The Little Mermaid meets the Prince - by Dulac

Hans Christian Andersen was the Danish author of many classic fairy tales such as The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid.

Hans Christian Anderson 1805-1875

The child of a washerwoman and a shoe maker, Anderson’s childhood in Odense was steeped in poverty. His family life was motley and colourful with one grandfather said to be mad, and a grandmother who worked in a lunatic asylum. One of his aunt's ran a brothel, and a half-sister was a prostitute who, in later life, attempted to blackmail her famous brother. Even when Hans was young and unknown his father would often insist that his son was related to the Danish royal family. What this was based on, who can tell. No proof of the claim has ever been found.

After the death of his father, the somewhat prudish and self-obsessed boy who often played with dolls in the street while singing in a high tenor voice, left his home town for Copenhagen to study at the university. He hoped to pursue a career on stage, but when such dreams failed to materialise he worked on his writing instead. He rapidly produced novels, travelogues and poetry – eventually creating the fairy tales that would lead to the fame he craved, when, in his own words –‘My name is gradually beginning to shine, and that is the only thing I live for...I covet honour in the same way a miser covets gold.’

A recent Danish stamp in honour of Hans Christian Anderson

By the end of his life, the Danish government proclaimed him a national treasure, with designs for a statue approved of long before his actual death. In life he was feted by such luminaries as Balzac, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Dumas, Victor Hugo, Ibsen, Wagner and Liszt. Charles Dickens welcomed Hans into his own London home for a visit that lasted five weeks – though there was talk of it being a strain. Kate Dickens called him a ‘bony bore’, and when Anderson finally left Dickens pinned a note to a wall of the room in which his guest had slept: ‘Hans Anderson slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES.’

When it came to a love life, the lanky, gauche and effeminate writer had very little luck. He always felt himself an outsider, and his sorrow at the lack of a ‘companion’ is shown in this diary entry – ‘Almighty God, thee only have I; thou steerest my fate, I must give myself up to thee! Give me a livelihood! Give me a bride! My blood wants love, as my heart does!’

He cultured strange ‘love triangles’, in which  his wooing of a sister often hid a secret lust for the brother, as in the case of Riborg Voigt – a letter from whom was found in a pouch on his chest at the time of his death. 

Jenny Lind

His courting of the singer Jenny Lind, for whom he wrote The Nightingale, led on to her being nicknamed the Swedish Nightingale. But the ‘affair’ was purely platonic, and while the two ‘friends’ were staying in Weimer as guests of Duke Carl Alexander, it was said that Anderson was more entranced with the host than the woman. The affection was not unrequited. The two men were often seen holding hands, sobbing as they proclaimed a mutual adoration of the lovely Jenny. Meanwhile, Anderson wrote of the duke that he – ‘... told me he loved me and pressed his cheek to mine...received me in his shirt with only a gown around...pressed me to his breast, we kissed...’  

It was Andersen’s life-long love for a man called Edvard Collins (whose sister he also courted) that inspired him to write The Little Mermaid – a story of obsessive longing and pain, and with the intense desire to be ‘transformed’, which the author expressed in this letter – ‘I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench...my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.

The VV is now inspired to read The Little Mermaid again - and no doubt to view the story in quite a different light.


  1. Wonderful stories but a very odd man indeed - many of his contemporaries weren't sure what to make of him either.

  2. I love this. You've managed to bring the man back to life, so lovely, and yet so sad. Great post.

  3. Thank you Hermes and Debs - it's not quite like the Danny Kaye film that I remember so well from my youth!

  4. An interesting post - thank you. I really knew nothing about the man, or even which century he lived. I've always loved his fairy tales though.

  5. Hi Essie
    A very interesting post.
    I've always been intrigued by Andersen, and having illustrated two of his stories, I have studied the beauty and the strangeness of his work in great detail.
    Funny though, I have never read those books(The Snow Queen and The Steadfast Tin Soldier) with my kids.

    Excellent blog.

  6. Thank you, PJ - I'm so glad that you like the blog.

  7. Great post Essie,loved the illustration of the Little Mermaid, I think The Snow Queen is my favourite of his stories. Been fantastic catching up with the vv !

    1. Thanks George. I’m not quite as active on this blog these days / but I hope to do more when I’ve completed the current novel.

  8. Wow, I never knew that the story of The Little Mermaid had a real-life inspiration!
    Tam May

  9. One of my most treasured possessions is my childhood Andersen, which did much to spark my imagination. My personal favorites are The Nightingale, The Emperor's New Clothes, and most of all The Wild Swans--which all have themes of reality versus appearance, like The Little Mermaid. Do you know of a good Andersen biography?

  10. I loved his stories! I read them as a child, and again, more than once, as an adult. He was a wonderful writer. It's sad that he had such an unrequited love life.