“The Little Mermaid” is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. After its first publication in 1837, it inspired artists around the world to adapt the story to the stage, film, and even animation. John Neumeier’s ballet The Little Mermaid is one such work, but with something that sets it apart from other adaptations: the ballet tells the story of how Andersen’s struggles with unrequited homosexual love inspired the creation of “The Little Mermaid.”
Scholars have known that Andersen was either gay or bisexual for some time. Born to a poor cobbler in 1804, Andersen struggled to enter university but was ultimately unable to graduate. Despite this, however, he spent his life writing fairy tales that have become classics, such as “Thumbelina,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “The Little Match Girl.”
It is believed that “The Little Mermaid” was inspired by Andersen’s own experiences with intense but unrequited homosexual love. He fell deeply in love with his close friend Edvard Collin, but was rejected after revealing his feelings. Collins married in 1836, and “The Little Mermaid” was published the following year. The standard interpretation of the story is that the prince is meant to represent Edvard, while the mermaid is a projection of Andersen himself.
Mermaids are often used as a symbol of unrequited or blighted love, but few know the secret behind “The Little Mermaid”—that it is an autobiographical account of Andersen’s own love life. With the announcement last month that Disney will produce a live-action remake of their classic film “The Little Mermaid,” many will be anticipating how Andersen’s autobiographical fairy tale will be interpreted anew.