Time Line for Hans Christian Anderson
Beloved author of fairytales also wrote poems, travel essays/ books, plays, stories all of which were published but he also wrote 3 autobiographies only one of which were published, one that provides us with a great deal of information today is the true story of my life gives us a window into his poor childhood and issues with social standing that plagued him even into his successes. It was the tragedies more than the pleasantries of his life from which he drew most of his stories, creating a fairytale version of his own life.
1805 Born in Odense Denmark to Hans Anderson a poor cobbler with a very basic education, and Anne Marie Andersdatter and uneducated washerwoman. His father used to read him from The Arabian tales of the thousand and one nights, one of the few books they possessed, which kick started his vivid imagination. He also learned Danish Folk tales in his youth from old women in the spinning room of the insane asylum where his grandmother worked. Anderson only received a poor education. He was an awkward child tall and lanky that loved writing, singing and dancing and wanted to be an actor.
1816 At age 11 Andersen’s father passes away leaving his family more destitute than before and the boy was sent off to work in the factories where he only lasted a few days
1819 Determined to join the Royal theatre in Copenhagen at the age of 14, he leaves Odense and travels to Copenhagen, there he presents himself to the director, a famous critic, and a prima ballerina and in turn is rejected and told to “go home’. Getting desperate he finds himself on the doorstep of Giuseppe, the director of the Royal Choir School. A friend of the director, C.E.F Weyse a composer happened to be dining with him that day and it was Weyse who took pity on young Andersen who promptly raised enough funds to put him up in a cheap room and to study with the choir director and others connected to the royal theatre.
He was happy to be able to study but his living conditions were rotten, it was one of the city’s most squalid neighborhoods and he often went without meals spending his money on books. As a child in Odense he used to go to the homes of the wealthy and sing to entertain which he did but also at the expense of his awkward appearance, he started this up again in Copenhagen, which paid a little yet, he still often went hungry. The mixture of generosity of and condescension he received would help him later to rewrite the little mermaid. Regardless of his efforts at the age of 17 his voice changed and his gawky psyche proved unsuited to ballet and he was informed that he would have no future on the stage.
So he focused on his writing but was once again rejected by the Royal theatre but Jonas Collin a court official realized what the others around him did, Andersen was hindered by his lack of education, and Collin decided to solve this problem arranging an educational fund paid by the King of Denmark
1822 Andersen is sent away to Grammar school in Slagelse, where he was six years older that his classmates and the headmaster taught by humiliation and bullying, he could have been straight out of a Dickens novel. He forebode him from creative writing. He endured this for four years and wrote letters to Collins whom had dismissed it as adolescent exaggeration,
1827 Andersen caused enough stir to get him back to Copenhagen, it was at that time that he defied the headmaster and wrote the poem “The Dying Child” it was a poem based on the common 19th century theme but what was striking and even haunting is that the poem is told from the point of view of the child. This outburst of Andersen’s caused him more abuse and he was finally pulled from the school and brought back to the Collins where he had private tutors. After his return he was treated somewhat as part of the family however he was not fully accepted he was never allowed to forget that he was not a member of the same class.
1829 a year after returning he wrote his first book A walking tour from the Holmen Canal to the Eastern Point of Anger This was a travel book was not picked up by any publishers so he decided to publish it himself by 29 and the book was a quick hit. It followed a young poet throughout the streets of Copenhagen over the course of a single night.
From this success he writes his first play Love at St Nicolas 'Tower which was also successful, and preformed at the Royal theatre
Though its seemed his goal of being successful for his writing was coming true, his early career was rocky ,
he received very unsympathetic reviews from the Danish press but he was also getting attention from Germany whose critics seemed to take him seriously.
He was a man who was proud of his talents and raved over his own success, his personal ambition was seen negatively by his society.
1831 he travels to Germany and publishes about his journey and starts to travel in general
1832 he wrote his first autobiography “the book of my life” to show the Collins family but is not published
1833 he is truly orphaned at the age of 27 when his mother dies, His mother who partially inspires the story of the little match girl
At the age of 29 his first novel The improvisatore is published, as well as the first volume of Eventyr fortalle for Born (fairy tales told for Children)
which included the tinder box, the princess and the pea, little claus and big claus, and little Ida's flowers
Though his earliest tales were retelling of Danish folk tales these were original tales drawing inspiration from The thousand and one nights from his childhood. It’s impossible to describe the sensation on Andersen's tales that occurred during his time. In Europe children's fiction was in its early days dominated by dull pious tales intended to teach morals. Andersen's tales were written in familiar voice, they spoke warmly and familiarly, never preached, and created earthy tales. Unlike the Grimm's that happened “once upon a time” his tales were set in Copenhagen and other contemporary settings, and he invested magic into ordinary objects and toys giving them personalities an voices.
The stories spoke to children but also had more complex layers for the adults listening in to the tales. Readers were specially affected by the way his tales gave voice to the powerless- the young, the poor, and the very old- as well as imbuing wisdom and connections to the natural world. In the emperor’s new clothes a child displays more wisdom than a king
1837 Third volume of fairy tales is publish, containing “the little Mermaid” and “the Emperor’s new clothes”
Novel only a fiddler published
1838 By the age of 33 the Spector of poverty was gone from his life forever, he was presented with an award by the King of Denmark- an annual stipend for life of 400 rigsdaler about £ 4000 today . He concentrated on his fairy tale works rather that the novels which had supported him till this point. His tales traveled across Europe making him the best know Scandinavian writer of his age. Doors opened to him and he traveled extensively.
He was introduced to Jacob Grimm but ran away mortified when Grimm has said he had never hear of his stories. Wilhelm Grimm who had read them sought him out in Copenhagen and they became friends
Anderson was also friends with Charles Dickens for a short time, and stayed over at his home in 1847 though he spoke barley any English which proved him to be a needy guest. At the time dickens’ marriage was about to collapse which Andersen did not pick up on. This led Dickens to place a sign on the guest room after he left
Hans Christian Anderson slept in this room for five weeks but
To the family it felt like ages.
Dickens sneered that in English he was the deaf and dumb this coupled with the fact that translations of his tales into English were poor since they had been translated in haste from German they were less sweet, simpler, less comic and ironic
The lack of sophistication lead him have a reputation of writing tales only for children in England. He was portrayed as naive like he is in the film by Danny Kaye, yet he himself railed against the notion that he wrote for children when they wanted to erect a statue of him surrounded by small children
“ I said loud an clear I was dissatisfied, my tales were just as much for older people as for children, who only understand the outer trappings and did not comprehend and take in the whole work until they mature- that naiveté was only part of my tales”
Anderson never married and only courted two women in his life one of them being a daughter of a school mate and the other Jenny Lind a singer
In 1843 he courts her to no success
he publishes The New Fairy tales which includes “the ugly duckling, and the Nightingale
1846 he receives the Knighthood of the Red Eagle from King Friedrich Wilhelm 4 of Prussia
1855 He publishes the third autobiography he writes ‘ The fairy tale of my life,’
1859 awarded the Maximilian order or art an since from king Maximillian the second of Bavaria
1867 Anderson returns to Odense for a visit and is met with fanfare as well as being awarded the Freedom of the city of Odense
1872 His final volume of stories is published and suffers the first symptoms of liver cancer
Anderson dies in 1875 but his tales live on well into today inspiring the art and writing of countless others including the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde.
“My life is a lovely story, happy and full of incident. If, when I was a boy, and went forth into the world poor and friendless, a good fairy had met me and said, "Choose now thy own course through life, and the object for which thou wilt strive, and then, according to the development of thy mind, and as reason requires, I will guide and defend thee to its attainment," my fate could not, even then, have been directed more happily, more prudently, or better.”
The True Story of my Life
Hans Christian Andersen
For further information on Hans Christian Anderson and Fairy tales, I suggest essays by Terri Windling