Hans Christian Andersen’s painful fairy-tale life

P2_ThisWeek_HansAn_1083516kDinah Birch at the Times Literary Supplement:

Andersen was profoundly committed to the Romantic ideal of the extraordinary genius, singled out for distinction from birth. “It doesn’t matter if you’re born in a duck yard if you’ve lain in a swan’s egg”, as he explains in “The Ugly Duckling”, one of his most self-reflective tales. His desire to please his many acquaintances meant he could be irritatingly anxious and deferential, and his inclination to a fawning submissiveness in his relations with aristocratic patrons was vexing to those wishing to promote the professional dignity and independence of writers. But he never doubted his credentials as an artist. Despite his lifelong social uncertainties, he was convinced that his unique gifts meant that he was perfectly entitled to special treatment from the hands of fate and his friends.

Binding is especially persuasive in tracing Andersen’s creative relations with Walter Scott, whose work had been translated into Danish in the 1820s. Andersen’s first published tale, “The Apparition at Palnatoke’s Grave” (1822), was influenced by the character of Madge Wildfire in Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian (1818), a novel that acquired cult status among its European readers, and made a lasting impression on Andersen. The story was published under the pseudonym of Villiam Christian Walter, in a volume that included one of the plays that won the approval of the Royal Theatre. Choosing the name “Walter” was an act of homage, but it was also a bold statement of intent. Binding suggests that Gerda’s journey to the icy palace of Kay’s glamorous captor in “The Snow Queen” reflects Jeanie Deans’s indomitable walk to London, undertaken so that she can plead with Queen Caroline for the pardon and release of her condemned sister.

more here.