Hans Christian Andersen Biography
Hans Christian Andersen broke the social barriers of the 1800's and spoke to the world. You may know his fairytales, but do you know the man behind the story?
With over 350 fairy tales in print, Hans Christian Andersen is known the world over as the master of moral tales. Andersen's works have inspired plays, ballets, films, sculptures and even paintings. Translated in as many as eighty languages today, Hans Christian Andersen's words remain a unique contribution to the world of storytelling.
Born in the slums of Denmark on April 2, 1805, Hans had a difficult introduction to life. His father was a shoemaker who couldn't seem to financially support his family, and it wasn't uncommon for Hans to go without the basic necessities, such as food and clothing. Living on the lines of poverty, Hans' father tried to make a better life for his son by encouraging him to be creative and think outside the social line. Self taught and free thinking, Mr. Anderson would build puppet show stages with Hans, and tell him a story at exactly two o'clock every afternoon, nourishing Hans'love of the arts.
In 1816, Hans' father died, leaving him to care for his illiterate and sometimes neglectful mother. Eleven year old Hans' could often be found begging for money on the street, in an ill-fated attempt to provide food for himself and his mother.
At the age of fourteen, Hans ran away to Copenhagen and crossed paths with Jonas Collin, one of the directors of the Royal Theater. Always wanting to be an actor, Hans performed odd jobs in the theater and helped Mr. Collin whenever he could. In return, Jonas Collin agreed to pay for Hans' college education, enrolling him in the University of Copenhagen in 1828.
Hans fell in love with writing while still a student, and produced his first literary work, Youthful Attempts, under the pseudonym William Walter. The book was not a success, and Hans began writing short pamphlets and travel books for children in order to support himself, all of which were received poorly by the demanding general public. It wasn't until Hans' second book, The Improvisatore was published and translated into German a few years later, that Hans' writing career began to take shape.
Between 1835-1842, Hans Christian Andersen published six volumes of children's stories, all of which would be retold around the world many times over. Hans' writing style broke new ground, and the world took notice. Never before had anyone structured his or her written words into a speaking pattern. Experts today agree that Hans Christian Andersen broke the literary barrier that often separated the rich from the poor.
When asked why he chose to write children's books, Hans' only response was that he had a desire to make children happy; never wanting them to have to live the childhood he had endured. Part of what makes Andersen's voice so compelling, is his simple honesty. Some stories have happy endings, others are sad. Andersen's works include an autobiographic undercurrent in his sadder tales, as he tells the world how he has always felt like an outcast.
The poor boy from Denmark reached phenomenal success during his lifetime, often being courted by Kings and Princesses, who asked for personal readings often. He was asked to speak and represent a variety of groups during the mid 1800's, and was happy to oblige.
Hans Christian Andersen died on August 4, 1875 of liver cancer.