Sunday, June 22, 2003

The Ugly Duckling

albino mallard in Brevnov Cloister Gardens

22 June 2003 The Ugly Duckling

Writers use stories as soapboxes to protest the injustice of the world or to promote personal viewpoints. Often a glimpse of the writer's portrait can be found within his stories, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.

Dickens was so effective in portraying social injustice that he affected English social law by presenting the hardships and miseries of the homeless and working-class between the covers of his books. As a child, his family had been interred in a debtor's prison. Dickens knew firsthand the hardship of extreme poverty and injustice of the legal system. Absorbed by the panorama of his world, Dickens presents pickpockets, debt collectors, tradesmen, and horse-trainers; but we miss seeing his face amongst them.

Andersen, though is easily recognizable in a cameo appearance of the Ugly Duckling.

HCA Fairytales and Stories: The Ugly Duckling
Zvi Har' El

Unlike Dickens, Andersen was not a self-made man who struggled against social oppression. Dickens apprenticed himself and learned shorthand, reading and writing the hard way and took to attending Parliament to write the proceedings. With skills of a transcriptionist, Dickens was able to summarize accurate digests that were reliable in content. This made him valuable as a court reporter to the press and opened the way for the Pickwick Papers which was originally printed as a serial in the papers. Dickens garnered instant readership as the audience had only to flip pages making his writing widely available on the streets. When his serial had concluded, it was compiled then into a book. Resourceful, Dickens' techniques have been copied by writers and publishers.

Andersen never confronted the intense hardship that Dickens suffered, nor did he fight such a battle for a profession. Andersen opens the first chapter of his autobiography by stating:

"My life is a wonderful faiytale, so eventful it has been and wonderful..."

Perhaps he crafted the words to create an image or like an actor was reluctant to put aside the mask. He continues, "I was an only child and extremely spoiled, but my mother continually told me how very much happier I was than she had been, and that I was being brought up like the son of a nobleman. She as a child had been driven out by her parents to beg...

My father, Hans Andersen, let me have my own way in everything."

Hans Christian Andersen

The Fairy Tale of my life: The first chapter of my life

Although exaggerated regarding plentitude, he accompanied his mother when they went gleaning in the bailiff's fields. Obviously there was not enough food or money in the house to sustain them. In 1819, Andersen fled Odense to make his way to Copenhagen. He was fourteen. Between 1819, he struggled to break into Copenhagen's theaters as a ballet dancer, actor, singer and finally writer. A boy soprano, his voice changed. And although his badly written works were rejected, he showed enough talent that his schooling and training were provided. He succeed through using the hospitality and patronage of the Danish aristocrats and nobility as well as those in Germany. Where Dickens worked his way up through elbow-grease and sweat, Andersen succeeded through patronage like many other artists and composers of his time.

After Andersen's departure, Dickens put up this sign: Hans Christian Andersen slept in this room for five weeks which seemed to the family AGES.

Why? Imagine a guest who comes for a few days, but extends his stay? Dickens had enough domestic problems with a wife and a passel of children. His marriage was breaking up. Mrs Dickens, like most wives, undertook the role of good hostess. Andersen spoke an incomprehensible English and spent his time making paper cut-outs and picking flowers. Upon receiving a rejection letter, he spent the day crying on the lawn. When the family moved from Kent to London, Andersen didn't make the transition. Suspicious, he didn't trust Dicken's coachman and stuffed his personal effects into his boots, including money, timetable, wallet, scissors, pocket watch. books and introductory letters. Why? the coachman might rob him.

HCA 2005: Else Cornelius

Difficult to endure, he demanded constant attention like a child. His self-indulgence is apparent like the swan gazing on its own image in the water. During the time that Edvard Cornelius and his wife lost a child, Andersen compliained that they hadn't written to him.

And although Ugly Duckling is autobiographical, it extends beyond Andersen's personal life into allegory, lifting it up from his childish pettishness and self-centerdness. For a brief moment, the reader glimpses Narcissus gazing into the water, but then the image on the surface is broken.

At 183cm with feet somewhere in the range of 47-50, HCA was indeed an ugly duckling, not easily fit onstage in a ballet costume. Like the Duckling, he was amidst of society and yet alone. He did not mingle easily. Unlike his acquaintance, Brahms, he did not fall in love with someone whose relationship was forbidden because of a difference of social class. Brahms never married, but neither did Andersen. He never gained full acceptance by society or in an intimate relationship. Like the Mermaid who desperately tried to rise above the ocean to live on land, he remained silent in a world where he was never fully embraced.

HCA 2005
commorative site for Andersen

Andersen Links

This site was created by Ann Rox
for IS 567 at the University of Tennessee.

Last updated on 1 December 2001.

HCA Center


Johan de Mylius

HCA: fairytales and stories

Zvi Har' El

168 stories in fulltext
English Translation: H. P. Paull (1872)

Chronological List of Works

titles that are derived from the stories of HCA
there are 82 titles listed here as being presented in film and a short biography

Andersen—The Brave Tin Soldier


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