My son, on a trip to Rome, recently sent me this photo of a house that Hans Christian Andersen lived and wrote in during his year in Italy.
What, I wondered, did he work on there from 1833 to 1834? One of his travelogues? It turns out it was his autobiographical novel, The Improvisatore, and the trip was sponsored by ad usus publicos, a Danish public fund set up in 1765 and used in the 1800s mainly to support literature, art and the sciences. In other words, this was a residency! Many writers will relate to this experience, this life lived two centuries ago. We may rail against the norms and practices of times past, and we should, but we are also connected to writers who went before us.
When my picture book, The Girl of the Wish Garden, was published, one of the storylines of my life as a reader and writer seemed to come full circle. As an 8-year-old in India in the 60’s, I’d been captivated by
an illustrated collection of Hans Christian Andersen stories, a gift from an aunt who had visited England and bought a copy for me. The Little Mermaid made me cry. I have a visceral memory of a delicious surrendering to an emotional state. I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that words on a page could do that to a person.
So when I found out that an unknown Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale was discovered in 2012, that, too, felt inevitable and logical. It was probably written between 1822 and 1826, and shows that whatever else he write, the fairy tale genre came bubbling up for him quite early in his life. Excerpt from the Guardian article:
The story tells of a little candle, dirtied by life and misunderstood, which eventually finds happiness after a tinder box sees the good at its heart and lights it. “The Tallow Candle had found its right place in life – and shown that it was a real candle, and went on to shine for many a year, pleasing itself and the other creations around it,” writes Andersen.
“Pleasing itself and the creations around it.” May we all be as lucky.