Sunday 11 December 2011

The 12 Gays of Christmas

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)

At this time of year the air is filled with fantasy, magic and fairy tales. A lot of familiar fairy tales originate in old folk stories going back generations which were adapted into children’s stories. Some of them were written in recent centuries. Among the most popular are the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, the Ugly Duckling and The Emperor’s New Clothes have become staple stories of the festive season.

Andersen was already a successful writer before he published his first collection of fairy tales in 1835. “The Little Mermaid”, published in 1837, has been interpreted as Andersen’s own unrequited love for Edvard Collin, the son of his benefactor. In the words of Wilhelm von Rosen of the National Archives of Denmark Andersen’s sexuality can be reflected in “… the impossible and fatal love of a little mermaid for a prince who never really sees her, except for her art, her dancing on the small feet that hurt as if she were treading on knives.”

Discussion on Andersen’s sexuality has been going on since 1893. In recent decades more discussion has been published, and for Professor Dag Heede of the University of Southern Denmark the question of Andersen’s non-heterosexuality is beyond doubt.

In 1847 Andersen wrote his autobiography, calling it “The Fairy Tale of My Life”. He considered the real world to be like a fairy tale. In his own case this may be true. He was born into a poor family and rose to the heights of being Denmark’s leading man of letters.

Andersen travelled around Europe extensively, even becoming friends with Charles Dickens, spending 5 weeks with him in 1857 (Dickens found him a bit fussy). Andersen produced several books on travel, and by developing his own style of traditional travelogue mixed with comment, philosophy and story-telling, paved the way for modern tv travel documentaries.

Today, Hans Christian Andersen is seen as a shining beacon of children’s literature. His influence is found in literature and media everywhere, even giving the English language a few common phrases (e.g. “he’s a bit of an ugly duckling”). His birthday (2nd April) was chosen as the annual date for International Children’s Book Day, and the statue of his most famous character, the Little Mermaid, attracts thousands to Copenhagen every year.

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