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Hans Christian Andersen

In literary terms there are few who are as widely revered as Hans Christian Andersen, particularly in the area of fairy tales and children's stories. Andersen's work has been widely translated, and is among the most read on the world stage.

Born on April 2nd, 1805, in a small town in Denmark named Odense, Hans Christian Andersen was not, as is often stated, related to Danish royalty, although it is so that his education was paid for by the Danish king. This is believed to have come about via connections the family had to the royal family, but through work rather than blood.

Andersen was an intelligent child, and one with a great imagination, and an avid reader - his early interests included, among others, the works of William Shakespeare.

When his father died in 1816, the young Hans took work as an apprentice in the tailoring trade, and would go on to further employment in a cigarette factory, but it was at the tender age of 14 that the young Andersen would move to Copenhagen - the Danish capital - to follow his love of the theatre and literature. His young voice got him entry to the Royal Danish Theatre, a career that came to an early halt when his voice broke. However, his talents as a writer had been kindled, and he began to write with fervour.

Andersen had published his first story - The Ghost at Palnatoke's Grave - in 1822, before an interested benefactor, Jonas Collin, took an interest in him and sent him, paid, to Slagelse Grammar School. Here, and later at Elsinore, Andersen studied until 1827. During this time he discovered that he was dyslexic, a problem that had little impact on his chosen career.

His first major success came in 1829 with a short story by the name of 'A Journey on Foot from Holmen's Canal to the East Point of Amager'. Around the same time he also published a play - a farce - and his first collection of poetry. A grant from the King in 1833 enabled him to take in some travel, and during these travels he wrote the acclaimed 'Agnete and the Merman', plus his first novel - in 1834 - titled 'The Improvisatore'. The latter, especially, was a great success.

In 1835 Andersen published the volume of the genre that would seal his place in history - 'Fairy Tales', still considered as a classic. The 1837 publication of what many consider as his defining work - 'The Ugly Ducking' - put his name firmly on the literary map.

Hans Christian Andersen went on to dabble in 'Scandinavianism' in the coming years, a period that saw him write an epic poem on what it meant to be Scandinavian. This was set to music and performed, albeit sporadically, for a number of years in the 1840's before falling into disuse.

Andersen received wider acclaim for a series of travel books, the first of which - 'In Sweden' - was, and still is, highly regarded, and would be followed by similar tomes on Saxony, Portugal and Spain, among others. It is particularly notable that many of these travelogue publication included local fairy tales, the defining genre of Andersen's work.

In the summer of 1847 Andersen would visit England for the first time, a country where his popularity was assured. True to form he became a fixture on the social calendar, invited by nobility to important parties and gatherings, and it was during this time that he met with the famous English writer Charles Dickens. Andersen was an avowed Dickens fan and wrote of his joy at meeting the influential writer, and would stay with the Dickens family for a number of weeks. We know that Dickens was not as enamoured with Andersen as the Dane was with him, for the Englishman made several attempts at hints intended to spur his guest to leave, and Dickens' daughter would later write of Andersen being a bore who outstayed his welcome.

There is some evidence that Uriah Heep, an unlikeable character in Dickens' 'David Copperfield', is based upon Andersen.

Much has been written about the personal life of Hans Christian Andersen, particularly with regard to his infatuation with prominent women - and often men - in society, and he proposed to the legendary Swedish singer Jenny Lind - 'The Swedish Nightingale' - only to be rebuffed.

Andersen never married, and died after a lengthy illness, the result of a heavy fall, on August 4th, 1875.

Hans Christian Andersen leaves a back catalogue that reads as a list of legendary works - 'The Ugly Duckling', 'The Snow Queen', 'Thumbelina', 'The Emperors New Clothes', 'The Princess and the Pea' and 'The Little Mermaid' are timeless stories that he left behind, and along with a statue of the latter in Copenhagen harbour, the date of April 2nd is celebrated each year as International Children's Book Day.