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She Was Good for Nothing
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She Was Good for Nothing - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 20 min

The mayor was standing at his open window. He was wearing a dress shirt with a dainty breastpin in its frill. He was very well shaven, self-done, though he had cut himself slightly and had stuck a small bit of newspaper over the cut.

„Listen, youngster!“ he boomed.

The youngster was none other than the washerwoman’s son, who respectfully took off his cap as he passed. This cap was broken at the rim, so that he could put it into his pocket. In his poor but clean and very neatly mended clothes, and his heavy wooden shoes, the boy stood as respectfully as if he were before the king.

„You’re a good boy, a well-behaved lad!“ said the Mayor. „I suppose your mother is washing down at the river, and no doubt you are going to bring her what you have in your pocket. That’s an awful thing with your mother! How much have you there?“

„A half pint,“ said the boy in a low, trembling voice.

„And this morning she had the same?“ continued the Mayor.

„No, it was yesterday!“ answered the boy.

„Two halves make a whole! She is no good! It is sad there are such people. Tell your mother she ought to be ashamed of herself. Don’t you become a drunkard-but I suppose you will! Poor child! Run along now.“

And the boy went, still holding his cap in his hand, while the wind rippled the waves of his yellow hair. He went down the street and through an alley to the river, where his mother stood at her washing stool in the water, beating the heavy linen with a wooden beater. The current was strong, for the mill’s sluices were open. The bed sheet was dragged along by the stream and nearly swept away her washing stool, and the woman had all she could do to stand up against it.

„I was almost carried away,“ she said. „It’s a good thing you’ve come, for I need something to strengthen me. It’s so cold in the water; I’ve been standing here for six hours. Have you brought me anything?“

The boy drew forth a flask, and his mother put it to her lips and drank a little.

„Oh, that does me good! How it warms me! It’s just as good as hot food, and it isn’t as expensive! Drink, my boy! You look so pale, and you’re freezing in your thin clothes. Remember it is autumn. Ooh, the water is cold! If only I don’t get ill! But I won’t. Give me a little more, and drink some yourself, but only a little drop, for you mustn’t get used to it, my poor dear child!“

And she walked out of the water and up onto the bridge where the boy stood. The water dripped from the straw mat that she had tied around her waist and from her petticoat.

„I work and slave till the blood runs out at my fingernails, but I do it gladly if I can bring you up honestly, my sweet child!“

Just then came an elderly woman, poorly clad, lame in one leg, and with an enormously large, false curl hanging down over one of her eyes, which was blind. This curl was supposed to hide the eye, but it only made the defect the more conspicuous. The neighbors called her „limping Maren with the curl,“ and she was an old friend of the washerwoman’s.

„You poor thing,“ she cried, „slaving and toiling in the cold water! You certainly need something to warm you a little, and yet the gossips cry about the few drops you take!“ And soon all that the Mayor had said to the boy was repeated to his mother, for Maren had overheard it, and it had angered her to hear him talk so to the child about his own mother and the few drops she took, because on that same day the Mayor was having a big dinner party with many bottles of wine.

„Good wine, strong wine! Many will drink more than they should, but they don’t call that drinking. They are all right, but you are good for nothing!“

„What! Did the Mayor really say that, child?“ asked the laundress, her lips quivering. „So you have a mother who is good for nothing! Perhaps he’s right, though he shouldn’t say so to a child. But I mustn’t complain; good things have come to me from that house.“

„Why, yes, you were in service there, when the Mayor’s parents were alive. That was many years ago. Many bushels of salt have been eaten since then, so people may well be thirsty! laughed Maren. „The big dinner today at the Mayor’s would have been postponed if everything hadn’t been prepared. I heard the news from the porter. A letter came, an hour ago, telling them that the Mayor’s younger brother, in Copenhagen, is dead.“

„Dead!“ cried the laundress, turning as white as a ghost.

„What does it matter to you“ said Maren. „Of course, you must have known him, since you worked in the house.“

„Is he really dead? He was the best and kindest of men-indeed, there aren’t many like him!“ Tears were rolling down her cheeks. „Oh, my God! Everything is going around! That’s because I emptied the bottle. I couldn’t stand so much. I feel so ill!“ And she leaned against the fence for support.

„Good heavens, you are ill, indeed!“ said Maren. „Try to get over it! No, you really are sick! I’d better get you home!“

„But the washing there!“

„I’ll take care of that. Here, give me your arm. The boy can stay here and watch it till I come back and wash what’s left. It’s only a few pieces.“

The poor laundress‘ legs were trembling under her. „I’ve stood too long in the cold water, with no food since yesterday! I have a burning fever. Oh, dear Lord Jesus, help me to get home! Oh, my poor child!“ And she wept.

The boy cried too, as he sat alone beside the river, guarding the wet linen. The two women made their way slowly, the washerwoman dragging her shaky limbs up the little alley and through the street where the Mayor lived. Just as she reached the front of his house, she sank down on the cobblestones. A crowd gathered around her.

Limping Maren ran into his yard for help. The Mayor and his guests came to the windows.

„It’s the washerwoman!“ he said. „She’s had a bit too much to drink; she’s no good! It’s a pity for that handsome boy of hers, I really like that child, but his mother is good for nothing.“

And the washerwoman was brought to her own humble room, where she was put to bed. Kindly Maren hastened to prepare a cup of warm ale with butter and sugar-she could think of no better medicine in such a case-and then returned to the river, where, although she meant well, she did a very poor job with the washing. She only pulled the wet clothes out of the water and put them into a basket.

That evening she appeared again in the washerwoman’s miserable room. She had begged from the Mayor’s cook a couple of roasted potatoes and a fine fat piece of ham for the sick woman. Maren and the boy feasted on these, but the patient was satisfied with the smell, „For that was very nourishing,“ she said.

The boy was put to bed, in the same one in which his mother slept, lying crosswise at his mother’s feet, with a blanket of old blue and red carpet ends sewed together.

The laundress felt a little better now. The warm ale had given her strength, and the smell of the good food had been nourishing.

„Thank you, my kind friend,“ she said to Maren, „I’ll tell you all about it, while the boy is asleep. He’s sleeping already. See how sweet he looks with his eyes closed. He doesn’t think of his mother’s sufferings; may our Lord never let him feel their equal! Well, I was in service at the Councilor’s, the Mayor‘ parents, when their youngest son came home from his studies. I was a carefree young girl then, but honest-I must say that before heaven. And the student was so pleasant and jolly; every drop of blood in his veins was honest and true; a better young man never lived. He was a son of the house, and I was only a servant, but we became sweethearts-all honorably; a kiss is no sin, after all, if people really love each other. And he told his mother that he loved me. She was an angel in his eyes, wise and kind and loving. And when he went away again he put his gold ring on my finger.

„After he had gone my mistress called me in to speak to me. She looked so grave and yet so kind, and spoke as wisely as an angel indeed. She pointed out to me the gulf of difference, both mentally and materially, that lay between her son and me. ‚Now he is attracted by your good looks, but that will fade in time. You haven’t received his education; intellectually you can never rise to his level. I honor the poor,‘ she continued, ‚ and I know that there is many a poor man who will sit in a higher seat in the kingdom of heaven than many a rich man; but that is no reason for crossing the barrier in this world. Left to yourselves, you two would drive your carriage full tilt against obstacles, until it toppled over with you both. Now I know that Erik, the glovemaker, a good, honest craftsman, wants to marry you. He is a well-to-do widower with no children. Think it over!‘

„Every word my mistress spoke went through my heart like a knife, but I knew she was right, and that weighed heavily upon me. I kissed her hand, and my bitter tears fell upon it. But still bitterer tears fell when I lay upon my bed in my own room. Oh, the long, dreary night that followed-our Lord alone knows how I suffered!

„Not until I went to church on Sunday did peace of mind come after my pain. It seemed the working of Providence that as I left the church I met Erik himself. There were no doubts in my mind now. We were suited to each other, both in rank and in means. He was even a well-to-do man. So I went straight up to him, took his hand, and asked, ‚Do you still think of me?‘

„‚Yes, always and forever,‘ he said.

„‚Do you want to marry a girl who likes and respects you, but does not love you?‘

„‚I believe love will come,‘ he said, and then we joined hands.

„I went home to my mistress. The gold ring that her son had given me I had been wearing every day next to my heart, and every night on my finger in bed, but now I drew it out. I kissed it until my lips bled, then gave it to my mistress and told her that next week the banns would be read for me and the glovemaker.

„My mistress took me in her arms and kissed me. She didn’t say I was good for nothing, but at that time I was perhaps better than I am now, for I had not yet known the misfortunes of the world. The wedding was at Candlemas, and for our first year we were quite happy. My husband had a workman and an apprentice with him, and you, Maren, were our servant.“

„Oh, and such a good mistress you were!“ said Maren. „I shall never forget how kind you and your husband were to me!“

„Ah, but you were with us during our good times! We had no children then. I never saw the student again. Oh, yes, I saw him once, but he didn’t see me. He came to his mother’s funeral, and I saw him standing by her grave, looking so sad and pale-but that was all for his mother’s sake. When his father died later he was abroad and didn’t come to that funeral. He didn’t come here again. He became a lawyer, and he never married, I know. But he thought no more of me, and if he had seen me he would certainly have never recognized me, ugly as I am now. And it is all for the best!“

Then she went on to tell of the bitter days of hardship, when misfortune had fallen upon them. They had saved five hundred dollars, and since in their neighborhood a house could be bought for two hundred, they considered it a good investment to buy one, tear it down, and build again. So the house was bought, and the bricklayers and carpenters estimated that the new house would cost a thousand and twenty dollars. Erik had credit and borrowed that sum in Copenhagen, but the captain who was to have brought the money was shipwrecked and the money lost.

„It was just then that my darling boy, who lies sleeping there, was born. Then his father had a long and severe illness, and for nine months I even had to dress and undress him every day. We kept on going backward. We had to borrow more and more. One by one all our possessions were sold; and at last Erik died. Since then I have worked and slaved for the boy’s sake, have gone out scrubbing floors and washing linen, done coarse work or fine, whatever I could get. But I was not to be better off. It is the Lord’s will! He will take me away and find better provisions for my child.“ Then she fell asleep.

In the morning she seemed better and decided she was strong enough to return to her work. But the moment she felt the cold water a shivering seized her. She grasped about convulsively with her hands, took one step forward, and fell. Her head lay on the dry bank, but her feet were in the water of the river. Her wooden shoes, in each of which there was a handful of straw, were carried away by the current.

And here she was found by Maren, when she came to bring her some coffee.

A message had come to her lodging that the Mayor wanted to see her, for he had something to say to her. It was too late. A doctor was summoned. The poor washerwoman was dead.

„She has drunk herself to death,“ said the Mayor.

The letter that had brought the Mayor the news of his brother’s death also gave a summary of his will, and among other bequests he had left six hundred dollars to the glovemaker’s widow, who had formerly served his parents! The money was to be paid at discretion in large or small sums to her and her child.

„There was some nonsense about love between my brother and her,“ said the Mayor. „It’s just as well she’s out of the way. Now it will all come to the boy, and I’ll place him with some honest people who will make him a good workman.“ And on these words our Lord laid his blessings.

And the Mayor sent for the boy, promised to take care of him, and told him it was a lucky thing his mother was dead. She was good for nothing.

They carried her to the churchyard, to a pauper’s grave. Maren planted a little rose tree on her grave, while the boy stood beside her.

„My darling mother,“ he said as the tears started from his eyes. „Is it true that she was good for nothing?“

„No, it is not true!“ said the old woman, looking up to heaven. „I have known it for many years and especially since the night before she died. I tell you she was a good and fine woman, and our Lord in heaven will say so, too, so let the world say: ‚She was good for nothing!'“

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „She was good for nothing“

„She Was Good for Nothing,“ also known as „She’s No Good“ or „The Girl Who Was No Good,“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1863. The story is set in a small Danish town and revolves around the life of a young girl named Maren, who faces a myriad of challenges and difficulties.

The story is believed to be based on Andersen’s own experiences and observations of the social and class divisions in 19th-century Danish society. Andersen was known to write stories that reflected the issues and themes he observed in society, and „She Was Good for Nothing“ is no exception. The tale highlights the unfair treatment and prejudices faced by the lower classes, particularly young women, who were often deemed worthless or „good for nothing“ due to their social status and limited opportunities.

The story ultimately carries a message of hope, redemption, and the importance of self-worth, as Maren’s struggles and perseverance lead her to a better life. This tale, like many of Andersen’s works, demonstrates his ability to create stories that resonate with readers on both an emotional and intellectual level, making „She Was Good for Nothing“ a compelling and thought-provoking read.

Interpretations to fairy tale „She was good for nothing“

„She Was Good for Nothing“ is a tale by Hans Christian Andersen that offers several interpretations and themes that can be gleaned from the story:

Overcoming social prejudices: One of the central themes of the story is the unfair treatment and prejudices faced by Maren, who is deemed „good for nothing“ because of her social status. The story challenges these societal prejudices and demonstrates that one’s worth should not be determined by their social standing.

The importance of self-worth: Despite the obstacles and hardships that Maren faces, she never loses sight of her own self-worth. This theme highlights the importance of believing in oneself, even in the face of adversity and societal pressures.

Redemption and transformation: Maren’s journey in the story is a testament to the power of personal transformation and redemption. Despite being labeled as „good for nothing,“ Maren’s determination and resilience enable her to overcome her difficult circumstances and create a better life for herself.

Compassion and empathy: The story showcases the transformative power of compassion and empathy. Maren’s relationship with the kind-hearted organist helps to change her life for the better, illustrating that kindness and understanding can have a profound impact on those who are struggling.

Critique of societal norms: „She Was Good for Nothing“ can also be seen as a critique of the societal norms and expectations placed on individuals, particularly women, during the 19th century. The story demonstrates the harmful effects of these expectations and urges readers to question the fairness and validity of such norms.

Overall, „She Was Good for Nothing“ is a tale that serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of self-worth, empathy, and resilience in the face of adversity. It encourages readers to challenge societal prejudices and to recognize the potential for redemption and transformation in every individual.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „She was good for nothing“

While there have not been any major film or stage adaptations of „She Was Good for Nothing,“ the tale has been adapted and retold in various forms, such as illustrated books, anthologies, and animated shorts. Some examples include:

Illustrated editions: Numerous illustrated editions of the story have been published in various languages, often as part of larger collections of Andersen’s fairy tales. These editions often include illustrations that bring Maren’s story to life and enhance the experience for readers.

Anthologies and collections: „She Was Good for Nothing“ is frequently included in anthologies and collections of Hans Christian Andersen’s works, both in print and audiobook format. These collections often provide modern retellings or translations of the story, making it accessible to contemporary audiences.

Animated shorts: While there may not be any high-profile animated adaptations of „She Was Good for Nothing,“ some smaller animation studios or independent animators have taken inspiration from the tale to create short films or online videos. These adaptations often focus on the key themes and messages of the story, providing a condensed and visually engaging retelling of Maren’s journey.

Storytelling events and performances: „She Was Good for Nothing“ has been performed by storytellers at various events, festivals, and workshops, often with the aim of celebrating Andersen’s work or highlighting the tale’s themes and messages. These performances can include elements such as live music, dance, or puppetry, adding a unique spin on the classic story.

Although „She Was Good for Nothing“ may not have received as much attention as some of Andersen’s more famous tales, it continues to be adapted and shared in various ways, ensuring that its important themes and messages reach new audiences.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „She was good for nothing“

The fairy tale „She was good for nothing“ (also known as „The Little Mermaid“) by Hans Christian Andersen has inspired numerous adaptations in various forms of media, including:

The 1989 Disney animated film „The Little Mermaid“, which remains one of the most popular adaptations of the story. It tells the story of Ariel, a mermaid who falls in love with a human prince and goes to great lengths to be with him.

The 1975 Japanese animated film „Mermaid Forest“, which is based on both „The Little Mermaid“ and another Andersen fairy tale called „The Mermaid“. The story follows a young girl who becomes immortal after eating mermaid flesh and seeks out a way to become mortal again.

The 2007 novel „Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale“ by Carolyn Turgeon, which is a modern retelling of the story with a darker twist. The novel explores the psychological effects of the mermaid’s transformation and her struggle to maintain her identity.

The 2018 film „The Little Mermaid“, which is a live-action adaptation of the story. It features a new cast of characters and adds a subplot involving a circus troupe.

The 2000 musical „The Little Mermaid“, which was adapted from the Disney film and premiered on Broadway. It features new songs and expanded characterizations.

The 2013 ballet „The Little Mermaid“, which was choreographed by John Neumeier and premiered at the Royal Danish Ballet. It features a more melancholic and introspective take on the story.

These are just a few examples of the many adaptations of „She was good for nothing“ that have been created over the years. The enduring popularity of the story speaks to its universal themes of love, sacrifice, and transformation.

Summary of the plot

„She Was Good for Nothing“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of a young girl named Maren, who is often considered worthless by the people around her. Maren is a poor washerwoman’s daughter who works hard to support her family, but her efforts are not appreciated.

When Maren is sent to work for a wealthy family, she is treated poorly by the other servants, who look down on her due to her humble background. Maren’s employer, the mayor’s wife, also mistreats her, and Maren is ultimately dismissed from her job after being falsely accused of stealing a silver spoon.

Maren’s fortunes change, however, when she meets a kind-hearted young man named Niels, who falls in love with her. Niels is a talented artist, and he sees the beauty and goodness in Maren that others have overlooked. The two of them marry and start a family, with Maren supporting Niels as he pursues his artistic career.

Eventually, Niels‘ artwork gains recognition, and the couple’s circumstances improve significantly. Maren’s hard work and determination are finally acknowledged, and those who once scorned her now treat her with respect. In the end, Maren’s story serves as an inspiring example of the importance of perseverance, love, and believing in one’s own worth, despite the judgments of others.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „She was good for nothing“

„She Was Good for Nothing“ is a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark, Andersen is famous for his timeless fairy tales that have captivated generations of readers. Some of his most famous works include „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“

Andersen’s stories often feature elements of fantasy and are characterized by their moral messages and explorations of universal human experiences. His writing style is simple and direct, making his stories accessible to children and adults alike. Although many of his stories have darker undertones, they often convey a sense of hope and the power of love and human kindness.

„She Was Good for Nothing“ was first published in 1861 as part of a collection of Andersen’s fairy tales. The story revolves around a poor washerwoman who is constantly belittled and criticized by her community, particularly the Mayor. Despite her hardships, she remains devoted to her son and works tirelessly to provide for him. Throughout the story, Andersen explores themes such as societal judgment, class struggle, love, and sacrifice, painting a portrait of a woman whose love and determination ultimately lead to a better future for her son.

Interpretations to fairy tale „She was good for nothing“

The fairy tale „She was good for nothing“ by Hans Christian Andersen can be interpreted on several levels, including themes of class struggle, societal judgment, sacrifice, and the power of love.

Class struggle: The story illustrates the hardships faced by the poor and working class, represented by the washerwoman. Despite her hard work and dedication to providing for her son, she is constantly judged and criticized by the Mayor and others in higher social positions.

Societal judgment: The washerwoman is constantly judged and looked down upon by the Mayor and others in the town for her poverty and occasional drinking. This judgment not only affects her self-esteem but also her son, who internalizes the harsh words spoken about his mother.

Sacrifice: The washerwoman’s love for her son is evident in her willingness to work long hours in harsh conditions to provide for him. She endures physical and emotional pain, and even gives up her chance at true love, in order to secure a better future for her son.

The power of love: Despite the difficulties she faces, the washerwoman’s love for her son and her memories of her lost love sustain her. In the end, her love is rewarded when her son is taken in by the Mayor and given an opportunity for a better life.

Overall, the story serves as a reminder of the struggles faced by those in lower social classes and the judgments they often endure. It emphasizes the importance of love and sacrifice, and the power of these emotions to transcend even the harshest circumstances.

Summary of the plot

In „She was Good for Nothing,“ a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the main character is a washerwoman who struggles to provide for her son. The story starts with the Mayor chastising the washerwoman’s son for bringing her a half pint of alcohol, calling her a drunkard and saying that she is „good for nothing.“ The boy takes the alcohol to his mother, who is washing clothes in the cold river. She drinks a little to warm herself and advises her son not to get used to it.

An elderly woman named Maren, who is an old friend of the washerwoman, overhears the Mayor’s words and becomes angry. She tells the washerwoman about the Mayor’s comments and the big dinner party he is having with many bottles of wine. As they discuss the hypocrisy, the washerwoman learns that the Mayor’s younger brother has died, causing her great distress. She faints on the street, and Maren helps her get to her room, where she prepares a warm ale and begs for food from the Mayor’s cook.

The washerwoman shares her past with Maren, explaining that she was once in love with the Mayor’s younger brother, but they were not allowed to be together due to their difference in social status. She married a glovemaker named Erik, but they faced numerous hardships, including financial struggles, illness, and the loss of their possessions. Eventually, Erik died, leaving the washerwoman to care for their son alone.

The next day, the washerwoman attempts to return to work, but the cold water proves too much for her, and she dies. The Mayor learns that his brother left six hundred dollars for the washerwoman and her child in his will. He takes the boy in, promising to care for him, and says that it is fortunate that his mother is dead because she was „good for nothing.“ The washerwoman is buried, and the story concludes with a reminder that we should never judge others without knowing their stories or understanding their struggles.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, IT
Readability Index by Björnsson23.3
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index87.1
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.2
Gunning Fog Index6.5
Coleman–Liau Index7.4
SMOG Index7.3
Automated Readability Index3.5
Character Count14.200
Letter Count10.740
Sentence Count216
Word Count2.721
Average Words per Sentence12,60
Words with more than 6 letters291
Percentage of long words10.7%
Number of Syllables3.439
Average Syllables per Word1,26
Words with three Syllables107
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.9%
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