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

As the child of a washerwoman and shoe maker, Anderson’s childhood in Odense was one of poverty. His grandfather was said to be mad and his grandmother worked in a lunatic asylum. An aunt ran a brothel and a half-sister was a prostitute who in later life attempted to blackmail her brother. However, despite such a motley crew, Hans' father was always keen to insist that his son was related to Danish royalty. No proof of this claim has ever been found.

When Anderson’s father died, the somewhat prudish and self-obsessed son who used to play with dolls in the street while singing in a lovely high tenor voice, left his home town for Copenhagen where he studied at the university and hoped to pursue a career on the stage. But when that dream failed to materialise, he worked on his writing instead – producing novels, travelogues and poetry – and, in due course, creating the fairy tales that would lead to the fame he always craved –

‘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 being made long before his actual death. He was feted by such luminaries as Balzac, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Dumas, Victor Hugo, Ibsen, Wagner and Liszt. Charles Dickens welcomed him into his home for a visit that lasted five weeks – though there was talk of it being a great strain. Kate Dickens called him a ‘bony bore’ and when Anderson finally left the house Dickens pinned a note to a wall of the room in which his troublesome guest had slept: ‘Hans Anderson slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES.’

When it came to his love life, the lanky, gauche and effeminate writer had very little luck. He felt himself an outsider, and his grief for the lack of a sexual ‘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!’

What he desired remained unrequited. Anderson cultured strange ‘love triangles’ where his wooing of a sister often hid the lust for the brother, as in the case of Riborg Voigt – a letter from whom was found in a pouch on Anderson’s chest at the time of his death. 

Jenny Lind

A courtship of the singer Jenny Lind for whom he wrote The Nightingale led on to her being nicknamed the Swedish nightingale. But again, the ‘affair’ was unconsummated and while the two ‘friends’ were staying in Weimer with Duke Carl Alexander, Anderson was more entranced with their host. The two men were often seen holding hands,sobbing over their mutual adoration of Jenny while the duke – ‘... 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...’  

But it was Andersen’s life-long love for Edvard Collins (whose sister he also courted) that inspired him to write The Little Mermaid – a story of obsessive longing and pain, and 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.