Hans Christian Andersen - A Concise Biography
April 2nd 1805 - August 4th 1875
Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, the son of a poor shoemaker and a washerwoman. As a young teenager, he became quite well known in Odense as a reciter of drama, and as a singer. When he was 14, he set off for the capital, Copenhagen, determined to become a national success on the stage. He failed miserably, but made some influential friends in the capital, who got him into school to remedy his lack of proper education. He hated school: aged 17, he was in a class of 12-year-olds and was constantly mocked by them and by the teachers.
In 1829 his first book - an account of a walking trip - was published. After that, books came out at regular intervals. At first, he considered his adult books more important than his fantasies. In later life, however, he began to see that these apparently trivial stories could vividly portray constant features of human life and character, in a charming manner. There were two consequences of this. First, he stopped regarding his stories as trifles written solely for children; second, he began to write more original stories, rather than retelling traditional tales.
He once said that ideas for stories 'lie in my mind like seeds and only need the kiss of a sunbeam or a drop of malice to flower'. He would often thinly disguise people he liked or disliked as characters in his stories: a woman who failed to return his love becomes the foolish prince in 'The Little Mermaid'; his own ugliness and humiliation, or his father's daydream of being descended from a rich and powerful family, are reflected in 'The Ugly Duckling'.
Hans Andersen's stories began to be translated into English as early as 1846. Since then, numerous editions, and more recently Hollywood songs and a Disney cartoon, have helped to ensure the continuing popularity of the stories in the English-speaking world.