Hans Christian Andersen (Anglais) Relié – avril 2005
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Andersen's background is a fairytale unto itself and if ever there was a man whose beginnings belied his later success and durability as a writer, this man is it. Gratefully his oeuvre was appreciated in his lifetime and his wondrous tales have pleasured young and old alike for well over a hundred years. In his native Denmark he is considered a near 'saint' and his books have been translated into every language and are in the homes of children of all ages throughout the world.
This biography is, thankfully, not afraid to discuss those darker aspects of Andersen's life, but the way in which the author deals with this difficult information is the model of excellent reportage. The narrative style of Andersen on Andersen is by far the most positive aspect of this fine book.
Despite the weight (over 600 pages) of this tome, it is not daunting in the least. It reads quickly and entertainingly and is as fine as any biography of the world's favorite children's writer on the shelves. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, June 05
Jens Andersen obviously has a great deal of admiration for his subject and affection for his creative work, but he never shies away from discussing the less flattering aspects of the great author's life and character. The Hans Christian Andersen we meet in these pages is every bit as gentle, whimsical, childlike, and melancholy as his stories might have led us to expect, but he's also vain, manipulative, dramatic, and difficult. Andersen glossed over the less savory details of his childhood in his autobiographies, but his biographer examines them unflinchingly. Andersen's ambiguous and conflicted sexuality is discussed here at length, never luridly but with great empathy. His views on art, spirituality, and science are shown to be a unique blend of liberality and tradition. Hans Christian Andersen was a consummate individualist who demanded, almost in spite of himself, to be accepted for exactly what he was. This excellent biography does him justice.
Jens Andersen is a Danish literary critic, and this biography was written in Danish with a Danish audience in mind. Tiina Nunnally's translation is smoothly readable, and she explains in brackets some of the linguistic nuances that don't translate. Even so, it should be pointed out that Jens Andersen assumes a greater familiarity with Danish geography and with nineteenth-century European history and literature than most American readers possess. He refers freely, even alludes casually, to works by Hans Christian Andersen that aren't readily available in English. It's not enough to pose a stumbling block to the general American reader, though readers without even a basic grasp of European cultural history may want to begin their exploration into Hans Christian Andersen's life with a less ambitious biography.
Although thick and challenging, I found this book a pleasure to read. I set it down with a deeper understanding of the Hans Christian Andersen tales I've known and loved since childhood, and with renewed interest in exploring some of his less familiar stories.
The book tells a fairly detailed story of his breaks and opportunities that allowed him to finish school and obtain some university level education at the Copenhagen University. The book includes many references to his writings including his first writings when he was just seventeen. Like many other famous writers such as Dickens, he came from a home where the father had failed to provide economic support and he had to find work in his youth to survive - and then his father died when he was just 11 years old. Like Dickens and others, that changed his outlook on the world, and Andersen wrote hundreds of stories and short pieces often with the aim of entertaining children to make them happier. Despite the economic hardships, he did gain some inspiration from his father. His mother was interested in folklore and that was passed onto Andersen and reflected in some of his writings. There are chapters on his travels and some on interactions with other European writers of his era in Germany, France and England, and in fact he did meet Dickens. An interesting chapter describes how the famous Andersen lives in his own country of Denmark often living as a free guest as a celebrity getting free meals and lodging - in a way similar to some of our modern athletes or movie stars who go to restaurants or resorts and expect to get free meals in exchange for being photographed with the owner, or giving them signed baseballs, etc.
Overall this is a good read and one can get a fairly good understanding of Andersen, right up to his declining years. He made a name for himself as a writer of fairy tales for children - about farm animals and similar that carry on in conversations as if they are people. He expanded this to include his travels as an element of his writings, Italy being one of the most famous countries, but not the only country. This topic is well covered in the book including trips from Denmark to Portugal and elsewhere. The book is very well organized - much more so than many biographies - and it has a good introduction and index, but not much in the way of notes and follow up documentation. Also, as the authors point out, some of the references are written in Danish.
In any case, this is a substantial but easy to read biography, and one is impressed with the effort and the level of detail.