She was good for nothing
She Was Good for Nothing by Hans Christian AndersenShe Was No Good, or She Was Good for Nothing is a dour story by Hans Christian Andersen. It is not so much a fairy tale - although it is presented in that guise - as a sober and brutally realistic story. In fact several important elements of it are based on the authors own life.
The story starts with a pompous mayor of a town complaining to a young boy that his mother, a washerwoman, is no good—and that she is a drunkard to boot. The boy goes to his mother, who has been standing up to her knees in the river for six hours, washing clothes. He hands her a bottle.
Ah thats just what I needed! his mother says gratefully. It warms me up! Its as good as a hot meal and doesnt cost so much ... I work my fingers to the bone, but that does not matter, so long as I can bring you up respectably.
Another older woman joins them. She is poor and lame, and is the washerwomans friend, Maren. She sympathises,
Poor thing, slaving away in the cold water! If anyone needs a sip of something strong to keep them warm its you. But still people make a fuss about it.
Maren goes on to say how hypocritical the mayor is with his fine wines and fancy dinners. She has overheard what the mayor has said to the boy, and indignantly tells the washerwoman all about it. The washerwoman turns to her son, and is quite upset to see that it was true,
Still, its not the first insult Ive had to swallow from that house she muses. Maren remembers now that she had been in service there once long ago.
Maren, now tells them a bit of gossip—that the mayors younger brother has died in Copenhagan. The washerwoman appears to be very shocked by this news, and Maren offers to finish her washing while she goes home. However, when the washerwoman reaches as far as the majors house, she collapses on the pavement outside. The mayor has no sympathy for her,
Drunk again! Shes no good. Its a shame for that lad of hers. I feel sorry for him—his mother is no good.
(view spoiler)[Maren looks after the washerwoman until she feels better. Then she confesses to Maren that she had once loved the mayors youngest brother, and he had given her a gold ring, as a token of his love for her. But the mayors mother had talked her out of pursuing him, because they were from different social stations, and could never be happy.
Every word she said cut me to the quick because I knew she was right
the washerwoman sadly says to Maren. Even though this had broken her heart, she married Eric the glover, whom the mayors mother had said also loved her, instead. Eric had told her that he was sure that love would come in time. The washerwoman did not resent the older woman, as she saw the wisdom of what she had said, and that she was only trying to be kind and pointing her the right way.
The couple started off well, but after the birth of their son, they grew poorer and poorer. Bad luck seemed to haunt them. The washerwoman never saw her first love again, except that she glimped him once at his mothers funeral, looking pale and sad—but that was for his mother.
Then her husband died and they were left penniless.
I had nothing. Since then Ive slaved and toiled for my boys sake. Ive scrubbed floors and washed clothes—all kinds of rough work. It wasnt Gods will for me to be comfortably off. Soon He ll let me go. I expect, and then He will have to provide for the boy.
Sure enough, the washerwoman soon dies, and the mayor comments,
She has drunk herself to death ... Its as well for you your mother is dead ... she was no good.
The mayor reveals that he knew all along that there was some foolishness between the washerwoman and his youngest brother many years earlier, and he tells the boy that his brother had left a huge sum of money when he died.
Its a good thing shes out of the way. Now the boy will get all the money. Ill place him with a good family, and in time he may make a good craftsman.
The story ends as the boy asks Maren if his mother really was no good. Maren tells him,
No. She was good. I knew her for years and was with her on the last night of her life. I know she was good. God in heaven knows she was good too. So let the world say, She was no good. (hide spoiler)]
Hans Christian Andersen came from a poor family, but was very much loved and even spoilt when he was a little boy. His mother was in her late thirties when he was born, and his father, a shoemaker was younger at twenty-two. The young Hans dreamed of becoming an actor, a singer or a dancer, and stayed at home, making clothes for his dolls, and listening to his father tell him stories from The Arabian Nights.
All this ended when Hans was seven years of age. His father was paid to serve in the Napoleonic wars, in place of a local landowner. He returned four years later, a broken man, and died in the Spring. Hanss mother was now destitute, so she took in washing, standing waist deep for hours in the icy river, trying to stay warm by taking nips of schnapps. Two years later she married another shoemaker, who took no interest in the young Hans.
The washerwoman in She Was No Good has no name. The boy, also has no name. Clearly Hans Christian Andersen felt the need to write about some of these experiences as a kind of tribute to his mother, in this story. But whether it makes an interesting story (except as a curiosity about his life) is very debatable. It is in danger of drowning in pathos and irony. But given that tastes change, Ill add the second star.
She Was Good for Nothing
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Hans Christian Andersen
Hyphenated if used as a modifier before a noun. This junky old computer my dad gave me is good for nothing! - Once a little boy was taking a bit of something to his mother.
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