Hans Christian Andersen 

Portrait of Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish poet, novelist and author of fairy tales and travelogues. He was born on 2nd April 1805 in Osterbro, Copenhagen, Denmark and died on 4th August 1875 aged 70.

Major Works

“Eventyr, Fortalte for Børn” (Fairy Tales, Told for Children) (1835)
“Improvisatoren”
 (The Improvisatore), “Thumbelina” (1835) 
O.T.” (OT: A Danish Romance) (1836)
“Kun en Spillemand”
 (Only a Fiddler), “The Emperor’s New Clothes”“The Little Mermaid” (1837)
“En Digters Bazar” (A Poet’s Bazaar), (1842) 
“The Snow Queen” (1844)
“I Sverrig” (Pictures of Sweden) (1851)
“I Spanien” (In Spain) (1863)

Biography Timeline

Hans Christian Andersen was born on 2nd April 1805 in Odense, Denmark to poor parents. His father was also called Hans and considered himself a member of the nobility due to family stories. He read the “Arabian Nights” to his son. His mother Anne Marie Andersdatter, was a washerwoman who could not read or write. Stories that he was an illegitimate son of King Christian the Eighth has been challenged. Although he was baptised on 15th April 1805 in St Hans Church in Odense his birth certificate was not written until 1823. 

1816: His father dies.

1818: His mother remarries and he is sent to a local school for poor children and has to support himself as an apprentice to a weaver and then a tailor.

1819: He moves to Copenhagen aged fourteen hoping to become an actor. He is at first accepted by the Royal Danish Theatre for his soprano voice but when his voice breaks the director Jonas Collin tells him to focus on his writing and sends him to a grammar school in Slagelse and even persuades King Frederick the Sixth to pay for part of his fees.

1822: He publishes his first story “The Ghost at Palnatoke’s Grave”. He moves to a school in Elsinore where he stays until 1827. He lives with the headmaster and suffers physical abuse “to improve his character” which scars him for life.

1828: He enrols at the University of Copenhagen.

1829: He self-publishes his first important literary work, “Fodrejse fra Holmens Kanal til Østpynten af Amager i aarene 1828 og 1829” (A Walk from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of the Island of Amager in the Years 1828 and 1829) in the style of the German E.T.A. Hoffman where the main character meets everything from St Peter to a talking cat. It is an immediate success and then he tries his hand at writing plays such as “Love on St. Nicholas Church Tower” and a short volume of poems.

1831: He begins traveling throughout Europe, Asia and Africa which he will keep up for most of the rest of his life.

1833: He receives a small travel grant from the Danish King.

1834: He travels through Europe ending in Rome, Italy. 

1835: He writes his first novel, called “Improvisatoren” (The Improvisor) which is based on his travels in Italy. It is well received by the critics. He publishes his first book of fairy tales “Eventyr, Fortalte for Børn (Tales, Told for Children) in three instalments until 1837 which includes “The Tinderbox”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Naughty Boy” and “Tommelise” (Thumbelina). Critics, however, dislike the informal style and immorality in the stories. He also publishes a ghost story “The Traveling Companion” written previously in 1830.

1836: He publishes his best-known novel “O.T.” (OT: A Danish Romance).

1837: He produces the first volume of “Eventyr Og Historier” and the third volume of fairy stories in April which includes “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and the “The Little Mermaid”. The latter tale establishes his international reputation and the fairy stories become more popular in the rest of the world than in Denmark. 

1838: He starts writing a second series of fairy tales.

1840: His play “Mulatten” (The Mulatto) is publishes which describes the evils of slavery but is not well received. He publishes “Billedbog uden Billeder” (A Picture-book Without Pictures) which is more popular.

1842: He publishes the travel book “En Digters Bazar” (A Poet’s Bazaar).

1843: His “New Fairy Tales” are published in November which includes “Den Grimme Aelling” (The Ugly Duckling).

1844: A second collection of “New Fairy Tales” is publishes in December which includes “Snedronningen” (The Snow Queen).

1845: He publishes “Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne” (The Little Match Girl) about a dying girl’s dreams. Although he is now feted throughout Europe Denmark still think him pretentious.

1847: In June he visits England for the first time and is a great social success and is invited to parties where intellectuals gather. He meets the novelist Charles Dickens at the Countess of Blessington’s dinner party and the two become friends.

1851: He publishes the travel book “I Sverrig” (Pictures of Sweden) which is internationally well received.

1857: He visits England again to meet Dickens. He stays at Gad’s Hill Place for five weeks irritating Dicken’s family and he is eventually asked to leave. Dickens gradually tales off his correspondence from then on and finally stops writing all together much to Andersen’s surprise.

1861: Much has been written about whether he is homosexual or bisexual although he is not successful with either sex. His infatuation with Karl Alexander the heir to the Dukedom of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was mutually turned into a short relationship. He was also infatuated with the Danish dancer Harald Scharff and they have a relationship during the winter of 1861-2. There are also references in his stories to women who were unattainable including Sophie Ørsted, the daughter of the physicist Hans Christian Orsted. He even proposes by letter to the singer Jenny Lind, known as the “Swedish Nightingale”, but she sees him only as a brother.

1863: He publishes “I Spanien” (In Spain). 

1866: He publishes “Shadow Pictures of a Journey to the Harz, Swiss Saxony, etc. etc. in the Summer of 1831”, “A Poet’s Bazaar Pictures of Travel in Germany, Italy, Greece, and the Orient”, “In Spain”, and “A Visit to Portugal in 1866”.

1868: The editor of the United States magazine “Riverside Magazine for Young People” Horace Scudder offers him $500 to write twelve new stories. Eventually he publishes sixteen, some before they appear in Denmark.

1872: He publishes “Nye Eventyr og Historier” (New Fairy Tales and Stories). At the age of 67 he falls out of bed injuring himself badly. Soon afterwards he is diagnosed with liver cancer. 

Hans Christian Andersen died on 4th August 1875 at the house of his banker friend Mortiz G Melchior near Copenhagen. He was buried in the Assistens Kirkegard in Norrebro, Copenhagen, Denmark in the Collin family plot. In 1914, the headstone was moved to Frederiksbergs Aeldre Kirkegaard where younger Collin family members were buried. A second stone has now been erected, marking his actual grave but doesn’t mention Collin and his wife.

Further Information

List of Tales by Andersen.