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Jack Zipes: "The Hans Christian Andersen We Never Knew"

Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale. - Hans Christian Andersen

John Ross Brownes (1821-75), an Irish-born globetrotter who became an American artist, portrayed the Andersen as a tall, skinny man with a pair of playful, grey eyes and a wide mouth that could be taken for the gap of a child-eating troll. But there were sunny streaks of hearty goodness around his lips.

(Wikipedia, "Hans Christian Andersen)

Jack Zipes: "The Hans Christian Andersen We Never Knew"

Many facts are not merciful, for sure.

Andersen hid many vital facts and incidents in the three autobiographies he wrote, but he was born on April 2, 1805, into a very poor family in Odense, in a squalid section of that provincial town of about 15,000 people. His father, Hans, was a shoemaker, several years younger than his wife, Anne Marie Andersdatter, a washerwoman and domestic. His parents suffered from poverty all their lives.

As a young country boy - "perhaps, one could even say, a country bumpkin" - who was poor as a church mouse, Andersen tried to take Copenhagen by storm in 1819, when he was only fourteen years old. A wealthy legal administrator, Jonas Collin, took him under his wing and sent him to a private boarding school to fine-tune him for polite society. Thus, from 1822 to 1827, Andersen was subjected to a notoriously mean and petty taskmaster named Simon Meisling, and was instructed to forget all ideas of becoming a writer or poet. Meisling often humiliated Andersen in and outside the classroom. Andersen suffered greatly from his constant persecution.

By 1827 Collin allowed Andersen to return to the city and prepare himself for admission to the University of Copenhagen. When he passed the matriculation examination in 1829, Andersen took the bold step of embarking on a career as a free-lance writer. This was at a time when it was very difficult to earn a living in such a way unless one was born into money, was supported by an aristocratic patron, or received a royal grant. One person only, Hans Christian &Oslahs;rsted, encouraged Andersen to write on. And Andersen convinced Collin that he was "destined" to become a writer.

Collin's help was significant, but it was Andersen's perseverance, audacity, and mind that enabled him to climb to fame starting in the early 1830s. Andersen concocted a story about himself that gained him admission into the upper classes. The story of the poor ugly duckling may serve to indicate Andersen's struggles and later triumphs against the odds and become a well-liked writer.

The 1830s were highly productive and successful years for Andersen's artistic career, but there were some personal set backs. In the early 1830s he proposed to one young woman and also courted the daughter of his patron. Both young women rejected his advances , and so did Jenny Lind, the famous Swedish singer, in 1843.

Andersen was never fully acceptable in upper-class society and besides he felt strong attractions toward men. "For most of his life, he was in love with Edvard Collin, the son of his patron Jonas Collin, and his diaries and papers reveal that he often used women to draw closer to men or that he favored the company of young men," writes Zipes, and,

his diaries and letters reveal just how confused and frustrated, if not tortured, Andersen was because he could not fulfill his sexual desires. hroughout his life he suffered from migraine headaches, paranoia, hypochondria, and other neuroses that might be attributed to the repression of his sex drive. Ironically, all this suffering also played a significant role in his producing some of the greatest fairy tales and stories in Western literature.

By 1840 Andersen had become famous throughout Europe, his fame resting more on his fairy tales and stories than on any of the other works he produced.

During the 1840s Andersen produced some of his best tales, including "The Ugly Duckling" (1844) and "The Nightingale" (1844). Andersen became immensely successful by the 1840s. From 1850 until his death in 1875, he tended to repeat the plots and styles of earlier tales, even though some like "Clod Hans" (1855), "What Father Does Is Always Right" (1861), were masterful works of art.

The older Andersen became, the more lonely he felt, as the Collins, who continued to assist him and manage his affairs, kept their distance.

Andersen died on August 4, 1875.

Very few people would have wagered at that time Andersen appeared in Copenhagen that he would become the most famous fairy-tale writer of the nineteenth century, even more famous than the Brothers Grimm. But at his best, Andersen was "an unusually creative and sensitive writer whose imagination enabled him to transform ordinary occurrences and appearances into extraordinary stories that open new perspectives on life," writes Zipes, Even so, there is often something chilling about Andersen's tales, he also finds, he too.

Andersen became a celebrity guest at European court, among Danish gentlemen and in wealthy Copenhagen families. (SNL, "Hans Christian Andersen")

So Andersen's fame was tainted, says Zipes, explaining that "Andersen was one of the greatest . . . narcissists of the nineteenth century," and that "Andersen was a nuisance, a pest, a demanding intruder, and a clumsy actor, whose greatest desire was to write plays and star in them." But he did become an inventive and innovative writer of fairy tales.

(Abstracted from Jack Zipes' "The Hans Christian Andersen We Never Knew" [in Hult 2007])

Folkloric motifs

Andersen used folktale motifs from German, Danish and other Scandinavian sources. About ten out of 156 Andersen tales are retold folktales. "Most of Andersen's early tales - including "The Tinderbox [Fyrtøiet]," "Little Claus and Big Claus [Lille Claus og store Claus] (1835)," "The Princess on the Pea [Prindsessen på Ærten]," and "The Traveling Companion [Reisekammeraten]" (1835) - are based on Danish folk tales that he had heard or read. He may have also used German and European tales collected by the Brothers Grimm as his sources; for instance, "The Tinderbox" and "Little Claus and Big Claus" are closely related to the Grimms' "The Blue Light" and "The Little Farmer," and other of Andersen's tales show the influence of the Grimms," writes Zipes, adding that "Andersen colored his tales based on folklore with his personal experience."

"In "The Swineherd [Svinedrengen]" (1842) he remained close to the folk perspective, which he also developed in some of his original fairy tales, such as "The Emperor's New Clothes," writes Zipes. However, "The Emperor's New Clothes [Keiserens nye Klæder]" is no original Andersen tale, but based on a tale in a Spanich collection of warning tales. The collection is named Libro de los ejemplos (or El Conde Lucanor) from 1335, by Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena. Andersen read the tale in German translation, and made some adaptations and changes for his version. (WP, "The Emperor's New Clothes")

Also, "The Shroud" by Andersen is based on the Grimm tale Das Totenhemdchen. Grimm informs that the recordings he has used are from Bayern. The first known example of this type of tale is supposedly from Syria in the 9th century. (WP, "Totenhemdchen")

Other Andersen tales that stem from folktales, are "Thumbelina [Tommelise]", "The Naughty Boy [Den uartige Dreng]", "The Wild Swans [De vilde Svaner]", "Clumsy Hans [Klods-Hans]", og "What the Old Man Does is Always Right (Hvad Fatter gjør, det er altid det Rigtige)."

Andersen "developed his own style and tone, which was characterized by the simple folk mode of storytelling," and it was "this blend of intimate, down-to-earth storytelling with folk motifs and literary themes that gave rise to some of his most significant fairy tales," writes Zipes further, and that Andersen's "narratives reveal how much he borrowed from literature and from the folklore tradition."

(A major part of this section is also from Professor Zipes's "Folk Tales (The Adaptation of Folklore)"; and the section "Original Fairy Tales") [both in Hult 2007]

On the bright side

The rewritten Andersen tales on this site are edited and sanitised. Why? The language of the novels and tales of Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) is antiquated, says Encyclopedia Britannica. Andersen's fairy tales collections broke new ground in his day anyway.

Andersen drew on both German and Scandinavian folk tale motifs for some of his fairy tales. They were published from 1835 to 1872, and are among the most translated works in all literary history. The tales were written over a long period. Some of them are optimistic, while others are deeply pessimistic and have unhappy endings.

Andersen is known to have copied whole paragraphs from other Danes, like Oehlenschlager and Ingemann. Also, his first work was in the style of the German Romantic Ernst Hoffmann. He is also known to have borrowed from the Grimms. The tale "The

There are more Danish tales on the site here: [Danish tales]


Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, Literature  

Andersen, Hans Christian. 2008. Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Urbana, IL: The Gutenberg Project.

Bloom, Harold, ed. 2005. Hans Christian Andersen.. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House.

Hersholt, Jean, tr. The Complete Andersen. Odense, DK: H.C. Andersen Centret at The Faculty of Humanities at The University of Southern Denmark (SDU). [◦Online] ⍽▢⍽ Jean Hersholt (1886-1956) was a Danish actor who made himself a career in Hollywood from 1913. He also translated Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales and stories in The Complete Andersen (six volumes, New York 1949), which is held be one of the very best English translations of Andersen.

Hersholt, Jean, tr. 2014. Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales. San Diego, CA: Canterbury Classics. ⍽▢⍽ Hersholt's translations in book form plus one more.

Hult, Marte Hvam, tr. 2007. Fairy Tales: Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics. ⍽▢⍽ Hans Christian Andersen published his first collection of fairy tales in 1835, and continued to issue subsequent volumes until 1872, three years before his death. Marte Hvam Hult's new translation is based on the first five volumes of H. C. Andersens Eventyr (1963-1967). Introduction, Commentaries on the Tales, and For Further Reading by Jack Zipes.

Stickney, J. H., ed. 1914. Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales: First Series. London: Ginn and Co.

Stickney, J. H., ed. 1915. Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales: Second Series. London: Ginn and Co.

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