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NA233512 - ANDERSEN: Thumbelina and Other Fairy Tales


Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea and many other stories are known around the world, for many children grow up with the fairy tales of the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen. The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl, which are on another Naxos AudioBooks recording (NA201212 ISBN 9626340126), are also very famous.

In fact, Andersen wrote 156 fairy tales during his long life, and although they are mainly for children, adults like hearing them or reading them again and again because they have a special atmosphere… and often are great fun.

So who was Andersen and why did he write these stories? Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark in 1805. His family was very poor, his father being a shoemaker and his mother a washerwoman. His father’s name was also Hans Andersen, which is why we use the author’s middle name and call him Hans Christian Andersen – to show the difference.

His father believed he was of aristocratic origin – that his real family was a rich and important family in Denmark – though this was never proved. In any case, Hans Christian’s father could read and write (not all shoemakers of the time could do that) and made sure that his son also learned these skills. Even as a young boy, Hans Christian showed talent in writing stories and performing them in puppet shows: his father encouraged him and took him to the theatre.

In his autobiography The True Story of My Life, published in 1846, Hans Christian wrote: ‘My father gratified me in all my wishes. On Sundays, he made me perspective glasses, theatres, and pictures which could be changed; he read to me from Holberg’s plays and the Arabian Tales; it was only in such moments as these that I can remember to have seen him really cheerful, for he never felt himself happy in his life.’

Hans Christian was only 11 years old when his father died, and he had to go out to work to bring money into the family. First of all, he was apprenticed to a weaver and tailor, and he also worked in a tobacco factory. But even though he was very young, he was determined to make a career for himself as an actor, singer, writer and performer. He had a beautiful voice, and at the age of 14 travelled to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, to show the world what he could do. He made a name for himself as a performer, and also started to write plays. All were rejected, but it was clear that he had the ability to write.

So, a rich friend paid for him to go to school. Even though he was much older than the other pupils, he worked hard to catch up on his education; in 1828, when he was 23 years old, he went to Copenhagen University.

He continued to write plays and in 1835 his first novel was published, called The Improvisatore. Though a novel, it was based on his life – that of a poor boy who through hard work, talent and a bit of luck made his way in life and society. In the same year he published a set of short tales called Tales, Told for Children. A few were stories he had heard as a child, but many were his own stories. It was the start of a writing life that was to make him famous across the world.

Some were sad stories, of difficulties and hardships – often overcome through hard work and a clear, good nature. Some were fun, like The Flea and the Professor in this collection. Hans Christian Andersen also liked to travel throughout Europe, and this is reflected in stories such as The Metal Pig, which he wrote to remind himself of his visits to the beautiful Italian city of Florence. Some, like The Emperor’s New Clothes, were fun for children but also for adults, with a moral for them to consider as well.

In these stories, Hans Christian Andersen was following in the tradition of The Brothers Grimm, the German writers whose tales were also very popular at the time. But the Grimms’ stories were folk tales which they collected and retold, whereas most of Andersen’s stories had new plots.

These fairy stories became so popular that they influenced other great writers of the 19th century, including Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde. The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde (NA213912 ISBN 9626341394) owes a great debt to Andersen’s tales – compare The Nightingale and The Rose with Andersen’s The Nightingale, in this collection. (This story was probably written for the Danish singer Jenny Lind, who was herself called The Nightingale, because she sang so sweetly. Andersen fell in love with her, but Jenny Lind loved him like a brother.)

A sensitive man, he frequently rewrote his memoirs – the version published in 1855 was called The Fairy Tale of My Life. Hans Christian Andersen died in 1875, but his works have remained in print as books ever since and have found new life in film and in recordings – such as this one.

Notes by Nicolas Soames

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