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Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 3, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (April 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679455086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679455080
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #983,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Andersen (1805-1875) and his work receive perceptive and uncondescending treatment from Financial Times arts critic Wullschlager (Inventing Wonderland). In his autobiographies (and autobiographical novels), Andersen portrayed his life as a Danish Horatio Alger story, "the poor shoemaker and washerwoman's son" who rose to international prominence through a talent for storytelling. While that summary is accurate enough in itself, that talent for storytelling led him to embellish some details, such as family stories about aristocratic connections, while obscuring others, particularly his unrequited attachments to the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind and a series of stern and serious Copenhagen gentlemen. Gauche and gawky, self-absorbed and self-pitying, Andersen nonetheless had his own personal charm and could hold audiences spellbound at his readings. As one of the first Danish writers with an international reputation, he parlayed his fame into visits with assorted German princes and the likes of Franz Liszt and Charles Dickens. Wullschlager gives a colorful travelogue of his restless journeys in Italy, France and England and contrasts them with his upbringing and adulthood in the parochial Denmark, which, as Wullschlager notes, felt stifling to his romantic temperament. Yet he could work only in his homeland and needed its praise to the end of his life. That praise usually was for him as a children's author, but Wullschlager also reads into the adult themes and artistry of The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen, as well as Andersens's adult novels, giving him full credit as a real, adult person. 24 pages of photos. (May 3)Forecast: Favorable reviews might convince literary readers that the life of an author of fairy tales is worth their time.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Danish author Hans Christian Andersen was one of the greatest fairy-tale writers of all time, with stories like "The Ugly Duckling," "The Emperor's New Clothes," and "The Tin Soldier" defining him as an all-time great in the world of children's literature. Wullschlager, a literary critic and European arts correspondent for the Financial Times, has written the first major biography of this consummate storyteller. She shatters what has become the standard image of the author as a "sweet-natured, pathetic entertainer." In fact, Andersen lived a difficult life and never found real satisfaction with his success. Wullschlager succeeds brilliantly at portraying Andersen's inner mind and uncovering his hopes and fears and details the historical context that served to produce such a grand body of literature. Relying on letters, diaries, and original German and Danish accounts, Wullschlager has written a biography that will be a standard study for years to come. Recommended for all libraries. Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Quetzal on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Of course, you are never to old to enjoy a good fairy tale. But maybe it is also true that you are never really old enough to understand all its subtle layers of meaning. Behind the simple story read to a child, there are always enough hidden allusions, jokes and adult tragedies to last a lifetime of re-reading. And when the fairy tales have been created by a modern author such as Hans Christian Andersen, they may even contain an entire autobiography. Andersen published several rather rosy-coloured "official" accounts of his life, with sugar-sweet titles like "The Fairy Tale of My Life". But as Jacky Wullschlager shows in this moving biography, it was only in his stories that he revealed his true fears, hopes and obsessions. The great pleasure of Wullschlager's book is that it helps us to rediscover the familiar cast of fairy tale characters; to recognize Andersen's struggle from extreme poverty in the "Ugly Duckling", his flirtation with nobility in the king-loving "Nightingale" and his almost fin-de-siècle obsession with sex and death in the "Snow Queen" or the "Ice Maiden". It gives an added biographical depth to characters that have fascinated readers ever since Andersen first created them. And as the story goes, "if they haven't stopped fascinating, they're fascinating still."
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By DDSC on May 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
From childhood the stories of Hans Christian Anderson always brought hope and encouragement to a boy trying to fit in despite leg braces and crutches. Later as a parent my appreciation for his insight and depth grew as I read his stories to my children. I found myself wanting to know who was this man and how had he been influenced to write about these flawed characters who always reacted to their circumstances with courage and dignity. Wullschlager's masterful biography does a good job of giving us an understanding of Anderson and his stories. Unlike the person portrayed in the film by Danny Kaye, Anderson experienced much of the alienation and abuse that his characters did. This biography shows that Anderson was much like the heros in his stories, flawed, but always hopeful. Like the hero in my favorite Anderson story, "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", he understood that although he was different, he would always believe that he would make a difference.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mark Twain on March 27, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I picked up this book looking to get some insight into the mind of Hans Christian Andersen, and to some extent I did, but in an almost disturbing way, I got a stronger sense of the biographer herself.

The reader of this book will get to know Andersen's family's origins (although not enough), his life as a child (again, not enough), the places he lived, those he knew and a lot about what they might have thought of him. There is a minor amount of information given about why or when Andersen wrote certain books or stories -- and this is where the book falls tragically short.

Instead of delving into the mind of Andersen or the world that created him, the readers should prepare themselves for page after page of the author's fixation with how clumsy Andersen's behavior was with colleagues and friends and her conclusions about Andersen's sex life. Some of this might even be true, but at times the stories are presented just to titillate instead of lending insight with any genuine caring. To a larger degree, I think the author missed the point of Andersen's dilemma entirely.

The issue for Andersen might be that he was socially and sexually immature -- for his age and at any age -- whether as a teenager or as an adult. And that he had deeper issues of inferiority that could have stemmed from a number of sources, the least of which his issues with being born into a lower class of society than he might have liked. Between the lines of the stories of his life, it seems pretty clear that Andersen did not have enough self-worth to have more conventional or even reciprocal friendships. The author draws this conclusion briefly later in the book but you're going to have to sit through a lot of saucy and editorialized excerpts of his letters.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Although this is a highly readable, extremely informative biography, the death of my Hollywood-derived impressions of Hans Christian Anderson, as personified by Danny Kaye, was a tortured one.
As Wullschlager clearly illustrates, Anderson was not a very likeable character. Easily wounded and quick to take offense (even where it was unwarranted), strangely self-assured to the point of embarrassing those around him with his pomposity and silliness (if not himself), he seems to have been almost incapable of giving the same friendship that he demanded of others. Even so, Wullschlager succeeds in making him sympathetic. Rather than try to make excuses for his behavior, she just lays out the facts and presents him as he was. She is particularly effective when she associates events in Anderson's life with the fairy tales and repeating literary themes they inspired.
That Anderson was able to transform his inner demons into timeless, allegorical tales that are both touching and uplifting is remarkable. That he was able to do so after having overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles in his background and early education marks him for the genius he was-warts and all.
This is a very good biography of an unusual, but brilliant, story-teller.
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