We often identify authors by their most famous works and investigate no further. But a writer's output is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. Readers interested in delving into the life experiences that shape an author will delight in Jackie Wullschlager's Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller, a scholarly, detailed biography of one of the world's most renowned writers. Born in Odense, Denmark, on April 2, 1805, in a small cottage in the poorest part of the village, Andersen spent his life trying to escape his humble origins. He once described his uneducated parents as "full of love" but "ignorant of life and of the world." His rise to fame removed him physically from Odense and placed him in the homes and palaces of the noblemen and royalty with whom he wished to identify, but the psychological scars of his true heritage created an identity crisis that remained throughout his life.

According to Wullschlager, Andersen's fairy tales equal self-portraits. The triumphant Ugly Duckling, the loyal Little Mermaid, the steadfast Tin Soldier the stories of these characters show Andersen's own ability to empathize with pain, sorrow and rejection.

Andersen's life was significantly influenced by his travels, the patronage of royalty and wealthy friends and his association with other 19th century artists. Wullschlager includes fascinating stories, rich with historical detail, of his relationship with such notables as Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Franz Listz and the Grimm brothers. The first to write fairy tales for adults as well as for children, Andersen composed narratives that compel readers to confront their innermost thoughts and fears. Soul-searching satires of humankind's foibles and absurdities are woven into the fabric of his tales tales that, according to Wullschlager, reveal Andersen's own inner conflict: a battle between achieving acceptance and success and rebelling against conventional constraints. Exploring the circumstances that contributed to the literary genius of Hans Christian Andersen and tracing those influences throughout his prolific works, Wullschlager has created a fascinating psychological profile of the legendary author.

Elizabeth Davis is a former marketing director for Turner Broadcasting System.

 

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