The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen NPR coverage of The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen: A New Translation from the Danish by Hans Christian Andersen, Diana Frank, Jeffrey Frank, Vilhelm Pedersen, Lorenz Froelich, and Diana Frank. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
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The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen

A New Translation from the Danish

by Hans Christian Andersen, Diana Frank, Jeffrey Frank, Vilhelm Pedersen, Lorenz Froelich and Diana Frank

Hardcover, 293 pages, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, List Price: $30 |


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Book Summary

A newly translated collection of familiar and unfamiliar tales from Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen includes notes and an essay introducing the author and his times. author and his times.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Stories Of Hans Christian Andersen


The Real H. C. Andersen

In the summer of 1874, a year before he died, Hans Christian Andersen got a
fan letter from an American schoolgirl. Attached were a dollar bill and a
newspaper clipping that detailed his bad health and supposed poverty. Soon,
other children began sending small sums to pay off what a Philadelphia
newspaper, the Evening Bulletin, had called the "children's debt" to the
Danish writer. The newspaper's editor, Gibson Peacock, wrote to Andersen
to explain that he knew "how little you had received in money from America,
where your works have given so much delight," and that "various readers have
sent me sums of money, none of them large, but all given cheerfully to be
remitted to you." A week later Peacock wrote again to tell Andersen that "the
largest part of the sums contributed to this little fund were given or collected
by a widow and her children, who have taken great delight in your works."
When the American ambassador personally gave Andersen two hundred
Danish rix-dollars raised in the United States, Andersen, who was not at all
impoverished, tried to put a stop to it. He wrote to Peacock to say that,
although he was pleased that "my stories have found readers so far from my
homeland and from the narrow confines of language," and of course deeply
moved that so many American children were "breaking their little banks open
to share what they have saved with their old author," he was not truly in need
and could not accept the gifts. Rather than pride or gratitude, he wrote, he
felt humiliation. (Although he did not say it, he also was annoyed at the
smallness of the gift.) Andersen's embarrassment may, however, have been
offset by a certain satisfaction.
All his life Andersen had wanted to be famous, to be recognized
as an artist, sometimes to the point that this longing overshadowed
everything else. "My name is gradually beginning to shine, and that is the
only thing for which I live," he had written to his friend Henriette Hanck on
September 20, 1837, when he was in his early thirties. "I covet honor and
glory in the same way as the miser covets gold." He was now sixty-nine, and
the American newspaper campaigns (another was started, then halted, by
Whitelaw Reid's New-York Tribune) were evidence of the breadth of his fame.
By 1874 Hans Christian Andersen was perhaps better known than any other
living writer, an international celebrity often found in the company of other
celebrities, and his work had been widely read since the 1840s, although not
always in the manner that he had intended. Stories such as "The Ugly
Duckling," "The Emperor's New Clothes," "Thumbelisa," and "The Little Match
Girl" had already gone through so many interpretations and shoddy
translations that the originals had been virtually obliterated. Mary Howitt, for
instance, was an Englishwoman who didn't speak Danish and based her
translations on the German texts; Caroline Peachey, an alarmingly
improvisational British translator, expurgated whole passages that offended
her. Far better versions eventually came along (the most accurate, in the mid-
twentieth century, by the Andersen scholar R. P. Keigwin), but two hundred
years after Andersen's birth a sort of literary entropy persists. The Moira
Shearer movie The Red Shoes is better known than the Andersen story on
which it was based. Film and cartoon versions of his tales are available at
video stores, and Disney has insisted on rewriting — complete with happy
endings for young audiences—some of Andersen's best material, such
as "The Little Mermaid." In short, beyond Scandinavia, Andersen has
generally been regarded not as a literary genius but as a quaint nineteenth-
century writer of charming children's stories.
Nothing contributed more to this view than Hans Christian
Andersen, the 1952 Danny Kaye film. Although it had almost nothing to do
with the real Andersen — and, to be fair, never claimed to — the movie
helped to make an idealized version of the writer's life as familiar as his fairy
tales, almost an extension of them. In the film a young man from the
provinces makes his way to Copenhagen, where he triumphs over adversity,
falls in love with a ballerina who rejects him, and ultimately finds success.
That was to some extent the spirit of Andersen's autobiography, which he
called, without intended irony, The Fairy Tale of My Life. It was also the way,
to Andersen's great annoyance, he was regarded in America; two years
before he died, he wrote to an American editor that he was furious about a
newspaper article that said he was called "Little Hans" in Copenhagen and
that "when I walk on the street, I'm soon followed by a flock of children who
pull at my coat and beg me for a fairy tale." (No one ever called him Hans,
just Andersen, and he had no particular fondness for children, although he
liked some as individuals.) Elias Bredsdorff, one of his best biographers,
made a lifetime campaign, as he put it, of getting Andersen out of the nursery.

In Denmark, however, the Danny Kaye movie, with its melodic Frank Loesser
score ("Wonderful Copenhagen"), is regarded as a giddy, slightly
embarrassing, ally to tourism; there, H. C. Andersen, as he is known, is
taken very seriously, and he is studied in much the way that students
examine the life and work of Andersen's contemporary, Søren Kierkegaard.
Almost since the day of Andersen's death, critics, researchers, and doctoral
candidates have been excavating his family history and devouring his private
journals and papers, as well as a raw early memoir that was found and
published in the 1920s. Much of this research has been extraordinarily
detailed and painstaking; writing about Andersen today has been made far
easier by people like Erik Dal, Erling Nielsen, and Flemming Hovmann, the
heroic annotators of his complete fairy tales, and Johan de Mylius, the
director of the Hans Christian Andersen Center in Odense (Andersen's
birthplace), who in 1993 published an exhaustive year-by-year chronology of
Andersen's life. This ongoing project (and the journal Anderseniana) has
given Danes an intimate knowledge of Andersen — down to the frequency
with which he masturbated — and a portrait that is very much at odds with
the cheerful souvenirs one finds in storefronts along Strøget, Copenhagen's
main shopping street. Not that interest in the real Andersen is confined to
Scandinavia. In 2000, for instance, Jackie Wullschlager, a writer for the
(London) Financial Times, published a fine new biography, the first serious
study by an English speaker since R. Nisbet Bain's excellent 1895 life.
By now most scholars know that neither Andersen's own memoir
nor the relics in his somewhat reimagined childhood home in Odense come
close to depicting reality. Both frame as a sort of romantic poverty what was
in fact a demeaning family history — one that includes a grandfather who
went mad, a grandmother who was jailed as a young woman for repeatedly
having illegitimate children, and an aunt who apparently ran a brothel in
Copenhagen. (Writing on March 9, 1838, Andersen told his friend Frederik
Læssøe, "You don't know what a battle I have fought! My childhood passed
without my learning anything . . . nobody guided me, nobody gave my mental
powers any direction . . . it is a miracle that I didn't perish." Scholars know
too that his literary career was deeply affected by the snobbery, rivalries, and
intrigues of nineteenth-century Copenhagen, as well as by his appearance:
With his huge feet, long arms, and tiny eyes, he was strikingly unattractive.
All his life — even when his international celebrity was equal to, or
surpassed, that of Charles Dickens — Andersen was hypersensitive to
slights, real and imagined. Those, like almost everything in his life, found
their way into his work.


Andersen was born in Fyn on April 2, 1805, an odd, solitary child who liked
to play with puppets. He went to school in Odense, where he learned to read.
His father, a cobbler and an autodidact, died at thirty-four, when Andersen
was eleven; his mother, an alcoholic washerwoman, was superstitious and
barely literate. She died in an almshouse in 1833 when Andersen was twenty-
eight. (Andersen regarded her with love and regret until the day she died; he
portrayed her in a bitter, late story, "She Was Good for Nothing.") In 1819 the
fourteen-year-old Andersen traveled alone to the Danish capital, a two-day
trip by coach and ship; it was certainly the bravest and most important step
of his life, and he arrived in Copenhagen with little more than the conviction
that he was a genius. (By chance he arrived on the day of Denmark's last
pogrom, an experience that made its way into Only a Fiddler, an early
novel: "The Jew's entire house was in flames; a shower of sparks rained down
on the neighbor's yard. The sky shined red; flames leaped up in strange
tongues.") Andersen knew no one in Copenhagen, but he immediately began
knocking on the doors of its prominent citizens. One, J. M. Thiele, a writer
and editor quoted in most Andersen biographies, later recalled:

I was surprised to see a lanky boy, of a most extraordinary appearance,
standing in the doorway, making a deep theatrical bow down to the floor. He
had already thrown his cap down by the door and when he raised his long
figure in a shabby gray coat, the sleeves of which did not reach as far as his
emaciated wrists, my glance met a couple of tiny Chinese eyes, badly in
need of a surgical operation to give them a free view, behind a large
protruding nose . . . He began his high-.own speech with these words: "May I
have the honor of expressing my feelings for the stage in a poem written by

Despite his demeanor — one imagines a young, awkward, semiliterate
Roberto Benigni — Andersen managed to get a tenuous attachment to the
Royal Theater's singing school, and, after his voice began to change, as a
supernumerary in a Royal Theater ballet. At the same time (and something
has always been a little mysterious about this), during the next three years
he was helped by several distinguished Danes — among them H. C. Ørsted,
who discovered electromagnetism, and a circle of literary lions that included
the poet and dramatist Adam Oehlenschläger and the popular novelist and
poet B. S. Ingemann. ("Counting on your goodness," he wrote to Ingemann, "I
dare to ask you to read the enclosed sheets — I feel that I need to ask this
of strangers and see that there is no other way for me to reach the goal that I
see as my greatest happiness.") Most important for the destitute Andersen,
who came close to starving, he was noticed by Jonas Collin, the new director
of the Royal Theater and the secretary of a trust fund administered by the
king. Collin, whether he was acting out of philanthropy or social duty or sheer
kindness, saw to it that Andersen, at the advanced age of seventeen, could
attend a "Latin school" in Slagelse, about fifty miles away (his fellow students
were eleven and twelve), that could lead to admission to the university. One
Danish writer, Jens Jørgensen, trying to understand Andersen's unlikely and
relatively rapid ascent in Copenhagen's social life — Andersen called himself
a "swamp plant" — has written two books that make the improbable but
entertaining argument that Andersen was the illegitimate son of a Danish

In a painting made when Andersen was twenty-nine, he looks like a dandy,
with a high collar and a mustache. But the many photographs of the older
Andersen — awkward, uncomfortable, distant, and sad — seem to get closer
to the real thing. "I would describe Andersen's general mood as sorrowful,"
Jonas Collin's son, Edvard, wrote in a memoir, and Andersen's writings give
repeated fragmentary glimpses of social snubs, sexual frustration, and a fear
that his past would someday catch up with him. Throughout his life he had
nightmares about the four years that he spent at the Slagelse school, where
he was terri.ed of failing, tormented by a merciless headmaster named
Simon Meisling, and ordered to stop what had become an almost compulsive
tendency to write verse. In 1827, when he sent a self-pitying letter to the wife
of Admiral P. F. Wulff, another of his Copenhagen benefactors, she
replied, "You certainly do your utmost to tire your friends, and I can't believe
that it amuses you — all in consequence of your constant concern with
THINK YOU'LL BE — my dear Andersen! Don't you realize that you are not
going to succeed in all these ideas and that you are on the wrong track?"
Andersen could not help himself. He was determined to be a great
writer — as great as Oehlenschläger! — and in 1826, as an aging student of
twenty-one, he wrote a treacly poem called "The Dying Child," which had
lines like "Mother, I am tired, I want to sleep, / let me rest beside your heart."
A Danish newspaper printed it the following year, and it became hugely
popular. So, three years later, did Andersen's prose fantasy, Journey on Foot
to Amager . . . , after parts of it appeared in a literary magazine produced by
Copenhagen's cultural tyrant, J. L. Heiberg. This gave Andersen his first taste
of public attention, and it thrilled him so much that Ingemann scolded him for
courting the "thousand-tongued, fickle audience."
Andersen by then was eager to court another kind of audience:
his eminent contemporaries. During his first trip to Paris in 1833, when he
was twenty-eight and barely known outside Denmark, he surprised Victor
Hugo by turning up at his house. This almost feverish pursuit of celebrity
continued, and during his life Andersen made contact with, among others,
Franz Liszt, Dumas père et fils, Honoré de Balzac, Felix Mendelssohn, the
Brothers Grimm (with whom he was frequently confused), Heinrich Heine
(who liked him but also saw him as a social climber), Robert Schumann,
Antonio Rossini, Richard Wagner, the Brownings, and Charles Dickens.
At the same time Andersen wrote incessantly; during his fifty-year
career he produced thirty-six theatrical works, a half-dozen travel books, six
novels, hundreds of poems, and about 170 fairy tales and stories. (In Danish
he always made a distinction between the fairy tales — eventyr — and the
historier). He also wrote as many as fourteen letters a day. "Here, read this, I
just wrote it," he seemed always to be saying. His critics in Denmark
complained of a lack of discipline, and particularly when he was in his
twenties and thirties, he was like a literary spigot that could not be shut off.
Through most of his publishing career, Andersen was viewed with mild
contempt by many in the Copenhagen literary establishment — and even by
those closest to him, including the family of Jonas Collin, his Royal Theater
benefactor, whose house he came to consider his "home of homes." One
particularly hurtful letter, written on December 18, 1833, came from Edvard
Collin, to whom Andersen had just sent a prized recent manuscript (Edvard
was often the first to read Andersen's writing, and Andersen regarded him
almost as a brother):

You write too much! While one work is being printed, you have halfway
completed the manuscript of another; due to this mad, this deplorable
productivity, you depreciate the value of your works to such an extent that in
the end no bookseller wants them, even to give away as presents . . . It is
really extraordinarily selfish of you to assume such an interest in you among
people, and the fault is undoubtedly yours, for the reading public has
certainly not given you any reason to think so and the critics least of all.

In his diary Andersen reacted to this letter with almost suicidal
gloom, writing on January 6, 1834, "It shocked my soul deeply, I was so
utterly overwhelmed that I lost all feeling, my faith in God and man, the letter
brought me to despair."
To his contemporaries Andersen could seem absurdly sensitive,
vulnerable to far less aggressive assaults than this. Edvard Collin recalled
Andersen's fleeing the room in mid-conversation in tears. "Occasionally,"
Collin wrote in his memoir, "you could point to the possibility of a reason, for
example, a misunderstood word, special attention paid to a guest, and,
above all, the interruption of one of his innumerable recitations when the maid
ran out of the room to answer the door."
Andersen craved attention, yet he lived alone in a series of rented
rooms in the center of Copenhagen. He had crushes but never married. He
was unnerved by anything having to do with sex and flustered by the
sexuality of women. On January 6, 1834, when he was in Rome, he wrote in
his diary of visiting the studio of the painter Albert Küchler: "And while I sat, a
young model of about sixteen arrived with her mother. Küchler said that he
wanted to see her breasts. The girl was a little embarrassed at my being
there, but her mother said, 'Tsk, Tsk!' and unbuttoned her dress, pulled it all
the way down to her waist, and there she stood, half-naked, quite dark
skinned, her arms a little too thin but with beautiful, round breasts . . . I felt
my whole body tremble."
His journals are surprisingly frank on the subject of his own
body. "Penis sore" or similar notes are often accompanied by a mark
resembling a cross to indicate that he had masturbated. During a trip to Italy
when he was in his late twenties, he wrote in his diary, on February 28,
1834: "My blood is hot. Headache; the blood rose into my eyes, and a
passion I've never known drove me outside — I didn't know myself where I
went, but I . . . sat on a rock by the sea where the water rose up. The red .re
streamed down Vesuvius, and the air didn't cool me — I burned. When I
headed back, two men came along and suggested women. No, no! I cried,
and went home, where I soaked my head."
When Andersen was sixty-one and in Paris, he visited a brothel
for the first time — something, he confessed in his diary on August 30, 1866,
that he had always been eager to do. "Four girls came up to me; the
youngest was no more than eighteen. I asked her to stay — she wore a
simple dress. I felt very sorry for her." He paid the madame five francs "but
didn't do anything; just looked at the poor child, who was totally ashamed,
and was surprised that I only looked at her."
Since 1901, when a Danish writer using the pseudonym Albert
Hansen broached the subject in a German magazine, researchers have
conducted a somewhat tedious debate about whether Andersen was gay.
But the only evidence for that comes from a literal reading of the often
overheated language of the nineteenth century. As an older man, he was
occasionally infatuated with men as well as with women, most notably with
the dancer Harald Scharff, but Andersen's virginity almost certainly remained
intact. His novels and plays, though intended for adults, rarely touched on
desire in any form other than the standard literary tropes of the era — sighs,
tears, and polite embraces.
Andersen's writing more often reflected his anxiety about his
origins and his persistent terror of not being recognized as an important
artist. His debut novel, The Improvisatore, published in 1835, followed the life
of an Italian singer who succeeds despite his lower-class background, and it
became a mild international success; its admirers later included the
Brownings. ("The writer seems to feel, just as I do, the good of the outward
life; and he is a poet in his soul," Elizabeth Barrett wrote in April 1845 to
Robert Browning.)
When he was thirty-one, Andersen published O. T., a novel whose
proletarian protagonist attempts to conceal his past; he followed with Only a
Fiddler (1837), which had much the same plot as The Improvisatore but an
unhappy ending: A talented young violinist fails to overcome his low birth. The
novels (three more were to follow) have their moments. But all are dated, and
two were out of print for a long time, even in Denmark. They would probably
be unknown today were it not for Andersen's other, immense achievement.


It is an understatement to say that Andersen frequently felt misunderstood,
even abused, by Danish critics. When his first novels were published, the
reviews tended to be mixed, filled with praise or pointing out (as one did in
the case of The Improvisatore), a "sickly sentimentality." But when Andersen
learned that a twenty-five-year-old student and sometime journalist named
Søren Kierkegaard was going to write about him, he was unusually
apprehensive. "Suffered torments of the soul at Kierkegaard's not-yet-
published criticism," the thirty-three-year-old Andersen noted in his Almanak
on August 30, 1838, and a curiosity of literary history is that Kierkegaard's
debut, From the Papers of One Still Living, published the same year, was in
large part an attack on Andersen. Kierkegaard had not yet developed his
subtle epigrammatic style, and he wrote this slight book — closer to a
pamphlet — in the sort of prose that only Hegel's mother could love. (The
critique was not translated into English until 1990.) But Kierkegaard had a
sure instinct for a writer's soft spots. "Like La Fontaine, Andersen sits and
weeps over his unlucky hero, who must fail, and why?" he wrote. "Because
Andersen is the same person. Andersen's own miserable struggle is
repeated in his writing." He went on, "If the novels are in a physical
relationship to Andersen himself, their existence should not be regarded so
much as a production as an amputation of himself." Kierkegaard was
annoyed by Andersen's seeming lack of a coherent philosophical viewpoint
and by his apparent misunderstanding of the nature of genius. ("Genius is not
a wick that's blown out by a wind, but a firestorm that the wind only
challenges," he lectured.) He was especially cruel about the protagonist of
Only a Fiddler, an obvious stand-in for the author. "Andersen doesn't show a
genius in its struggle," Kierkegaard said, "but is rather a flæb" — a sniveler —
"who's certain that he's a genius, although all he has in common with a
genius is that he suffers a few setbacks."
When Kierkegaard wrote From the Papers of One Still Living, he
had apparently not yet read any of Andersen's fairy tales, the first of which
had been published three years earlier, as an inexpensive pamphlet-like
volume titled Eventyr, fortalte for Børn (Tales Told for Children). At that time
Andersen himself had been far more interested in other projects, such as the
success of The Improvisatore, and he had spoken of the tales with almost
careless indifference. "I'm beginning to write some fairy tales for children," he
wrote to Henriette Hanck in Odense on January 1, 1835. "I want to win the
next generation, you see." In February, he told Ingemann that he had found a
new form: "I have written them completely as I would tell them to a child." But
in general he seemed to see this work as an afterthought in a career that was
going in several directions, and perhaps for that very reason Andersen, for the
first time in his artistic life, was able to relax. After all, critics might attack
him for his novels and plays, and they had scolded him for bad grammar in
an earlier attempt at a literary folktale. But why would anyone pay serious
attention to stories "told for children"?
Three of the first four stories that he published in 1835 ("The
Tinderbox," "Little Claus and Big Claus," and "The Princess on the Pea") were
retellings of folktales that Andersen had heard as a child in Fyn. The fourth,
and the weakest ("Little Ida's Flowers"), was mostly Andersen's invention.
Yet as Andersen published more of these tales, in the late 1830s and into
the 1840s, it became clear to his Danish readers, and then to the literary
world beyond, that they were something new — an original and strange and
sometimes heartrending extension of German romanticism.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the German linguists and folklorists,
had published their celebrated collections twenty years earlier, but the
Brothers Grimm were scholars and annotators. ("The Princess on the Pea"
mistakenly appeared in the 1843 edition of Kinder-und Hausmarchen, a
collection of the Grimm brothers' fairy tales. In 1844 Andersen, by then
widely known, visited Jacob Grimm, who had never heard of him and who
thought that Andersen's version was an old folktale. It was removed from the
next edition of the collection.) Andersen had absorbed the work of Ludwig
Tieck, Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), Adelbert von Chamisso, and E.T.A.
Hoffmann but had managed, with irony and wit, to escape the Germans'
morbid supernaturalism — at least most of the time. Andersen's strong
susceptibility to superstition (which he had gotten from his mother) had given
him a kind of firsthand experience with a world in which nonhuman entities
behaved uncannily. It also gave him a curious authority.

Moreover, he wrote these stories in a new kind of Danish, utterly unlike the
formal "king's Danish" or the Germanic Danish favored by the young
Kierkegaard and the literary establishment. In much the way that Mark Twain
affected American English fifty years later and Knut Hamsun (who was
influenced by Twain) re-created literary Norwegian, Andersen transformed
written Danish. As he had told Ingemann, he was trying to write the way that
people spoke — though no one actually spoke with such effortless beauty or
imaginative fun. The critics, though, did not at first approve. Dal, Nielsen, and
Hovmann, in their notes to the critical edition of Andersen's stories, recount
how only two magazines even bothered to review this first quartet of tales.
Danish Literary Times contrasted them with a new compilation of stories and
poems by the formidable Christian Molbech, a professor of literary history at
the University of Copenhagen and coeditor of Denmark's most influential
literary magazine, Monthly Journal for Literature. Moreover, Molbech was the
author of the Danish Dictionary for Correct Writing and the Promotion of
Proper Language. In 1836 the Literary Times praised a Molbech story in
which an orphaned boy and his dog save a girl from drowning and are
adopted by the girl's father — a count. The same journal criticized Andersen
for "striving toward the livelier and less organized form of the spoken
narrative." By contrast, the review continued, "Molbech's narrative is simple
and calm in the highest degree." The reviewer in the journal Dannora was
scathing. He believed that literature for children should instruct and edify:

Nobody could assert that the child's sense of decency is sharpened by
reading [in "The Tinderbox"] about a sleeping princess who rides on a dog's
back to a soldier who kisses her; and later, when she's wide awake, reports
this lovely event as a "strange dream." Or that the child's sense of modesty
is sharpened when reading [in "Little Claus and Big Claus"] about a farmer's
wife, who, in her husband's absence, has dinner alone with the deacon . . .
The tale about the princess ["Princess on the Pea"] appears to this reviewer
not only indelicate but also irresponsible in the sense that the child will
absorb the wrong idea that a high-born woman always has to be overly

The review did allow that Andersen had talent and a higher calling
but wished that he "would not waste his time writing fairy tales for children."
Molbech's Monthly Journal did not mention Andersen's collection.
These tales nevertheless quickly became enormously popular. "It
was Orpheus that he called to mind," August Strindberg (quoted by the
Andersen biographer Elias Bredsdorff ) wrote many years later, "this poet
who sang in prose so that, not only animals, plants and stones listened and
were moved, but toys came to life, goblins and elves became real, those
horrible school books seemed poetic." A lot of Andersen's stories were also
very funny — they charmed readers from the start.
What gives so many of his stories their enduring freshness is
Andersen's arch, chatty, and purposefully silly voice. In "The Nightingale" he
balances affectionate, sometimes ludicrous, detail (twelve servants attach
twelve silk ribbons to the nightingale's leg and walk the bird twice daily) with
satirical asides about class, pretension, and art; in "The Ugly Duckling" one
duck "has Spanish blood — that's why she's so fat." As Andersen wrote in
1835 to Henriette Wulff, Admiral Wulff's daughter and perhaps Andersen's
only real soul mate, "My muse visits me, tells me strange fairy tales, fetches
me comical figures from daily life, aristocrats and commoners, and says:
Look at those people, you know them, depict them and — they shall live."
He had appropriated a traditional form but seemed simultaneously
to invent a new one, one that accommodated itself to flights of fancy and
humor, social satire, and literary revenge. He was wholly aware that he was
writing for adults as well as for children; indeed, even older children cannot
properly understand some tales, such as the novella-length "The Snow
Queen," with its arguments about cold logic and emotional truth. "The Little
Mermaid," one of Andersen's most beautiful stories, becomes not only
progressively sadder and more chilling but steadily more religious as it
considers mortality and eternity. It is also full of Andersen fun, as when he
writes of a dowager mermaid: "She was a wise woman, and proud of her
noble lineage, so she wore twelve oysters on her tail. (Other nobles could
have only six.)" Certainly, only adult contemporaries would have recognized
that Andersen was sometimes writing fairy tales à clef. "The Shadow,"
published in 1847, was in large part payback to Edvard Collin for a
particularly hurtful episode. (Sixteen years earlier Andersen had suggested
that he and Edvard address each other with the familiar du — "thou" — form.
Edvard refused.) "Sweethearts" seems to be about an early infatuation,
and "The Nightingale" is almost certainly about a later one — an almost
obsessive crush on Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale," whose musical
career in many ways paralleled Andersen's literary one. (Andersen and Lind
met several times in the late summer of 1843, when she made her debut in
Copenhagen. He was deeply smitten and, according to his diary, actually
thought of asking her to marry him.) To read the fairy tales is to get a sense
of the real terrors of Andersen's life — all he left out of The Fairy Tale of My
Life. He understood that writing honestly about heartbreak is easier if, say,
the object of one's affections shows up in the form of a discarded toy ("The
Sweethearts") and that he could write movingly about being misunderstood if
he told the story from the perspective of a duckling who has just announced
that he is eager to swim:

"Yes, that's got to be a real pleasure," the hen said. "You've gone crazy. Ask
the cat — he's the cleverest animal I know — ask him if he likes to float on
the water or dive. I won't even speak about myself. Why don't you ask our
mistress, the old woman? No one in the world is wiser than she is. Do you
think she has the urge to swim or to dive under the water?"

Mrs. Wulff, who had ridiculed Andersen's ambition seventeen
years earlier, could not have said it better.
Kierkegaard was right when he said that Andersen as a novelist
could not stop pleading for the reader's sympathy. But as an author of fairy
tales, Andersen could take a playful step back. He could also make use of
his talent for narrative and action, which, he understood, children prefer to
maudlin observations. In "Little Claus and Big Claus" Big Claus goes on a
spree that includes killing four horses and putting his axe through the heads
of two grandmothers. "The Wild Swans," with its medieval atmosphere, is a
perfect thriller. Yet for all that, the fairy tales still sound not quite written but
almost improvised, as if Andersen were there telling them, confidingly,
As Andersen grew older, however, he seemed to become more
selfconscious about the genre that he had invented. He set the stories down
at high speed, as if aware that he had only a limited time to draw from his
talent. In 1836 he wrote to Henriette Wulff, "I have perhaps four or six years
left to write in, and I must grab them." Indeed, most of the great stories were
written between 1835 and 1848; Nye Eventyr (New Fairy Tales), perhaps his
most important single collection, was published in 1845 and included
both "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Nightingale." But Andersen lived for
another thirty-nine years and wrote many more stories, most of which had
moments of brilliance. Some, such as "Kids' Talk" and "The Gardener and the
Aristocrats," were also his responses to society and the Danish class
system. Some were quite bad — filled with gooey sentimentality — and
some were fascinating curiosities, such as "By the Outermost Sea," which
was prompted by Andersen's interest in the polar expeditions. But he knew
when the gift was gone. In July 1874 he wrote to a friend, Dorothea
Melchior, "It's as if I've completed the circle with the fairy tales . . . I have no
more new, fresh impressions, and that is sad."


Despite the popularity of the tales, Andersen was perpetually frustrated by an
inability to succeed in other literary forms. For much of his life he wrote
plays, such as The Mulatto and The Moorish Girl, which were unknown
beyond Scandinavia and richly deserved their obscurity; his feelings were
repeatedly hurt by the short runs he had at the Royal Theater and the
absence of public acclaim. The theater, he once said, is "the hole from which
most ill winds blow over me." He suffered personal rejection too, from Jenny
Lind, who praised his "divinely beautiful" stories but signed her letters
as "your affectionate sister." In the winter of 1845–46 Andersen's diary
recorded his hurt feelings. He had gone to Berlin, hoping to spend time with
the singer, who by then had become as famous as Andersen. But the trip
was a horrible disappointment; although they saw one another, Andersen
ended up more or less alone on Christmas Eve, suffering all the while.
He also knew that if the novels had made him a literary figure to
be reckoned with, the fairy tales had made him a celebrity. And in smaller
countries like Denmark, it was understood that real world fame depended first
on German readers and then on English ones — usually in that order. One of
his early English admirers was William Makepeace Thackeray, who in
January 1847 wrote about Andersen to a friend, saying, "I am wild about him,
having only just discovered that delightful, fanciful creature."
When Andersen made his first trip to England, in the summer of
1847, the reception overwhelmed him. To his dearest friend, Henriette Wulff,
he reported on July 22 that his picture was in "all the shop windows in
London . . . I'm truly being treated like a European phenomenon. It's so
wonderful for me — I get tears in my eyes." In the margin of this letter his
enthusiasm for the natives seemed to have no limits: "The English people are
the most solid, the kindest, most moral people that one can find!" At the
same time he was distressed at the poverty he saw in London.
During this first visit, which lasted from late June until early
September, he moved in the best circles: "drove out to Lord Standley [sic],
the Lady's sister spoke German; her sister's husband, Lord Hamilton, sat on
the other side of me at the table and spoke good German. Several members
of Parliament were there," one diary entry noted. And another
added, "Yesterday I was invited to come into the Atheneum Club, as
a 'famous traveler' . . . It's London's top club."
The visit, in other words, could not have gone better. He saw
Queen Victoria, stayed with the English writer Lady Marguerite Blessington,
and was personally embraced by Dickens. A new translation of his stories, A
Christmas Greeting to My English Friends, was effusively dedicated to "my
dear, noble, Charles Dickens, who by your works had been previously dear to
me, and since our meeting have taken root for ever in my heart." If people
also made a little fun of him — at his odd appearance, at his poor English —
Andersen did not seem to notice. (Elias Bredsdorff recounts how one English
acquaintance described Andersen in her diary as a "long, thin, fleshless,
boneless man, wriggling and bending like a lizard with a lantern-jawed
cadaverous visage.") As he wrote to Henriette Wulff, "It's unbelievable how my
writing is known and read in England and Scotland! And as one says, the
masses are reading me." His work, he told Wulff, seemed to be strangely
popular in North America too, and an important chapter in Andersen's life is
his relationship with the New World.

By the late 1840s the American public, like the English, knew and admired
Andersen for his fairy tales. This literary preference was certainly correct, but
because of the near-total separation of Andersen from his novels, plays, and
travel sketches, he was inevitably seen as a genre writer. The poet Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow discovered Andersen at about the time of a Mary
Howitt translation called Wonder Stories for Children in 1846, and as the
Longfellow scholar Andrew Hilen noted, "Andersen was . . . Longfellow's
favorite Danish author and he often turned to him for relaxation after the
performance of scholarly and literary chores. Like many of Andersen's
admirers, however, he overlooked the irony, the social import, and the deep
seriousness of his work; he understood him only as a writer of fairy tales and
as a man of charming imagination."
This perception might have changed if Andersen had visited the
United States. He certainly was tempted to make the trip, and he enjoyed
travel; he had gone as far as Constantinople and North Africa. Henriette
Wulff, who made several excursions to the New World and grew to love it,
kept urging him to visit. After all, she pointed out, Jenny Lind, now world
famous, had toured the States; they could meet and travel around together.
On November 30, 1850, writing from St. John in the Virgin Islands (then a
Danish possession), Wulff said that she had spoken with many people "and
all of them talk about Andersen — and the way he's idolized everywhere in
North America . . . Why don't you travel over here? What a single woman can
do alone, and easily, you can do too."
Henriette Wulff was more than a friend. Her family — one of
Copenhagen's most distinguished — had befriended Andersen during his
penniless youth, and in his autobiography Andersen portrayed her as almost
a muse — someone whose praise, good humor, and sense of comedy
inspired him and also saved him from the bathos of which he was capable.
Apparently there was no sexual chemistry between them; she was tiny,
slightly hunchbacked, and, one writer said, "had beautiful, thoughtful eyes
that suggested a rich inner world." But Jette (as her friends called her) was
someone Andersen could trust completely, and he opened himself to her; his
letters to her often began, "My dear sisterly friend." She admired Andersen as
a writer, and as her English improved, she discovered her own talent as a
translator; she helped translate his letters to English publishers and worked
on putting Dickens's A Child's History of England into Danish. (Her
translation was never published.) She began to fill her letters to Andersen
with Americanisms — words like of course and trip — and in urging him to
come to the United States, she spoke to his vanity too. "Won't you see
Niagara?" she asked in a letter in 1850. "Not see the most beautiful
landscapes on earth? Not describe them for your fellow man in your own,
quite special, painterly words that make one so often see what you've
When he replied, on December 18, 1851, he sounded intrigued
but not yet convinced: "It all sounds very nice, but for me it's just a beautiful
fantasy. You know how you can better get me to think about travel? That's by
writing: this is how much it costs by steamship from Europe to America,
that's how much it costs for a day in a good hotel over there . . . I dread the
long sea voyage, because I suffer. But I could get over it and bear it — yes,
I'd come right away to America — if a rich man or his wife left me money in
their will."
The next year, while staying in Boston, Henriette ran into the
Swedish writer and feminist Fredrika Bremer, another single woman who
found it easy to travel alone. Bremer, who was born in 1801, was friendly with
her compatriot Jenny Lind and shared with Lind an enthusiasm for
Andersen's writing. Bremer also seems to have been someone who relished
friendships with accomplished men; in the United States she had gotten to
know Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow. Jette and Fredrika had met a few
years earlier in Copenhagen, where Fredrika had gotten to know H. C. Ørsted
and H. L. Martensen, the bishop of Copenhagen. (She also had tried to meet
Kierkegaard and had addressed him, flatteringly, as Victor Eremita, the
pseudonym that he used for Either/Or. Kierkegaard wanted nothing to do with
Bremer, and his journals expressed some loathing for her.) Now, in Boston,
Fredrika introduced Jette to Marcus and Rebecca Spring, a couple who
would become Andersen's closest American friends.

The Springs were an exceptionally interesting pair — the Americans who had
introduced Bremer to Emerson, the Alcott family, and James Russell Lowell.
Marcus, a wealthy New York merchant, was the founder and leader of the
Eagleswood Community (also known as the Raritan Bay Union), a utopian
Quaker settlement of about twenty families near Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
Henry David Thoreau, a family friend who had been asked to survey the
property, described Eagleswood in a letter to his sister Sophia: "This is a
queer place — There is one large stone building, which cost some $40,000,
in which I do not know exactly who or how many work — (one or two familiar
faces, & more familiar names have turned up — a few shops & offices, an old
farm house and Mr. Spring's perfectly private residence within 20 rods of the
main building . . . Sunday forenoon, I attended a sort of Quaker meeting . . .
(The Quaker aspect & spirit prevails here — Mrs. Spring says — 'does thee
Rebecca Spring's maiden name was Buffum; her father, Arnold
Buffum, was president of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, and when
Henriette Wulff met them in Boston in 1852, Marcus — and especially
Rebecca — were active in various political causes: socialism, feminism, and,
above all, abolitionism. (In 1851 Rebecca's friend Harriet Beecher Stowe
published Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was an enormous best-seller in America
and England.) Their activism would only become more pronounced in the
years leading up to the Civil War.
The Springs got to meet Andersen in September 1854 during a six-
day visit to Copenhagen; they were accompanied by Bremer, who by then
had become a close friend and had been with them from the time of their
arrival in Scandinavia. Andersen liked the Springs immensely; they
apparently saw each other every day, in a social calendar that included tea
with the Dowager Queen Caroline Amalie; a political discussion with Bishop
Martensen (about to become another Kierkegaard target when Kierkegaard
ridiculed the idea that one may simply be born a Christian — thus skipping
a "leap of faith"); the ballet; and a trip to Roskilde, the burial place of kings.
The Springs also spent an evening with Andersen at the Hotel Royal, where
Jette Wulff joined them. The Springs were wild about Andersen. "What a joy
it has been to us to see you here in your own land," Rebecca wrote to him
before they left Copenhagen, "and we hope to get to see you in our own —
warm hearts will welcome you, you will .nd yourself at-home." A couple of
days later Jette Wulff wrote to Andersen to say how sorry she was not to
have said goodbye to those "good, friendly, people."
During the next few weeks and months Jette wrote several times
to the Springs. After Jette heard Andersen read two new stories — "The
Piggy Bank," about a get-together of toys, and "By the Outermost Sea,"
about death and faith in the Arctic Circle — she asked Andersen's
permission to translate them for the Springs. She sent them these two
stories, along with a daguerreotype of their author; early in 1855 Jette told
Andersen that the Springs had sent "a thousand thanks" for these gifts and
quoted Rebecca Spring: "But he has so much the kind expression of his
generous soul in his face that even a daguerreotype caught something of it!"
The Springs had told Wulff that while Andersen's stories were read aloud at
Eagleswood, his picture was on the table, and one of their children had
commented that "it was as if he was telling them stories himself !"
Jette Wulff evidently told the Springs that Andersen was finally
about to make his way to America, which prompted this very American note
from Marcus to Andersen in May 1856: "I can't tell you how glad we + a great
many others will be to welcome you here — + I have only 4 minutes allowed
me to tell you, you must go directly to my place of business 22 Broad St.
New York and get directions (if I'm not there) how to come to Eagleswood +
then we will make all plans + arrangements for your future journeys. In truth +
love (+ great haste)."
Someone had obviously misunderstood, but by then the Springs
had taken up the cause of an Andersen visit. On July 5, 1857 (this time
prompted by an erroneous newspaper story), the Springs wrote again to
Andersen and tried to bring him up to date on the great issue that was
dividing North America: "How I wish you could spend part of the coming
winter in the freed West Indies, and then, on your way back through our slave
states, contrast the slavery of the negroes with his freedom . . . The slavery
question here with us continues to occupy all our best minds, as the
inevitable crisis — whatever it may be — approaches."
Andersen, meanwhile, was making his second trip to England —
this time a far less pleasant excursion than the one a decade earlier. In 1848,
after Andersen had returned to Denmark, Dickens had written, "Come over to
England again soon! But whatever you do, don't leave off writing, for we
cannot afford to lose any of your thoughts. They are too purely and simply
beautiful to be kept in your own head." Elias Bredsdorff recounts how, in June
1857, Dickens invited Andersen to his country house in Kent. This time they
had no warm exchange of stories and compliments. Rather, Andersen
stayed, maddeningly, for five weeks and seemed to have been unaware that
he had become the caricature of the unwanted guest. On the day that
Andersen was to leave Kent, Jette Wulff wrote to him, saying, "What a
glorious gift God has given you in having Dickens' friendship." Dickens's
daughter Kate later remembered that her father had posted a card in the
guest room that said, "Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks —
which seemed to the family ages!" After that visit Dickens dropped him;
Andersen never understood why his English friend had fallen silent.
Jette Wulff had also heard from the Springs about Andersen's
alleged plans to visit the United States — "it's in all the newspapers," she
wrote to him, as was the detail that "the famous H. C. Andersen" was to go
directly from the ship to Perth Amboy. Jette herself was eager to return to
America, and just before Christmas 1857 she told Andersen that the Springs
had been expecting her since September. She said that they were worried
because she had not arrived — they had "'waited, watched, and wondered,'"
she said, quoting them in English.
By spring 1858 Jette's relationship with America had become
more serious: She was thinking of emigrating. "America has always been the
country that I preferred, even before I'd seen it for myself," she wrote.
Andersen tried to talk her out of it, but she had never been more serious. On
August 21, 1858, Jette wrote that she did not want to leave Europe without
sending Andersen a "last farewell," and she added that it was as if Andersen
did not believe she would really do it: "How little you know me!"
Jette was disappointed that Andersen did not come to Hamburg to
say goodbye before she sailed. She was a melancholy person anyway, and it
was an especially sad time because her brother had died of yellow fever the
year before (he was buried in America).
Andersen too felt bad at not saying goodbye to his closest friend;
her ship, the Austria, left on September 13. On the twenty-fourth Andersen
wrote to Jette in care of her sister, who lived in London. Jette never saw his
letter; on that same day the Austria, less than forty-eight hours from New
York, caught fire. It was not until October that Andersen heard the news:
Fewer than seventy of the 420 passengers aboard were saved. Andersen
feared the worst, and soon enough he learned that Jette Wulff was among the
missing. He was guilt-ridden at not having gone to say goodbye, and
inconsolable. In a letter to Ingemann on October 12, 1858, he remembered
how sad and lost his friend had been when she had returned to Denmark after
her brother's death. He imagined her last moments — "it's just unbelievable,
that she, that tiny, delicate person, who had no one on board to look after
her . . . it's horrible to think about her last, lost moments — what she
suffered before Death ended her terrible existence!" His diary contained no
entries for the rest of 1858. In the United States Marcus Spring paid for a
newspaper advertisement, asking for information about the circumstances of
Jette's death. Nothing was heard.

In November 1859 Rebecca Spring and her twenty-two-year-old son Edward
traveled to Charles Towne, Virginia (now West Virginia), to visit the radical
abolitionist John Brown in prison. "His high white forehead expressed a sort
of glory," Rebecca wrote in a later account of the trip. "He looked like an
inspired old prophet." In a letter of February 14, 1860, Andersen told
Ingemann that Rebecca Spring had written to him about "the noble Brown,"
who, in Andersen's words, "in his eagerness to free the blacks, had been
executed." Andersen went on to tell Ingemann (and, alas, the letter from
Rebecca appears to be lost) that there was something that concerned him
too: "Mrs. Spring told me that Brown, whom she . . . had visited in his prison
cell, read my little story, 'By the Outermost Sea.'" That tale of death and
deliverance was one of two stories that Jette Wulff had translated and sent to
Marcus and Rebecca five years earlier, after their visit in Copenhagen.

After the sinking of the Austria, Andersen had a sharp, real fear of the journey
itself — of dying horribly, as Jette Wulff had died. He kept traveling by land,
however. Trains had long ago begun to replace horse-drawn coaches, and
they thrilled him: "You seem to fly, but there is no shaking, no pressure of
air, nothing of what you anticipated would be unpleasant," he wrote to a
friend. In the spring of 1861, in Rome, he met the Brownings and, although he
did not record it, the eighteen-year-old Henry James, who, in his 1903
biography of the American sculptor William Wetmore Story, called
Andersen "the great benefactor" whose "private interest in children and whose
ability to charm them were not less marked than his public." James went on
to describe a children's party at Story's home and recalled how, after
Andersen "had read out to his young friends 'The Ugly Duckling,' Browning
struck up with [his poem the "Pied Piper of Hamelin"]; which led to the
formation of a grand march through the spacious . . . apartment, with Story
doing his best on a flute in default of bagpipes." (Mrs. Browning, Andersen
noted in his diary, "looked very ill." She died a month later.)
In January 1864, perhaps inevitably, Marcus Spring tried to enlist
Andersen in a cause — helping "wounded and dying" soldiers:

I will not doubt that your kind and generous heart will respond to the appeal I
now make that you will spend an hour or two writing some autographs to be
sold at this fair — also selecting from your correspondence, such notes,
letters and some envelopes or scraps in the handwriting of persons of note,
which would have a monetary value here in this far off new land. (+ newly
renovated land, we feel that it is to be) A few words of good cheer on a little
strip of paper, a few inches square, signed by your name so widely loved +
cherished in thousands of households here would each sell for what would
send comfort to more than one brave fellow, suffering in the cause we at least
deem sacred.

In a diary entry of April 24, Andersen noted that he brought the
American ambassador, Bradford R. Wood, "autographs for Marcus Spring,"
along with a copy of his tale "The Ice Maiden" for the ambassador's daughter.
In August a grateful Rebecca Spring wrote to thank Andersen for helping
while the "shadow of war was darkening your own land — now so happily
passed" — Denmark's second conflict with Prussia over two dukedoms in
southern Jutland, which led to the forcible annexation of Schleswig to
Holstein as a single Prussian province. "We rejoice in the peace," Rebecca
went on, "but regret that Denmark has lost so much territory. Dear Denmark
is not so large that other nations need envy her any part of her soil." Marcus
also wrote, with "apologies for not sooner acknowledging your kindness . . .
May we not sometime hope to see you here?"


Since the early 1860s Andersen had been getting admiring letters from a
rising young Boston editor and writer, Horace Scudder. Andersen did not at
first reply, but in March 1868, after Scudder became the editor of the
Riverside Magazine for Young People, the American wrote again with a
proposition: If Andersen would send twelve new stories, each as long as "The
Emperor's New Clothes" (about fifteen hundred words), Scudder would be
willing to pay $500 for all of them. In addition, acting on behalf of the
publisher Hurd and Houghton, Scudder offered Andersen a chance to publish
a complete edition of his stories. As further temptation, Scudder added this
postscript: Hurd and Houghton had the posthumous writings of Fredrika
Bremer, who died in 1865.
This time Andersen answered. Most of his tales were already
available in English, he noted, and "it only happens now and then that I am
disposed to write new ones." Furthermore, he was concerned that the
Riverside Magazine appeared to be aimed for "very young people." His tales,
he pointed out, were "read by young and old [but the] former enjoy what I
would call the exterior, the latter the inner part." Still, he did have three new
stories, which he would send over, and he would try to prevent other,
competing English translations. A "matter of much greater interest," though,
was this idea of a complete and authorized edition of his stories.
When he wrote back, Scudder was a little defensive about
the "very young" character of his magazine (which he edited from 1867 until
1870). Still, the good news was that Hurd and Houghton was now interested
in publishing all of Andersen's work — not only the tales but novels, such as
The Improvisatore. News of this collaboration spread fairly quickly. Marcus
Spring heard once more that Andersen was coming to America. He said that
he was eager to "talk over all the great and good things that have happened
since we met you with those cherished friends, whom we saw with you in
Denmark. Alas! Our talk of three of these" — Fredrika Bremer, Jette Wulff,
and Jette's brother — "would have a strain of sadness running through it.
Remembering that we can see them no more here on this pleasant little
planet." Marcus Spring was aware of Andersen's fear of ocean travel and
went on: "Pray do not let your ancient prejudice against old Father Neptune —
a very unjust one, I assure you, still keep you from seeing our new world.
For when you will have spent one week on one of our substantial and
charming floating steam palaces, I am sure you will find, as I do, that you
would rather take five trips across the Atlantic than one of those long rail
rides, which I know you have often taken on the continent."
The correspondence between Andersen and Scudder soon evolved
into a professional and literary friendship. (The letters were found and edited
by Jean Hersholt, a Danish American actor in the 1930s and 1940s, who also
did a fine job retranslating all of Andersen's stories. The humanitarian award
given at the annual Oscars ceremony is named after Hersholt.) The Andersen-
Scudder salutations evolved from "Dear Mr. Scudder" to "My dear, esteemed
friend" and, in return, "Dear, Honored Friend." Scudder himself wrote
children's stories and had an ear for language; it was more than flattery when
he told Andersen in 1869 that "I find a great difference in the translations
which have been made of your stories. Without reading Danish, I have
frequently said — this is not like Andersen; it is fine sounding when he is
simple and direct."
Scudder and his publisher were eager to see to it that Andersen
was translated properly (Scudder tried to master written Danish in order to do
some himself; this made it possible for Andersen eventually to correspond in
Danish). Andersen was pleased with his American partners and was willing
to give them a true literary coup: the sequel to The Fairy Tale of My Life —
the years between 1855 and 1867 — and first crack at some new stories, all
of which would be published in the United States before they appeared in
Andersen's letters to Scudder would report who the author was
running into: One day it was General John Charles Frémont, the first
Republican presidential candidate, and his "charming" family; or the
American ambassador; or assorted royals. (In an 1887 memoir Jessie
Benton Frémont noted that "Hans Andersen was, with all his petty vanities
and childish self-importance . . . a welcome frequent guest of royalty.")
Andersen was particularly eager to cement his long-distance relationship with
Longfellow, who sent him copies of his latest poems — such as Evangeline
and Hiawatha. Longfellow had also advised Andersen to learn to recite three
fairy tales in English — that, he promised, would make him lots of money,
just like Dickens. Scudder too understood Andersen's commercial potential,
and in May 1870 the young editor wrote: "Our Mr. Houghton is just now
travelling across the continent to California. Think of it! Only a week from
Boston to San Francisco by the great Pacific Railway. He takes his wife with
him and they . . . sit down to elegant dinners in a travelling dining room! The
Arabian Nights can show few things more wonderful."
Andersen, who was fascinated by modern technology, sounded
tempted when he replied that it "had to be a most interesting journey that Mr.
and Mrs. Houghton have made. In truth, our time is a fairytale age, as
peoples' lives always are. To travel from Boston to San Francisco in eight
days is amazing."
A few months later Scudder made the offer as appealing as he
could: If Andersen would come over and spend at least six or eight months,
Hurd and Houghton "will most gladly charge themselves with the expense of
your passage to and from America and will entertain you in their own homes
in Cambridge and New York just as long as you will do them the honor to
visit them." But by then it was pretty clear that Andersen was not going
anywhere. In 1872 he wrote Longfellow that "if no great rolling ocean was
between us, and I was not 67 years old, then I should arrive in your mighty
country some pleasant summer day — as it is, I can only send a letter and
the kind regards of your friend and admirer."


In any case, Andersen was soon too ill (he was, it turned out, suffering from
liver cancer) to make such a trip. In Century Magazine in 1892, Hjalmar H.
Boyesen, a Norwegian American and a professor at Cornell, wrote about
visiting Andersen in 1873 and how he had found him "lying on the sofa
wrapped in a dressing gown. He was pale and emaciated." And Boyesen
learned that Andersen now found the idea of the United States a bit
intimidating. "Is it true," Andersen asked, "that the streets in New York are so
crowded with wagons and trucks that you cross them only at peril of your
life?" Boyesen replied that, at certain times of day, a lady would not cross
Broadway without a police escort. "I'm afraid it would not suit me," Andersen
said. "I should be bewildered by the din, lose my wits, and be run over."
Andersen asked whether Americans were not "very hard and
unfeeling, having regard for money and for nothing else?" Not at all, Boyesen
replied, although they did have a certain fondness for money. "But you cannot
deny," Andersen went on, "that they have shown themselves very unfeeling
toward the poor Indians. I think it is quite shocking. I assure you, I wept when
I read in a German paper how the American Congress had broken all their
treaties, and driven the poor red man ever farther westward, until soon he who
once owned the whole magnificent continent will not have a foot of ground he
can call his own."
Boyesen wrote that he declined to "reproduce my special plea in
the case of The White Man versus The Red Man," but Andersen grew
alarmed at what was certainly an exposition of social Darwinism. "He had
heard of Darwin," Boyesen wrote, "and took him to be a very absurd and
insignificant crank who believed that he was descended from a monkey."
Before he left, Boyesen said, "Andersen entertained me with stories and
anecdotes connected with his souvenirs of celebrated people," including a
ring given to him by Queen Caroline Amalie and what Andersen called "a little
case containing the Order of the Red Eagle of the Third Class, which His
Majesty King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia graciously bestowed upon me."
Boyesen confessed that, unlike Andersen, he was not excited by the sight of
these objects. He was, however, moved when Andersen recited "The Ugly
Duckling" from memory and added, "'It is the story of my own life. I was
myself the despised swan in the poultry-yard, the poet in the house of the

In August 1874, after Andersen publicly complained about the American
newspaper collection for him, he made a sort of apology for his possible
rudeness; at a private dinner on August 27 that included the U.S.
ambassador, Michael Cramer, Andersen toasted America and recorded the
toast in his diary: "We knew America from Washington Irving's 'Columbus'
and Cooper's descriptive tales. We sensed a kinship with the North in
Longfellow's 'Hiawatha'; and the country became dear to me through the love
that flowed toward me from young hearts . . . That became a whole page in
the fairy tale of my life."
At about this time Horace Scudder wrote to Marcus Spring to
seek assurance that Andersen was all right. By early 1875, though, Scudder
realized that he had not heard from his Danish correspondent for a while. He
wrote Andersen, telling him about his own plans — that he was going to give
up his "business interest in order to devote myself exclusively to literature" —
and, in fact, Scudder had become editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

When Andersen died, on August 4, 1875, at the age of seventy, he had
triumphed in precisely the way that he had always hoped to. He was loved by
other writers — the most important ones. He saw Odense lit up in his honor,
although it was hard for him to enjoy the celebration because he was
suffering from a toothache. He received a parade of visitors who paid him
homage; he was still a favorite of the European royals; he posed for statues.
But more than Ibsen and Strindberg, and even Hamsun, Andersen remained
the most elusive of artists — a major literary figure enclosed by a minor
language — and, somehow, the saddest of men, continually overwhelmed by
his fearful belief in the fragility of everything that he had accomplished. On
June 24, 1850, at the height of his fame, Andersen described in his diary an
attack of pure panic: "A nasty vagabond stood near the spring. I had the
feeling that he might know who I was and might tell me something
unpleasant, as if I were a pariah, moved up into a higher caste."
All his life, for he had no family from the time his mother died in
1834, he felt alone, and in the months that he lay dying (he spent much of
that time in the suburbs of Copenhagen, with a Jewish merchant family, the
Moritz Melchiors) he seemed willing, even eager, to see almost anyone who
sought him out; in the accounts of these meetings one can still sense his
sweet, vain, heartbreaking thirst for recognition. In an 1890 memoir the
English literary journalist and critic Edmund Gosse wrote that there was "no
man of genius in Europe so accessible as Hans Christian Andersen. He
delighted in publicity and responded to the sympathy of strangers with
utmost alacrity." Gosse, who was twenty-three and barely spoke Danish
when he first met Andersen, later described Andersen as having "something
like the sensitive and pathetic sweetness of a dumb animal" and said that, at
first, with his height and arms of "very unusual length," he evoked "the usual
blunt type of the blue-eyed, yellow-haired Danish peasant." Gosse went on:

But it was impossible to hold this impression after a moment's observation.
The eyes, somewhat deeply set under arching eyebrows, were full of
mysterious and changing expressions, and a kind of exaltation which never
left the face entirely, though fading at times into reverie, gave a singular
charm to a countenance that had no pretension to outward beauty. The
innocence and delicacy, like the pure frank look of a girl-child, that beamed
from Andersen's face, gave it a unique character hardly to be expressed in

G. W. Griffin, the American consul, seemed oblivious of
Andersen's physical suffering, perhaps because Griffin was having problems
of his own. In the preface to his 1875 memoir, My Danish Days, he explained
that "while the last Presidential campaign was pending, some evil-disposed
persons, for the purpose of making political capital, sought to provoke a
quarrel between Mr. Cramer" — the American ambassador — "and myself
and circulated a number of contemptible falsehoods about Mr. Cramer,
endeavoring to trace their origin to persons in communication with me." (This
was particularly awkward because Cramer was married to Mary Frances
Grant, the sister of President Ulysses S. Grant.)
Griffin visited Andersen at his residence, No. 67, in Nyhavn, the
lively street along a canal close to Kongens Nytorv (the King's New
Square). "I was hardly prepared for the enthusiastic welcome he gave me the
first time I saw him," Griffin wrote. "He seized me by the hand and led me to
a chair, near his writing desk in his library. His face fairly beamed with
smiles. He asked about Longfellow and other friends in America. 'I should
love,' he said, 'to go to America. I am sure it is a great and beautiful country;
but I do not like sea voyages, and I fear that I shall never go there.'" Andersen
spoke English but "often repeated words over and over," and when he asked
whether Griffin perhaps could speak to him in French or German, the consul
told the elderly writer that his "English was very good indeed; that I liked it
better than I did anybody else's, even if he did hesitate now and then."
Andersen shook his head at this statement — was he perplexed? annoyed at
being patronized? — and then he "spoke of his visit to Dickens, which, he
said, was one of the happiest of his life."
The last time that Griffin saw Andersen, he was "so ill that he
refused to see me, until I sent him word that I was about to leave Denmark."
What did Consul Griffin want? "I gave him a letter that I had received from Mr.
Cist" — a friend who wrote verse — "requesting him to copy some favorite
lines for his autographic collection." Andersen scrawled something — no
doubt his standard boilerplate greeting — on the back of a photograph: "To
Mr. L. J. Cist. Life is the most beautiful fairy-story, with the compliments of
H. C. Andersen." He then took Griffin's hand and said, "Tell Mr. Longfellow I
am very ill." Griffin describes this scene with evident, almost smug,
satisfaction. Neither he nor any of the many other people whom Andersen
agreed to see in those months before he died seem to have asked
themselves why Andersen had bothered to take the time.

Introduction copyright © 2003 by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank.
Translation copyright © 2003 by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank.
Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.