Having read some of Andersen's posthumously published letters Georg Brandes, the Danish literary critic, whose brilliant scholarly appreciation of Andersen's genius as a writer of fairy tales in 1869 had given much pleasure to Andersen himself, described him in a letter to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, the Norwegian poet, as " a mind completely and entirely filled by himself and without a single spiritual interest". However harsh these words may seem they are not entirely unjustified. Throughout his life the one thing which interested Hans Christian Andersen most was: Hans Christian Andersen. All his life he had a desperate craving for affection and praise, and his famous vanity was to a large extent a childlike inability to conceal his pleasure at winning recognition and fame.
His diaries and letters abound with stories of strangers abroad who, when learning that he was a Dane, asked him whether he knew Hans Christian Andersen, and each time he was equally delighted to report their reaction when he revealed his identity. A friend described how one day Andersen, seeing a man he knew on the other side of the street in Copenhagen, crossed over and said, "Now I'm being read in Spain, well, goodbye! "
Much of Andersen's best fiction is also basically about himself, not only his six novels but also the fairy tales and stories. He is the soldier in "The Tinder Box"; he is the sensitive princess who can feel one pea through twenty mattresses and twenty featherbeds; he is the student in "Little Ida's Flowers"; he is the Little Mermaid, the outsider who came from the depths and was never really accepted in the new world into which he moved; he is the little boy who could see that the emperor had nothing on; he is the ugly duckling transformed into a beautiful swan; he is the poet in "The Naughty Boy", hit by one of Cupid's arrows; he is the fir tree incapable of enjoying the moment and always either looking back nostalgically to the past or hoping for something better to come; he is the gardener in "The Gardener and the Squire", etc., etc. Andersen has, as Hans Brix once said, written more self-portraits than Rembrandt ever painted.
His critics called it being obsessed with himself; he called it being subjective, and wrote in his diary: "It can never be wrong for a poet to be subjective, for that in itself is a sign of the amount of poetry he has inside himself." His quarrel with some of his early Danish critics, especially a man called C. Molbech, was that they wanted him to write the way they wrote; he wrote in his diary on March 27, 1834: "Let me follow my own nature. Why must I trot according to fashion? If my gait is slouching, well, then it is the natural way for me to walk. If he [Molbech] doesn't find nuts on my tree but apples, then it doesn't necessarily mean that my tree is no good."