Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales


Early work

A very early fairy tale by Andersen, called "The Tallow Candle" (Danish: Tællelyset), was discovered in a Danish archive in October 2012. The story, written in the 1820s, was about a candle who did not feel appreciated. It was written while Andersen was still in school and dedicated to a benefactor, in whose family's possession it remained until it turned up among other family papers in a suitcase in a local archive.[9]

In 1829, Andersen enjoyed considerable success with the short story "A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager". Its protagonist meets characters ranging from Saint Peter to a talking cat. Andersen followed this success with a theatrical piece, Love on St. Nicholas Church Tower, and a short volume of poems. Though he made little progress writing and publishing immediately thereafter, in 1833 he received a small traveling grant from the King, enabling him to set out on the first of many journeys through Europe. At Jura, near Le Locle, Switzerland, Andersen wrote the story "Agnete and the Merman". He spent an evening in the Italian seaside village of Sestri Levante the same year, inspiring the name, "The Bay of Fables".[10] In October 1834, he arrived in Rome. Andersen's travels in Italy would be reflected in his first novel, an autobiography titled The Improvisatore (Improvisatoren) which was published in 1835, receiving instant acclaim.

Fairy tales and poetry

His initial attempts at writing fairy tales were revisions of stories that he heard as a child. Andersen then brought this genre to a new level by writing a vast number of fairy tales that were both bold and original. Initially they were not met with recognition, due partly to the difficulty in translating them and capturing his genius for humor and dark pathos.

It was during 1835 that Andersen published the first two installments of his immortal Fairy Tales (Danish: Eventyr; lit. "fantastic tales"). More stories, completing the first volume, were published in 1837. The collection consists of nine tales comprising "The Tinderbox", "The Princess and the Pea", "Thumbelina", "The Little Mermaid", and "The Emperor's New Clothes". The quality of these stories was not immediately recognized, and they sold poorly. At the same time, Andersen enjoyed more success with two novels, O.T. (1836) and Only a Fiddler (1837);[11] the latter was reviewed by the young Søren Kierkegaard.

After a visit to Sweden in 1837, Andersen became inspired by Scandinavism and committed himself to writing a poem that would convey the relatedness of Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians.[12] It was in July 1839, during a visit to the island of Funen, that Andersen first wrote the text of his poem, Jeg er en Skandinav ("I am a Scandinavian").[12] Andersen composed the poem to capture "the beauty of the Nordic spirit, the way the three sister nations have gradually grown together", as part of a Scandinavian national anthem.[12] Composer Otto Lindblad set the poem to music, and the composition was published in January 1840. Its popularity peaked in 1845, after which it was seldom sung.[12] Andersen spent two weeks at the Augustenborg Palace in the autumn of 1844.[13]

Andersen returned to the fairy tale genre in 1838 with another collection, Fairy Tales Told for Children. New Collection. First Booklet (Eventyr, fortalte for Børn. Ny Samling), which consists of "The Daisy", "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", and "The Wild Swans".

The year 1845 heralded a breakthrough for Andersen with the publication of four different translations of his fairy tales. "The Little Mermaid" appeared in the periodical Bentley's Miscellany. It was followed by a second volume, Wonderful Stories for Children. Two other volumes enthusiastically received were A Danish Story Book and Danish Fairy Tales and Legends. A review that appeared in the London journal The Athenæum (February 1846) said of Wonderful Stories, "This is a book full of life and fancy; a book for grandfathers no less than grandchildren, not a word of which will be skipped by those who have it once in hand."[2]

Andersen would continue to write fairy tales, and he published them in installments until 1872.


In 1851, he published to wide acclaim In Sweden, a volume of travel sketches. A keen traveler, Andersen published several other long travelogues: Shadow Pictures of a Journey to the Harz, Swiss Saxony, etc. etc. in the Summer of 1831, A Poet's Bazaar, In Spain, and A Visit to Portugal in 1866. (The latter describes his visit with his Portuguese friends Jorge and Jose O'Neill, who were his fellows in the mid-1820s while living in Copenhagen.) In his travelogues, Andersen took heed of some of the contemporary conventions about travel writing, but always developed the genre to suit his own purposes. Each of his travelogues combines documentary and descriptive accounts of the sights he saw with more philosophical passages on topics such as being an author, immortality, and the nature of fiction in the literary travel report. Some of the travelogues, such as In Sweden, even contain fairy-tales.

In the 1840s, Andersen's attention returned to the stage, but with little success. He had better fortune with the publication of the Picture-Book without Pictures (1840). A second series of fairy tales began in 1838 and a third in 1845. Andersen was now celebrated throughout Europe, although his native Denmark still showed some resistance to his pretensions.

Between 1845 and 1864, H. C. Andersen lived at 67 Nyhavn, Copenhagen, where a memorial plaque now stands.[14]

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