Andersen's fairy tales: Denmark celebrates the birth of the presumably gay author of "the little mermaid" and "the ugly duckling.".
The reexamination starts, inevitably, with Andersen's family--the 19th century's version of a John Waters ensemble cast. Andersen's mother was illegitimate and illiterate, his industrious aunt ran a Copenhagen bordello, and his father--a poor shoemaker--keeled over a half-finished pump one day while Hans was still a boy.
Looking for a way out, the youth aspired to the theatrical life. First he broke through with a couple of walk-on parts as a singing shepherd in local productions, and then he decided to desert his backwater hometown of Odense altogether for the big time in Copenhagen. Here he literally scratched, unannounced and unknown, at the door of a rich cultural benefactor and fellow bachelor.
Shoes, show tunes, sugar daddies, and shepherd boys. If all this carries a vague whiff of something oddly familiar, recent studies of the writer forgo the usual coy conjecture. According to Andersen biographer Jackie "Wullschlager, in her Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller (Alfred A. Knopf), the storyteller was, at the very least, a resolute bisexual who reeled through three consuming homo melodramas of his own. The first involved Ludvig Muller, "a handsome, sober man with a passion for numismatics and museums." Grrr. Andersen responded with his own passion when he received a love letter from the "fleshy youth."
"Oh Ludvig how I adore you," Hans wrote back. It was only after he announced his adoration that Andersen discovered he was responding to a prank; Ludvig's original declaration of love was actually composed by a mutual friend with a lethal sense of humor.
The bitter laughs kept coming. Andersen's next feverish passion was for a 22-year-old law student named Henrik Stampe, who often posed for neoclassical artist Bertel Thorvaldsen's sculptures of naked youths on horseback. While Henrik probably never threw a saddle on Hans, there is evidence of some possible horseplay; Andersen's almanac at the time refers to worry over his pain in his penis. Henrik, though, had already decided on the girl he wanted to marry--a 17-year-old nymphet friend of Andersen's.
Andersen's third manly love at least offered momentary satisfaction. Harald Scharff, a dancer at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, was famous for his "thick sensuous lips"; Andersen describes him as a flitting butterfly. Clearly this time he had hit pay dirt. The writer's diary refers to intimate dinners and Scharff's present to Hans, on the author's 57th birthday, of a silver toothbrush. Always hopeful, Andersen saw the shiny oral hygiene utensil as a valentine, at least until Scharff flitted into a hetero marriage.
This series of smoking theoretical affairs is hard to refute, and Wullschlager views the silence of previous biographers for what it is: simple homophobia. In fact, even the physical clues serve as evidence. Contemporary photographs all catch the writer's arched, boomerang eyebrows, the lovingly curled pageboy coif, and the long, bony face that is equal parts Olive Oyl, Joyce Carol Oates, and Seabiscuit.
Andersen's work itself can be read as a not-so subtle code. Thematically obsessed with disguises, secrets, and doppelgangers--the dark self, hidden and then revealed--he found the best catharsis for social repression in his edgy stories. But that doesn't mean the man didn't sometimes break free of his own fairy-tale curse. A photo shot during one of Andersen's romances reveals a transformed writer. His face is glowing, almost ethereal, and his eyes, blank marbles in other pictures, look illuminated. It's nice to know he met a happy ending, at least for one passing moment.
An array of Hans Christian Andersen celebration events will be held throughout Denmark in 2005. The full calendar, ticket info, and Web links can be accessed at www.outtraveler.com.
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|Title Annotation:||OUR HISTORY|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Apr 26, 2005|
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