Image of teo men kissingEssays on Gay History and Literature by Rictor Norton

A Fairy Tale

The Gay Love Letters of Hans Christian Andersen

Excerpts from My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (1998), Edited by Rictor Norton

Copyright © 1997, 1998 by Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.

Portrait of Hans Christian Andersen

The life of the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (18051875) resembles that of his most famous fairy tale, "The Story of the Little Mermaid." In letters written to his beloved young friend Edvard Collin in 18356 Andersen said "Our friendshp is like 'The Mysteries', it should not be analyzed," and "I long for you as though you were a beautiful Calabrian girl." In the fairy tale, written when Collin decided to get married, Andersen displays himself as the sexual outsider who lost his prince to another. Andersen's biographer, Elias Bredsdorff, in 1993 used diaries to argue that Andersen never had sexual intercourse but was a compulsive masturbator; Bredsdorff is uneasy with the notion of "homosexual emotions" and therefore declines to label his subject gay. Kinsey, according to his associate W. B. Pomeroy, suspected Andersen was gay, and was shown by a scholar in Copenhagen an immense pile of data and paper on Andersen: "seeing the original manuscripts which the scholar possessed, Kinsey could say unequivocally that they were straight-out homosexual stories"; like the mute Little Mermaid, "Andersen could not tell the world of his own homosexual love for the people of the world, but the original manuscripts showed his feelings clearly." The following letters cover Andersen's later "homosexual emotional" relationship with the Hereditary Grand-Duke of Weimar, whom he met at the theatre in Weimar, and spent three weeks with him at Ettersburg in 1844. He then made a European tour, and in Rome, Paris, and London, was received with great approbation by the press, the public, and other great men of letters and the nobility. But even after an intervening war and eight years of separation, he still treasured the bright memory of his fairy-tale summer in Ettersburg. Andersen spent his annual summer holidays with the Duke from 1854 through 1857, and they continued to correspond until Andersen's death.


26th October 1844

My Noble Hereditary Grand-Duke, —
          Your Highness can easily imagine my happiness on receipt of your warm and affectionate letter; it was as if we were again together as at Ettersburg at the sad moment of parting. You pressed my hand, and said you would be a kind and sincere friend. Your Royal Highness has gained in me a poet's soul – a human heart the more. Your letter now lies among my most sacred treasures. ...

3rd October 1847

I am home again in the old street, in the old house. The same people are passing to and fro, the carts are rolling along, – everything is going on in the old track; I myself am making the usual visits, attending the theatre, and sitting alone once more in my own room, as if nothing had happened; and yet my head and heart are so full. It is with me as after a great ball, the music still sounding in my ears, my thoughts like dashing waves. I can find no rest. I have been at home now for eight days already, and yet have done nothing at all, not even written letters – this is the first one – and now I hope with this inauguration of the pen, that, from today forth, a great deal will be written, and the new novel will burst into bloom. ...
          My stay in Holland, England, and Scotland floats before me like a phantasy woven of joy and sunshine, and at the close come the beautiful days at Ettersburg, with our reunion, our life together there, and our parting. Yes, yes, my noble friend, I love you as a man can only love the noblest and best. This time I felt that you were still more ardent, more affectionate to me. Every little trait is preserved in my heart. On that cool evening, when you took your cloak and threw it around me, it warmed not only my body, but made my heart glow still more ardently.
          Many of the exalted family are now at sylvan Ettersburg; your Royal sister is there, – recall me to her gracious remembrance, also to your exalted parents; and may I hope that your Royal Highness will present my most respectful thanks and greeting to the excellent Hereditary Grand-Duchess.
          Our morning chats at the coffee-table were charming. The wreath, made by the clever, amiable young ladies, I have hung over Thorwaldsen's statue [the Danish sculptor famous for his male nudes]. The colour is still in every leaf, and sun is shining on it at this moment, the flowers are as fresh as the memories.
          All my dear friends at Copenhagen I have found well. My dear Collin, who has now become "Excellency," and whom I love as a father, seems strong and well as ever; may he long remain so. It is beautiful autumn weather, and that also raises my spirits. ...
          The poems and the dramatic pieces are soon coming. I am rejoicing that your Royal Highness will hear these pulsations of my heart. ...
          And now may you be happy.
                    H. C. Andersen

4th May 1848

How thoughtful of you to write me. I received the letter somewhat late, but, if it had not come at all, I should have known that I was not forgotten.
          The agitations which are passing through the lands I feel to my finger tips. Denmark, my native country, and Germany, where there are so many whom I love, are standing opposite to each other in enmity! Your Royal Highness will be able to feel how all that pains me! I believe so firmly in the nobility of all men, and feel certain that if they only understood each other, everything would blossom in peace. Yet I did not wish to speak of politics, they stand far from me like a strange, distant cloud; but now they have spread over all Europe, and their sharp mist penetrates every member, and one breathes nothing but politics. ...
          When shall we meet, my noble friend? Perhaps never more! And as I think this, all the dear memories of every hour of our life together, the cordiality of our meetings flash through my mind, and my heart melts.
          Thanks for your noble friendship! When this greeting reaches your hands, may you feel in it the pulsations of my heart. God grant that a better state of things may soon come about.
                    H. C. Andersen

Trollhatte in Sweden
18th August 1849

From the extreme north, on the boundary of Lapland, I have just reached here. I left Denmark in the spring, where I was useless in the struggle for victory, and have travelled through Sweden, have been up at Dalkarlien where no thunder of cannon resounds. Happy, politically-defined Sweden, with its secure boundaries! Three years ago I dreamt of undertaking the journey to Stockholm with you, but what a change has now come over everything! I travelled alone, but you were in my thoughts – yes, I may say daily in my thoughts – with melancholy and sadness. Oh, you scarcely know how highly I rate you, how firmly you have grown into my heart! I have only rightly understood that this summer. I have received no answer to my last letter which I wrote to you in the spring. I afterwards heard that a contingent of Weimar troops had marched to the north, and finally I read that your Royal Highness had yourself gone to the seat of war. I undertood the circumstances, and sorrowed deeply on account of them, but could write no more. But now the proclamations of peace are ringing in my years, I may follow the wishes of my heart and send this letter to my friend. In the far north of Sweden I received the news so late, and am only now listening to the sound of the joy-bells. I can see you again, and look into your honest, affectionate eyes. ...

SOURCE: Hans Christian Andersen's Correspondence, ed. Frederick Crawford (London: Dean & Son, 1891).

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