Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), Danish author and poet, wrote many poems, plays, stories and travel essays, but is best known for his fairy tales of which there are over one hundred and fifty, published in numerous collections during his life and many still in print today.

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.

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.

Andersen's fairy tales of fantasy with moral lessons are popular with children and adults all over the world, and they also contain autobiographical details of the man himself. Andersen wrote 168 fairy tales between 1835 and 1872. The first few were published in Tales Told for Children when he was 30. Stories such as "The Little Mermaid," "The Princess and the Pea," "The Ugly Duckling," "The Emperor's New Clothes," "Thumbelina" and "The Snow Queen" won him worldwide fame.

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