Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, in a small town of Odense, Copenhagen. He was the son of a poor shoemaker Hans Andersen and a mother, Anne Marie Andersdatter who had to work as a laundress after her husband's death. He struggled with literary affirmation.
Early life and education
When he was 11, his father died and he was practically left alone. He only went to school at intervals and spent most of his time reading stories, not the lessons he learned in school. He remembered and recited plays to anyone who would listen to and imitate ballet dancers, acrobats, or pantomimists. To put an end to this and to gain knowledge as a craftsman, his mother first took him to a weaver, then to a tobacconist, and finally to a tailor. Hans Christian knew these occupations were not for him. The only things he was interested in were theater, books, and stories.
At the age of fourteen, Andersen, without regular schooling and nowhere else to go, went to Copenhagen to attend theater school, but he was soon expelled as he was completely untalented.
Three bitter years of poverty followed. Hans Christian made very little money singing in the boys' choir at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen until his voice changed. He tried to act and join ballet, but his clumsiness prevented him from advancing in this career. He tried to work with his hands, but he couldn't do it either. All he could do was go home and admit defeat.
With the help of his patron, the director of the Royal Theater, Jonas Collin (for whom he worked while in school), Andersen manages to complete his schooling and studies at the university. Initially, he wrote prose and poetry, and later began his famous travels, first around the country and then abroad, in almost all European countries, especially in Italy, France, and Germany. He also traveled throughout Asia and Africa, constantly writing something new.
His first successful work was the 1829 travelogue A Walk from the Holmen Canal to the East Point of the Island of Amager. However, he became famous only with the novel "Improvisator" from 1835, which he wrote after a trip to Italy, depicting in it the struggle of a young writer for affirmation. Rich descriptions of Italian folk life aroused the admiration of the audience and the novel was immediately translated into several foreign languages.
When his famous fairy tales appeared, the audience and critics paid very little attention to them, although they were the best that Andersen wrote and why he became one of the most popular names in world literature. The general attitude of literary critics was that his romantic novels and dramatic works have neither greater expressiveness nor greater value.
Andersen's stories or fairy tales were initially vivid and endearing retellings of what he heard as a child, and later he created them himself. In them, the fantastic, the legendary, and the mythical merge with the immediate, real world. On the one hand, they are artistically conceived fiction influenced by Hoffman, and on the other, the irresistible naivety and freshness of folk art. All these moments, even humorous language, manage to break through the translations, through which his stories spread faster and faster, supported by illustrations by the best masters of the time.
Although the motifs and themes of Andersen's fairy tales came from a common circle of folklore literature (e.g. various forms of superstition, stories of fairies, dwarves, beggars, kings, princesses, and animals), not only their expression but also their inner development is an original creation.
The main disadvantage of this effective prose, when judged most severely, is the occasional exaggerated tearfulness and sentimentality. But Andersen knew how to redeem himself for that with a slight irony. He described his many tireless travels in travelogues which, just like his autobiography The Fairy Tale of My Life (Mit Livs Eventyr), are a constant story of his own life: a struggle for literature and fame, but with a sense of humor and to himself. Almost two hundred of his stories (originating from Danish folklore, the ancient world, or the general Indo-European tradition) represent the universe of a fairy tale that abducts every abstract, logical principle, as well as life itself. They are written as much for adults as for children.
Andersen's fairy tales have been translated into 40 different languages. His more than 150 children's stories have marked him as one of the greatest figures in world literature. The complete works of H. C. Andersen were first published in Copenhagen, 1854-1879.
In 1845, English interpretations and translations of Andersen's stories and folktales started to acquire the attention of foreign readers. Andersen built a friendship with acclaimed British writer Charles Dickens, whom he visited in England in 1847 and again 10 years later. His tales became English-language works of art, classics that left a strong influence on British children's writers, including A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter.
Andersen was seriously injured in 1872 after falling from bed in his home in Copenhagen. His last publication, a collection of tales, was published the same year.
Around this time, he began to give indications of liver malignant growth that would end his life. The Danish government started commemorating Andersen's life and work before his passing. After a life filled with rich literary work and travels, Andersen died on August 4, 1875, in Copenhagen as an honorary professor and honorary citizen of Odense.
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