By Samantha Gilweit
Fairytale author and novelist Hans Christian Andersen was a homosexual virgin and chronic masturbator, who had a love life as tormented and unrequited as his Little Mermaid. The 19th Century writer loved both men and women, but tragically was never able to act upon any of his longings, according to his biographer, Elias Bredsdorff. Even famed sexologist, Alfred Kinsey, took an interest in Andersen, uncovering hidden homosexual leanings in his writings.
Although revelations about Andersen’s personal life are far from new, his sexuality is once again being revisited as a controversial “Gay Week” has been proposed to attract gay tourists to his home island of Funen in Denmark. The issue is still being debated and has brought Andersen back into an uncomfortable spotlight.
Hans Christian Andersen was born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark, and through a stringent education, rose from a working class childhood to become a literary sensation. Although popular in his own lifetime, Andersen’s diaries portray a man constantly in search of love and never finding it. He once wrote to his longtime crush, a young man named Edvard Cullin, “I long for you as though you were a beautiful Calabrian girl.”
By knowing his inner turmoil, one can reread Andersen’s works with a newfound compassion. It is when Edvard Cullin decides to get married in 1836 that a grieving Andersen writes “The Little Mermaid,” a story of a beautiful sea-maiden rendered voiceless and unable to prevent the marriage of her prince to another woman. Unlike the whimsical redhead in the Disney movie who ends up marrying the prince, Andersen’s mermaid throws herself into the sea to dissolve into foam rather than kill the prince to save her own life.
Despite his angst and tragedy, Andersen also gave us what might be considered one of the very first “It Gets Better” stories. In the Ugly Duckling, we can see Andersen as that lanky, awkward cygnet born among preening ducks, feeling completely out of place in the world. And even now given the current controversy surrounding Andersen, it is impossible to read the ending of that story and not feel a glimmer of hope. Even though the author was unable to experience it in his lifetime, there is a place for ugly ducklings amongst the swans of Denmark.