice in various craft trades.

"The Little Mermaid" statue. Copenhagen (Denmark).

However, the child had shown very young had strong intellectual concerns: he/she took refuge to read in a neighbouring House, and frequented many times could the school. In his teens he/she began to write poems and naively dreaming of literary glory. When he/she turned fourteen decided to leave his hometown and move to Copenhagen, born only of his ambition of becoming a famous writer, as he/she himself confessed years later in his autobiographical writings.

Upon arrival to the city, who lived in that time a period of splendor of the Danish theatrical vaudeville, the young Andersen tried to become singer and actor, but did not accompany him success. For three years he/she very barely survived, and his luck only began to change when it received support, in 1822, Jonas Collin, a Director of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, that he/she sought a regular scholarship toward their education at the school of Slagelse. Although in the five years that followed the survival of the young Andersen was secured thanks to the grant, the experience was deeply traumatic due to constant conflicts with their tutor, an unbalanced Professor called Simon Meisling. Back of Collin intervention, in 1827, allowed him to escape from school and find a job as a private tutor, at the same time he/she finished his Bachelor's degree, allowing him to be admitted to the University of Copenhagen in 1828.

That time was taken advantage of by Andersen to acquire a solid background and write many poems (mostly in the press), plays and to a volume of Ungdoms-Forsog or "Trials of youth", which published in 1822 under the ambitious pseudonym of William Christian Walter, combining his name with those of William Shakespeare and Walter Scott.

In the year of admission to the University, 1829, Andersen wrote his first important work, Fodrejse fra Holmens Kanal til Ostpynten af Amager i aarene 1828 og 1829, i.e. "A walk through the Holmen channel to this point of the island of Amager in the years 1828 and 1829". It's a kind of fantastic story (starring ghosts) in the form of prose, heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the fantastic author German poem of E. T. Hoffmann. The work was a sound success encouraged the young literary ambitions, although his following works, which went to the theater, were absolute failures, as happened with the vaudeville composed in the same year Kjaerlighed paa Nicolai Taarn (love in the Tower of San Nicolás).

In 1830 the young Andersen published a book entitled Ditge (poems), and won another scholarship which allowed him to visit Germany and Switzerland. His impressions were collected in the account of travel Skyggebilleder af at Rejse til Harzen og det sachsiske Schweitz... i Sommeren 1831, i.e., images of a journey through the Harz and the Saxon Switzerland... during the summer of 1831. 1831 is also the volume of Phantasier og Skizzer (fantasies and sketches), which go unnoticed for the public and the critics. In 1832, his book Vignetter til danske Digtere (vignettes targeting the Danish poets), and entitled Aarests OM Maanader (the twelve months of the year), a passionate and romantic song of nature, though they did not give him great fame, yes constituted milestones in the development of his career.

During all those years, it seems that Andersen was affected by several loves wretches or not matched with Louise, the daughter of his guard Collin, and with the singer Jenny Lind. A new scholarship, obtained in 1833, allowed him to travel to France and Italy, and making contact and discover Mediterranean light and vitality. The impact of that experience was extraordinary. Paris inspired le the great dramatic poem Agnete og Havmanden (Agnes and triton), which, despite its ambition, would not reap any success when it premiered in Copenhagen. And Rome became the place where conceived his first novel, Improvisatoren (the improviser, 1835), a kind of autobiography vivid and sentimental that it was very well received by the critics and the public, and which was soon translated into German, Italian and French.

During the rest of his life, Andersen continued to publish novels, such as O.t. (1836), Kun in spillemand (only a violinist, 1837), th Baronesser (the two barons, 1848), and Lykke Peer (Peer the lucky, 1870). And also plays, among which the more fortunate were Mulatten (mulatto), which dealt in 1840 with the shame of slavery; Den nye Barselstue (new room), 1850; and Mer end Perler og Guld (more than pearls and gold). Author was the also of the libretto of the opera Liden Kirsten (the little Kirsten), which put J. p. e. Hartmannmusic.

However, they were about 160 Tales from his pen, from the middle of the Decade of 1830, which would give Andersen a huge global popularity. In Italy, in 1835, was where he/she conceived and wrote the first. That same year saw the light the first volume, entitled Eventyr fortalte for born (stories for children), which contained classic titles like "The tinder box", "The great Nicolás and little Nicolás", "the Princess and the pea" and "The little Ida's flowers". In the years 1837 and 1842 different continuations of that book would light. Volume Billedbog uden Billeder (book of paintings without paintings), appeared in 1840. And between 1858 and 1872 published series of Nye eventyr og historier (new stories and fairy tales), completion of all of its short production.

Andersen tales are written for an eminently childish, although literary quality and beauty make them suitable for any kind of audience. The own Andersen pointed out that some more conformed to the pattern of the "eventyr" or fairy tales, for the role they played elements magical, supernatural and mythological; on the other hand, which he/she called "historier" had a much more realistic and descriptive of everyday realities content. Many of these stories are characterized or inspired by various characters and folklore matters, of which Andersen could hear in his childhood and youth, or from which they could see through the pioneering studies that, at that time, the first Danish folklorists were doing. Such would be the case, for example, "The Hill of Elves". Others appear to be inspired by the literary works of classical authors, as with "New dress of the Emperor". But in most of these evocations autobiographical of the hard years of children and youth of the own Andersen, and bitter and critical descriptions of the social reality of the time can be seen. Such would be the case of "The small vendor of matches". The privileged role that many of them play people or animals maladjusted and marginalized, as it was the own Andersen in its early years, may explain the strong emotional most of them charge. "The ugly duckling", for example, is said that it is a clear allegory of the process of human development and social progress of the writer. While many Andersen tales have a happy ending, are also those who do not, although all of them leave always reinforced the values of love, kindness and solidarity.

Among the reasons that have been advanced to explain the instant popularity that acquired the tales of Andersen is its innovative power. Andersen, in effect, created a new way of creating tales "author": simple, plain, colloquial, in open contrast with the tradition of earlier, more attached to very conventional moralisms and violent bombast.

His various volumes of tales became Andersen, when he/she was still a young person, in a rich man, recipient of numerous honours, and world famous. In his later years he/she was named citizen of honor of Odense, and saw how his statue was erected in Copenhagen. However, his personal life continued to be sad and unhappy, due to the failure of romantic relationships that tried to establish. To forget his loving misfortunes, he/she continued to travel actively for many years. Travel through Europe, Western Asia and North Africa followed one another from 1840. In Italy he/she returned up to four times, and left written beautiful books of travel experiences. These include titles in digters bazar (Bazaar of a poet) of 1842; I Sverrig (in Sweden) in 1851; I Spanien (in Spain) of 1863; and Et Besog i Portugal (a visit to Portugal), 1866.

His trip to Spain left deep footprints on it. He/She came into the country on 4 September, and remained in it until December 23, 1862. He/She visited cities and villages and treated anonymous farmers and celebrities such as Antonio Cánovas de Castillo, the Duke of Rivas and Juan Eugenio Hartzenbuschwrote a diary that contains data and comments that did not pass to the travel book. The success of this, from its publication in 1863, was enormous, and brought translations German English and almost immediate. A few years later, in 1866, Andersen returned to the Iberian peninsula, but recently suppressed rebellion of general Prim, and social and political convulsions that were still felt in the country, was forced to cross Spain without stopping it, passage to Portugal.

Hans Christian Andersen was the author, moreover, of a correspondence of the Lode, which has been published, in a partial manner, in a dozen volumes. His diaries are also an extraordinary extension. Although many of his novels, stories and travel relationships contain elements clearly autobiographical, he/she also was author, before reaching maturity, of the book of memoirs Levnedsbogen (the book of my life).

In April 2005, on the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth, multiplied the tributes to his figure, especially in his native Copenhagen, where brought together celebrities from the world of literature, cinema and theatre. Among others, participated in the celebrations the Queen Margaret of Denmark, the actor Roger Moore, the writer Günter Grass, Princess Victoria of Sweden or musicians Tina Turner and Jean Michael Jarre.


ERLACHER, C., Grimm und Andersen. Eine Studie über Marchendichtung. Langensalza, 1929.

BERENDSOHN, w., Phantasy und Wirklichkeit in den Märchen und Geschichten Hans Christian Andersen: Struktur und Stilstudien. Wiesbaden, 1973.

BREDSDORFF, e., Hans Christian Andersen: the Story of His Life and Work. London, 1975.