Category Archives: 19th-Century Literature

Brothers to All

Quick! Think about the most famous pair of brothers you know of. What names came to mind? I bet for at least 50% (after all, we are all bibliophiles here, are we not?!) of us, the names that popped into our heads are most commonly associated with folk tales, fairy tales… or just “tales”, if some of them are a bit too… grim… for your taste!

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Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm were born just a year apart in Hanau – part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time and present day Germany. After Wilhelm was born in 1786, they would have three more surviving siblings (with one older). The family moved in 1791 to the countryside – a move which the two young boys were exceedingly fond of, loving everything about country life. Unfortunately the family was plunged into despair in 1796, when the family Patriarch, Philipp Grimm, died suddenly of pneumonia leaving the large family poverty stricken and struggling to make ends meet. The family was supported by their mother’s father and sister, and their grandfather made quite an influence on the boys’ lives. He constantly reminded them to be industrious and hard working. The boys were able to go away to school as teens, paid for by their aunt, where despite being looked upon as lower class by the rest of the students, they were able to graduate at the top of their classes. The two brothers remained very close throughout their schooling, despite having different temperaments – Jacob being more introverted and Wilhelm more playful and outgoing, though oftentimes ill. 

grimm1The two attended the University of Marburg together, where they tried to study law. I say “tried”, because here the brothers once again met adversity due to their reduced social status. Treated as outcasts, without the benefit of receiving financial aid or stipends as some of the wealthier students received (explain THAT one, if you can), the brothers once again turned to each other for comfort and worked hard in their studies. It was at the University of Marburg that the pair first became interested in medieval German literature and more simplistic, romantic ways of writing that the modern day seemed to have forgotten. This interest in folklore and poetry and traditional “German” culture influenced the brothers for the rest of their lives. They wished to see the unification of the over 200 principalities into a single, unified state, and spent much of their time with their inspiring law professor Friedrich von Savigny and his friends. It was through these romantics that the Grimm brothers were introduced to the literary beliefs of Johann Gottfried Herder – a German philosopher who felt that literature of the area should revert back to simplicity, and focus more on nature, humanity and beauty. The boys credited their devotion to their studies in Germanic literature and culture as a saving grace in a dark time – outcasts amongst their peers. Wilhelm himself wrote, “the ardor with which we studied Old German helped us overcome the spiritual depression of those days.”

grimm2The brothers did not immediately turn to transcribing Germanic folklore for the masses. As they were solely responsible, as the oldest boys (primarily Jacob) of the family, for their sibling and mother’s livelihood (because that’s what they needed… more stress), Jacob accepted a job in Paris as assistant to his once-professor (von Savigny). On his return to Marburg he gave this post up to take a job with the Hessian War Commission. Their circumstances remained dire – as it seemed almost impossible for Jacob to support them all on his own. Food was often scarce and the brothers suffered emotionally. In 1808, Jacob found a more appropriate (to his interests) job as the librarian to the King of Westphalia, and soon after went on to become the librarian in Kassel, where the two boys had attended their gymnasium (high school, for all intents and purposes). Jacob supported his siblings once their mother passed away, and he even paid for Wilhelm to receive medical attention that year to seek treatment for respiratory problems. After Wilhelm’s recovery, he joined his brother as a librarian in Kassel. 

The original title page and frontispiece of the first set of Grimm's folk tales. This frontispiece was illustrated by the brothers' younger brother, Emil.

The original title page and frontispiece of the first set of Grimm’s folk tales. This frontispiece was illustrated by the brothers’ younger brother, Emil.

It was around this time that the men began to collect folk tales from others. Initially they collected them in a haphazard manner – not realizing the great wonder they began to lay their hands on. They used their positions as librarians to accomplish their research, and began to publish in 1812. Their first volume of 86 folk tales, called Kinder- und Hausmärchen, was published when the brothers were merely 26 and 27 years old. They published several books and collections until 1830 – not only on Germanic folklore but of Danish and Irish folk tales, Norse mythology, and began work on a Dictionary. The brothers stayed quite busy and enjoyed their positions – their work becoming so well-known that they received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Marburg (along with their original diplomas), Berlin and Breslau. 

grimm4After being slighted for a job promotion, the brothers eventually moved to Göttingen where they became professors of German studies at the University (Jacob also as head librarian), and continued to write and publish works on Germanic folklore, mythology and country tales for a few years. The brothers moved to Berlin in their later years, working at the University of Berlin and also editing their German Dictionary, which would become one of their most prominent works. 

Because of the brothers Grimm, we have several tales written down today that might not have been, otherwise. To the brothers we can attribute (at least in transcribing) versions of Snow White, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Rumplestiltskin. One of the best qualities of their writing is that the brothers found a way to make the tales accessible and readable by adults (at first the stories contained their original graphic violence and sexual implications, which were slowly and painstakingly edited in a way to make the stories accessible to children), while retaining their folkloric qualities and symbolism. Though the brothers did not author the stories – but rather listened, read and researched them all until they were able to grow a collection of over 211 tales – they provided arguably the most extensive fount of Germanic folklore to date… and to them we are eternally grateful. 

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“Sometimes the Devil is a Gentleman” – The Life of Percy Shelley

“I curse thee! let a sufferer’s curse…

Clasp thee, his torturer, like remorse;’
Till thine Infinity shall be
A robe of envenomed agony;
And thine Omnipotence a crown of pain,
To cling like burning gold round thy dissolving brain.”
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Ahh, if only we all possessed the ability to curse our enemies in such a romantic tongue. Alas, we do not and we must leave that beautiful power to those who truly deserve it. On this day, we honor poet Percy Shelley – one of the most famed English Romantic poets and author of Prometheus Unbound - from which the above section was unabashedly taken.

Percy Shelley was born on the 4th of August, 1792 in a small village in West Sussex. He was the oldest of 7 children, and seemed to always run a bit wild! He left home to be educated formally at the age of 10, and at 12 enrolled in Eton. Unfortunately Shelley was heavily bullied at Eton College, and while such behavior is never requested it certainly seemed to help build Shelley’s inner imagination up and he began writing at a young age. At 18 he began his studies at University College, Oxford. Shelley excelled academically at the start, but after just a few months was expelled after writing a pamphlet promoting atheism with another student and refusing to confirm or deny his authorship in it (which in and of itself is kind of a confirmation, no?). Shelley’s life was nothing but static. He experienced bouts of grave financial difficulty (his parents being unamused, to say the least, of Shelley’s difficult nature), and had what were considered extremely radical notions for the times. He believed in free love and vegetarianism. For the turn of the 19th century those were novel ideas, to say the least!

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Shelley wrote to support himself after running away at 19 with a 16 year old girl that his parents had expressly forbidden him to see. The couple were happy for only a short period of time, however, as Shelley was quickly bored by Harriet and his conceptions of free love kept him from the marriage bed. Shelley was eventually able to boast a mentorship from one of his political and philosophical idols – William Godwin – where Shelley discovered both his own political radical ideology and Godwin’s daughter, Mary. Mary Godwin was the daughter of a powerful political and intellectual duo, being begot of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary turned Shelley’s world upside down and the two fell deeply in love, risking family disinheritance to be together. The two, along with Mary’s sister Jane, fled their homes and lived as vagabonds, traveling around England and Europe (often by foot) for over three years. By the time they returned, Shelley’s wife Harriet had had enough and had filed for divorce.

shelley4In the summer of 1816, Shelley befriended one of his first powerful and influential authors – Lord Byron. Percy and Mary spent a season with Byron in Switzerland – the summer ended up being one of the most important of Shelley’s life. Byron helped inspire the young radical, and Shelley wrote his romantic poem Hymn to Intellectual Beauty after an afternoon with Byron. It was during this summer, funnily enough, that Byron’s guests and friends were inspired to have a horror write-off. This writing competition of sorts was the inspiration behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Upon their return to England at the end of the year, it was discovered that Shelley’s wife, Harriet, had committed suicide. As unfortunate as the event was, it incited Shelley and Mary to finally marry. The two settled in a small hamlet in Buckinghamshire, where they befriended poets John Keats and Leigh Hunt – both of which would prove to be invaluable friends to Shelley in his last years. It was in these years that Shelley wrote and published a bulk of his most well-known works, including The Revolt of Islam and Prometheus Unbound, the latter of which is widely considered to be his most beloved epic work.

Sadly, Shelley would not live to see his work widely recognized, as he died when his boat capsized in a storm just shy of his 30th birthday. As was the custom, Shelley was buried in the sand on the beach where he washed up for one month before being dug up and burned on a funeral pyre. It is said that his heart refused to burn – and that his friend Leigh Hunt retrieved it from the ashes and gifted it to Mary Shelley – who kept it in a writing case wrapped in silk for the rest of her days. Oh, what a terrifying thought!

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Shelley’s young works showed all the aspects of the talented writer that he was, if only he had been able to live longer and reach his full potential. But as Shelley once said, we must “fear not for the future, weep not for the past.” Well said.

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We’re Still Salty, Casey

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CASEY AT THE BAT
BY: Ernest Lawrence Thayer

A Ballad of the Republic, Sung in the Year 1888

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood four to two with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought if only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted some one on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clinched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

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Do you even truly consider yourself American if you don’t know at least one stanza of this poem by heart? Unlike the mighty and fearless leader of Tavistock Books (and the San Francisco Giants’ #1 Fan) Vic Zoschak, I know relatively zilch about baseball. I know there are two teams, I know there are some innings, and I know the hot dogs are as delicious as they are terrible for you. So yeah, I basically know nothing about baseball. But Casey? Oh, I know all about that self-confident dud.

casey3Ernest Thayer was a Harvard educated author, who began working at the age of 24 as a humor columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. On June 3rd, 1888, the elusive author “Phin” published a poem that would become a backbone of both American poetry and baseball. Thayer did not receive credit for the poem for several months (as he was not a boastful man), and when he finally did he was surprisingly close-lipped about it all. He never revealed whether he based the game or the character of Casey on a real player, though many have put forth possibilities.

Actor William DeWolf Hopper was the first to read the poem aloud onstage – on August 14th, 1888 (Thayer’s birthday, as a matter of fact) at the Wallack Theatre in New York City. Present were the Chicago and New York baseball teams – the White Stockings and the Giants. Many of Hopper’s recitations of the poem can be heard today, as he became the official orator of the poem – and by the end of his life had recited it over 10,000 times. Thayer read it aloud just once, at a Harvard class reunion in 1895, which finally settled any doubts Americans had on the wordsmith and creator of the poem. Despite the fact that many knew of Thayer’s authorship, his lack of comment and humble nature had caused many to doubt it throughout the years!

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Click here to listen to DeWolf Hopper reciting Casey at the Bat

Thayer lived in California for the bulk of his life working at the San Francisco Examiner, eventually moving in 1912 to Santa Barbara where he lived until he passed away at the age of 77.

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Here is one of our many baseball offerings (we mentioned that Vic was a GIANT baseball fan, right? (See what I did there? That man loves the Giants.) Printed just two years prior to Thayer’s poem publication, this 125 page wrappered booklet claims to be the “Complete Hand Book of the National Game of Baseball.” Find out everything Thayer knew about the game here!

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“All for one and one for all” – Happy Birthday to Alexandre Dumas!

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Alexandre Dumas – a bibliophile household name around the world, created some of the most memorable stories of love, adventure, history, revenge and politics in the 19th century. On this, what would be his 217th birthday, we would like to pay homage to this wonderful French author and the adventurous worlds he created for his audiences.

Alexandre Dumas was born on July 24th, 1802 the third child of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, a French nobleman of mixed race (his mother having been a slave in Saint-Domingue, now Haiti) and an innkeeper’s daughter. Dumas (Sr., for all intents and purposes) brought his son to France. The young Dumas was given a thorough education and began writing at a young age and publishing articles for magazines and writing stage plays. 

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When he was 27 years old, Alexandre Dumas saw his first play produced, entitled Henry III and His Courts, which met with acclaim from the very start. A scant year later his second play, Christine, met with just as much success – and Dumas turned his head to writing full time. After enjoying the success of writing several hit plays, Dumas began to try his hand at writing novels. His first novel, published as a serial (as novels often were at the time) was based on one of his earlier, popular plays! Dumas didn’t stop with a work on his Le Capitaine Paul, however… oh, no. Dumas proved to be a very versatile writer indeed, as in the first years of his writing he wrote both an 8-volume compilation (with friends) on Celebrated Crime in European history and a book on a fencing master’s take on the Decemberist Revolt in Russia. It was almost as if Dumas was testing out the waters in his writing, trying different kinds on for size - except that this behavior lasted his entire writing career! Dumas wrote in a variety of styles and genres, most all of which met with success.

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Some of his best known and best loved works include The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Muskateers… both of which happen to have been published in the same year. As if we needed more evidence of this accomplished authors’ capabilities, here are some fast facts about Dumas that you may not have known before:

  • Dumas is one of the most read of French authors in history.
  • Dumas actually at one point built a large chateau outside Paris, that he named the Chateau de Monte-Cristo, right upon its final serial publication in 1846. Unfortunately due to Dumas’ constant money troubles (he spent more than he made on women, entertainment and pleasure) he was made to sell the chateau a mere two years later.
  • He once shot down a racist with class, intelligence and total general badass-ery: “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.” Burn baby burn!
  • Dumas wrote over 100,000 pages in all, and more have been found and attributed to him even after his death.
  • As Napolean Bonaparte disapproved of the author, Dumas fled France for Belgium in 1851 to escape him (and his debts… a happy coincidence).
  • He is accounted for having over 40 mistresses, and fathered at least 4 children between them all. (We had to add in some gossipy news, and ask that we are forgiven for our interest in it all!)

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One thing is for sure – Dumas was a man dedicated to two things in life… his writing and pleasure. He lived for the pleasure of writing and the pleasures of life that his popular writing afforded him. On this July 24th, let us all strive to be more like Dumas! Enjoy your day, live to enjoy your day… and have a drink to celebrate this magnificent author’s birthday. Cheers!

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In Honor of Emily

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“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson is the first poem I remember reading and analyzing as part of a school assignment. 

The first time I read it, I definitely did not “get it”. I honest to goodness remember my initial reaction to my teachers’ analysis of the poem itself. It was the first time I asked myself the question… how do we know that that is what the author wanted us to read into it? How do we know for sure that she meant for the bird to signify the innocence of the emotion of hope? With some authors it is harder than others – as some authors left… well… less of a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow. One of those authors was Emily Dickinson – the recluse who, to this day, inspires many with her words, whilst we know relatively little about her innermost thoughts during her most productive literary period. On today the anniversary of her death, we’d like to give a brief background on this interesting poet and focus not on exactly what her words mean to us, but rather on the lasting legacy she left behind. 

emily3Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10th, 1830. She was the second of three children, with one elder brother named Austin and a younger sister, Lavinia. Her father was not only a lawyer by trade, but a trustee of Amherst College, where his father had been one of the founders of the school. With their background in education, the Dickinson children were given a thorough education for the time, certainly when it came to the two girls. At the age of 10 Emily and her sister began their studies at Amherst Academy, which had begun to allow female students a scant two years before their studies began. Emily remained at the school for seven years, studying math, literature, latin, botany, history, and all manner of respected academia. Upon finishing her studies at the Academy in 1847, Dickinson enrolled in the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College). Although the Seminary was only 10 miles from her home, Dickinson only remained at the school for 10 months before returning home – for reasons many have tried to unearth but none can be sure of. 

emily2Though throughout her late teens Dickinson seemed to enjoy life in Amherst socially, and was certainly already writing poetry (a family friend Benjamin Franklin Newton hinted in letters before his death in this time that he had hoped to live to see her reach the success he knew possible), by her twenties Emily was already feeling a melancholy pull, exacerbated by her emotions when it came to death, and the deaths of those around her. Her mother’s many chronic illnesses kept Emily often at home, and by the 1860s (Dickinson’s 30s) she had already largely pulled out of the public eye. By her 40s, Dickinson rarely left her room, and preferred to speak with visitors through her door rather than face-to-face. Unbeknownst to any, Dickinson worked tirelessly throughout this period on her poetry, and by the end of her life had amassed a collection of roughly 1,800 poems neatly written in hand sewn journals. That being said, less than one dozen of her poems would be published during her lifetime. The first book of her poetry, published four years after her death on May 15th, 1886 by her sister Lavinia, was a resounding success. In less than two years, eleven editions of the first book had been printed, and her words spread across nations. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -
 
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
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It is only now, in researching her life and rereading a few of her best-loved poems that I can see the answer to my question of long ago. We don’t know what Emily Dickinson wanted each word to signify. We don’t need to know. It is the way her poetry made and makes the public feel that gave it the popularity it still holds to this day. “Hope”, indeed. 

Today we honor Emily Dickinson and her lasting impact on the world of poetry. 

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The American Anniversary of the (American) English Language

Many men born in the states during and after the revolution were more die-hard Americans than any of the foam fingered MAGA supporters we see today. After all, they were the children of the revolution… either they or their fathers fought hard to ensure our country’s freedom, and they weren’t about to let us forget it. They used whatever skills they had – political? They wrote the Constitution. Physical? They fought in battles. Academic? They wrote Declaration of Independence, or essays on our rights… or a dictionary of the American English language. Today we’d like to discuss one such man – who wrote the first American dictionary. With its over 70,000 entries it was more conclusive than ever before, and included words specific to America.

We may be young… but we invented the word “hickory.” So there.

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Noah Webster was born in 1758 in West Hartford, Connecticut. His father, though a farmer by trade, was at the same time a deacon of their local church, captain of the town’s small militia, and a founder of the local book society (which later because the local public library). Though his father did not have extensive educational knowledge, Webster (Sr.) did have a thirst for learning, comprehension, and understanding. His wife began teaching her son to read and write at a young age, and after attending small, dilapidated schools in the region and using a private tutor, and after his father mortgaged their family farm to pay the tuition fees, Noah Webster was able to enroll at Yale College when he was 16 years old… during the height of revolutionary unrest, and he continued studying during the Revolutionary War.

After graduating from Yale, Webster began teaching, then quit to study law, and finally passed the bar exam in 1781. One can imagine it was trying times to be finding a job and earning a living, what with the Revolutionary War still raging on. He began a small private school in Western Connecticut that he closed shortly thereafter, then he wrote essays for local papers praising the Revolution, and then he opened yet another school, but this time for the wealthy of New York. It was at this establishment that he began work on his first “speller” – a grammar and reader for use in elementary classes. The revenue from this first venture is what enabled Webster to spend the next years working on his infamous dictionary.

webster1Webster married Rebecca Greenleaf in 1789, and as she was of good breeding (man, I don’t get to use that phrase often enough) he was able to join higher levels of society in Connecticut than he had been. (They would later have 8 children, but that is neither here nor there.) Due to his beliefs in the revolution and conviction in America’s greatness, one Alexander Hamilton loaned him $1,500 in 1793 to move to New York and become the editor for the Federalist Papers.  For the next few decades, Webster spent much of his time being one of the most profuse authors of the time, especially when it came to political reports, but also in regard to textbooks and articles across the board.

Over these years, Webster focused on one specific way he personally could help his beloved new country. He wanted to promote an American approach to educating our children, and wanted to “rescue our native tongue from the ‘clamour of pedantry’ that surrounded English grammar and pronunciation.” He said that the English language had suffered the British aristocracy’s approach to spelling and pronunciation – an outdated and elite way of speaking and teaching. He eventually began work on his lifetime’s achievement… The Webster Dictionary.

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In 1806 Webster published the first attempt – A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language – the first actual American dictionary of its kind, but knew immediately it was not enough. He continued working on his opus. He learned somewhere between 26-28 languages in evaluate their importances and meanings, and connected with people around the east coast of the new America in order to gather words and meanings from around the “country.” At the tender age of 70, Webster published his dictionary in 1828. Though at first it only sold 2,500 copies, and Webster ended up re-financing his home to pay for a second edition… we all know the eternal significance his dictionary would play on us all… as the Webster (now Webster-Merriam, after rights were granted to the publishing brothers in 1843) Dictionary is still used in schools and households across the United States today.

This week we celebrate its publication (as the copyright was registered by Webster on April 14th, 1828) and the lasting impact it has had on America… just as Noah Webster wished it to.

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Credit: University of Washington libraries.

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Happy Birthday to the Most Irritating Houseguest Charles Dickens Ever Had

Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, on the second of April, 1805. As a small child, Andersen’s father read to him Arabian Nights - thus introducing the young child to both classic literature and what one might deem a “fairy tale”. At the age of 14, he moved to the capital to become an actor – and though he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre… once his voice changed the school advised him to focus instead on becoming a poet… a suggestion that he later turned into authorship.

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Fairytales seemed to be part of Andersen’s literary journey from the beginning, as several of his early stories revolved around tales he heard as a child himself. By the age of 30, Andersen was already writing profusely and showing his work. In fact, in 1833 at the age of 28 he had already received a small travel grant from the king of Denmark to travel through Europe and log the stories he found there. And, well… write he did!

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Andersen is most well-known for his fairytale translations, no one can deny this fact. In 1835 he published the first two installments of his Fairy Tales, with the second installment arriving only two years later. Unfortunately, his collection which included tales such as The Princess and the PeaThumbelinaThe Little Mermaid, and The Emperor’s New Clothes did not sell well at first. Part of the problem was in the translations of these well-known stories. Andersen’s ability to write did not cover his lack of innate foreign language skills.

After honing his skills and continuing to publish fairy tales for ten years, Andersen finally had a breakthrough in 1845 after his translation of The Little Mermaid appeared in Bentley’s Miscellany (a periodical). Soon after, his story was published in a few volumes following its reprint, including Wonderful Stories for Children. A review of the story was published in The Athenæum in London in February of 1846, and the review sang its praises as “a book for grandfathers no less than grandchildren, not a word of which will be skipped by those who have it once in hand.” Andersen became a king of fairytales (of sorts) and would continue translating and publishing them until 1872.

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During his heyday of publishing fairytales from around the Europe, Anderson published various travelogues that he had written during his many journeys abroad while accumulating stories for his collections. Though his travel journals do approach the subject matter in a similar way to his contemporaries’ travel journals, singularly he used his own strengths to expand the style to meet his own requirements. He combines factual evidence and graphic/detailed reports of his experiences with more reflective and meditative verse on various concerns, including his authorship, the issue of timelessness,  and the essence of works of fiction in the travel writing genre. His travelogue In Sweden even contains local fairy tales! (The man just didn’t know how to take a break…)

In 1847 a most happy occurrence happened for Andersen – he traveled to England for the first time and enjoyed resounding success among his fairytale fans. Andersen was able to meet one of his idols, one Charles Dickens, at one of the many parties of a Countess of Blessington. Both authors resonated on certain levels – they were both immensely popular (though Dickens more so, of course), and both took the time to portray citizens of the lower classes in their works. A decade later, Andersen visited Dickens at Gads Hill Place, Dickens’ home – a visit which unfortunately turned into an over-extended stay of over five weeks. Dickens and his family were dismayed that their Victorian politeness allowed a man, even one as highly respected and liked as Andersen, to overstay their welcome by so long. (Read our blog on the extended stay here.) Eventually Andersen had to be asked to leave, and Dickens stopped communication with the author, much to Andersen’s confusion.

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When Andersen turned 67, he took a tumble out of bed and unfortunately was never able to recover from his injuries. Andersen developed liver cancer shortly thereafter and died surrounded by friends (having never married). He was internationally esteemed at the time of his death, and to this day his name immediately recalls international fairytale stories to all of our minds! Happy Birthday to the king of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen!

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