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A celebration of Hans Christian Andersen


Feature: Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION aptly entitled The Hans Christian Andersen Exhibition celebrates the bicentenary of the Danish author's birth. It runs until October 2, 2005, at the British Library in Euston Road.

Not only does it reveal Andersen's strange and enigmatic character, but focuses on the impact of his work in Britain and examines the underlying themes of his fiction. For instance, many believe that he was speaking of himself in The Ugly Duckling.

A special section is devoted to his two visits to Britain - in 1847 and 1857 - in particular, to his meeting and ultimately disappointing friendship with Charles Dickens.

While material from the archives of his London publisher, Richard Bentley, as well as his first letter to his English translator, Mary Howitt, illustrate how his work became known in Britain.

And key stories - The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Little Match Girl, The Tin soldier and The Nightingale - are used to examine particular features of Andersen's contribution to English literature, including some of the darker aspects of his writing - the destructive power of nature and his obsession with the deceptive imagery of theatre.

The exhibition also looks at Andersen's later, lesser-known works, written primarily for adults and tackling subjects such as contemporary technical advancements and the nature of art; the latter including critical appraisals of his own work as an artist.

To this end, visitors can expect to see original manuscripts not only from the British library's own collection but, for the first time, from Denmark itself. And children will love the Shadow-dancing puppets and ornate toy theatre.

Finally, above the exhibition hangs a magnificent white swan - a reminder of who the ugly duckling became.

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