Saturday, March 9, 2013

Hans Christian Andersen Museum

I love this little museum located on Mission Drive in Solvang, California.  While taking a break from family responsibilities last week, I spent a wonderful hour reading the exhibits of this amazing man's literary life.  Hans Christian Andersen, of course, is most famous for his fairy tales.  We all read The Little Match Girl, Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling and The Steadfast Tin Soldier as children.  We read them again to our own children and now our grandchildren.

What I didn't know is H.C. Andersen (as the Danes like to call him) was also an avid traveler.  He traveled all over Europe and wrote many travelogues, broadening the genre to include personal insights along with documentation and description.  It is a formula used by travel writers today.
The museum documents his life (1805-1875) from early childhood in Odense, Denmark to his ultimate fame in Copenhagen.  He wanted to become an actor, but switched to writing instead.  He began with poetry and  short stories and finally, fairy tales.  Like so many writers, he was an awkward, shy man.  Sadly, he kept falling in love with unattainable women-- the most famous being Jenny Lind, who thought of him as a brother.  That he should write such lovely stories for children without ever being a father himself is a little sad, and yet, a testimonial to man's imagination.

There are many first editions of his books, securely locked behind glass cabinets, as well as beautifully illustrated trade editions in English.  His books have been translated into 125 different languages and among the editions represented here were books in German, Russian, Polish, French and Lithuanian.  The books themselves are works of art with decorative covers so rarely seen in today's publications.

The museum is operated by the Ugly Duckling Foundation, a non-profit organization which seeks to bring understanding and enjoyment of Andersen's stories to the public.  It is located above The Book Loft, a wonderful independent book store in Solvang.  Next door is a coffee shop.  A great place to hang out, if like me, you find yourself in need of a little peace and quiet.

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