A well-researched biography of the famed children’s author, by Financial Times critic Wullschlager (Inventing Wonderland, 1995).
Born to a poor washerwoman and a young shoemaker in tiny Odense, Denmark, in 1805, Andersen was an effeminate, unattractive boy who left home at 14 to seek fame on the stage in Copenhagen. Unsuccessful as an actor, he managed to find a wealthy patron who provided for his education and helped launch his writing career. He made little mark as an author until 1835, when he turned to the fairy tales that would ultimately bring him fame. Drawing heavily on Andersen’s diaries and correspondence, Wullschlager paints a revealing portrait: an over-sensitive and essentially child-like man who was conflicted about his ambiguous sexuality and haunted by his humble origins. Especially interesting is Andersen’s complicated relationship with his primary audience; he wrote for adults and was annoyed that the public looked upon him as a children’s author. Andersen traveled widely, and the accounts of his visits are a source of some humor (and a fair amount of insight): he was once introduced to fellow children’s author Jakob Grimm (who had never heard of him), and was received as a London houseguest by Charles Dickens (who subsequently pinned up the note, “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks—which seemed to the family AGES!”). A popular but lonely man, Andersen left his entire estate to a lifelong unrequited love, and among the hundreds who attended his funeral there was apparently not a single blood relative.
A solid and worthwhile biography. (24 b&w photos)