Hans Christian Andersen (1805—75) was born in Odense, Denmark, to a poor shoemaker and a washerwoman. As a young teenager, he became quite well known in Odense as singer and one who recited drama. When he was fourteen, he set off for the capital, Copenhagen, determined to become a national success on the stage. He failed miserably, but while he was there, he made some influential friends who got him into school to remedy his lack of proper education. He hated school, though. A seventeen-year-old, he was in a class of twelve-year-olds and was constantly mocked by them and by the teachers.
In 1829, his first book—an account of a walking trip—was published, and books by him began coming out at regular intervals after that. At first, he considered his adult books more important than his fantasies. Later in life, however, he began to see that these apparently trivial stories could vividly portray features of human life and character in a charming manner. Because of this, he stopped regarding his stories as trifles written solely for children and began writing tales of his own, rather than retelling traditional stories.
He once said that ideas for stories "lie in my mind like seeds and only need the kiss of a sunbeam or a drop of malice to flower." He would often thinly disguise people he liked or disliked as characters in his stories: a woman who failed to return his love becomes the foolish prince in The Little Mermaid; his own ugliness and humiliation, or his father's daydream of being descended from a rich and powerful family, are reflected in The Ugly Duckling.
Hans Andersen's stories began to be translated into English as early as 1846. Since then, numerous editions, and more recently Hollywood songs and a Disney cartoon, have helped to ensure the continuing popularity of the stories in the English-speaking world.
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