Curio Cabinet | March 01, 2021

Hans Christian Andersen: Cutting Out Fairy Tales
In Andersen’s paper-cuts you see
His poetry!
A medley of diverting treasures
All done with scissors.
—Hans Christen Andersen, from a scrapbook made for a friend’s great-granddaughter
Hans Christen Andersen met Charles Dickens in 1847, when the two authors were at the height of their fame. Despite a language barrier, they discovered that they had a lot in common and forged an immediate friendship. Both had had childhoods of hardship and struggle but had transcended their origins by becoming internationally renowned authors. When Dickens invited Andersen to visit his family’s country home in Kent in 1856, the Danish author made the arduous journey to see his old friend. The timing of Dickens’s invitation couldn’t have been worse. He was exhausted from writing Little Dorrit, his marriage was ending, a close friend had just died, and he was rehearsing a play in London. Used to being fussed over, Andersen was a demanding houseguest, expecting his clothes to be laundered, his face shaved, and his meals produced punctually. Despite the strain of the visit, the children—“We have all sizes,” Dickens had written—were enchanted by the gawky, funny-looking Dane. Andersen returned their affection with evening entertainment around the family dinner table. Henry Dickens, who was eight years old at the time, recalled that Andersen communicated with his siblings through paper cutouts. With a large pair of ordinary scissors, he made “lovely little figures of sprites and elves, gnomes, fairies, and animals of all kinds, which might have stepped out of the pages of his books. These figures turned out to be quite delightful in their refinement and delicacy in design and touch.”

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