Cover image for Hans Christian Andersen : the life of a storyteller
Hans Christian Andersen : the life of a storyteller
Wullschläger, Jackie.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : A.A. Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2001.

Physical Description:
xiv, 489 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PT8119 .W85 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Beloved by generations of children and adults around the world for tales such as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes," Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) revolutionized children's literature. Although others before him had collected and retold folk stories and fairy tales, Andersen was the first to create the stories himself, instilling a previously stilted genre with new humor, wisdom, and pathos.

Drawing on letters, diaries, and other original sources (many never before translated from the Danish), Wullschlager shows in this compelling, extensively researched biography how Andersen's writings--darker and more diverse than previously recognized--reflected the complexities of his life, a far cry from the "happily ever after" of a fairy tale. As we follow in his footsteps from Golden Age Copenhagen to the princely courts of Germany and the villas of southern Italy, Andersen becomes a figure every bit as fascinating as a character from one of his stories--a gawky, self-pitying, and desperate man, but also one of the most gifted storytellers the world has ever known.

Author Notes

Jackie Wullschlager is a literary critic and European arts correspondent for the Financial Times . Her biography of Victorian and Edwardian children's writers, Inventing Wonderland , was published to acclaim in 1996. She lives in London with her husband and three small children.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

It is a truism of literary history that the Danish inventor of modern children's literature was the prototype of his most famous creation, the ugly duckling. The gawky, effeminate, only son of a depressive father who died young and an illiterate mother, Andersen came out of more impoverished circumstances than did any other giant of world literature. Moreover, he retained peasantlike gaucheness, servility toward authority, and feelings of social inferiority throughout his life. Balancing such qualities was an irrepressible drive to entertain. As a boy, Andersen, a naturally gifted singer, extemporized songs and dramatic contexts for them and presented himself before prospective patrons. He succeeded often enough to eventually be given a grant to start school at 17, a full six years older than his classmates. Success followed success, especially when he started to write fairy tales, at first based on folktales and Romantic literary precedents but eventually as original in matter as they were in manner. Throwing "proper" written grammar to the winds, Andersen strove to write as if he were speaking to children while being heard by adults. So doing, he became an acknowledged great writer, the peer of his friend Dickens, within his lifetime. So much for the ugly duckling part of the scenario. Writing with a scholar's authority, a critic's perspicacity, a fan's enthusiasm, and an artist's skill, Wullschlager argues that Andersen's many neuroses and his bisexuality, which drove him repeatedly to simultaneously court a man and a woman, often brother and sister, influenced his stories as much as his rags-to-riches success. Fascinating is too mild a word for this gripping biography. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Andersen (1805-1875) and his work receive perceptive and uncondescending treatment from Financial Times arts critic Wullschlager (Inventing Wonderland). In his autobiographies (and autobiographical novels), Andersen portrayed his life as a Danish Horatio Alger story, "the poor shoemaker and washerwoman's son" who rose to international prominence through a talent for storytelling. While that summary is accurate enough in itself, that talent for storytelling led him to embellish some details, such as family stories about aristocratic connections, while obscuring others, particularly his unrequited attachments to the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind and a series of stern and serious Copenhagen gentlemen. Gauche and gawky, self-absorbed and self-pitying, Andersen nonetheless had his own personal charm and could hold audiences spellbound at his readings. As one of the first Danish writers with an international reputation, he parlayed his fame into visits with assorted German princes and the likes of Franz Liszt and Charles Dickens. Wullschlager gives a colorful travelogue of his restless journeys in Italy, France and England and contrasts them with his upbringing and adulthood in the parochial Denmark, which, as Wullschlager notes, felt stifling to his romantic temperament. Yet he could work only in his homeland and needed its praise to the end of his life. That praise usually was for him as a children's author, but Wullschlager also reads into the adult themes and artistry of The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen, as well as Andersens's adult novels, giving him full credit as a real, adult person. 24 pages of photos. (May 3) Forecast: Favorable reviews might convince literary readers that the life of an author of fairy tales is worth their time. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Danish author Hans Christian Andersen was one of the greatest fairy-tale writers of all time, with stories like "The Ugly Duckling," "The Emperor's New Clothes," and "The Tin Soldier" defining him as an all-time great in the world of children's literature. Wullschlager, a literary critic and European arts correspondent for the Financial Times, has written the first major biography of this consummate storyteller. She shatters what has become the standard image of the author as a "sweet-natured, pathetic entertainer." In fact, Andersen lived a difficult life and never found real satisfaction with his success. Wullschlager succeeds brilliantly at portraying Andersen's inner mind and uncovering his hopes and fears and details the historical context that served to produce such a grand body of literature. Relying on letters, diaries, and original German and Danish accounts, Wullschlager has written a biography that will be a standard study for years to come. Recommended for all libraries. Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Wullschlager's painstaking and wide-ranging search for the real Hans Christian Andersen follows the great storyteller through friendships and romances, foreign lands, and literary genres in a vivid narrative that deserves wide readership. The meeting of Andersen and story form was providential in terms of time. From Heine to Jenny Lind, Bjrrnson, and the Brownings, the cast of figures who met Andersen reads like a who's who of 19th-century greats. Landscapes and cities and villages in Denmark, France, Germany, and Italy rise up before the reader's eyes as Andersen pushes on from place to place. The mixture of triumph, pathos, and comedy of Andersen in society is no better seen than in London in the care of Dickens. The circle of Northern Europeans drawn to Italy and the effect of Naples on Andersen's creative spirit make rich reading. Wullschlager is good at the quick character sketch; she picks the exact bit of dialogue to crystallize a scene. Ample quotation helps explain the magic, but the author's own prose works too. In her analysis of Andersen's conflicted soul, however, some may find the psychiatry tentative. Recommended for all general and academic collections. J. G. Holland Davidson College

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgementsp. xiii
Map of Andersen's Denmark, c. 1850p. xv
Map of Andersen's Europe, c. 1850p. xvi
Introduction: Life Storiesp. 3
1 The Country, 1805-1812p. 7
2 Master Comedy-Player, 1812-1819p. 24
3 The City, 1819-1822p. 35
4 Aladdin at School, 1822-1827p. 59
5 Fantasies, 1827-1831p. 80
6 My Time Belongs to the Heart, 1831-1833p. 103
7 Italy, 1833-1835p. 122
8 First Fairy Tales, 1835p. 147
9 Walking on Knives, 1836-1837p. 167
10 Le Poete, C'est Moi! 1837-1840p. 179
11 I Belong to the World, 1840-1843p. 197
12 Jenny, 1843-1844p. 219
13 Winter's Tales, 1844-1845p. 242
14 The Princes' Poet, 1845-1846p. 262
15 The Shadow, 1846-1847p. 280
16 Lion of London, 1847p. 295
17 Between the Wars, 1848-1851p. 323
18 Weimar Revisited, 1851-1856p. 337
19 Dickens, 1856-1857p. 351
20 Experiments, 1858-1859p. 361
21 Kiss of the Muse, 1860-1865p. 373
22 Aladdin's Palace of the Present, 1865-1869p. 399
23 So Great a Love of Life, 1869-1875p. 418
Sourcesp. 441
Notesp. 443
Select Bibliographyp. 473
Indexp. 477