Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller by Jackie Wullschlager - review by Kathryn Hughes

Kathryn Hughes

The Swan of Odense Had a Taste for the Quality

Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller


Allen Lane The Penguin Press 481pp £20 order from our bookshop

As it turns out, Hans Christian Andersen did look a bit like Danny Kaye, the Hollywood comic prince who portrayed him in the schmaltzy biopic of 1952. Lanky, clown-footed and with eager, mobile features, Andersen grew handsome only in middle age, when accomplishment and celebrity settled a kind of self-confidence upon him. Until then, he was an ugly duckling, waiting to become a swan.

It is no accident that Andersen used a swan in his best-known story to signify the epitome of physical, social and creative grace. In the royal palaces of mid-nineteenth-century Northern Europe where he often stayed as an honoured guest, swans crowded the huge, deep lakes. Looking out at the stately

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