When he was only 14 years old he left his poor family in Odense and travelled to Copenhagen to look for success and happiness in the world of art. That in itself was a crossing of several barriers!
Travelling through History
When he died in 1875, Andersen had befriended kings and queens and he had become a famous writer. He was familiar with - and loved! - modern technology such as the train, the telegraph and the microscope. He had also seen the tentative beginning of democracy in Denmark and he had travelled and made friends all over Europe. He had become a modern human being in all senses of the word.
Travelling through Literature In Andersen's texts the reader is able to follow in Andersen's footsteps from the humble beginning at school in Slagelse to his final novel "Lucky Peer" that is very modern in both content and form.
Travelling through Life
We follow Andersen across the social and geographic barriers of 19th century Europe in his neverending struggle for fame and recognition.
Theme two A Genius at School "A Genius at School" is partly about inborn and acquired abilities, partly about Andersen's interest in the natural sciences.
Studying to Become a Writer Did Andersen learn to be a writer at school - or was he a natural born talent?
When he left Odense and moved to Copenhagen in pursuit of success, Andersen had had little formal schooling and his benefactors decided to send him to school to make him an educated man. Andersen himself poses the question whether you can study to become a writer in his fairytale "What One Can Invent".
Andersen and the Natural Sciences Andersen was fascinated by technology and the natural sciences. He was a close friend of the Danish scientist Hans Christian Ørsted with whom he had many conversations about the relationship between science and art, conversations that were inspired by Hans Christian Ørsted's book "The Soul in Nature".
Theme three The Traveller Andersen's most famous quote is probably "travelling is living". The quotation is from "The Fairy Tale of My Life" and expresses a first hand experience as well as the experience of the upper and middle classes of the 19th century.
Andersen himself travelled extensively in Europe by all existing means of travel. He experienced all kinds of geographical and social environments and he explored both himself and the places he visited.
A Journey to the Country of Inspiration
Andersen first experienced the exitement of travelling when he left Odense for Copenhagen in 1814 and he continued travelling until 1875 when he died while planning a trip to Southern Europe.
One journey turned out to be especially important, his first journey to Italy in 1833 to 1834. For the first time he experienced the people and the lifestyle of Southern Europe and it was a revelation to him. When he returned to Denmark, he had half-finished his first novel "The Improvisator".
He returned to Italy several times and the country remained an inspiration to him.
In the Goloshes of Fortune
In the 19th century Denmark was a class society but things were gradually changing and Andersen used this change to cross some of the established barriers of society. He moved in many different environments from the poorest to the richest and they are all portrayed in his texts - where we have a chance to follow in Andersen's footsteps.
Theme four That Stupid Imagination "That stupid imagination" is an expression from Andersen's fairytale "Little Ida's Flowers".
In the fairytale Andersen writes about imagination, and debates whether it is a useless waste of time or a vital part of life to express yourself through words and pictures.
Around a Mermaid
Around a Mermaid takes as a starting point one of Andersen's most famous fairytales, The Little Mermaid and then freases on the mermaid figure. The mermaid can be traced back to the ancient classics, and followed as a reinterpreted sign through western culture, including 19th century classics which were a direct inspiration to Andersen. The mermaid is still interpreted in the modern media, e.g. in the Disney-classic The Little Mermaid, in a theatrical event at the harbour in Copenhagen in 2005, and in new editions of Andersens work. The mermaid is at the same time ancient history and modern culture.
Little Ida's Connections
The fairytale Little Ida's Flowers is reckoned to be Andersens first original fairy tale. However the fairy tale has connections to both actual events and persons known by Andersen and to texts read by him. From a modern point of view we would say that this fairytale can be studied through its extratextual, intertextual and intratextual relationships.