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Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 3, 2001
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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.
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The later is the weakest, because the author is hesitant to reveal too much about Andersen's personal life. Being Danish, he cannot ruffle too many feathers, since he still has to live with the descendants of these people! The other two are British...
The Wullschlager biography takes a Freudian approach -- quite revealing as to Andersen's sex life, and ties in the major events of his life to his fairy tales and stories. It does an excellent job in both those areas. The storyteller's friend!
However, the most revealing of the three is the Prince -- it takes over where the Wullschlager left off. Andersen's homosexuality is a given, with the "politics" of oppression and repression well expressed. But it also presents the main events of his life in a brand new light: Andersen may not have been Mr and Mrs Andersen's little boy! A royal bastard, probably the son of the Crown Prince who later became king of Denmark. This sheds a whole new light on the "hidden" meaning of such masterpieces of Andersen's as THE UGLY DUCKLING!
So please avoid the Andersen, read the Wullschlager first, then compare with the Prince -- it will be a thrilling experience in biography reading, I promise you!
Despite his fairy tales and enjoyment of the company of children, Andersen was far from being merely the naive and child-like personality which some attributed to him. Using his diaries and accounts of those who knew him, the author shows his often depressive and difficult character, and his constant craving for approbation - "We are suffering a good deal from Andersen" wrote Charles Dickens when the latter came for a lengthy stay.
Andersen's work (not just fairy tales but novels, plays, travel works, poetry, and latterly tales aimed at a more adult audience) are shaped by events in his life, and in exerpts from his writings Wullschlager points out the parallels between them.
With a number of b/w photos of Andersen and important places and people in his life, this leaves the reader with a feeling that s/he knows and somewhat understands the writer. Most enjoyable and interesting.
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.