Q & A

The questions have been answered by the Hans Christian Andersen Center.

If you have any other questions regarding Hans Christian Andersen please write us at:

Q: How tall was HCA?
A: 185 cm (over six feet).

Q: What did he weigh?
A: We don't know but he was thin!

Q: What color were his eyes?
A: Almost gray-blue. Indescribably dark.  What others noticed most was that they were deep-set.

Q: What did he like to drink?
A: A little of everything, beer, wine, port.  He did not say that much about it, so it is hard to answer, but he wrote in praise of Albani beer (in a letter to Dorothea Melchior dated 15 July 1874):

Out here at Bregentved, we get "Albani-Beer", which is doubtless from Odense, but arrives from Copenhagen  I think from a big beer store at Larslai Lane. The Countess and I drink it and I cannot praise this beer enough.  It is not as strong as the porter Miss Anna drinks and does not have the alcoholic taste of Bavarian beer.  It is refreshing, good-tasting and strong.

Q: Did he wear a wig?
A: No, but he had his hair curled.

Q: Did he have false teeth?
A: Yes. He got a whole new set of dentures on 18 March 1873, having lost his last tooth on 19 January after a life of dental pain.  The fairy tale Aunt Toothache from 1872 dealt with toothaches and false teeth.

Q: What size shoes did he have?
A: His shoetrees were 33 cm long (and may be seen at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum).  This corresponds to a shoe size between 47 and 50!

Q: Did he have corns?
A: Yes. In the diary he kept during his trip to Italy (Friday, 7 March 1833), he wrote of an excursion:

My boots, which have shrunk from the seawater and much too narrow, my corns oh, it was complete torture and yet I had to go on!

Q: What kind of flowers did he like best?
A: He liked all flowers.  He made many bouquets and cut out paper bouquet holders.

Q: What did he hate most?
A: Fire and pettiness.

Q: To what countries did he like to travel?
A: Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland and Sweden.

Q: What authors did he read?
A: HCA read quite a lot  Danish as well as other literature.  It would almost be easier to list what he did not read.  However, to mention just some of the most important works:

He read Holberg even as a child.  As part of his education, he read such classical authors as Horace and Aristophanes. Among his most important models and sources of inspiration were (from England) Walter Scott and William Shakespeare, (from Germany) E.T.A. Hoffmann, Heinrich Heine, Jean Paul, Ludwig Tieck, Adelbert von Chamisso and Johann Wolfgang Goethe and, among Danish authors, Adam Oehlenschläger and Steen Steensen Blicher.

In addition, a number of very significant authors may be mentioned  - for example, (from England) Lord Byron, Charles Dickens and Captain Marryat, (from France) Alfred de Vigny and Alexandre Dumas the Elder, (from Sweden) Fredrika Bremer, Atterbom and Bellman and (from Denmark) Hans Adolph Brorson, Jens Baggesen, Christian Winther, Carsten Hauch, Henrik Hertz, Johan Ludvig Heiberg, Frederik Paludan-Mller, Carl Bagger, Carl Bernhard, B.S. Ingemann, Thomasine Gyllembourg, Søren Kierkegaard, among others.

Q: What kind of music did he like?
A: He was particularly fond of opera.

Q: With which composers was he familiar?
a selection:

Mendelssohn, Rossini, J.P.E. Hartmann, Johannes Brahms, Liszt, Wagner, C.E.F. Weyse, Robert Schumann, Ludwig Spohr, Henrik Rung, Niels W. Gade, H.C. Lumbye, Edvard Grieg, Richard Wagner

probably all:

Danish, alphabetically:
Bredal, Ivar Fr. (1800-64)
Gade, Niels W. (1817-90)
Glæser, Franz (1798-1861)
Hammerich, Asger (1843-1923)
Hartmann, J.P.E. (1805-1900)
Heise, Peter (1830-79)
Helsted, Edvard (1816-1900)
Holm, Vilhelm (1820-86)
Horneman, C.F.E. (1840-1906)
Kuhlau, Fr. (1786-1832)
Liebmann, Axel (1849-76)
Lumbye, H.C. (1810-74)
Matthison-Hansen, Gottfred (1832-1909)
Paulli, H.S. (1810-91)
Rung, Henrik (1807-71)
Weyse, C.E.F. (1774-1842)

Non-Danish, alphabetically:
Brahms, Johannes (1833-97, German)
Cherubini, Luigi (1760-1842, Italian-French)
Dreyschock, Alexander (1818-69, Czech)
Grieg, Edvard (1843-1907, Norwegian)
Henselt, Adolf (1814-89, German)
Hgg, J. A. (1850-1928, Swedish)
Josephson, Jacob Axel (1818-80, Swedish)
Kalkbrenner, Friedrich (1788-1849, German-French)
Lachner, Ignaz (1807-95, German)
Lindblad, Adolf Fredrik (1801-78, Swedish)
Liszt, Franz (1811-86, Hungarian)
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix (1809-47, German)
Meyerbeer, Giacomo (1791-1864, German-French)
Rossini, Giacomo (1792-1868, Italian)
Schmitt, Aloys (1788-1866, German)
Schumann, Robert (1810-56, German)
Spohr, Ludwig (1784-1859, German)
Verhulst, J.J.H. (1816-91, Dutch)
Wagner, Richard (1813-83, German)
Weber, Carl Maria (1786-1826, German)

Q: What statesmen interested him (or might he have known)?
A: Like many others at the time, Hans Christian Andersen was fascinated by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).
He knew and valued privy council minister Count Conrad Rantzau-Breitenburg (1773-1845), who was behind the royal decree that provided Andersen with an annual grant of 400 rigsdaler. HCA visited the count several times at his manor home in Breitenburg and dedicated the section on Italy of his travelogue En Digters Bazar, Poets Bazaar (1842) to him, the friend of his youth Orla Lehmann (1810-70), who became a highly prominent liberal politician, and King Christian VIII (1786-1848, king from 3 December 1839 to 20 February 1848).

Q: Was he afraid of the water?
A: No. He started taking swimming lessons in 1838.

Q: What was his relationship to the railways?
A: He was among the first to travel by train (10 November 1840, from Magdeburg to Leipzig) and write about it (in the travelogue En Digters Bazar, the chapter entitled The Railway, 1842), and a frequent railway traveller afterwards.

Q: How did he feel about technology?
A: He was keenly interested in it.  He was captivated by new inventions such as the railway, the telegraph, and photography and was one of the first to try them all:

"I have a daily little quarrel with Ingemann on the significance of inventions, as he places poetry far above science, but not I.  He admits that our time is a time of great inventions, but it is only with respect to the mechanical, the material, that things are burgeoning; I consider them the necessary bearers of the spiritual, the great stalks upon which poetry may place its flowers."
(From a letter to Henriette Wulff)

Q: How did he feel about photography, which was invented during his lifetime?
A: He was very enthusiastic. He was photographed many times during his lifetime.

Q: Could he ride a bicycle?
A: No. Bicycles were not an ordinary means of transportation at that time and he never tried it.

Q: Could he ride on horses?
A: Yes, among other occasions, he rode on 24 February 1834 up Vesuvius along with Henrik Hertz. In addition, he rode during trips to Switzerland in 1855 and Morocco in 1862.

Q: What was his favorite time of year?
A: Like most people, he liked summer best but could find beauty in all the seasons.  He found fall with its flaming colors before the death-like state of winter particularly poetic.

Q: Was he a morning person or an evening person?
A: It is hard to say. He could get up at 2 o'clock in the morning to catch a stage and stay up very late. He was most of all very energetic and strong-willed.  If he had to get up, he got up.

Q: Did he like to cook?
A: He did not. He took all his meals either as a lodger or a guest.

Q: Was he lazy?
A: No! HCA met life and the world with an amazing amount of energy and was artistically very productive.

Q: Was he childlike?
A: Yes, but not childish. He understood children better than most adults and he was an imaginative person his whole life. It was in this sense he had a childlike soul.  Most of what he wrote was for adults, even what he wrote for children, and his poetry dealt with adult subjects to a very large degree.

Q: Did he have any siblings and what became of them?
A: He had an older half-sister named Karen Marie (born on 22 September 1799). She was left with HCA's grandmother and upon the mothers later marriage placed outside the home. She travelled to Copenhagen as a stowaway in November 1822 to visit HCA. However, he was in school in Slagelse at that time. She lived as a washerwoman in Copenhagen. She visited HCA in 1842. She died on 18 November 1846.

Q: Did he like children?
A: Yes, he loved children. His special understanding of their way of thinking and acting is displayed in his fairy tales.  However, he did not like to have children sitting on his lap, when he read aloud.  A quotation from a letter HCA wrote to little Charlotte (Charlotte Melchior 1871-1926) on 23 April 1875 shows a little of how vital and child-like he was with children:

"Here in Copenhagen, hail fell like cabbage heads and the snow came down in such drifts that I thought: Charlotte must be plucking all the white chickens in Køge and throwing them up into the clouds so that the feathers would drift down on Højbro Square, Nyhavn and everywhere there were people thinking of Charlotte."
(Bille and Bøgh: Letters from Hans Christian Andersen, Aschehoug 2000, p. 921)

The letter was signed Your friend H.C. Andersen.

Q: Did children like him?
A: Yes. The fairy tale Little Ida's Flowers, in which a young student tells tales to little Ida, is characteristic of the understanding and warmth that existed between HCA and many of the children he knew. Most children loved to hear Andersen tell stories and watch him make paper cutouts for them.  He also put together entire picture books for children (for example, for Rigmor, Astrid and Christine Stampe, Hans Christian Ørsted (the grandson of physicist H.C. Ørsted), Agnete Lind, Marie Henriques and Charlotte Melchior).

Q: Was he cowardly?
A: No. His struggle to become an artist required much courage and resolution. In addition, his ascent of Vesuvius on 24 February 1834 above the glowing lava illustrates his sometimes fearless personality:

"In order to look into the firestorm of the volcano, they had to go out onto the crust of the lava flow from the day before:
It was terrible that is, horrendous. The crust burned us through our boots, so we could hardly stand it and there were fissures, incredibly long, that we had to cross and we could only see red fire in them; had the crust broken, we would have sunk into a sea of fire.  A couple of yards from us, the red lava rushed like a waterfall down the mountain.  Fire and large stones flowed from the crater and trickled down the cone.  The sulfur fumes were suffocating, and, since the earth was burning beneath us, we could only stand there for 2 minutes; I felt my life was in Gods hands and was giddy from rapture."
(Addendum dated 25 February in a letter to Henriette Wulff)

Q: Was he good with his hands?
A: Very much so.  His paper cutouts show this best: His scissors, which he always had about him, were rather large, like his hands, but many of his paper cutouts are extremely elegant.

Q: Did he exercise?
A: People did not exercise at that time. Life was less sedentary; because people did not have the conveniences we have today.  Andersen was a very active person, who, among other things, hiked a great deal on his trips and could also get around on foot in Denmark for example, he walked from Copenhagen to Slagelse on 5 January 1823!

Q: How did Hans Christian Andersen do with the ladies?
A: So-so. He never experienced requited love for a woman. He was an awkward and tentative suitor. So tentative that many have believed he was homosexual. However, there were a number of women who found him attractive. On a trip to Jutland in 1830, he wrote in a letter to his friend Edvard Collin:

"... a lady who openly declared her love for me would undoubtedly lose face in my eyes.  I don?t care much for highly-strung ladies, even if they are pining for me."

Throughout his life, he was idolized as a successful artist.  In 1835 (once again, in a letter to Edvard Collin), he says that young ladies, all of whom have read about Lara and Flaminia in his breakthrough novel The Improvisatore, "flock around the author."

In 1845, he dined at the court of Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, where he was a great success. In his biography "The Life of Hans Christian Andersen: Day by Day" (Aschehoug 1998), Johan de Mylius has written for 17 December 1845, that "Hans Christian Andersen is the big draw in Berlin social life - and he knows it himself, playing hard to get. A number of artists and cultural personalities have been invited to come and meet HCA, but he is absent from the party."

Painter Caroline Bardua's sister, Wilhelmine, noted in her diary:
"The writer Andersen's presence puts everyone from the court on down into a flurry - he is the man of the hour." In her diary, Wilhelmine Bardua described HCA as "extraordinarily talkative, punctuating his speech with lively gesticulations" and says that he "looks rather well." 

Mylius writes of Anna Bjerring (for 5 July 1857):
"This is the first mention in a diary of Anna Bjerring - at that point a 25-year teacher from Ålborg. (...) A lifelong correspondence developed between these two and they had several personal meetings. There is no doubt that she was in love with HCA and did what she could to get him. Upon her death (1902), she took HCA's letters to the grave with her!"

Q: Did Hans Christian Andersen write a fairy tale or a poem about the North Wind?
A: In the fairy tale "The Garden of Paradise" (from Fairy Tales, Told for Children, 2d series, Vol. 2, 1839), the North, East, South and West Winds appear.

Q: What did Hans Christian Andersen think about his own appearance?
A: He wrote a poem "Aftenen" [?Evening?] in 1827 (quoted here from Hans Christian Andersen, Samlede Digte (Johan de Mylius, ed.), pp. 82-83):

Se, hist på skrænten står en lang person
med ansigtet så blegt, som salig Werther,
og med en næse, stor som en kanon,
og øjne bitte små, som grønne ærter.
Han synger noget tysk med et "woher?"
og stirrer derpå ud i vesterlide.
Hvorfor mon han vel står så længe der?
Ja Herre Gud! man kan ei alting vide;
dog er det sikkert, har jeg rigtigt set,
en gal, en elsker, eller en poet.

[See, on the cliff, stands a tall person
With a face as pale as blessed Werther,
And a nose as big as a canon,
And eyes as tiny as small green peas.
He's singing something German with a "woher?"
And from there stares out westward.
Why does he so long there stand guard?
Lord! You can't know it all,
But one thing is sure, I have seen
A madman, a lover or a bard.]

Q: Hans Christian Andersen is known as the "nightingale from Funen," but what did he sing as a child?
A: For the most part, Hans Christian Andersen improvised his songs - both text and melody. His first encounter with poetry was through a neighbor (at Munkemøllestræde in Odense), Mrs. Bunkeflod, whose late husband Pastor Hans Christian Bunkeflod had, among other things, written songs. He sang with Mrs. Bunkeflod, but whether he sang these songs is unknown.

At Odense Theater in 1813, he saw Ferdinand Kauer's operetta The Danube Maidens. He began to sing melodies from The Danube Maidens with his own homemade texts, put together from Danish and German words. He took to performing the piece at home, "-despite the fact that I did not know more than two German words "Schwester" and "Bruder"" (The Book of My Life).

Later, he undoubtedly learned the text but still used his own melodies. When he arrived in Copenhagen to seek his fortune, he sought out the ballerina Anne Margrethe Schall and performed on the spot a portion of the female leading role in the ballad opera "Cendrillon or The Little Glass Slipper," which he had seen twice at the theater in Odense. He had never read the piece and improvised both text and melody. He danced in his stocking feet and used his hat as a tambourine. It was not a success...

As an adult, he sometimes sang the following, alone or before an audience, accompanied by a piano:

The barcarole from Hérold's ballad opera "Marie"
Kong Christian [King Christian]
Te voglio bene assaje (Neapolitan folk song)
Kong Frederik den Sjette [King Frederik VI] (Danmark, deiligst Vang og Vænge)
Lille Viggo [Little Viggo]

Hans Christian Andersen himself had written text to the latter three. He called Te voglio, Kong Frederik den Sjette and Gurre his "show horses" (Diaries II, p. 195).

Q: What has Hans Christian Andersen meant for the world and especially for Denmark?
A: That is not easy to answer quickly, but his works have become more widespread than any other author ever (only the Bible has been translated into more languages).  He is read by Chinese students in school and, on the whole, is well-known and appreciated in China and Japan.

One might say that, like the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), he had the special knack of turning ideas into tales - in a particularly Nordic, melancholy and, at the same time, witty way. His fairy tales are philosophical, told with amazing narrative joy and sparkling imagination in beautiful, elegant language. 

It is different from, for example, French philosophy, which is not supposed to be funny, or folktales, which relate myths rather than philosophy and have none of Andersen's finesse. His fairy tales also have the special quality of being able to speak to children and adults alike, from two different levels in the text.

Q: How was he as a person?
A: He was generous. Afraid of fire. Had a few anxieties, but nevertheless journeyed fearlessly out into the world, which was a dangerous undertaking at that time. His entire early career required tremendous bravery. He travelled to Copenhagen as a 14-year old with virtually no money or connections.

He was vain and so sensitive that those around him (particularly, the somewhat dry Collin family) sometimes found him ridiculous and intolerable. This was not the case with the more cosmopolitan Melchior family or other open-minded spirits, such as H. C. Ørsted, B.S. Ingemann, Bertel Thorvaldsen, and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, among others.

Q: How many languages could Hans Christian Andersen speak and which languages?
A: In addition to, of course, Danish, he spoke rather good German, some Italian, some French and some English. It is difficult to know how good he was at languages, but his German was quite good ? though, with mistakes, which were viewed as more charming than irritating. Throughout his life, he had an incredible number of German contacts. So, by necessity, he had to speak a lot of German. His French was probably also pretty good. His English, on the other hand, was pretty bad.