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A semi-autobiographical novel inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s travels in Italy—and one of the author’s best-known works in his native Denmark

Published to great acclaim in 1835, Hans Christian Andersen’s debut novel, The Improvisatore, initially eclipsed his fairy tales, which first appeared in the same year. Andersen, the captivating teller of enchanted tales, is very much in evidence in this classic Bildungsroman inspired by his travels in Italy earlier in the decade. The novel’s hero, Antonio—much like Andersen himself—rises from impoverished beginnings to become a successful artist, at every turn learning charming and often alarming lessons in the ways of the world.   

Adopted by a nobleman, smitten with an opera singer, challenged to a duel, captured by bandits, beset by a temptress, Antonio follows a dizzying itinerary on his path to enlightenment and, perhaps, happiness. Along the way he experiences the delights of Italian culture and nature so clearly and deeply absorbed by his peripatetic author—from the inescapable power of some of the world’s most enduring paintings and sculptures to the drama of an erupting Mount Vesuvius and the rampages of wild buffalo on the Roman campagna, all in the shadow of classical mythology and in the company of characters from every level of Italian society: beggar, brigand, priest, and poet.

This first English translation since the 1840s captures the brilliance and brio, the sweep and the nuance that made The Improvisatore one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most widely read and best loved works.