For many baby boomers, the name Hans Christian Andersen is indelibly linked with an image of a very smiling, very blond Danny Kaye, in the 1952 film, "Hans Christian Andersen," swinging his arms and skipping his way down the cobblestone streets of Copenhagen, belting out, "I’m Hans Christian Andersen, Andersen’s my name!"
"People have bought the myth that Andersen was a jolly man who loved children and could sing and dance and amuse the world, but the opposite was true," says Jack Zipes, director of the Center for German and European Studies at the University of Minnesota, where he has taught since 1990. "Andersen was a tormented individual, highly neurotic, if not pathologically sick, and would not have had children hanging off his shoulders and neck like Danny Kaye. Very few critics realize he wrote six novels, 30 plays, and several volumes of poetry and travel books, but in fact, most his tales were not written for children. He suffered a great deal and his work shows that."
Zipes, an author, translator, activist, and world-renowned scholar on the art of the fairy tale, is one of the many literary luminaries who will gather at Princeton University to honor Andersen on the bicentenary of his birth. The academic conference, titled "Hidden But Not Forgotten: The Legacy of Hans Christian Andersen in the Twentieth Century," open to the public, runs Thursday through Saturday, November 10 to 12, and is sponsored by the Cotsen Children’s Library.
"We decided to do something a little different, to recognize the fact that Andersen isn’t read as much as he used to be, and to give everyone who came to the conference a chance to hear his stories," says Andrea Immel, the library’s curator. "We don’t have anything against Danny Kaye, but we would like people to revisit Andersen’s works and see what a marvelous and imaginative writer he is. He’s funny, satirical, sentimental, religious, and his stories have so much more range than most people realize. If you think he’s just the author of The Ugly Duckling, you’re in for a real eye-opener."
Despite a resurgence of interest in the fairy tale as a genre, Andersen has been neglected by scholars outside his native Denmark since World War II. Immel says the Cotsen-sponsored program will take a major step toward redressing this imbalance. According to a news release from the university, the formal papers presented by an impressive roster of international scholars will be complemented by the presentation of Andersen’s works in various forms, among them, live storytelling by Storytelling Arts Inc., numerous film screenings, and live dramatic reproductions, including the Cotsen Players’ rendition of Garrison Keillor’s take on "The Ugly Duckling." Plainsboro residents Michael Jacobsen and Danielle Sinclair of the Westminster Conservatory Youth Opera Workshop will also talk about their adaptation of some of Andersen’s best known tales, complete with performed excerpts from their operas. All these performances will be devoted to tales both familiar and unfamiliar in an effort to introduce participants to the full range of Andersen’s achievements as a writer.
A major art exhibition of Andersen’s works is on display in Firestone Library’s Milberg Gallery through March 26. "Wonderful Stories for Pictures: H. C. Andersen and His Illustrators" features the efforts of many different artists who have interpreted Andersen’s works over the years, including W. Heath Robinson, Edward Ardizzone, Tomi Ungerer, Hans Tegner, Edmund duLac, Arne Ungerman, Karl Lagerfeld, and Mikhail Magaril.
Immel says Cotsen is the perfect place to sponsor such a large-scale and ambitious enterprise because it houses a collection of Andersen’s works donated by Lloyd E. Cotsen, Princeton Class of 1950 and trustee of the university. Before she became curator of the Cotsen Children’s Library in 1995, Immel had been Cotsen’s private librarian. "Mr. Cotsen had enjoyed reading Andersen’s works to his own two children when they were young. He bought a large Andersen collection in the 1990s, so we have an impressive collection of editions of his works that appeared in his lifetime, including the 19th century Danish editions. We also have translations in other languages, picture book versions, and various memorabilia associated with Andersen."
Immell’s love of comparative literature was nurtured at Occidental College where she earned a bachelors in 1975. She earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in English in 1994, specializing in Restoration and 18th century literature. In 1980 she earned her M.L.S. from the School of Library Service at Columbia University after earning a masters in English there.
She says that another fascinating part of the Andersen collection at Cotsen is his papercuts. "He was a proficient papercut artist," says Immel. "Danes know that he had this skill but very few others do."
In fact, there’s a lot that the world does not know about Andersen, something that Zipes is also set on rectifying. Among other projects, he is collaborating with a Norwegian translator on a collection of 60 tales by Andersen. Published by Barnes and Noble, the book is slated for release next year.
Many children (and adults of course) know all about The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Princess on the Pea (not "and" the Pea, as many think), The Little Mermaid, and The Red Shoes. But Zipes says that few people know that Andersen was essentially a pioneer of the fairy tale, in fact, the most famous fairy tale writer in Europe and America in the 19th century, more famous, even, than the great brothers Grimm.
"If you write on fairy tales, you have to deal with Andersen," says Zipes. "He’s highly significant for understanding how and why the fairy tale developed in the 19th century. The fairy tale had been looked at askance by good society, especially under Puritan rule in the 17th century. His story, The Snow Queen, is a religious tale. His great contribution was to make the fairy tale acceptable in good, pious homes in the 19th century. And once it became acceptable, other writers began experimenting and started moving away from the moral, didactic side. He paved the way for people like Lewis Carroll, who wrote subversive fairy tales."
Like most children, Zipes grew up reading fairy tales. Born in Manhattan, he was second in line of four children. His father was a real estate broker and his mother, a housewife and secretary. He graduated summa cum laude from Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey, in 1955 and went on to Dartmouth where he studied political science. After his 1959 graduation, he went to Columbia University to study English and comparative literature, and earned his PhD in 1965.
He wrote his dissertation on German and American romantic literature and also studied at the University of Munich and the University of Tubingen in Southern Germany.
But he says it wasn’t until he was teaching at NYU in the late 1960s that he became interested in children’s literature and education. "The more I explored the topic the more fascinating it became, because I wanted to know how boys and girls were being socialized in the portrayal of certain gender types. All sorts of problems – psychological, social and political – were in these fairy tales and very few people were writing about them."
Zipes became one of the first scholars to write about fairy tales and the civilizing process, in effect, how children and adults are acculturated and civilized through fairy tales. "It’s one of the few genres that stays with us our entire lives, from birth to death," he says. "Andersen was an usually inventive and satirical writer who depicted the consequences of social class humiliation and the suffering that one had to endure in loves that were unrequited."
Immel says: "Andersen had a great eye for people who were pretentious social climbers, so he was very good at skewering people who were trying to be upwardly mobile. Of course, he was a terrible snob himself. He came from nothing, so he himself was an adroit social climber, and he knew one when he saw one. He also wasn’t above settling debts, so if there was someone he wanted to get back at, he wasn’t above putting them in fairy tales."
"Hidden but Not Forgotten: The Legacy of Hans Christian Anderson in the Twentieth Century," an academic conference in honor of the bicentenary of Andersen’s birth, open to the public, Thursday through Saturday, November 10 to 12, Princeton University, sponsored by Cotsen Children’s Library. $25 registration fee (free for students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Princeton University) includes admission to all talks and performances. For a schedule and abstracts of the papers visit ccl.princeton.edu/Research/e396/hc_andersen.html. For more information or to register, contact Eric J. Johnson at 609-258-1148 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, "Wonderful Stories for Pictures: Hans Christian Andersen and His Illustrators," an exhibition in Firestone Library’s Milberg Gallery, on view through March 26, 2006.