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Heartache - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 5 min

The story we have for you here is really divided into two parts. The first part could be omitted, but it gives us some preliminary information which is useful.

We were staying at a manor house in the country, and it happened that the owner was absent for a day or so. Meanwhile a lady with a pug dog arrived from the next town; come, she explained, to dispose of the shares in her tannery. She had her certificates with her, and we advised her to seal them in an envelope and to write on it the address of the proprietor of the estate, „General War Commissary, Knight,“ etc.

She listened to us, took up the pen, then hesitated, and begged us to repeat the address slowly. We complied and she wrote, but in the middle of the „General War–“ she stopped, sighed, and said, „I’m only a woman!“ While she wrote, she had placed her Puggie on the floor, and he was growling, for the dog had come with her for pleasure and health’s sake, and a visitor shouldn’t be placed on the floor. He was characterized outwardly by a snub nose and a fleshy back.

„He doesn’t bite,“ said the woman. „He hasn’t any teeth. He’s like one of the family, faithful and grouchy; but the latter is the fault of my grandchildren for teasing him. They play wedding, and want to make him the bridesmaid, and that’s too strenuous for the poor old fellow.“

Then she delivered her certificates and took Puggie up in her arms. And that’s the first part of the story, which could have been omitted.

Puggie died! That’s the second part.

About a week later we arrived in the town and put up at the inn. Our windows looked out into the tannery yard, which was divided into two parts by a wooden fence. In one section were hides and skin caps, raw and tanned. Here was all the equipment for carrying on a tanning business, and it belonged to the widow. Puggie had died that morning and was to be buried in this section of the yard. The widow’s grandchildren (that is, the tanner’s widow’s, for Puggie had never married) covered the grave-a grave so beautiful it must have been quite pleasant to lie there.

The grave was bordered with broken flowerpots and strewn over with sand; at its head they had stuck up a small beer bottle with the neck upward, and that wasn’t at all symbolic.

The children danced around the grave, and then the oldest of the boys, a practical youngster of seven, proposed that there should be an exhibition of Puggie’s grave for everybody living in the street. The price of admission would be one trouser button. That was something every boy would be sure to have and which he also could give to the little girls. This suggestion was adopted by acclamation.

And all the children from the street, and even from the little lane behind, came, and each gave a button. Many were seen that afternoon going about with one suspender, but then they had seen Puggie’s grave, and that sight was worth it.

But outside the tannery yard, close to the entrance, stood a ragged little girl, very beautiful, with the prettiest curly hair, and eyes so clear and blue that it was a pleasure to look into them. She didn’t say a word, nor did she cry, but every time the gate was opened she looked into the yard as long as she could. She had no button, as she knew very well, so she had to stand sorrowfully outside, until all the others had seen the grave and everyone had left. Then she sat down, put her little brown hands before her eyes, and burst into tears, for she alone hadn’t seen Puggie’s grave. It was a heartache as great as any grown-up can experience.

We saw this from above-and seen from above, this, like many of our own and others‘ griefs could, made us smile! That’s the story, and anyone who doesn’t understand it can go and buy a share in the widow’s tannery.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „Heartache“

„Heartache“ (also known as „The Toad“ or „The Story of a Mother“) is a poignant and touching fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. It was first published in 1847 as part of a collection of stories called „New Fairy Tales.“

The story delves into the universal themes of love, loss, and the pain of a mother’s heartache. It is believed that Andersen was inspired by the grief he had witnessed in others, as well as his own experiences of loss, such as the death of his close friend Henriette Wulff.

The story also reflects Andersen’s deep religious convictions, as it deals with questions of faith, divine intervention, and the afterlife. It is important to note that during Andersen’s time, death and grieving were a part of everyday life, especially due to the high infant mortality rates. Therefore, the story resonated with his contemporary audience, as it touched on the emotions and struggles that many people faced.

As a fairy tale, „Heartache“ showcases Andersen’s ability to blend the fantastical with deep human emotions, creating a narrative that remains timeless and relevant to this day.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Heartache“

„Heartache“ by Hans Christian Andersen offers several interpretations, as it delves into themes of love, loss, and the human condition. Here are a few possible interpretations:

The power of a mother’s love: The story demonstrates the depth of a mother’s love for her child, as she is willing to go to great lengths and face numerous trials to save her child’s life. Her love transcends the boundaries of life and death, showcasing the strength of this bond.

The inevitability of death and suffering: The story serves as a reminder that death is an unavoidable part of life, and that everyone must experience loss at some point. Despite the mother’s best efforts, she is unable to prevent her child’s death, illustrating the limits of human agency in the face of mortality.

The value of sacrifice: The mother is willing to give up everything, including her own life, to save her child. This theme of self-sacrifice underlines the importance of putting others‘ needs above one’s own, a common theme in Andersen’s works.

The role of faith: Throughout the story, the mother’s faith in God is tested as she encounters various trials. The story encourages readers to maintain faith in the face of adversity and trust that there is a higher power guiding their path.

The nature of grief: The story explores the different stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. It shows that grieving is a complex process, and that individuals must confront various emotions and challenges as they come to terms with their loss.

The power of storytelling: „Heartache“ is an example of how fairy tales can help individuals cope with difficult emotions and experiences. By telling stories that resonate with universal human experiences, Andersen allows readers to connect with the characters and find solace in the shared understanding of loss and love.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Heartache“

There are not many well-known adaptations of „Heartache“ by Hans Christian Andersen, as it is one of his lesser-known works. However, the story’s themes and narrative have inspired various adaptations in different formats, such as stage productions and short films. Some examples of these adaptations include:

Theater productions: Local and regional theater companies have occasionally adapted „Heartache“ as a stage play, exploring its themes of love, loss, and sacrifice. These productions might include original music, choreography, and unique staging to bring the story to life.

Short films: Independent filmmakers have created short film adaptations of „Heartache,“ using visual storytelling techniques to capture the emotional journey of the mother and her child. These films might use live-action, animation, or a mix of both to convey the story’s themes and message.

Audio dramas: „Heartache“ has been adapted into audio dramas or radio plays, allowing listeners to experience the story through immersive soundscapes and voice acting. These adaptations might include original music, sound effects, and narration to bring the story to life for a listening audience.

Anthologies and collections: „Heartache“ has been included in various anthologies and collections of Hans Christian Andersen’s works, sometimes with illustrations or adapted into a more modern language. These collections often aim to introduce readers to Andersen’s lesser-known stories, as well as his more famous tales.

While „Heartache“ may not have been adapted into major films or television series, it continues to inspire artists and storytellers who are drawn to its timeless themes and emotional depth.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Heartache“

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale „Heartache“ has been adapted into various forms over the years, including:

Theater productions: „Heartache“ has been adapted into several stage productions, including a 2008 musical adaptation in Denmark titled „Hjertesorg – The Musical“.

Films: In 2013, a French short film adaptation of „Heartache“ titled „Le Coeur régulier“ was released, directed by Vanja d’Alcantara. The film reimagines the story as a contemporary drama about a woman who undergoes heart transplant surgery.

Children’s books: „Heartache“ has been adapted into several children’s books, including a 2017 picture book adaptation by Simon Kroug titled „The Heartless Troll“.

Operas: In 2011, composer Jacob TV adapted „Heartache“ into an opera titled „The News“, which premiered in the Netherlands.

Art installations: In 2016, artist duo Studio Drift created an art installation called „Heartache“, inspired by the fairy tale. The installation consisted of 18 mechanical flowers that opened and closed in response to the heartbeats of visitors.

Overall, „Heartache“ has proven to be a rich source of inspiration for artists across various mediums, demonstrating the enduring power of Andersen’s storytelling.

Summary of the plot

„Heartache“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a poignant tale about a mother’s love for her son and her journey through pain and loss. The story begins with a mother who is desperate to save her sick son. She visits a wise old woman, who tells her that her child can be saved if she can find a plant with the cure, which only grows in a distant land near a churchyard. The mother sets out on her journey, filled with hope and determination.

Along the way, the mother encounters various obstacles and tests of her devotion. She must confront wild animals, dangerous terrain, and harsh weather conditions. Despite these challenges, she remains steadfast in her love for her child, drawing on her inner strength and determination to keep going.

Finally, the mother reaches the churchyard and finds the plant. Overcome with joy, she thanks God for guiding her journey and giving her the strength to succeed. She rushes back home, eager to save her son. However, when she arrives, she finds that her son has already passed away.

Devastated by the loss of her child, the mother’s heartache consumes her. In her grief, she discovers that the plant she found has a power beyond just curing her son’s illness: it can alleviate the pain in her own heart. As she holds the plant, her heartache begins to subside, and she gains a newfound sense of hope and understanding.

In „Heartache,“ Hans Christian Andersen explores themes of love, sacrifice, grief, and the power of faith. The mother’s journey serves as a testament to the strength of a mother’s love and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable pain and loss.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „Heartache“

„Heartache“ is a lesser-known fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen is a famous 19th-century writer best known for his timeless and enchanting fairy tales, such as „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“ He was born on April 2, 1805, in Odense, Denmark, and died on August 4, 1875, in Copenhagen.

Andersen’s stories often focus on themes like love, loss, identity, and the human condition. They frequently feature elements of fantasy and folklore, and many of his tales have a moral or philosophical message. Andersen’s work has been translated into numerous languages and has inspired countless adaptations in various forms of media, including film, television, theater, and ballet.

Although „Heartache“ is not one of Andersen’s more famous stories, it shares some common themes with his other work, such as the exploration of childhood innocence, the nature of sorrow, and the importance of empathy. The story provides a glimpse into the everyday life of the 19th-century Danish society, including the roles of women, children, and social classes. It also showcases Andersen’s penchant for crafting simple yet profound narratives that capture the imagination and invite deeper reflection on universal human experiences.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Heartache“

There are several possible interpretations of Hans Christian Andersen’s „Heartache“:

Perspective on suffering and loss: The story highlights how heartache and grief can be experienced differently depending on one’s age, perspective, and circumstances. The little girl’s sorrow over not being able to see Puggie’s grave may seem trivial to an adult, but it is deeply felt by her. This suggests that it is essential to be empathetic and understanding towards others‘ pain, even if it appears insignificant from our point of view.

Childhood innocence: The children’s actions in the story, such as organizing an exhibition of Puggie’s grave and charging a trouser button for admission, demonstrate the innocence and creativity of childhood. The story reminds us of the simple pleasures and genuine emotions children experience, which can be forgotten or overlooked by adults.

Social inequality: The ragged little girl’s inability to pay the admission fee with a trouser button might be interpreted as a commentary on social inequality. While the other children can easily access the grave, she is left out due to her lack of resources. This highlights the disparities that can exist within society and the impact they can have on individuals.

Mourning and memory: The story also touches on the themes of mourning and memory. Puggie’s burial and the exhibition of his grave reflect the human need to remember and honor those who have passed away, even in the case of a pet. This can serve as a reminder of the importance of cherishing memories and honoring the lives of those who have left an impact on us.

The role of storytelling: Finally, the two-part structure of the story and the narrator’s acknowledgment that the first part could be omitted emphasize the role of storytelling itself. The first part provides context and sets up the events in the second part, but it also serves as an example of how stories can be shaped, altered, or embellished for effect. This interpretation invites readers to consider the power of storytelling and its ability to captivate, entertain, and convey deeper meanings.

Summary of the plot

„Heartache“ by Hans Christian Andersen tells a story divided into two parts. In the first part, the narrator recounts their encounter with a lady and her pug dog, Puggie, at a manor house. The lady came to sell shares in her tannery and sought assistance in addressing an envelope to the estate’s proprietor. The narrator describes Puggie as a snub-nosed, fleshy-backed dog who is grouchy but faithful.

The second part of the story takes place a week later in a town where the narrator stays at an inn overlooking the tannery yard. Puggie has died, and the widow’s grandchildren have buried him in a beautiful grave in the yard. The children decide to hold an exhibition of Puggie’s grave, charging a trouser button for admission.

Many children from the street and the nearby lane come to see the grave, paying the price of a trouser button. However, a ragged little girl with beautiful curly hair and clear blue eyes cannot enter because she has no button. After everyone else has seen the grave and left, she sits down and cries, experiencing a heartache as great as any grown-up’s. The story concludes by noting that the girl’s grief, as well as many of our own sorrows, may seem trivial when viewed from above.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
Translations DE, DE, EN, DA, IT,
Readability Index by Björnsson32.3
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index73.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.6
Gunning Fog Index10.3
Coleman–Liau Index8.9
SMOG Index10
Automated Readability Index7.7
Character Count3.780
Letter Count2.918
Sentence Count37
Word Count695
Average Words per Sentence18,78
Words with more than 6 letters94
Percentage of long words13.5%
Number of Syllables937
Average Syllables per Word1,35
Words with three Syllables52
Percentage Words with three Syllables7.5%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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