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Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller

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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 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.


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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 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.

55 review for Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller

  1. 5 out of 5

    Boze Herrington

    Last summer I read a book about famous writers in history who were likely autistic—among them Emily Dickinson, Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll, for whom I have an intense affinity. (The Alice books were my favorite books growing up). The author wrote a brief sketch of Andersen’s life and personality which suggested that we were kindred souls separated by time, and Jackie Wullschlager’s biography, The Life of a Storyteller, cements this conviction. There’s joy in discovering someone els Last summer I read a book about famous writers in history who were likely autistic—among them Emily Dickinson, Hans Christian Andersen and Lewis Carroll, for whom I have an intense affinity. (The Alice books were my favorite books growing up). The author wrote a brief sketch of Andersen’s life and personality which suggested that we were kindred souls separated by time, and Jackie Wullschlager’s biography, The Life of a Storyteller, cements this conviction. There’s joy in discovering someone else who gets you, a literary icon who harbored the same aspirations and attained success in his craft despite being dreamy, eccentric and socially awkward. Growing up I wanted to be Charles Dickens, and I suspect that Andersen did, as well—he wrote Dickens passionate letters to which Dickens eventually stopped responding and famously stayed at his house for five weeks, weeping on the front lawn because he was so overcome with emotion. These days I realize that my personality is much closer to that of Carroll or Andersen—both of them writers of fairy-tales, both foppish and effeminate, both more at ease around women than men, both sexually timid bachelors who never dated and died virgins. Andersen was convinced from a young age that he had a God-given vocation to write fantasy stories. He had an intense sympathy for the Jewish people, who were still being persecuted in early nineteenth-century Denmark. He flirted with girls by telling them he was a faerie changeling who would one day own a castle. (If he were on twitter, people would accuse us of stealing each other’s tweets). He memorized whole scenes from Shakespeare and recited them to himself as he walked the snowy streets of his hometown. He held that imagination was more important than formal education, could be very aggressive in defense of imaginative literature and would burst into tears at the slightest criticism. He developed intense crushes that were never returned with the same intensity, often liked two people at the same time, yearned for companionship over sex, loved to stoke speculation about his infatuations while also denying that he liked anyone, relished the posture of the hopeless lover and was inevitably crushed when the objects of his affection chose to marry respectable middle-class men instead of quirky writers. Very rude of him to be dead because I suspect we would have a lot to chat about and, unlike Dickens, I would always write back.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    This is perhaps the best and only authoritative biography of Hans Christian Andersen available today, and the only one that sheds any light on his bisexuality. A must-read for those interested in this master storyteller.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Giddy

    This book is over all excellent. Wullschlager writes with great sensitivity of his passions, creativity and foibles. However, and to many this may seem a quible, she is curiously insensitive to his physical ailments. There's evidence of Marfan syndrome as well as OCD. All of his teeth had been pulled by the time he died and he seems to have complained of incessant toothaches. At one point the author says of his toothaches they were "comic" (perhaps she meant that he used it comically.) Instead t This book is over all excellent. Wullschlager writes with great sensitivity of his passions, creativity and foibles. However, and to many this may seem a quible, she is curiously insensitive to his physical ailments. There's evidence of Marfan syndrome as well as OCD. All of his teeth had been pulled by the time he died and he seems to have complained of incessant toothaches. At one point the author says of his toothaches they were "comic" (perhaps she meant that he used it comically.) Instead to me, it read as if he was in near constant pain, if only from his teeth, and fears. (For example, he wouldn't travel on a ship or boat unless he had a rope with him so he could escape a burning ship.) In dealing with his death from liver cancer, she seems to not understand that the physical symptoms can present themselves long before an actual diagnosis would have been made. (Especially in the 1870s!) Overall however the portrait presented is very rare and memorable. One finds oneself having great sympathy for him (and for some of his friends too, for putting up with him.) He definitely felt great love and friendship which was largerly returned, another aspect of his genius.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Fascinating.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Richard Thomas Carey

    I enjoyed reading this book, to begin with, finding out things that I never knew, but I did find it to be rather long as it was becoming a bit samey at times

  6. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    This is a wonderful biography. I didn't expect this. Andersen was born in 1805 and died in 1875. This was the generation of Dickens and that was a surprise for me. I thought he was one or two generations later. He was a strange, tragic misfit but his talents became recognised and his oddnesses allowed. It could have so easily gone another way. Totally alone and only really a child he arrived in Copenhagen and made his way and a sort of living by knocking on front doors and performing a frantic t This is a wonderful biography. I didn't expect this. Andersen was born in 1805 and died in 1875. This was the generation of Dickens and that was a surprise for me. I thought he was one or two generations later. He was a strange, tragic misfit but his talents became recognised and his oddnesses allowed. It could have so easily gone another way. Totally alone and only really a child he arrived in Copenhagen and made his way and a sort of living by knocking on front doors and performing a frantic tap dance when the door was open. Sometimes people let him in or gave him food. He managed to survive but it was perilous. His strange stories took a long time to register. They were derivative and Hans Christian's mark on them relies on his own retelling and the language he uses. I was persuaded that most translations are badly done and I am not going to be able to read them in the original. He gained sponsors but he was such a demanding and difficult person that they could only stay the distance by keeping him at arms' length. And his need for friendship and love was constantly being met with rejection. I felt angry with those who took him in and helped him but refused the friendship he craved so much but I could see how his needs would suffocate anyone who let him get close. His sexuality was uncertain and unresolved. Had he been able to express it freely it would surely have been same sex but he had passions with people with both sexes and true closeness was always denied to him. I feel grateful to his time and place that such an unusual person was able to survive and thrive and become loved (at a distance). How would such a person survive today? I still find his stories too sad to enjoy. But towards Hans the person I feel the strongest warmth. A lovely man, interesting and vulnerable and too gentle for the world.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    Extremely well written. Paints Andersen in a completely different light and gives his tale a much better context than just poor translations of "children's stories". Very depressed and attention needly, overly self-congratulatory but still a remarkable artist who lived as one of his own tragic heroes during an inspiring era of Danish history. Extremely well written. Paints Andersen in a completely different light and gives his tale a much better context than just poor translations of "children's stories". Very depressed and attention needly, overly self-congratulatory but still a remarkable artist who lived as one of his own tragic heroes during an inspiring era of Danish history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    Hans Christian Anderson was so depressed, it's hard to get through the book. Although very well written, Anderson's constant need for encouragement and fame is annoying, to say the least. He dined with Kings but could never get over his lifelong need to be coddled every moment of the day. The author is terrific, and I would read anything she writes. Hans Christian Anderson was so depressed, it's hard to get through the book. Although very well written, Anderson's constant need for encouragement and fame is annoying, to say the least. He dined with Kings but could never get over his lifelong need to be coddled every moment of the day. The author is terrific, and I would read anything she writes.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Ponderous telling of the life of Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish fairy tale writer.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tanis

    Really good bio. Such a shame he was a bit of a twat but then who would come across well in a biography? Makes me glad to live in a time when you don't have to be scared to admit your sexuality. Really good bio. Such a shame he was a bit of a twat but then who would come across well in a biography? Makes me glad to live in a time when you don't have to be scared to admit your sexuality.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    A good biography of Andersen and contains several good critical comments on his fairy tales. Wullschlager writes in a veru engaging way and the book never bores.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Fascinating.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Fawn

    such a melancholy life! I can't find on here the edition of his fairy tales that I used to have, but obviously I loved those too. such a melancholy life! I can't find on here the edition of his fairy tales that I used to have, but obviously I loved those too.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Vilde Ulriksen

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tanner Weston

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joly_fh

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tarantel

  18. 5 out of 5

    SmokingMirror

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dani

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jason Green

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

  22. 5 out of 5

    Liam

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    Kari

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    Susan Greenspun

  27. 4 out of 5

    Heather

  28. 5 out of 5

    Hecka

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aleksandra Niemasz

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kristel De Geest

  31. 5 out of 5

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  33. 4 out of 5

    Bagger

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    Gretchen

  35. 5 out of 5

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    Annaleely Leely

  40. 4 out of 5

    Jason

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    FaeReads

  42. 4 out of 5

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  45. 5 out of 5

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  46. 4 out of 5

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    Daphne Lee

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  50. 5 out of 5

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  51. 5 out of 5

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  52. 4 out of 5

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  53. 5 out of 5

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  54. 4 out of 5

    Nichole Reyes

  55. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

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