Monday, 23 February 2009

Hans Christian Andersen

NAME Hans Christian Andersen. "Hans Christian" is a traditional Danish name and is used as a single name. In Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia, he is usually referred to as "H. C. Andersen." However I will be calling him Hans.


BIRTH b1805 in Odense, a bleak fishing village in Funen, Denmark.

FAMILY BACKGROUND Hans was the only child of a poor young shoemaker of twenty-two, who believed he might be of aristocratic origin, and his several years older wife who worked as a washerwoman. The whole family lived and slept in one little room. The family did not have a permanent address for the first two years of Hans' life, until they moved to Munkemøllestræde in 1807, where they lived and slept together in one little room, whilst Hans' father had his shoe workshop in the living room. His father died of in a fire, when Hans was 11 and his mother remarried to a relative of hers. Hans also had a mad grandfather who dressed in green and was the butt of the village boys.

CHILDHOOD Are you sitting comfortably, then I'll begin. Hans was a possibly dyslexic, almost autistic, definitely unusual child. During his early years his grandmother told him old Danish folk tales. His favorite toy was a little homemade toy-theatre and Hans sat at home making clothes for his wooden puppets, and reading all the plays that he could borrow. He was known to memorise entire Shakespeare plays and recite them using his puppets as the characters. Hans was considered to be an ugly child and had no friends so he lived in a dream world, which was fostered by the indulgence of his parents and by his mother's superstition. He could not pass a butcher’s shop without imagining the severed sheep’s’ heads bleating and whenever it snowed he expected snowballs to burst into flames. His mother would bathe him before breakfast, lunch and tea as her grandmother had taught her before every meal to wash her Hans....Yes that was a joke, sorry!

EDUCATION Hans originally attended periodically an Odense school for poor children. There he spent most of the time imagining stories. He didn't concentrate on his lessons but had a retentive memory. 1822-28 After failing as a singer and an actor, at the age of 17 a benefactor, Jonas Collin, sponsored Hans' education and he attended a school at Slagelse. An unwilling pupil, and a slow learner, due to his dyslexia, Hans was very unhappy there, as he was the chief target of a sadistic teacher. Furthermore being older than the other pupils he felt out of place. These years, he later said, were the darkest and bitterest in his life. Eventually he moved onto a school in Elsinore and Collin arranged for him to study under a private tutor. In 1828 Hans passed his entrance exams for Copenhagen University, which entitled him to begin his studies there and he passed his philosophicum examination the following year.

CAREER RECORD After his father died in 1816 Hans was forced to go to work. He was apprenticed variously as a weaver and tailor, and worked in a cigarette factory where his co-workers had a bet that he was actually a girl and pulled his pants down to see. All in all , he was a bit of a lame duck. At the age of 14 Hans moved to Copenhagen where he experienced three years of poverty whilst he unsuccessfully tried to become a singer, actor or writer. After an accidental meeting with Jonas Collin, the director of the Royal theatre, he worked for him for some time before Collin raised money to provide him with an education. Before he started for school, Andersen published his first volume, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave (1822). After leaving university he enjoyed considerable success with his writing and thus turned into a swan.

APPEARANCE A real ugly duckling, Hans was very tall and odd looking.with excessively long loose-jointed arms, giant hands and a hideous face.

CHARACTER Sensitive, self-pitying, effeminate, and hopelessly neurotic. Andersen once listed his faults as: “vanity, childishness, restlessness, negligence, narcissism, fear of young women and a fondness for young men.”

RELATIONSHIPS Despite rumours to the contrary, the infatuations of Anderson for the Danish dancer Harlod Scharf and the young duke of Weimar probably remained on a Platonic level. Andersen's private journal records his refusal to have sexual relations with either men or women. However it appears that he did fall in love with several unattainable women, including the Swedish opera soprano Jenny Lind and the daughter of his benefactor Jonas Collin. None of these women returned his love. Today he would have been considered asexual. Andersen was happiest when surrounded by children. He loved to read his fairy tales to them.

MONEY AND FAME Andersen published his first book at the age of 17 and by the early 1830s he had gained a reputation for his plays and novels, which are now largely forgotten. From about 1840, the Danish author enjoyed the status of an instantly recognisable international literary icon, his face adorning countless periodicals and magazines. He lapped up his fame, revealing his identity to people he came across in stage coaches and on trains all over Europe and visiting the homes of European aristocrats and monarchs, where he would give readings of his works. Once he was successful, Andersen received a diamond brooch from King Christian VIII and an annuity by royal decree. But despite his wealth, he was a scrounger and a sponger and American admirers sent Andersen money appalled at the impression of poverty he continued to give through his habitual meanness.

MUSIC AND ARTS As a youngster Hans frequently visited the theatre in Odense and he had the ability to imitate and perform what he had seen whether it be a play, an acrobatic performance or ballet. Hans had a pleasant soprano voice and between the ages of 14 and 17 he earned a little money in Copenhagen singing in a boys choir until his voice broke. Throughout his childhood, Hans had a passionate love for literature. He was known to memorise entire Shakespeare plays and recite them using his wooden dolls as the characters. Hans spent his late teens in Copenhagen in near poverty. There, he attempted to dance but his legs were too long, to sing but his voice broke and to act but though a natural comic he didn't have enough talent. Though best known for his fairy tales, Andersen wrote a number of plays for the stage, none of which proved to be successful. "Where words fail, music speaks." Hans Christian Anderson

LITERATURE Though best known today for his fairy tales, Andersen wrote in a smorgasbord of different styles. He penned six novels including a romance The Improvisatore, plays, poetry and travelogues. Here is a brief summary of his major works 1822 As already mentioned in this trivial biography, before he started for school, Andersen published his first book at the age of 17. However, I have yet to inform you as to its title. It was called, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave. 1829 Andersen first found success with a short story, A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager. 1830 Andersen publishes his first volume of poems, including his widely translated Dying Child. 1835 Andersen writes his first children's book, which was the first instalment of the volume of Fairy Tales Told for Children. They were four short stories, including Thumbelina, that he wrote for a little girl Ida Thirele, the daughter of the secretary of the Academy of Art. They were deeply rooted in the Danish folk tales that his grandmother read to him, as a boy. However, the quality of these stories was not immediately recognised and they were initially greeted by bad reviews. One reviewer said, "Quite unsuitable for children ." Consequently they sold poorly.
1835 Andersen's first novel, The Improvisatore is an instant success. 1836 The second instalment of his Fairy Tales is published. 1837 The final instalment of Andersen's first volume of Fairy Tales is published, which include the tale of The Emperor's New Clothes and The Little Mermaid 1838 Andersen commences his second volume of Fairy Tales. Their fame is growing steady and they are greeted with more interest. Among the stories is his famous tale of The Ugly Duckling 1845 Andersen's commences his final volume of Fairy Tales, which include The Snow Queen and The Little Matchgirl. By now his children's stories have bought him an international reputation and over the next 150 years they will be translated into many languages. He wrote 168 fairy tales all of them written with simplicity and wisdom. Many of their moral meanings were intended for adults. The great Dane himself did not rate his fairy tales very highly. 1855 Andersen pens his autobiography, The Fairy Tale of My Life. "I'm Hans Christian Anderson My pen's like a babbling brook Permit me to show you Dear sir, my latest book Now here's a tale of a simple fool Just glance at a page or two You laugh "ha, ha" but you blush a bit For you realise while you're reading that it is also reading you." Frank Loesser from the film Hans Christian Anderson

NATURE Look out for the little hairy things with beaks and webbed feet. Duck! Andersen did much for the PR of swans, but not so much for little ducklings.

PHILOSOPHY "Every man's life is a fairy tale written by God's fingers." Hans Christian Andersen

HOMES The multi-storied Dane was brought up in a one roomed house in Odense. It still stands today. Hans left Odense at the age of 14 to make his fortune in Copenhagen where he lived in poverty for several years. Once he started attending school he stayed for a time in his schoolmaster's own home, where he was abused, in order to "build his character." Once Andersen became a successful author he resided in 20, Nyhavn, Copenhagen and between 1845 and 1864, at 67, Nyhavn, Copenhagen, where a memorial plaque is placed.

TRAVEL Andersen was a passionate traveller- he once said "To travel is to live." From 1831 he used his royal pension to travel round Europe, (Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy and England) Asia and Africa. He was especially passionate about Italy and wrote many books about his travels (see below). Andersen made his first trip to England in 1847, where he enjoyed a triumphal social success. During his visit, he met the Charles Dickens at a party and a struck up a friendship. Ten years later, Andersen returned to England, and stayed with Dickens and his family. He remained in Dickens' home for longer than expected and infuriated the English novelist's family in a number of ways including expecting the boys to shave him each morning. One of Dickens' daughters, Kate, described him as a "bony bore and he stayed on and on". When he finally left, Dickens saw him off from Ramsgate pier and on returning home stuck up over a mirror in the guest room "Hans Anderson slept in this room for five weeks which seemed to the family AGES." It is said he later based the toadying , misery character Uriah Heep in David Copperfield on the Danish author—a left-handed compliment, to say the least. Andersen published a number of long travelogues, which included: Shadow Pictures of a Journey to the Harz, Swiss Saxony, etc. etc. in the Summer of 1831 (1831), In Sweden (1851), In Spain (1863), and A Visit to Portugal in 1866 (1868). Some of his travel volumes, such as In Sweden, contained fairy-tales.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS Andersen was a psychiatrist's nightmare and he was particularly neurotic about dying. The Dane suffered from the conviction that he would be buried alive and he used to carry a piece of paper with him that he would prop by his bedside each night, in case he should pass away during the hours of darkness. It read "I only appear to be dead." Anderson was so frightened of dying in a fire that he carried a rope to escape. In addition he was obsessed by dying through drowning or being the victim of murder. And you thought Hamlet was a gloomy Dane. In the spring of 1872, Andersen fell out of bed and severely hurt himself. He was never again well.

DEATH When planning the music for his funeral, Anderson requested that, "most of the people who will walk after me will be children so make the beat keep time with short steps." He also wanted a spyhole drilled into his coffin so he could watch his own funeral service. After several years of serious illness, Andersen died peacefully on 4 August 1875 at Rolighed, the country seat of the Jewish merchant family Melchior. The Melchiors had taken care of him during the final period of his life. He is buried in the Assistens Cemetery, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA Hans Christian Anderson's works have been the source for numerous plays, ballets, films and paintings. They include: 1. Various films, such as: (a) The Daydreamer (1966) A partly animated account of Hans Christian Anderson as a 13 year old meeting the fairy tale characters he would later write about. With Paul O'Keefe as the young Hans. (b) Little Mermaid (1989) A Disney film. a delightful account of the mermaid who wanted to be a whole human. (c) Thumbilina (1994) A Don Bluth film with songs by Barry Manilow (d) Hans Christian Anderson 1952 A musical vehicle for Danny Kaye. producer Sam Goldwyn said: "I want you to be sure and see my Hans Christian Anderson. Its full of charmth and warmth." Among the songs in the film are "The Ugly Duckling," "Wonderful Copenhagen" and "Thumbelina."
2. The 1986 television musical The Little Match Girl includes the original version of Cliff Richard's UK Christmas chart-topper "Mistletoe and Wine." 3. A number of pop songs have been inspired by Anderson's fairy tales. They include Sinead O'Connor's "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "Tin Soldier" by The Small Faces. 4. A choral work, The Little Match Girl Passion , by David Lang won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Music. 5.A $12.5 million theme park based on Andersen's tales and life opened in Shanghai at the end of 2006

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. Anderson's children's stories have been translated into almost every language and phrases such as "ugly duckling" are recognised throughout the world. 170 years after he wrote them, his fairy tales continue to be published in millions of copies all over the world and inspired many other works 2. In Copenhagen there is a bronze statue of the Little Mermaid at the entrance to Copenhagen harbour. It may be best known as the muse for Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Before Anderson's death, steps were already underway to erect the large statue in his honour, which was completed and is prominently placed at the town hall square in Copenhagen There are also a number of monuments to the great Dane elsewhere, including a bronze statue of Andersen in Chicago's Lincoln Park. 3. Andersen's birthday, April 2nd, is celebrated as International Children's Book Day.

Sources : 1. Faber Book of Anecdotes

2. Mail On Sunday 22/5/05

3. Pg 455 The World Book Encyclopedia 4.

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