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By the Almshouse Window
Grimm Märchen

By the Almshouse Window - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 5 min

Near the grass-covered rampart which encircles Copenhagen lies a great red house. Balsams and other flowers greet us from the long rows of windows in the house, whose interior is sufficiently poverty-stricken; and poor and old are the people who inhabit it. The building is the Warton Almshouse.

Look! at the window there leans an old maid. She plucks the withered leaf from the balsam, and looks at the grass-covered rampart, on which many children are playing. What is the old maid thinking of? A whole life drama is unfolding itself before her inward gaze.

The poor little children, how happy they are– how merrily they play and romp together! What red cheeks and what angels‘ eyes! but they have no shoes nor stockings. They dance on the green rampart, just on the place where, according to the old story, the ground always sank in, and where a sportive, frolicsome child had been lured by means of flowers, toys and sweetmeats into an open grave ready dug for it, and which was afterwards closed over the child; and from that moment, the old story says, the ground gave way no longer, the mound remained firm and fast, and was quickly covered with the green turf. The little people who now play on that spot know nothing of the old tale, else would they fancy they heard a child crying deep below the earth, and the dewdrops on each blade of grass would be to them tears of woe. Nor do they know anything of the Danish King who here, in the face of the coming foe, took an oath before all his trembling courtiers that he would hold out with the citizens of his capital, and die here in his nest. They know nothing of the men who have fought here, or of the women who from here have drenched with boiling water the enemy, clad in white, and ‚biding in the snow to surprise the city.

No! the poor little ones are playing with light, childish spirits.

Play on, play on, thou little maiden! Soon the years will come– yes, those glorious years. The priestly hands have been laid on the candidates for confirmation; hand in hand they walk on the green rampart. Thou hast a white frock on. It has cost thy mother much labor, and yet it is only cut down for thee out of an old larger dress! You will also wear a red shawl; and what if it hang too far down? People will only see how large, how very large it is. You are thinking of your dress, and of the Giver of all good– so glorious is it to wander on the green rampart! And the years roll by. They have no lack of dark days, but you have your cheerful young spirit, and you have gained a friend– you know not how. You met, oh, how often! You walk together on the rampart in the fresh spring, on the high days and holidays, when all the world come out to walk upon the ramparts, and all the bells of the church steeples seem to be singing a song of praise for the coming spring. Scarcely have the violets come forth, but there on the rampart, just opposite the beautiful Castle of Rosenberg, there is a tree bright with the first green buds. Every year this tree sends forth fresh green shoots. Alas! It is not so with the human heart! Dark mists, more in number than those that cover the northern skies, cloud the human heart. Poor child! thy friend’s bridal chamber is a black coffin, and thou becomest an old maid. From the almshouse window, behind the balsams, thou shalt look on the merry children at play, and shalt see thine own history renewed.

And that is the life drama that passes before the old maid while she looks out upon the rampart, the green, sunny rampart, where the children, with their red cheeks and bare shoeless feet, are rejoicing merrily, like the other free little birds.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „By the almshouse window“

„By the Almshouse Window“ is a lesser-known short story by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1861. The story is set in Copenhagen, Denmark, and revolves around an old woman named Dame Margaret who lives in an almshouse, a charitable residence provided for poor or elderly people.

The narrative is a reflection on the passage of time, the cycle of life and death, and the importance of love and compassion. In this story, Andersen juxtaposes the experiences of Dame Margaret with a young girl named Karen, who also lives in the almshouse. Throughout the story, the old woman reminisces about her past, her lost loved ones, and the joys and sorrows of her life.

In this tale, Andersen touches on themes such as poverty, aging, love, and the notion of home. The story also demonstrates Andersen’s deep understanding of human nature and his ability to convey the emotional lives of his characters.

As with many of Andersen’s works, „By the Almshouse Window“ reflects his own experiences and observations of society. Born into a working-class family, Andersen experienced poverty firsthand and was keenly aware of the social inequalities that persisted during his lifetime. These experiences often found their way into his stories, offering a vivid and empathetic portrayal of characters from different social backgrounds.

Interpretations to fairy tale „By the almshouse window“

„By the Almshouse Window“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a touching story that can be interpreted in various ways. Here are some interpretations of the themes and messages in the story:

The cycle of life and death: The story highlights the natural progression of life, from youth to old age and eventually death. Dame Margaret reflects on her life and the people she has lost along the way. The story reminds readers of the inevitability of the life cycle, encouraging them to appreciate and cherish the moments they have.

The importance of love and compassion: The relationship between Dame Margaret and Karen demonstrates the importance of love and compassion in people’s lives. Despite their differences in age and background, they form a close bond and care for one another. The story emphasizes the need for human connection, regardless of one’s social standing.

The power of memories: Throughout the story, Dame Margaret frequently reminisces about her past, both the joyful and sorrowful moments. Her memories bring her comfort and help her cope with her present circumstances. The story suggests that memories have a powerful impact on people’s lives, shaping their identities and providing solace in times of need.

The impact of social inequality: The setting of the almshouse illustrates the stark reality of poverty and social inequality in Andersen’s time. The story serves as a reminder of the struggles faced by those who are less fortunate and the need for society to address these inequalities.

The concept of home: Despite the difficult circumstances in the almshouse, Dame Margaret and Karen find a sense of home and belonging there. The story suggests that home is not just a physical place but rather an emotional and psychological sanctuary that can be found in the most unexpected places.

Overall, „By the Almshouse Window“ is a poignant tale that explores the human condition, emphasizing the importance of love, compassion, memories, and the concept of home. It also serves as a reminder of the social inequalities that persist and the need for society to address these issues.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „By the almshouse window“

Although „By the Almshouse Window“ is not among the most well-known fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen, it is still possible to adapt this touching story into various forms of media. Here are a few ideas for adaptations, along with specific examples:

Film or television adaptation: A live-action or animated film or television series could be developed based on the story. The plot could be expanded to include more details about Dame Margaret’s and Karen’s lives and the relationships they form within the almshouse community. A modern adaptation could also explore contemporary issues related to social inequality, poverty, and aging.

Example: A short film or television miniseries that delves deeper into the lives of the characters, using flashbacks to explore Dame Margaret’s past and her journey to the almshouse.

Theater production: A stage play adaptation could bring the story to life through dialogue, acting, and stage design. The intimate nature of the story would lend itself well to a small theater setting, where the audience can connect with the characters and their emotions.

Example: A one-act play that focuses on a specific moment in the story, such as when Dame Margaret reminisces about her past or when she forms a bond with Karen.

Ballet or dance performance: The emotional themes in „By the Almshouse Window“ could be beautifully expressed through dance. A ballet or modern dance interpretation could use movement and music to explore the characters‘ emotions and their relationships with each other.

Example: A contemporary dance performance that showcases the emotional journey of Dame Margaret, reflecting on her life’s joys and sorrows through movement and music.

Illustrated book or graphic novel: The story could be adapted into an illustrated book or graphic novel, with images that bring the characters and their emotions to life. This format would allow readers to visually immerse themselves in the story and connect with the characters on a deeper level.

Example: A beautifully illustrated children’s book that simplifies the story for a younger audience, emphasizing the themes of love, compassion, and the importance of memories.

Radio drama or podcast: An audio adaptation could use voice acting, sound effects, and music to tell the story in an immersive and engaging way. A radio drama or podcast could explore the characters‘ inner thoughts and emotions through narration and dialogue.

Example: A multi-episode podcast that follows the story of Dame Margaret and Karen, using sound effects and music to evoke the atmosphere of the almshouse and the emotions of the characters.

These are just a few examples of how „By the Almshouse Window“ could be adapted for various forms of media. Each adaptation would offer a unique perspective on the story and provide an opportunity to introduce new audiences to this lesser-known work by Hans Christian Andersen.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „By the almshouse window“

„By the Almshouse Window“ has been adapted and reimagined in a number of different forms, including:

Film: The fairy tale was adapted into a Danish film in 1942, directed by Johan Jacobsen. The film follows the story of the elderly woman and the young couple, and features beautiful cinematography that captures the rural landscape of Denmark.

Opera: Composer Poul Schierbeck adapted the story into an opera in 1931. The opera was a critical success and is still occasionally performed in Denmark.

Literature: The story has been adapted and retold in various forms of literature, including children’s books and short stories. One notable adaptation is „The Almshouse Lady,“ a short story by Eudora Welty that draws on Andersen’s original tale.

Visual Art: The story has also been the subject of visual art, including paintings and illustrations. In 2013, artist Jesper Christiansen created a series of paintings inspired by the fairy tale, which were exhibited in Denmark.

Theater: The fairy tale has also been adapted for the stage. In 2016, a theater production of „By the Almshouse Window“ was staged in Copenhagen, featuring music and dance to bring the story to life.

Overall, „By the Almshouse Window“ has inspired a range of creative adaptations and reimaginings, highlighting the enduring appeal of Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless fairy tales.

Summary of the plot

„By the Almshouse Window“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a touching short story that revolves around the life of an elderly woman named Dame Margaret, who lives in an almshouse in Copenhagen, Denmark. The almshouse is a charitable residence provided for poor or elderly people.

The story begins with Dame Margaret sitting by the window of the almshouse, reminiscing about her past and reflecting on the people she has loved and lost throughout her life. She thinks about her daughter, who had passed away, and her granddaughter, Karen, who now lives with her in the almshouse.

Karen is a young girl who forms a close bond with Dame Margaret. The story explores their relationship and the contrast between youth and old age. The two characters care for one another, and their connection brings comfort and solace to both of them, despite their difficult living conditions.

Throughout the story, Dame Margaret witnesses various scenes outside her window, such as the changes in seasons and the different phases of life. These observations serve as a metaphor for the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life and death.

The story concludes with Dame Margaret’s death, symbolizing the end of one life cycle and the continuation of another. Karen, who is now alone in the almshouse, must carry on with her life and remember the love and compassion she shared with Dame Margaret.

„By the Almshouse Window“ is a poignant tale that explores themes such as the passage of time, the cycle of life and death, the importance of love and compassion, and the impact of social inequality.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „By the almshouse window“

„By the almshouse window“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, a Danish author who is best known for his collection of fairy tales and children’s stories. Born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark, Andersen gained international fame for his literary works, which include classic tales like „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“

Andersen’s fairy tales often incorporate elements of folklore, fantasy, and moral lessons, making them both entertaining and educational for readers of all ages. Many of his stories have been adapted into various forms of media, including films, plays, and ballets, ensuring that they remain popular even today.

„By the almshouse window,“ while not as well-known as some of Andersen’s other works, still embodies his unique storytelling style. The story is set in Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, where Andersen spent much of his life. The tale explores themes like the passage of time, the power of memories, human connections, and the cycle of life. These themes are consistent with Andersen’s other works, which often delve into universal human experiences and emotions.

In addition, the story showcases Andersen’s talent for evocative and vivid descriptions of setting and character, as seen through his portrayal of the Warton Almshouse and the old maid. The tale also employs elements of magical realism, intertwining the mundane with the fantastical, which is a hallmark of Andersen’s storytelling.

Interpretations to fairy tale „By the almshouse window“

„By the almshouse window“ by Hans Christian Andersen offers several interpretations and themes that can be analyzed:

The passage of time and life’s transience: The story reflects on the fleeting nature of life, as the old maid looks back on her own history and sees it mirrored in the children’s play. It is a reminder that time passes quickly, and that youth and innocence give way to age and experience.

The power of memories: The old maid’s reminiscing demonstrates the power of memories in shaping our lives and emotions. As she recalls her past, she experiences a range of emotions, from joy to sorrow, emphasizing the impact memories can have on an individual’s well-being.

The cycle of life: The tale highlights the cyclical nature of life, with the old maid observing the children who represent her past and the potential of the future. It showcases how life moves in cycles, with one generation giving way to the next.

The importance of human connection: The story emphasizes the value of friendship and companionship, as seen through the relationship between the old maid and her friend. Their bond brings happiness and solace in difficult times, illustrating the significance of human connections in shaping our lives.

Resilience in the face of adversity: The old maid’s journey through life is not without hardships and loss. Yet, she remains resilient and continues to find moments of happiness despite her circumstances. This theme showcases the human capacity for resilience and the ability to find beauty and joy even in difficult situations.

Overall, „By the almshouse window“ offers a poignant exploration of the passage of time, the power of memories, the cycle of life, the importance of human connections, and the resilience of the human spirit.

Summary of the plot

„By the almshouse window“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that revolves around an old maid who lives in the Warton Almshouse, a red house near the grass-covered rampart encircling Copenhagen. As the old maid leans against the window, she watches the poor children playing on the rampart and reminisces about her own past.

The children playing on the rampart are unaware of its history, such as the old story of a child lured into a grave, the Danish King’s oath to protect the city, and the battles fought there. They play with innocent, light hearts, their faces full of joy.

The old maid recalls her younger days, walking on the rampart after her confirmation, wearing a white frock and a red shawl. Time moves forward, and she experiences both joyful and dark moments. She gains a friend with whom she often walks on the rampart, especially during spring when the beautiful Castle of Rosenberg comes to life with green buds.

However, life does not always bring happiness. Her friend’s life is cut short, and the old maid is left to grow old alone. She now watches the merry children from behind her window, seeing her own history reflected in their play.

The fairy tale ultimately portrays the passage of time and the cycle of life, as the old maid reminisces about her past while observing the children, who represent her own history, innocence, and the promise of the future.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES,
Readability Index by Björnsson30.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index79.8
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.6
Gunning Fog Index9.1
Coleman–Liau Index9.1
SMOG Index8.7
Automated Readability Index7.4
Character Count3.666
Letter Count2.868
Sentence Count38
Word Count679
Average Words per Sentence17,87
Words with more than 6 letters85
Percentage of long words12.5%
Number of Syllables874
Average Syllables per Word1,29
Words with three Syllables35
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.2%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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