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.
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.
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.