idk, my bff dickens
Or, a Hans Christian Andersen mini-episode because my brain is mashed potatoes this week.
It’s been a wild two weeks since our last dirtbag. I’m up to my elbows in revisions, work is firing on all cylinders, I’m way behind on a bunch of professional things, it’s still February somehow, etc.
So! This week’s newsletter is more of a mini-dirtbag, if you will. A dirtbaggy anecdote that many people know already but, in my opinion, significantly more should. I’ll return next time with the type of longer dirtbag saga to which you have become accustomed.
Without further ado, let’s leap into the story of:
That Time Hans Christian Andersen Turned Into the Airbnb Guest From Hell
The scene: 1847. The place: London. The event: Hans Christian Andersen, a socially awkward Danish dude who wrote The Little Mermaid and other fairy tales that Disney took all the creepy bits out of, meets Certified Giant of Literature Charles “Terrible Husband” Dickens at a party. (Dickens’ dirtbagginess is almost certainly a topic for a future newsletter.)
Like my dad when he retired, Andersen had recently gotten really really really into Dickens. So he basically follows Dickens around the party, telling him how great he is and how deeply Andersen respects him. I have to imagine that Dickens, being the kind of guy he was, really enjoyed this.
Except Andersen was apparently not great at moderation, and proceeded to send Dickens admiring, borderline romantic fan mail for the next seven years.
Which Dickens did not enjoy.
Dickens eventually wrote back with one of those classic fake invitations. You know the kind: “Yeah, definitely, if you’re in the neighborhood, come by, and we’ll get a cup of coffee or something! Would love to hang, bro!” Then you absolutely ghost their texts until they’re out of town, because you didn’t really mean it, you just had to say something. We’ve all done it.
Except Andersen, who had apparently never heard of this social phenomenon. Because he showed up at Dickens’ house in 1857.
And he. Did. Not. Leave.
For more than a MONTH.
During this time, Andersen apparently treated Dickens like they were the very best of friends, spending as much time together as possible and even walking to dinner arm in arm.
Dickens was…not into this. And rather than doing the normal thing and saying “It’s been great having you! Really need to get down to work, though! Can I drive you to the village?” he did the classic Dickens thing and was mean about it.
According to a letter he wrote, which went at auction a few years ago for a truly ridiculous amount of money, he had the following complaints about Andersen:
He asked Dickens’ sons to come to his room and shave him every morning
He spent his time cutting out little paper dolls and stringing them around the house
He would wander off into the woods for hours and come back with armfuls of flowers, which he would stick into Dickens’ hats
He had a deep fear of being buried alive, and so would usually go to sleep with a note on the bedside table that said “I only appear dead!”
He received a bad review on one of his stories and flung himself face-down into the grass in Dickens’ front yard, where he remained in tears for what must have felt like ages
Was Andersen a bad guest because he was romantically interested in Dickens? People have theorized this. When he informed Dickens of his intention to visit, his chosen phrasing was “My visit is intended for you alone. Above all, always leave for me a small corner in your heart,” which, like, doesn’t contradict that theory.
On the other hand, I refuse to ship Charles “Straightest Man In Straightsville And Also Really An Asshat” Dickens with anyone. I’m biased, but what can you do.
Some historians think that Andersen was on the autism spectrum as well, though the diagnosis didn’t really exist back then, so that’s all speculation. If true, honestly, it just makes me hate Dickens more.
IMO, the most likely explanation is that Andersen was an eccentric Danish dude with a very different set of personal boundaries than Victorian Brits of the time, and Dickens was an uptight asshole who passive-aggressively tried to neg people into doing what he wanted.
When Andersen finally left, five weeks after he first arrived, Dickens probably let out a huge sigh of relief. He then posted a sign in the guest room: “Hans Christian Andersen stayed in this room five weeks—which seemed to the family AGES!”
From this small historical anecdote, I have three main takeaways:
Fuck Charles Dickens.
Don’t decorate your Airbnb host’s house with chains of paper dolls, as not everyone’s into that.
Always—and I cannot emphasize this enough—use extreme caution when inviting a man named Hans into your life.
Think about it. Have you ever seen things end well when a Hans enters a building?
Hans Gruber? Absolutely not. Hans from Frozen? Not on my watch. Hans Zimmer? Any man who can write soundtracks that slap that hard has made a deal with the devil.
Apologies again for the mini entry! I’ll be back in two weeks with a proper dirtbag. Until then, buy my book maybe? Or don’t. Up to you. Either way, don’t invite a Hans over for dinner.
The image of HCA following Dickens around like Chester following Spike in a Merrie Melodies short just makes me double over laughing and awing at Hans puppy crush and Dickens annoyance. If you’re not sure what my reference is, the link is here: https://youtu.be/Oj_cP2Y5aos (also titled Looney tunes spike and Chester. The first few seconds says it all.)
Also, I adore the hadestown reference.
Wow. I mean, wow. I have never heard this story before. I dislike Dickens, and I’m not a big fan of HCA, but the thought of them together as bros? Wow.￼￼ I mean, the paper doll bit was just exquisite.￼ I feel like this whole thing should be a book. Can you imagine the movie? This should at least be a new Doctor Who episode￼ (they’ve done Dickens once, why not revisit it?￼). You know, this is the kind of story that I obsess over because it’s just so weird￼￼. Thank you so much for sharing!￼