This article accompanies
Hans Christian Andersen: The Snow Queen
Hans Christian Andersen’s sexuality has been a matter of some controversy lately, especially in Denmark. Many academics and journalists have claimed him as a repressed homosexual or bisexual or ambisexual, with The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling trotted out as evidence. Indeed there's not much else to go on. Andersen lived a lonely life in rented rooms and remained a virgin his entire life, yet we know masturbation was enthusiastically enjoyed because for a time he made notations in his diaries. Yes he did... And why not?
This must have provided great relief, but, unfortunately, he also forced himself upon others (Jenny Lind, Dickens, Heine, etc.)... Vampire-like, he was unable to consummate a real relationship with any of them and so made them fodder for his fantasies. Perhaps we all do that, but Andersen may have seemed a bit unctuous and creepy and people noticed. He displaced this rejection into his extraordinary sexual fables.
I like to think of him as The Snow Queen, his masterpiece of 1844. The Snow Queen is interpreted as a symbol of chilly intellectualism when contrasted with the warm-hearted children who escape her frozen lake palace (the "Mirror of Reason"). Andersen was that chilly intellectual inside, with a child-like, even obsequious exterior. Sentimental and Romantic, he belonged to the Biedermeier era, captured so well in the paintings of Carl Spitzweg, in the way it concealed the cold, dark forces that would explode in the revolutions of 1848… Below is The Letter Messenger in Rosenthal (1858); for other Spitzweg paintings, here and here.
Andersen was a sophisticated and imaginative writer whose sexual fables cross space and time and inspire imaginative children of every age. His religious faith is particularly interesting - marked by cynicism and ambivalence - yet he could celebrate when he wanted to, as in the last lines of The Snow Queen where the red rose represents Jesus the Christ child:
Andersen was born in Odense and in 2011 the town came up with a novel (and eccentric) way to celebrate their native son: drowning his statue in the harbor. Will they ever repeat the stunt? Here is who turned up the first time:
The idea belonged to sculptor Jens Galschiøt, whose photos these are, and this is what Andersen looked like in the harbor: