Andersen himself told the critic Georg Brandes in an interview that his autobiography had already been written in The Ugly Duckling, saying that it was “a reflection of my own life”. So, what did Hans Christian Anderson have in common with the ugly duckling?
“You don’t understand me,” said the duckling. — From The Ugly Duckling
Hans Christian Anderson has been described as a tall, ugly boy with a big nose and big feet. In his younger days, the Ugly Duckling was also thought to be ugly, being larger and differently colored than the other ducklings. So, yes, there is a definite similarity here.
There is another similarity that is hinted at in both Anderson’s life and The Ugly Duckling fairy tale. That of royal connections. In life, it was speculated that Hans Christian Anderson might be the illegitimate son of Prince Christian Frederik, who would go on to become King Christian VII of Denmark. Anderson’s father, also named Hans, believed himself to be related to nobility as well, having been told by his mother that their family had once been of a higher social class. But as it was, Hans Christian Anderson grew up poor, receiving only a basic education and being forced to support himself from a very early age.
In the fairy tale, the Ugly Duckling also must fend for himself from a very early age. And the overtones of social class are highly apparent at the end of the story when he turns out to be not a duck at all, but a swan. As stated in the story, the Ugly Duckling himself refers to the swans as “royal birds”, and the swans are many times called “beautiful”. Notice that the ducks at the beginning never receive such praises.
But to get to the happy ending, the Ugly Duckling must first endure the harshest of winters, even almost freezing to death. Similarly, Hans Christian Anderson had to endure depression and abuse during his school years, which he called the darkest and most bitter of his life.
He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled
him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around
him . . . — From The Ugly Duckling
Finally, both the story The Ugly Duckling and the author Hans Christian Andersen went on to happily-ever-after endings. The fairy tale, The Ugly Duckling, enjoyed immediate success, quickly selling out of its first printing, receiving public and critical praises. Hans Christian Anderson also enjoyed fast-rising literary fame from about the mid-1830’s onward.