Andersen, Hans Christian

Andersen, Hans Christian, 1805–75, Danish poet, novelist, and writer of fairy tales. Born to an illiterate washerwoman and reared in poverty, he left Odense at 14 for Copenhagen, where he lived with a wealthy family. He failed as an actor, but his poetry won him generous patrons including King Frederick VI. In 1829 his fantasy A Journey on Foot from the Holmen Canal to the Eastern Point of Amager was published, followed by a volume of poetry in 1830. Granted a traveling pension by the king, Andersen wrote sketches of the European countries he visited. His first novel, Improvisatoren (1835), was well received by the critics, and his sentimental novels were for a time considered his forte. However, with his first book of fairy tales, Eventyr (1835), he found the medium of expression that was to immortalize his genius. He produced about one volume a year and was recognized as Denmark's greatest author, a storyteller without peer, and one of the giants of European literature. His tales are often tragic or gruesome in plot. His sense of fantasy, power of description, and acute sensitivity contributed to his mastery of the genre. Among his many beloved stories are The Fir-Tree, The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, and The Red Shoes.

See his Fairy Tales, tr. by R. P. Keigwin (4 vol., 1956–60) The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories, tr. by E. Hougaard (1983) M. Tator, ed., The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen (2007) his autobiography (1855, tr. 1871) A River—A Town—A Poet, autobiographical selections by A. Dreslov (1963) his diaries, tr. by S. Rossel and P. Conroy (1990) biographies by F. Böök (tr. 1962), R. Godden (1955), M. Stirling (1965), S. Toksvig (1934, repr. 1969), E. Bredsdorff (1975), J. Andersen (2005), and P. Binding (2014).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.