The Princess and the Peas by Hans Christian Andersen.

Illustration by Maxwell Armfield (1910).

The Princess and the Peas (Prinsessen paa Ærten; less commonly known as The Real Princess) is a very short short story that captured the world's imagination. It begins,
There lived, once upon a time, a Prince, and he wished to marry a Princess, but then she must be really and truly a Princess. So he travelled over the whole world to find one; but there was always something or other to prevent his being successful. Princesses he found in plenty, but he could never make out if they were real Princesses; for sometimes one thing and sometimes another appeared to him to be not quite right about the ladies. So at last he returned home quite cast down; for he wanted very much to have a real Princess for a wife.
Then one day, as we all know, a Princess appears at his door during a thunderstorm soaked from the rain. The Dowager Queen decides to test her to see if she is a real and true princess by placing three peas under twenty mattresses. The next morning the Queen asks if she had a good night's sleep and she replies,
"Oh, no! a horrid night! ... I was hardly able to close my eyes the whole night! Heaven knows what was in my bed, but there was something hard under me, and my whole body is black and blue with bruises! I can't tell you what I've suffered!"
And there they knew she was a real Princess, "for it is quite impossible for anyone but a true Princess to be so tender". The Prince then marries his Princess, and the peas were placed in a museum. Andersen finishes,
Now was not that a lady of exquisite feeling?
Like all the best fairy tales there's something almost dark about this tale. The Princess's "exquisite feeling" is excessive, and her rudeness at the hosts who took her in from the stormy night is rather jarring. There's something quite humorous about it. On the other hand if the Princess's "tenderness" is an indication of her depth of feeling, the expression of which (that I couldn't help but read as rude) typical for women of noble birth it's perhaps an endearing portrait of female royalty. I can't say, but I do love this story.

And that was my 50th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Only two titles left now - Notes on Nationalism by George Orwell and The Tragedy of Tragedies by Henry Fielding, both of which I'll be writing about next week. The first will be Notes on Nationalism.

The Princess and the Peas from Stories from Hans Andersen, with illustrations by Edmund Dulac (1911).


  1. I've always thought of it as a pretty funny story. Isn't HCA poking some fun at all of them?

    1. Well that's how I read it, but I did read something about HCA having a great admiration for the upper classes, so perhaps this was more complimentary than I thought. I don't know anything about him though so I couldn't possibly say! But yes, I think it's a funny story too :)

    2. Well, he was certainly an awful snob. :) He so desperately wanted in the circle. He was also morbid, over-sensitive, and a little on the paranoid side. But he also had the ironic outsider's perspective, and he very frequently put himself into those little stories. He could be seeing himself as the overly-sensitive princess, or the weirdly picky prince...

    3. Indeed. The only thing I know about Andersen is someone (not sure who) found him face down in dirt crying about a bad review. Poor chap, I well understood :)


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