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The Shepherdess and the Sweep
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The Shepherdess and the Sweep - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 13 min

Have you ever seen an old wooden cupboard quite black with age, and ornamented with carved foliage and curious figures? Well, just such a cupboard stood in a parlor, and had been left to the family as a legacy by the great-grandmother. It was covered from top to bottom with carved roses and tulips. The most curious scrolls were drawn upon it, and out of them peeped little stags‘ heads, with antlers. In the middle of the cupboard door was the carved figure of a man most ridiculous to look at. He grinned at you, for no one could call it laughing. He had goat’s legs, little horns on his head, and a long beard. The children in the room always called him, „Major general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs.“ It was certainly a very difficult name to pronounce, and there are very few who ever receive such a title, but then it seemed wonderful how he came to be carved at all. Yet there he was, always looking at the table under the looking-glass, where stood a very pretty little shepherdess made of china. Her shoes were gilt, and her dress had a red rose or an ornament. She wore a hat, and carried a crook, that were both gilded, and looked very bright and pretty. Close by her side stood a little chimney-sweep, as black as coal, and also made of china. He was, however, quite as clean and neat as any other china figure. He only represented a black chimney-sweep, and the china workers might just as well have made him a prince, had they felt inclined to do so.

He stood holding his ladder quite handily, and his face was as fair and rosy as a girl’s; indeed, that was rather a mistake, it should have had some black marks on it. He and the shepherdess had been placed close together, side by side; and, being so placed, they became engaged to each other, for they were very well suited, being both made of the same sort of china, and being equally fragile.

Close to them stood another figure, three times as large as they were, and also made of china. He was an old Chinaman, who could nod his head, and used to pretend that he was the grandfather of the shepherdess, although he could not prove it. He however assumed authority over her, and therefore when „Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs“ asked for the little shepherdess to be his wife, he nodded his head to show that he consented.

„You will have a husband,“ said the old Chinaman to her, „who I really believe is made of mahogany. He will make you a lady of Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs. He has the whole cupboard full of silver plate, which he keeps locked up in secret drawers.“

„I won’t go into the dark cupboard,“ said the little shepherdess. „I have heard that he has eleven china wives there already.“

„Then you shall be the twelfth,“ said the old Chinaman. „To-night as soon as you hear a rattling in the old cupboard, you shall be married, as true as I am a Chinaman;“ and then he nodded his head and fell asleep.

Then the little shepherdess cried, and looked at her sweetheart, the china chimney-sweep.

„I must entreat you,“ said she, „to go out with me into the wide world, for we cannot stay here.“

„I will do whatever you wish,“ said the little chimney-sweep; „let us go immediately: I think I shall be able to maintain you with my profession.“

„If we were but safely down from the table!“ said she; „I shall not be happy till we are really out in the world.“

Then he comforted her, and showed her how to place her little foot on the carved edge and gilt-leaf ornaments of the table. He brought his little ladder to help her, and so they contrived to reach the floor. But when they looked at the old cupboard, they saw it was all in an uproar. The carved stags pushed out their heads, raised their antlers, and twisted their necks. The major-general sprung up in the air; and cried out to the old Chinaman, „They are running away! they are running away!“

The two were rather frightened at this, so they jumped into the drawer of the window-seat.

Here were three or four packs of cards not quite complete, and a doll’s theatre, which had been built up very neatly. A comedy was being performed in it, and all the queens of diamonds, clubs, and hearts, and spades, sat in the first row fanning themselves with tulips, and behind them stood all the knaves, showing that they had heads above and below as playing cards generally have. The play was about two lovers, who were not allowed to marry, and the shepherdess wept because it was so like her own story.

„I cannot bear it,“ said she, „I must get out of the drawer;“ but when they reached the floor, and cast their eyes on the table, there was the old Chinaman awake and shaking his whole body, till all at once down he came on the floor, „plump.“

„The old Chinaman is coming,“ cried the little shepherdess in a fright, and down she fell on one knee.

„I have thought of something,“ said the chimney-sweep; „let us get into the great pot-pourri jar which stands in the corner. There we can lie on rose-leaves and lavender, and throw salt in his eyes if he comes near us.“

„No, that will never do,“ said she, „because I know that the Chinaman and the pot-pourri jar were lovers once, and there always remains behind a feeling of good-will between those who have been so intimate as that. No, there is nothing left for us but to go out into the wide world.“

„Have you really courage enough to go out into the wide world with me?“ said the chimney-sweep; „have you thought how large it is, and that we can never come back here again?“

„Yes, I have,“ she replied.

When the chimney-sweep saw that she was quite firm, he said, „My way is through the stove and up the chimney. Have you courage to creep with me through the fire-box, and the iron pipe? When we get to the chimney I shall know how to manage very well. We shall soon climb too high for any one to reach us, and we shall come through a hole in the top out into the wide world.“

So he led her to the door of the stove.

„It looks very dark,“ said she; still she went in with him through the stove and through the pipe, where it was as dark as pitch.

„Now we are in the chimney,“ said he. „And look, there is a beautiful star shining above it.“

It was a real star shining down upon them as if it would show them the way. So they clambered, and crept on, and a frightful steep place it was; but the chimney-sweep helped her and supported her, till they got higher and higher. He showed her the best places on which to set her little china foot, so at last they reached the top of the chimney, and sat themselves down, for they were very tired, as may be supposed.

The sky, with all its stars, was over their heads, and below were the roofs of the town. They could see for a very long distance out into the wide world, and the poor little shepherdess leaned her head on her chimney-sweep’s shoulder, and wept till she washed the gilt off her sash. The world was so different to what she expected.

„This is too much,“ she said; „I cannot bear it, the world is too large. Oh, I wish I were safe back on the table again, under the looking glass. I shall never be happy till I am safe back again. Now I have followed you out into the wide world, you will take me back, if you love me.“

Then the chimney-sweep tried to reason with her, and spoke of the old Chinaman, and of the Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s legs; but she sobbed so bitterly, and kissed her little chimney-sweep till he was obliged to do all she asked, foolish as it was.

And so, with a great deal of trouble, they climbed down the chimney, and then crept through the pipe and stove, which were certainly not very pleasant places. Then they stood in the dark fire-box, and listened behind the door, to hear what was going on in the room. As it was all quiet, they peeped out. Alas! there lay the old Chinaman on the floor. He had fallen down from the table as he attempted to run after them, and was broken into three pieces. His back had separated entirely, and his head had rolled into a corner of the room. The major-general stood in his old place, and appeared lost in thought.

„This is terrible,“ said the little shepherdess. „My poor old grandfather is broken to pieces, and it is our fault. I shall never live after this;“ and she wrung her little hands.

„He can be riveted,“ said the chimney-sweep; „he can be riveted. Do not be so hasty. If they cement his back, and put a good rivet in it, he will be as good as new, and be able to say as many disagreeable things to us as ever.“

„Do you think so?“ said she; and then they climbed up to the table, and stood in their old places.

„As we have done no good,“ said the chimney-sweep, „we might as well have remained here, instead of taking so much trouble.“

„I wish grandfather was riveted,“ said the shepherdess. „Will it cost much, I wonder?“

And she had her wish. The family had the Chinaman’s back mended, and a strong rivet put through his neck. He looked as good as new, but he could no longer nod his head.

„You have become proud since your fall broke you to pieces,“ said Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs. „You have no reason to give yourself such airs. Am I to have her or not?“

The chimney-sweep and the little shepherdess looked piteously at the old Chinaman, for they were afraid he might nod; but he was not able: besides, it was so tiresome to be always telling strangers he had a rivet in the back of his neck. And so the little china people remained together, and were glad of the grandfather’s rivet, and continued to love each other till they were broken to pieces.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The shepherdess and the sweep“

„The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1845. This story takes place in a world of porcelain figurines, and like many of Andersen’s tales, it reflects his personal experiences and the society of his time.

The shepherdess and the chimney sweep are two figurines who fall in love with each other. The shepherdess comes from a higher social standing, as she is a beautiful and delicate figurine made of porcelain. The chimney sweep, on the other hand, is a humble character and considered to be of a lower class. This social divide mirrors the class distinctions present in the 19th-century Danish society, where Andersen himself struggled to gain recognition as an artist and writer.

The tale also explores themes of love, sacrifice, and the struggle for happiness in the face of societal constraints. The shepherdess is betrothed to a pretentious porcelain figurine called the Chinese Mandarin. However, she longs to be with the chimney sweep, so they escape to the outside world together, overcoming various challenges in search of happiness. In the end, they return to their original place, as they realize that home is where they belong, emphasizing the importance of staying true to oneself and finding contentment within one’s circumstances.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The shepherdess and the sweep“

„The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ by Hans Christian Andersen can be interpreted through various themes and motifs that are prominent in the story:

Social class and societal expectations: The tale highlights the class divide between the shepherdess and the sweep, reflecting the social stratification in 19th-century Danish society. Their love story demonstrates the struggle to overcome these societal barriers and follow one’s heart. The tale can be seen as a critique of the societal norms that prioritize status over love and personal happiness.

Love and sacrifice: The story emphasizes the power of love and the sacrifices the characters are willing to make for each other. Despite the obstacles they face, the shepherdess and the sweep remain steadfast in their commitment to each other. This theme highlights the importance of love as a driving force in overcoming adversity and finding happiness.

The quest for happiness: The shepherdess and the sweep embark on a journey in search of a place where they can be together without judgment or restrictions. Their adventure represents the human quest for happiness and freedom from societal constraints. The story suggests that true happiness can be found by staying true to oneself and one’s desires, even in the face of adversity.

The value of home: After venturing into the outside world, the shepherdess and the sweep eventually return to their original place on the mantelpiece, realizing that home is where they belong. This theme underscores the importance of embracing one’s roots and finding contentment within one’s circumstances.

Inner strength and resilience: Throughout the story, the shepherdess and the sweep face numerous challenges, including a fierce dog and a long journey. Despite their delicate appearances, they exhibit remarkable strength and resilience, which ultimately allows them to overcome their obstacles and find happiness together. This theme highlights the importance of inner strength and determination in achieving one’s goals.

Overall, „The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ is a tale that encourages readers to defy societal norms, embrace love, and pursue happiness even in the face of adversity.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The shepherdess and the sweep“

While „The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ might not be as widely adapted as some of Hans Christian Andersen’s other fairy tales, there have been a few noteworthy adaptations of the story:

Animated film: A Russian animated short film titled „The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep“ (1965) directed by Anatoly Karanovich. This adaptation stays true to the original story, showcasing the love between the shepherdess and the sweep and their journey to find happiness.

Musical: In 2005, a musical adaptation titled „Hans Christian Andersen’s The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ was created by Chris Blackwood and Piers Chater-Robinson. The musical has been performed in various theaters, adding songs and dances to the original storyline.

Literature: The fairy tale has been adapted and retold in various children’s books and illustrated editions, often as part of larger collections of Hans Christian Andersen’s works. These retellings may simplify the language or add illustrations to make the story more accessible to younger readers.

Audio recordings: The story has been recorded in various audio formats, including audiobooks and radio plays, bringing the tale to life through voice acting and sound effects.

While „The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ might not have as many adaptations as some other Andersen fairy tales, it has still found a place in various forms of media, allowing the story to be enjoyed by audiences of different ages and backgrounds.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The shepherdess and the sweep“

„The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ has been adapted in various forms since its publication. Some of the notable adaptations include:

Ballet: The story was adapted into a ballet by the famous Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who composed the music for famous ballets like „Swan Lake“ and „The Nutcracker.“ Tchaikovsky’s version of „The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ premiered in 1884 and has since become a beloved classic.

Opera: In 1954, the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu wrote an opera based on the story. The opera was first performed in Prague and has since been performed around the world.

Film: The story has been adapted into several films, including a 1958 Czech film directed by Jiří Trnka and a 1987 animated film by the Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.

Television: The story has been adapted into several television programs, including an episode of the British children’s television series „The Storyteller“ and a 1990 episode of the American animated series „Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child.“

Literary adaptations: The story has also been adapted into various literary forms, including children’s picture books, short stories, and novellas. Some notable adaptations include „The Porcelain Shepherdess“ by Jean Stubbs and „The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ by Maud Lindsay.

Overall, „The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ has been adapted in many different forms and continues to inspire new interpretations and adaptations today. Its enduring themes of love, individuality, and sacrifice continue to resonate with readers and audiences of all ages.

Summary of the plot

„The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a porcelain shepherdess and a chimney sweep who fall in love. They both live on a shelf in the home of an old man, along with other porcelain and wooden figurines. The shepherdess is betrothed to the stately porcelain general, but she doesn’t love him and fears being forced into the marriage.

The chimney sweep, who has seen the world from the rooftops, suggests that they escape the shelf and run away together. They embark on a perilous journey through the house, facing various dangers along the way, including a large dog and a treacherous cat. They also meet a tea kettle who warns them about the difficulties of the world outside.

Despite the challenges they encounter, the shepherdess and the sweep make it to the rooftop. There, they find a whole new world filled with beauty and wonder. However, the shepherdess becomes afraid of the unknown and decides to return to the safety of the shelf.

Back on the shelf, the porcelain general attempts to force the shepherdess to marry him. But the old man’s spectacles intervene, telling the general that the shepherdess and the sweep are made of the same porcelain material and should be together. Finally, the general relents, allowing the shepherdess and the sweep to be together and live happily ever after.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The shepherdess and the sweep“

„The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ is a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, who is best known for his classic stories like „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“ Born in 1805 in Odense, Denmark, Andersen began his writing career in his late teens, initially focusing on poetry and theater. However, he eventually found his true calling in writing fairy tales, which brought him international fame and recognition.

Andersen’s fairy tales often delve into universal themes, such as love, courage, self-discovery, and the human condition, and they are known for their moral messages and emotional depth. He published his first collection of fairy tales, titled „Fairy Tales Told for Children,“ in 1835. „The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ was first published in 1845 as part of his collection „New Fairy Tales.“

Hans Christian Andersen’s tales have been translated into more than 150 languages and continue to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. His stories have inspired numerous adaptations, including films, plays, ballets, and musicals, solidifying his legacy as one of the most important figures in the world of fairy tales and children’s literature.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The shepherdess and the sweep“

„The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ can be interpreted in various ways, touching upon themes such as love, societal expectations, bravery, and the importance of staying true to oneself. Here are a few interpretations:

Love conquers all: The love between the shepherdess and the chimney-sweep proves strong enough to withstand the pressures and expectations of their society. They defy norms by choosing to be together and remain loyal to one another, ultimately triumphing over the obstacles they face.

Resisting societal expectations: The story highlights the importance of staying true to oneself and choosing one’s own path in life, rather than succumbing to societal expectations. The shepherdess and the chimney-sweep refuse to conform to the roles assigned to them, demonstrating the power of individual choice and personal agency.

Bravery and adventure: The couple’s journey through the stove and up the chimney symbolizes their willingness to take risks and face the unknown in pursuit of happiness. Even though they eventually return to their familiar surroundings, the experience teaches them valuable lessons about themselves and their relationship.

The importance of compromise: The shepherdess and the chimney-sweep learn that sometimes, it is necessary to make compromises in life, even if it means returning to a less-than-ideal situation. They come to appreciate the value of their love and companionship, and understand that facing challenges together is more important than seeking an idealized version of happiness.

The transient nature of life: The story ends with the reminder that the china figures will eventually break, emphasizing the fragile and temporary nature of life. This serves as a reminder to cherish the love and happiness one finds, even if it is not perfect or everlasting.

Summary of the plot

„The Shepherdess and the Sweep“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a fairy tale about a china shepherdess and a china chimney-sweep who fall in love despite their different backgrounds. They live on a table under a looking glass, near an old cupboard that houses an imposing figure named Major-general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat’s-legs, and a china old Chinaman who claims to be the shepherdess’s grandfather. When the Major-general proposes to the shepherdess, she decides to run away with the chimney-sweep to escape the marriage.

The couple embarks on a perilous journey through the stove and up the chimney, only to find the world outside too vast and overwhelming. The shepherdess longs to return to her previous life, and the chimney-sweep agrees to take her back. They find the old Chinaman broken into three pieces after attempting to chase them, which causes the shepherdess much distress.

The family repairs the old Chinaman by cementing his back and inserting a rivet through his neck, rendering him unable to nod. The Major-general asks once more if he can marry the shepherdess, but the old Chinaman cannot nod, sparing the couple from an unhappy union. The shepherdess and the chimney-sweep remain together, content with their lives and their love for one another, until they eventually break.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, IT, NL
Readability Index by Björnsson30.5
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index78.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7
Gunning Fog Index9.5
Coleman–Liau Index8.1
SMOG Index9.1
Automated Readability Index7.1
Character Count9.697
Letter Count7.401
Sentence Count97
Word Count1.824
Average Words per Sentence18,80
Words with more than 6 letters214
Percentage of long words11.7%
Number of Syllables2.358
Average Syllables per Word1,29
Words with three Syllables100
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.5%
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