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Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds Artistically, socially and culturally, Andersen was a mould-breaker. In his autobiography The Fairy Tale of My Life, he described himself as a bog-plant. A plant that had its roots deeply anchored in mire and mud, but which reached up, stretching for the light and the sun. This self-image captures both the striving and the tension between poles which characterise Hans Christian Andersen’s life and which are the great strength of his art. Hans Christian Andersen the bog-plant reached up for the light in art and art in life. He was born in Odense in 1805 and grew up in extremely straitened circumstances.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds This background, these roots in the mud, he never forgot, but via art and his artistic activities he sought to rise up to the light. Socially speaking, he moved from being a poor working class lad to a world-famous artist. But he never felt himself warmed by the rays of the sun - or of fame. He never felt he had completely achieved his goal. The roots in the mire were too strong, yet at the same time it was through them that he absorbed the special nourishment that ceaselessly kept him striving up towards the light, and that characteristically filled his art with images and formulations that break with tradition.

Skip to 2 minutes and 5 seconds Imagination, poetry, love and the Christian faith were the bog-plant’s travelling companions towards the light. In most places in Andersen’s work - particularly in his fairy tales and stories - he portrays opposites and transitions. His art contains innovations of genre, just as his social life and cultural experiences contain considerable breakings of existing moulds. Hans Christian Andersen fell in love with several women during his life, but was obliged to shift his own longings for love over into his art and into the fairy tales he wrote. He not only broke existing patterns, he also transposed everyday life and experiences into art, because he was never able to find inner rest in outer reality.

Skip to 3 minutes and 6 seconds He was highly enthusiastic about modern technology and lived in an age when the forces of the steam engine and electromagnetism were being harnessed and when telegraphy brought the world together in a new way. Hans Christian Andersen travelled in a Europe that was getting ready to become modern. This Andersen registers with both delight and fear in his writing. This is also registered in the form of artistic reflections on time, place and distance. When Hans Christian Andersen said To travel is to live, he was not only referring to outer journeys but to travelling as a form of existence. He was a restless person and a searching artist who did not settle down or create one home for himself.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 seconds He had many homes, for home was the artistic universe and the journey itself, one could say. He travelled all over Europe, time and time again, something that is reflected in his novels, travel accounts, fairy tales and stories as a treasure trove of localities. Hans Christian Andersen visited counts, kings and artists, locations and landscapes, because he was full of an insatiable thirst for experiences and a restless longing for the inner balance he probably found in his art, but never wholly in his life. Hans Christian Andersen wished to be acknowledged. The bog-plant longed for and stretched up towards the light. He never managed to feel that he had gained complete recognition and fame. He rose up, became famous and admired, wealthy.

Skip to 5 minutes and 9 seconds But he never felt he had arrived at the point where he could feel independent and at peace there.

Hans Christian Andersen - The man behind the writer

From humble beginnings to acknowledgement and fame. Learn the story about the author’s background and life in this step.

Hans Christian Andersen grew up in a home and in an environment marked by poverty. He never forgot these experiences from the dark side of society and they are mirrored in many parts of his authorship for which he later became world renowned. As a young man, Hans Christian Andersen travelled from Odense to Copenhagen where he encountered many problems and challenges, but he held on to his dream of an artistic carreer. He wrote poems, novels, plays and more, but it was his short stories, the so-called fairy tales and stories, that really made him famous and acknowledged. His first collection was published in 1835 with the title Stories told for children.

Hans Christian Andersen belongs to the period in literary history called Romanticism and late Romanticism, which were important currents in European art, culture and literature. The ideals and conceptions of Romanticism are clearly present in Hans Christian Andersen’s works, but it is noteworthy that he, through his adaption of the fairy tale genre and his mode of narration, also breaks with and challenges the conceptions and genres of Romanticism.

Today, Hans Christian Andersen is known world-wide for his stories written for both children and adults and for other parts of his authorship. The main part of the 157 fairy tales he wrote has been translated into at least 150 languages. Hans Christian Andersen achieved fame and acknowledgement as an artist in both Europe and America while he was in his prime. He was a traveller who undertook long journeys in especially Europe, but he also reached North Africa and Turkey. In his native Denmark, he also travelled a lot, taking residence at manor houses and castles which were, at that time, significant cultural meeting places.

Hans Christian Andersen died at the age of 70 on the 4 August 1875 in Copenhagen where he is buried.

In this video, Professor Johannes Nørregaard Frandsen, Director of the Hans Christian Andersen Centre, portrays Hans Christian Andersen as a person in his social and historical context. The video contains a lot of information, so you might want to pause it, take some notes or replay it to extract more meaning.

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Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Hans Christian Andersen Centre