The Truth About Hans Christian Andersen And Charles Dickens’ Friendship

Danish author Hans Christian Andersen is known for his collection of fairy tales that have been translated into more than a hundred languages. In 1847, Andersen was already an established writer in his country, and he traveled to London to look for translators who were willing to work with him so he could reach a broader audience outside Denmark. By that time, Charles Dickens already had a number of books published, and Andersen was a big fan, describing him as “the greatest writer of our time” (via Lit Hub). So when the opportunity arose, Andersen introduced himself to Dickens at a party they both attended.

Andersen was ecstatic to have met his literary hero and even expressed his delight in a letter he wrote to his friends in Denmark after meeting Dickens. It seemed that Dickens had a good time as well, as he left a package for Andersen that contained copies of his books as well as a note. Andersen soon returned to Denmark and throughout the years, the two corresponded through letters, though it seemed Andersen was more eager to sustain the friendship than Dickens was. Nine years after their initial meeting, Dickens offered Andersen a place in his home in the event he came back to England, but the invitation was most likely out of politeness rather than friendship. According to The Rumpus, Andersen wrote back to Dickens saying, “My visit is intended for you alone. Above all, always leave me a small corner in your heart.”

Hans Christian Andersen overstayed his welcome

Hans Christian Andersen’s visit to Charles Dickens finally came in March 1857. Andersen was supposed to stay for two weeks but extended his stay to five weeks. It wasn’t the best time in the Dickens household as the author was busy working on a play and contemplating on divorcing his wife. Andersen’s arrival added more weight to the situation, and as Lit Hub stated, it began as soon as the Danish author set foot in Dickens’ home when he requested one of Dickens’ sons to shave him on a daily basis — a custom performed by hosts to male guests in Denmark. Dickens found the practice unusual and scheduled a daily shave for his guest at a barbershop instead.

Andersen also often wept, in one instance crying loudly while watching Dickens perform in a play. He also broke down on the Dickens’ front lawn after getting a bad review for one of his works. Charles Dickens was not fond of his guest and even poked fun at how Andersen spoke, writing, “He spoke French like Peter the Wild Boy and English like the Deaf and Dumb School,” per The Guardian. By the end of five weeks, the Dickens family was relieved to see their guest go. In the mirror of the guest room where Andersen stayed, Dickens wrote, “Hans Andersen slept in this room for five weeks — which seemed to the family AGES!”

Here's how Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Dickens' friendship ended

After departing, Hans Christian Andersen, who perhaps felt that he was no longer welcome, wrote to Dickens, “Kindly forget the unfavorable aspect which our life together may have shown you of me.” Dickens wrote back a final time, but kept his letter vague by saying, “The corn-fields were golden, when you were here, are ploughed up brown; the hops are being picked; the leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn; and the rain is falling, as I write, very sadly — very steadily,” as stated by The Rumpus.

Messages between the two authors stopped soon after, but according to a report from The Independent, what may have ended the possibility of them reuniting again was the fact that Andersen wrote publicly about his stay at the Dickens home without asking permission, which was published in the English media. Perhaps their friendship would have lasted if Dickens never extended an invitation for Hans Christian Andersen to stay in his home.

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