HCA NEWS Unique discovery of Hans Christian Andersen letter

A sensational letter showed up during the making of a new, electronic epistolary biography.

By Annette Matthiesen - H.C. Andersen 2005 - 02 January 2003

A heretofore-unknown letter written by Hans Christian Andersen to his mother on 19 August 1831 has  resurfaced at the Danish Royal Library. Until recently, it was believed that all the letters Andersen sent to his mother were lost. 

However, a sensational discovery was made during the making of a new, electronic epistolary biography based on selected letters to and from Hans Christian Andersen.

Hans Christian Andersen scholar Kirsten Dreyer discovered the letter. She is one of Denmark's most experienced correspondence editors and is extremely happy about the find, which provides a unique impression of Andersen's relationship with his mother.
"It felt like winning the lottery," Kirsten Dreyer says.

The letter has never been printed or mentioned before. So, she realized that it was an important find she had in her hands. She explains that the letter at once illustrates the 26-year old Hans Christian Andersen's devotion to his mother, his perpetual money troubles and his attempts to establish himself as an author.

Fortune and happiness
"I can almost be moved to tears by the respect and devotion to his mother that is expressed in the letter," Kirsten Dreyer explains.

Hans Christian Andersen enclosed money with the letter to his mother and, in the margin, he added that she would soon receive another dollar. He writes about the earnings from his latest book, deposited in the bank; he sends greetings to people back home in Odense and wishes his mother fortune and happiness. 
"Hans Christian Andersen's mother, Anne Marie Andersdatter, could neither read nor write. She was poor and worked hard and Andersen knew she had become addicted to drink.  Andersen never got over his fear of poverty. It plagued him all his life," relates Kirsten Dreyer.

The letter has been transcribed but not yet translated into English or other languages. The original letter can be seen under the Danish version of Life and Works (Liv & Værk), where there is also access to the Danish Royal Library's epistolary biography, which contains up to this point more than 200 letters that Andersen wrote and received in and about the years 1820-1837.

The epistolary biography begins with one of the first known letters from Andersen's hand and ends just as Hans Christian Andersen has become a well-known author and is about to achieve success with his first fairy tales.

Tailor-made letters
Andersen wrote thousands of letters to friends and acquaintances in Denmark and abroad. According to Kirsten Dreyer, he was not only a brilliant author of fairy tales but an excellent letter writer as well:

"The letters are tailor-made for the person to whom he is writing. They are written with a rare sincerity and respect and reveal the author's insecurity as well as his indomitable spirit and naïve, resolute energy. They are often small sketches telling about life and people at that time and they cover genres from philosophies of life to essays to travel descriptions. The many letters from friends and acquaintances that are also included in the biography kept the author informed of great things and small in the days before e-mail and SMS," says Kirsten Dreyer.

Read more at the website of the Royal Danish Library