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.
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.