Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Fairy Tales: Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christan Andersen (1805-1875), known as the father of the modern fairy tale, was forced to go to work at the age of eleven, when his father died insane. Hans was apprenticed to a weaver and tailor in Odense and later worked at a tobacco factory. He had a high pitched voice and effeminate mannerisms, and once his trousers were pulled down when other workers suspected that he was a girl. At the age of 14 Andersen left Odense for Copenhagen to seek a career as a singer, dancer or an actor – he had a beautiful soprano voice. Eventually he was able to find sponsors to pay for his education. Andersen was an eccentric, overly sensitive student and exceptionally tall, almost ungainly, with an enormous nose that marred his looks. His feet, arms and legs were disproportionately large for his frame. In his later fairy tales, a common theme was that the ugly physical appearance of the hero often concealed great inner beauty, not revealed until after a series of misfortunes. He knew what he was writing about.

Andersen managed to publish his first novel upon graduation in 1829 and went on to become Denmark’s leading man of letters, writing novels, dramas, poetry, travel books and autobiographies. In 1837, at the age of thirty-two, he began writing the fairy tales for which he was known throughout the world. Andersen traveled across Europe and Africa, and was once hosted by Charles Dickens in England, although Dickens was nearly driven mad by Andersen’s prissy, effeminate ways and hypochondriacal bent.

Biographers tend to label Hans Christian Anderson as bisexual, and a few even suggest that he may have remained celibate for his whole life. However, he engaged in many romantic relationships, especially with young men, with whom he exchanged torrid letters. Many of his fairy tales were autobiographical, especially those that describe impossible love and poor self image, such as The Ugly Duckling* and The Little Mermaid. Andersen’s The Shadow is a fairytale that parents seldom read to their children, because it's so disturbing. It suggests that each of us has a shadowy part that will, if we let it, destroy us.

*From "The Ugly Duckling":
“He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the new-comer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.”

His statue in Central Park (NYC) features the author sitting and reading to a stray duck. The 1956 sculpture by Georg J. Lober was constructed with contributions from Danish and American schoolchildren. It was cast at the Modern Art Foundry in Astoria, Queens.



Upon his death in 1875, his private journals were discovered, in which he detailed his enthusiasm for masturbation. He placed a cross mark in his journal for every time he masturbated. I kid you not. In the book “Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller,” Jackie Wullschlager writes of the open love letters Andersen wrote to handsome young men. He also wrote similar letters to a few women, such as the soprano Jenny Lind, but the women were always unapproachable and out of his league. His letters to young men were obviously an outlet for his sexual desire and his sensuous, romantic nature. Andersen's novel, O.T., depicting an intimate male friendship, was influenced by his unrequited love for Edvard Collin, whose eventual marriage sent Andersen into a tail-spin. When Andersen died, he was initially buried next to Collin and his wife Henrietta, until descendants of Collin had the bodies of Edvard and Henrietta re-interred elsewhere, leaving Andersen’s grave standing alone (in death as in life!). A healthier, reciprocal romantic relationship was carried out with the Hereditary Grand Duke of Weimar, Carl-Alexander von Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, whom Andersen met in 1844.

Andersen titled his autobiography “The Fairy Tale of My Life.” There is indeed something miraculous about the transformation of a poverty-stricken, uneducated child into a world-renowned writer. In it we learn that Andersen suffered from dyslexia and agoraphobia – not to mention the fact that he was a strict vegetarian. He also feared being burned or buried alive.

When Andersen's funeral was held at the Cathedral of Our Lady in Copenhagen (August 11, 1875), a national day of mourning was declared. Throngs of people attended the funeral, including royalty and many celebrities. His fairy tales were translated into more languages than any other books except the Bible, and his stories continue to influence and inspire children and adults alike.

The Little Mermaid
Highly disturbing and morbid tale about a mermaid who makes a diabolical bargain with a sea witch and suffers her tongue to be cut out and her tail to be lost, all for the love of a prince. Inevitably, he completely fails to recognize the enormity of her sacrifice.

The Red Shoes
Vanity is the sin of the anti-heroine (vindictively named Karen after Andersen's loathed half-sister) in this nasty tale, which was made into an acclaimed film in 1948. Karen's sin of going to church in bright red shoes and failing to care for her grandmother is punished by her being forced to dance unceasingly – forever. Rest comes only when her feet are cut off with an axe. Nice!

The Ice Maiden
There is a touch of the earlier Snow Queen in this novella, a dark, tragic love story about Rudy and Babette who are stolen away by the icy Glacier Queen, a terrifying figure who represents death.

Poultry Meg's Family
One of several of Andersen's highly charged and erotic tales. The sexually voracious heroine, inspired by a Danish historical figure, swaps a comfortable life with her rich husband for a bit of "rough trade" and lovers who beat her.

Anne Lisbeth
Spooky story telling the fate suffered by a woman who rejects her ugly son and becomes a nursemaid to the count's son instead. Retribution comes in the form of rejection by those she has served, the drowning of her own son and guilt-ridden nightmares. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

5 comments:

  1. I notice that this section, like many modern discussions of Andersen's life and work, completely disregards his Christianity & the strong Christian themes & morals found throughout this work. Like so many others who bouderise his work for modern secular audiences, you have completely changed the endings & meanings behind many of his stories. For just two examples here: in "The Little Mermaid", the eponymous character longs for an immortal soul & place in heaven. She gives up her tongue & tail in an attempt to marry the prince after she has been told that the only way to gain a soul is by marrying a human. In the end, she chooses to sacrifice herself rather than hurt others, & is rewarded by becoming a Sister of the Air, and earning her place in heaven through her good works, without the need for a man. A bittersweet tale about a strong-willed and kind girl eventually succeeding in her ultimate goal, & today people think of it as 'girl gives up everything for a man & then dies'. In "The Red Shoes", Karen's pride & selfishness (she prefers to look good in the red shoes, even after learning that they are cursed, that take care of her adoptive mother, who rescued her from poverty) lead to her being forced to dance until her feet are chopped off & she receives wooden ones. She then continues to be prideful of her martyrdom, & is punished by an inability to enter church. Finally, she learns humility & kindness by looking after others, & is transported into a service. In the end she dies of happiness & goes to heaven. So a bittersweet story of a brattish girl learning to become a companionate woman & being rewarded for her good deeds is now remembered as "a girl is cursed to dance until her feet are cut off". If you are going to write on Andersen, show some respect for his beliefs & talk about the stories he actually told, rather than the bastardisations that secular society tells today.

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    1. The fact that you have neither the courage nor integrity to comment except as "anonymous" speaks volumes about you. I stand by my comments, meticulously researched, and I have the balls to place my name and e-mail address on it. Perhaps you should write your own blog so that you can slant your comments on Andersen's words toward your own beliefs.

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    2. Anonymous is also choosing to disregard all the love letters written to young men. Acknowledging that this iconic person had a sex life is hardly a lack of respect. Oscar Wilde wrote about Christian values in his children's stories too- but one would hardly suggest he did not respect a handsome male form. These men were business men. They wrote to please a public. If the public wants Christian themes a writer will sprinkle those themes about as that is what pays the bills. Especially in those times. It is naive to assume a life-long bachelor with money and fame could not gain the interest of a wife if he had so desired. He clearly did not make a choice in that direction.

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  2. Inge-Monika HofmannMay 25, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    In December 2012 an unknown Andersen fairy tale was discovered in Denmark and published. It is about the fate of a candle, and it deals with self-acceptance and male sexuality. I thought this might be of interest here.

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  3. The fact "anonymous" tried to use a nonsense word "bouderize" is a big tip-off that, and I'm sorry to tell you this dear Anonymous, you have no idea what you are talking about. I assume you meant to refer to the real exists-in-the-English-language word "Bowdlerize" which actually means the complete opposite of what you are trying to say here. The word "Bowdlerize" comes from Thomas Bowdler - an English nobleman who spent his life trying to take the naughty bits out of Shakespeare plays. "Bowdlerising" or "Bowderizing" then refers to censorship - the exact opposite of what this is trying to convey.) FYI - didn't the spell- check tip you offwhen you wrote bouderize?????. So I wish that everyone(and especially you dear, dear Anonymous)will have a bouderian day filled with much boudering and lots of lovely bouderment :)

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