Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | Study Guide

Hans Christian Andersen

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Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | The Swineherd | Summary



A poor but resourceful prince is determined to marry a neighboring princess. The best gifts he can think of to give her are a rose that blooms only once in five years and a singing nightingale. However, the rather silly and immature girl is unimpressed with these gifts and refuses to see the prince. Undeterred, he disguises himself and asks for a job, whereupon he is sent to tend pigs as "Imperial Pig Tender." In his spare time, the disguised prince makes a teakettle that plays a lively tune the princess recognizes. In addition the kettle reveals whatever anyone in town is cooking for dinner.

The princess wants to buy the kettle, but the swineherd/prince will only accept 10 kisses for it. The princess gives him the kisses, and the kettle is hers. Next the swineherd/prince makes a rattle that plays any dance tune desired. Of course, the princess must have that as well, only this time the price is a hundred kisses. Even though the ladies of the chamber spread their skirts so no one can see the princess kissing the swineherd/prince, the king begins to wonder what's going on down at the pigsty. Upon discovering his daughter kissing a lowly swineherd, he angrily throws them both out. Equally disgusted with the princess, the prince goes home, leaving the feckless girl outside the door to sing as long as she likes.


Instead of wrapping the prince's wooing of the princess in a satisfying "happily ever after," Andersen leaves the princess's fate and moral state ambiguous. Is she so thoroughly spoiled she will never mend her ways? And will the disgusted prince eventually relent and take her in?

Andersen was well aware the privileged young women of his time were not entirely to blame for their silliness. Many were so indulged as to remain childish even into adulthood, having been denied the broadening effects of travel and a good education their brothers had been given. The point of sheltering girls was for the father to hand over an innocent and pure daughter to the husband. However, reformers argued against sheltering young women on the grounds an ignorant mother whose capable mind has been stunted by trivial matters would have a detrimental effect on children of both genders.

Andersen himself never found a wife who would love him for himself. Stories like this one reflect on the superficial and self-serving goals of the wealthier young women of his day. Usually under pressure from their parents, they set out to marry into as much wealth as possible, avoiding love matches. Fathers were particularly vigilant about keeping their daughters from throwing themselves into the arms of worthless poets or artists unable to keep them in suitable style. A resourceful and clever suitor of intrinsic merit didn't stand a chance. Andersen here rather bitterly suggests artists like himself were treated like filthy swineherds by well-to-do middle- and upper-class folk.

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