Hans Christian Andersen Biography

From very humble beginnings, Hans Christian Andersen became one of the world's best loved story tellers. Here is his biography and titles of his best-loved tales.

The Emperor's New Clothes, Thumbelina, and The Ugly Ducking are the titles of children's stories that should ring a bell with all of us. No matter how old we are, we are probably familiar with these titles and many more from the pen of Hans Christian Andersen. His 156 different stories are the most translated fiction in history. Even now, over a century and a half after his death, his stories are being told and re-told all over the world.

Hans Christian Andersen had humble beginnings. He was born in a one-room house in Odense, Denmark on April 2, 1805. His father was a shoemaker and his mother had been a washerwoman in the houses of the rich before she married Hans' father. A strongly defined class society and a restrictive system of artisan's guilds kept Mr. Andersen senior working at the lowest financial level of his trade in the city. As a "frimester", he belonged to the lowest class of artisans, not allowed into the guilds nor to employ anyone as an assistant.

As for the facts about his family, Hans Christian wrote much about them in his "Mit Livs Eventyr", an autobiography. His life story has to be read with a grain of salt because it tends to romanticize and exaggerate in the way his fairy tales would. Researchers have dug up many inaccuracies in his life story. He completely left his half sister Anne-Marie out of it. His mother had three illegitimate children before marrying Hans senior. Anne-Marie was six years older than Hans Christian and lived with his maternal grandmother. She shows up in "The Red Shoes" and "The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf" but in the real world he chose to hide the fact that he had a sister.

His father died when Hans was only eleven years old. Young Hans was wasting his time in school, daydreaming about the theater and the stories he would imagine. His mother sent him to work in a tailor's shop and later a tobacco factory to help support the family. Unhappy with these jobs, he left home at the age of fourteen to seek his fortune in Copenhagen. He nearly starved to death trying to earn a living as an artist, actor, dancer and singer. Andersen befriended a theater director who helped him get a scholarship and return to school.

Chancellor Jonas Collin, a director of the Royal Theater, noticed Andersen when he was 17. Collin had read one of Hans' plays and saw that the young man had talent. Collin was able to obtain money from the king for Andersen's education. He sent him to a school near Copenhagen where his teacher treated him harshly and teased him about his desire to become a writer. Collin eventually took Hans out of the school and arranged private tutoring in Copenhagen.

In 1828, at age 23, Andersen entered university in Copenhagen. Andersen began to be published in Denmark in 1829. In 1833 the king gave him travel money and he spent 16 months travelling through Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. He always brought a rope along as a fire escape, because he was afraid of fire. As Andersen traveled he wrote many books about his experiences. Andersen wrote plays, novels, poems and travel books. A Poet's Bazaar (1842) and In Sweden (1851) are probably his best known travel books. He wrote one autobiography titled The Fairy Tale of My Life (1855).

He wrote three different books about his own life. Some of his plays were big hits in Denmark and Danish children still sing some of his poems set to music. He was surprised that his fairy tales were so popular at home and even abroad. Andersen published 'Fairy Tales for Children' in 1835. These four short stories were written for little Ida Thiele, the daughter of the secretary of the Academy of Art. The public, both adults and children, wanted more.

Hans Christian Andersen considered himself ugly all his life. He was tall and thin with a long nose. It was this self-view that inspired "The Ugly Duckling". Andersen proposed to several women during his life and was rejected by all of them. In spite of his lonely life he was able to create some of the most wonderful stories ever written. Andersen died on Aug.4, 1875.

Although the official count of stories is 156, and all of them have been translated, many are not familiar to the Danes and relatively few are known outside of Denmark. His best known stories were published between 1835 and 1850. Some are his own creations and others are his re-telling of previously known Danish folk tales.

The following are his best known and loved tales:

The Tinder Box, Little Claus and Big Claus, The Princess and The Pea, Little Ida's Flowers, Thumbelina, The Travelling Companion, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Wild Swans, The Garden of Eden, The Flying Trunk, The Storks, Willie Winkie, The Swineherd, The Buckwheat, The Nightingale, The Top and The Ball, The Ugly Duckling, The Fir Tree, The Snow Queen, The Darning Needle, The Elf Hill, The Red Shoes, The Shepherdess and The Chimney-Sweep, The Little Match Girl, The Shadow, The Old House, The Happy Family and The Shirt Collar.

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