Hans Christian Andersen was born in a one-room house in Odense, Denmark in 1805. His father read him Arabian Nights, but died when he was 11. His mother worked as a washerwoman and remarried in 1818. Andersen went to school intermittently and spent a lot of time in his imagination. He was very good at memorization and liked to recite plays and imitate dancers and acrobats.
His mother apprenticed him to a weaver, then a tobacconist, then a tailor. At 14, Andersen left to seek his fortune in Copenhagen instead. In Copenhagen, Andersen struggled to make ends meet for three years, singing in the Royal Theater’s boys’ choir until his voice changed, then attempting careers in acting and ballet. However, Andersen was an awkward performer and unsuccessful.
At 17, Jonas Collin, a director of the Royal Theater, read a play by Andersen and saw his potential. Collin received funding from King Frederik VI to educate Andersen. His first publication, in Danish, came in 1829. In 1833 he received royal funding to travel, spending 16 months in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Italy. He wrote about his travels in addition to the poems, plays, and novels that he produced. After this period, he continued to travel widely, living for nearly 15 years outside of Denmark.
In 1835, Andersen published Fairy Tales for Children, his first four fairy tales. He ultimately wrote 165 more of the stories, including “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Thumbelina,” “The Snow Queen,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Little Match Girl,” and of course “The Little Mermaid.” On an 1847 visit to England, he met Charles Dickens. He visited Dickens ten years later, but overstayed his welcome, after which Dickens stopped their correspondence.