Hans Christian Andersen - icon of fairy tales
Denmark's famous storyteller Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) called his autobiography The Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography (Min livs eventyr, 1855). In more ways than one, this is a splendid title. For almost like one of his own fairy-tale heroes he himself had emerged from the poverty, obscurity and suffering of his early life in Denmark's second largest city, Odense, to receive the personal and financial support of important Copenhagen families. And with this support, he embarked on a literary career that brought him worldwide fame and bestowed increased cultural prestige on his home country of Denmark as well.
Andersen 's father was a shoemaker who died when his son was eleven. Andersen's mother was much older than her husband, a woman of indomitable character whose will-power Hans inherited. Her daughter, Hans' half-sister, worked as a prostitute for a time, and caused her brother a deep unease. The contrast between the deprivations of his early years and family and the success and wealth he became familiar with acted as a galvanizing creative force, as in the case of Dickens himself; throughout the stories menace can be felt , security is threatened, identity is challenged and undermined.
Though the author of a number of novels, plays, poetry, travel-books, Andersen owed this fame to his fairy tales. The most well known of his novels are Agnete and the Merman (1833), The Improvisatore (1835), which became an instant success, O. T. a Danish Romance (1836) and Only a Fiddler: A Danish Romance (1837).
The first publication of Fairy tales was in 1835. And he grew up with fairy tales, his father used to read to him in the evenings the tales of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (Oxford Story Collections) and the fables of La Fountaine. And, even though his resentment of this has been exaggerated, he repeatedly insisted (rightly) that these fairy tales were not merely for children but were a contribution to adult literature as well. He pointed out that their most important quality was not the naivete, the child's vision, universally acknowledged, but humour. As much as in Dickens, who greatly admired Andersen, his humour is the inimitable indispensable dement, funny-sad, bittersweet, at once innocent and sophisticated.
In addition, Andersen is stylistically flexible and frequently also uses colloquial language, which brought something new and vernacular into Danish writing and contributed greatly to the popularity of his stories. Also, Andersen's writing style includes cross-cutting established genres. The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen, to take the best-known instances, are two of the great transfiguring imaginative literary journeys of the 19th century.
Andersen actually visited Dickens in 1847. He stayed at Dickens' home for five weeks, oblivious to Dickens' increasingly blatant hints for him to leave. Dickens' daughter said of Andersen, "He was a bony bore, and stayed on and on." Not long after Andersen left, Dickens published David Copperfield (Penguin Classics) , which features the obsequious Uriah Heep, who has been said to have been modeled on Andersen. However, Andersen himself greatly enjoyed the visit, and apparently never understood why Dickens stopped answering his letters.
Andersen had a difficult temperament, he was emotionally unfulfilled, bedazzled by the idea of greatness and by those who had known it, sexually ambiguous, both lonely and sociable. It is impossible surely not to read perhaps the finest story of all, The Little Mermaid, as a heartfelt cry of longing for an ordinary human life and love that he was from the earliest denied, for an appreciation in warm and physical terms for those excellences of character which had to have principally literary recognition.
On the other hand Andersen's nearness to both the peasantry and the urban proletariat is responsible for the two remarkable features of his oeuvre which have given him his firm position in world literature: his ability to crystallize a common human predicament in a story that is a memorable, psyche-addressing metaphor; hi s ceaseless sympathy for the unfortunate, the downtrodden, those obscure as he once felt himself to be.
Naomi Lewis writes: 'How many of us notice that it is the one great fairytale where all the main characters (eight or more of them) are girls or women, while the victim who must be saved is a boy? Did Andersen realise this himself?' As one can say about Dickens, Andersen has become part of the climate of the West. The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling - these are familiar to many millions and have become instruments of our self-definition. And regardless of how life fared with him, he kept his light humor and his ability to tell tales, even with painful little truths, without offending. And, above all, he kept his ingenuous dreaming spirit which allowed him to create new worlds, new myths and legends.
- The Angel (1843)
- The Bell (1845)
- The Emperor's New Clothes (1837)
- The Fir Tree (1844)
- The Happy Family (1847)
- It's Quite True! (1852)
- The Little Match Girl (1848)
- The Little Mermaid (1836)
- Little Tuck (1847)
- The Nightingale (1844)
- The Old House (1847)
- Ole-Lukøie (1841)
- The Princess and the Pea (1835; also known as The Real Princess)
- The Red Shoes (1845)
- The Shadow (1847)
- The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep (1845)
- The Snow Queen (1844)
- The Steadfast Tin Soldier (1838)
- The Story of a Mother (1847)
- The Swineherd (1841)
- Thumbelina (1835)
- The Tinder Box (1835)
- The Ugly Duckling (1844)
- The Wild Swans (1838)