April 2, 1805 – Hans Christian Andersen
In Denmark he is known as H.C. Andersen, the name he used for publishing. A prolific writer of plays, travel books, novels, and poems, he is best remembered for his fairy tales, stories whose popularity are not limited to kids.
Andersen’s 3381 fairy tales have been translated into more than 125 languages. His tales present lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity. His work has been adapted to ballets, plays, musicals, and films.
With titles such as The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Little Mermaid, The Red Shoes, The Princess And The Pea, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Match Girl, Thumbelina, and The Snow Queen, you just have to surmise that the famous Dane was gay.
His diaries note his refusal to have sexual relations, but publicly he courted women, most famously singer Jenny Lind, although he always chose females that he knew were unobtainable: women who were either engaged or spoken for, the daughters of friends who would never have allowed the marriage. On the rare occasion when a marriage seemed to be a possibility, Andersen would plead poverty as an excuse. To the daughter a friend, he wrote:
“Beloved Sophie, you will never know how happy I could have been with you, if only I had the money!”
As he grew richer, the income level he felt was required to pop the question grew also.
Privately his relationships with men were more heated, heartfelt affairs. Andersen was head-over-heels for Grand Duke Carl Alexander of Weimar, Harald Scharff, a dancer with the Royal Ballet (30 years younger than Andersen) and, most significantly, Edvard Collin, the stand-offish son of his benefactor Jonas Collin.
Andersen wrote of his whirlwind romance with Scharff:
“I long for him daily…”
Of Carl Alexander he wrote:
“I quite love the young duke, he is the first of all princes that I really find attractive.”
The affair with Alexander was intense, intimate and unusual. In his diaries Andersen sounds like he is the heroine who finally gets her prince in one of his stories:
“The Hereditary Grand Duke walked arm in arm with me across the courtyard of the castle to my room, kissed me lovingly, asked me always to love him though he was just an ordinary person, asked me to stay with him this winter… Fell asleep with the melancholy, happy feeling that I was the guest of this strange prince at his castle and loved by him… It is like a fairy tale.”
The crosses that he used in his diary to mark his jerking-off sessions happened with meetings with women as well as with men.
The Nightingale was written for Jenny Lind and became the inspiration for her nickname, the “Swedish Nightingale”. Andersen was often shy around women and had extreme difficulty in proposing to Lind. When Lind was boarding a train to go to an opera concert, Andersen gave Lind a letter of proposal. Her feelings towards him were not the same. In 1844 she wrote to him:
“…farewell … God bless and protect my brother is the sincere wish of his affectionate sister, Jenny“.
To Edvard Collin, Anderson wrote:
“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.”
Collin wrote in his own memoir:
“I found myself unable to respond to this love, and this caused the author much suffering.”
There has been some speculation about the queer-coding of the animated Disney film by the late, great gay playwright and lyricist Howard Ashman: The Little Mermaid (1989). The original by Andersen is one of the saddest gay love letters of all time.
In 1836, under some pressure from his family, Collin got married. Andersen escaped to the island of Funen at the time of the wedding, where he wrote the tale. He later sent it to Collin. It is, of course, a fairytale about a mermaid who didn’t belong.
Doomed love is the subject of many of Andersen’s tales, but none more than The Little Mermaid. When the mermaid becomes human in Andersen’s story, every step on land feels like knives are stabbing her feet. She also can’t speak. She dances and walks with the prince at the cost of constant pain throughout the tale.
The prince treats her like a pet. Their relationship never becomes romantic love. He marries another woman, but unlike the Disney version, it isn’t the sea witch disguised who hypnotizes him. He just chooses the wrong bride.
On their wedding night, the sea witch and the mermaid’s sisters tell her that she can still come back to be a mermaid, rather than turn to sea foam, if she stabs the prince and his wife in their bed. But she can’t do it.
The mermaid’s grandmother had explained to her that humans have souls, while mermaids turn to foam.
It’s a tale of yearning and the failure to belong. Andersen was an awkward, very thin person. He felt out of place in the high social circles he gained access to through his patrons when he was young. Collin’s rejection caused Andersen extraordinary pain. His sexuality and spirituality haunt his fairy tales.
The mermaid goes through tremendous pain to be by the side of the man she loves but is still rejected. She can never speak her feelings aloud. Andersen felt mocked and isolated for most of his life.
Ashman and Disney gave a mermaid her voice and a happy ending. The mermaid longing to belong, is silent. But in the film, she regains her voice. The prince jumps into the sea after her. She is saved, and they are happily married in the end.
Andersen was certainly not a writer of the happily-ever-afters. Throughout his life, he was often very lonely, traveling around and meeting hundreds of fascinating people, but never truly finding a person to share his life with.
Andersen was an only child. His father considered himself related to nobility. There were persistent rumors that Andersen was an illegitimate son of King Christian VIII. Andersen’s mother was illiterate. Andersen was sent to a local school for poor children where he received a basic education and had to support himself, working in a factory. He moved to Copenhagen to try and become an actor when he was 14. He had an excellent soprano voice and was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre, but his voice soon changed. Andersen then focused on being a writer.
He considered himself an ugly duckling, with sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, and a long, protruding nose. Like his duckling, he was teased and tormented as a child, especially for his effeminacy. The other children at the factory where he worked found him to be so girlish that they ripped his clothes off to see if he was a female.
Was Andersen simply sexually repressed? Was he bisexual or gay? Now, his name can be found on a hundred lists of Famous Gays and Lesbians in History, but until recently, this information was meticulously covered up or omitted. We do know that his deepest relationships were with other men. In his diaries he writes that he frequently fantasized about other men, and that his relationships with these men occasionally shocked society. His affair with the Grand Duke of Weimar was extremely intense, and Andersen wrote that they kissed and held hands in public.
Sadly, he remained an ugly duckling and never metamorphosed into a swan to live happily ever after. Hans Christian Andersen died alone in 1875.
Film adaptions of his tales include: La Petite Marchande d’Allumettes (1928), directed by Jean Renoir based on The Little Match Girl; The Ugly Duckling (1931) produced by Walt Disney; The Red Shoes (1948) directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; Thumbelina (1994), an animated film from Sullivan Bluth Studios; The Little Matchgirl (2006), directed by Roger Allers for Disney; a segment in Disney Fantasia 2000 is based on The Steadfast Tin Soldier; and that god-forsaken Frozen (2013) by Disney is based on The Snow Queen.
There is also Hans Christian Andersen (1952), a film musical starring bisexual Danny Kaye that is neither historically nor biographically accurate. It begins with a disclaimer: “This is not the story of his life, but a fairy tale about this great spinner of fairy tales“. It is relentlessly cheerful, but has great songs by Frank Loesser.