Who is Hans Christian Andersen?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
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Hans Christian Andersen was the Danish author of many of the world's most beloved fairy tales, including "The Princess and the Pea," "The Emperor's New Clothes," and "The Little Mermaid." Andersen also wrote novels, plays, travelogues, and poetry, although they are not as well known. While some of Andersen's Fairy Tales are based on actual folktales, many are his own creations. Andersen's birthday, 2 April, has become the International Children's Book Day in honor of his contribution to the genre.

Hans Christian Andersen was born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark. He was a very creative child who developed a love for literature at a young age. He was especially interested in theatre, and the work of Shakespeare above all, and he constructed an elaborate toy theatre and puppets with which he staged his favorite plays.

When Hans Christian Anderson was 11 years old, his father died and he was obliged to earn his keep. He worked as an apprentice for a weaver, then for a tailor, and later took a job in a cigarette factory where his coworkers constantly harassed him. In 1819, Andersen moved to Copenhagen hoping to secure work as an actor.


In Copenhagen, Andersen was admitted to the Royal Danish Theatre, however was dismissed when his voice broke. Following the advice of a fellow actor, Andersen began to devote himself to literature. His first story, The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave was published in 1822.

The king of Denmark, Frederick VI, met Andersen around this time and decided to pay for his schooling. Andersen attended grammar school in Slagelse and Elsinore for about five years, but his dyslexia made the experience difficult and traumatic. For a time, he lived with his schoolmaster, who physically abused him. In addition, Andersen was older than most of his classmates and had difficulty fitting in. This experience may have influenced his story "The Ugly Duckling," in which a baby swan living among ducklings is ostracized for its ugliness, only to grow up to be much more beautiful than any of the ducks who teased it.

Andersen began to gain fame as a writer in 1829 with his story, "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager." In 1833, he received a grant from King Frederick VI to travel and began to tour Europe, arriving in Rome in 1834. The next year, Andersen published his first novel, The Improvisatore, as well as his first volume of Fairy Tales. He published two additional volumes of Fairy Tales in the following two years, but they were not popular at first. However, his novels and travelogues were widely acclaimed.

Andersen wrote a few theatrical works in the 1840s, but with little success. It was at this time, that his Fairy Tales began to take off, and he continued to produce additional collections of the stories until shortly before his death. His last novel, To Be or Not to Be was published in 1857 after a 20-year hiatus from the genre.

In 1872, Andersen injured himself falling from his bed, and his health never recovered. He died peacefully on 4 August 1875. Andersen's work, like the folktales that inspired him, often has dark and emotionally poignant overtones and can be enjoyed by adults as well as children. His fairy tales have been the subject of innumerable books, plays, movies, and cartoons and have inspired many other writers.


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