H.C.Andersen Information




Andersen : What was he like ?  by Elias Bredsdorff      Nr. 9



Andersen in 1869, carte-de-visite by Thora Hallager

Sense of humour and fun

Because of his emotional nature, the streak of sentimentality in him and his proneness to tears it is sometimes assumed that Andersen lacked a sense of humour. Nothing could be farther from the truth.


Anyone who has read Andersen's tales in the original language will know that the humour in them is one of their greatest assets; unfortunately, some of his translators managed to remove much of the humour, thus giving undue emphasis to the element of sentimentality. It was not only in his tales and his novels that Andersen was able to express his humour; there is plenty of evidence that he also did so in everyday life. On this subject his friend Edvard Collins writes:

In his speech and conversation, whenever irony came in and his humour had full outlet, he could be extraordinarily amusing. I have never known anyone who was able in such a way to pick out some individual feature, unimportant in itself though it might be, and let his humour work on it, without undue regard to correctness. Almost every day he had a tunny story to tell about something or other which he had experienced, and it is not surprising that once, after such an anecdote, Captain Wulff (in whose home Andersen was a regular visitor} tore his own hair while shouting: ,It's a lie, it's a bloody lie, such things never happen to any of us -", a scene which Andersen rendered very amusingly.

Here is another comment from Edvard Collin's book on Andersen:

Andersen's sense of humour and tun might get the better of his egocentricity to such an extent that when he saw himself being placed in a tunny light he might find it amusing (though only in our private circle}. This was especially obvious with [Ingeborg Drewsen] , tor instance when she caught him in a little white lie. But also when he told her about an actual event in which his name was not mentioned but with which he could be linked by means of an association of ideas; whenever he told her something like that in the most innocent tone of voice and she then replied, " I know perfectly well why you're telling me that, but you aren't going to tool a seven-year-old fox cub," -then he would scream with delight at having been caught out.

Even on the most solemn occasions, as when he was being publicy eulogized, he might catch sight of a funny twist -as is shown in the following extract from his diary in Holland on June, 19, 1846, in which he reported a leading Dutch author's speech at the banquet in his honour: "King Christian the Eighth and Friederich Wilhelm of Prussia had given me decorations; when those were placed on my coffin (at this point the fat waiter grinned) he hoped that God would give me the crown of honour for the beautiful fairy tale of my life."

An analysis of the philosophy of Andersen's tales will show that there is in them a deep dualism. The same dualism is to be found in Andersen himself; he was full of deep conflicts which often made life difficult for him. Sometimes one aspect was more visible to the outside world than the other: everybody could see his vanity, but only those who knew him well were aware of his humility. The contrasts in this complex person are legion: he was a Christian rejecting the main dogmas of Christianity; he was a generous miser; he was a social snob who invariably stood up for the underdog; he was more intense both in his hatred and in his love of his native land than any other writer of his time; he was scared stiff of all the dangers connected with travelling, and yet no other contemporary European writer travelled more than he did; in his autobiographies (and many of his letters) there is a constant undertone of profound gratitude for the wonderful way his life had developed, and yet a year before he died he wrote in his diary: "Internally I do not at all feel kind, grateful or patient."

His life story is not the rosy fairy tale he liked to pretend it was. Nor is it as tragic as he sometimes tried to convince himself it was. But it is a strange and fascinating story about that strange and remarkable outsider Hans Christian Andersen, whose language of communication proved to be more universally intelligible than that of any other writer .


Andersen in 1874.


by Georg E. Hansen.






The author: Dr Elias Bredsdorff, who is Reader in Scandinavian Studies in the University of Cambridge and Head of the Department of Scandinavian Studies there, is the author of a book on Andersen and Dickens (published in Danish in 1951, in English in 1956) and of a book on Andersen and Britain (Copenhagen 1954), as well as of a number of essays and articles on Hans Christian Andersen in English. In 1955 he organized a Hans Christian Andersen Jubilee Exhibition at the National Book League in London, and in the spring of this year a new book by him, entitled Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of his Life and Work, will be published simultaneously in London and New York. In 1973 Dr Bredsdorff was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Prize.



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