Jens Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life,
translated by Tiina Nunnally.
Overlook Hardcover, 608 pages, $35

“It matters nothing if one is born in a duck-yard, if one has only lain in a swan’s egg.” Anybody who has been a child will recognize this as the happy discovery of the Swan formerly known as the Ugly Duckling. But what was true of the Duckling in question is misleading. Consider: the melancholy Duckling had only to wait to outgrow his adolescent awkwardness. Those born in figurative duck-yards need pluckiness, not mere patience, to attain swanhood.

Hans Christian Andersen, the Duckling in that histoire à clef, had pluck in spades, but it’s not surprising that his famous character didn’t need it. This new biography by Jens Andersen (no relation) gives us an odd man-child so sure of his “inner swan” that it never occurs...


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