About Hans Christian Andersen
By: Melanie Zimmer
Some of the most memorable fairy tales to this day are those of Hans Christian Andersen. A great deal is known about Andersen as he wrote his first autobiography when he was twenty-seven and published additional ones in 1847, 1855 and 1869. However, “The Fairy Tale of My Life” is not considered a reliable work by many, and it is known that Andersen altered facts freely to create the public image he desired in those later publications. Andersen became a well-known figure in his own lifetime, achieving much acclaim, and lived as a public figure frequently visiting kings, nobles, and artistic minds of the time thus much was written about him in letters and correspondence. Furthermore, Anderson kept a personal journal over the years and corresponded frequently with others. Many letters still exist and serve to inform biographers of the non-public aspects of his life. But perhaps most importantly, Anderson used his life experiences extensively in his writings as he explains plainly in a letter from 1834 “Every character is taken from life; every one of them; not one of them is invented. I know and have known them all.”
Andersen was born on April 2, 1805, in a small rented home in Odense, Denmark. He was the son of a poor shoemaker, Hans Andersen, and the approximately thirty-year-old Anne Marie Andersdatter, an illiterate, superstitious peasant woman who was later instrumental in introducing young Christian, as they sometimes called Hans Christian, to the folklore stories that were to later help mold his own writings. Andersen’s parents married in February of 1805. (Anne Marie, after the death of her husband, Hans Andersen, married another cobbler, but they were even less financially successful than before, and eventually, she was widowed a second time, and forced to make a living as a washerwoman, laundering clothes in the icy canals of Odense. There, to escape the freezing waters, she developed the habit of drinking gin to warm herself. In his tale, “She Was Good For Nothing,” Andersen gives a portrait of his mother Anne Marie as an alcoholic washerwoman, as well as revealing himself as a child, although we must realize that Andersen had already moved to Copenhagen by the time his mother became a widowed laundress.) Anne Marie was a clean housekeeper, and protective of her son. She, herself, had been forced to beg as a child, and later Andersen used his mother’s childhood experience as the basis for “The Little Match Girl.” Anne Marie had an illegitimate daughter, Karen-Marie, who was rarely seen, and a half-sister to Hans Christian. She was the daughter of a married potter, and was not raised as part of the family but boarded out. Karen-Marie at one point became a prostitute, and Andersen feared throughout his life that she would re-appear to embarrass him, although she came to him only on several occasions.
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