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This is a presentation of “Aschenputtel” as published in the 1812 first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Translated and performed by T.Q. Townsend. This audiobook may be freely used for non-profit educational purposes.
Illustration: Alexander Zick
The audiobook is also available on YouTube:
Translated by T.Q. Townsend
Once upon a time there was a rich man and his wife who lived happily together with their little daughter. But the woman became gravely ill, and before she died she said to called her daughter to her and said: “Dear child, I must leave you. But when I am in heaven I will watch over you. Plant a tree on my grave, and if you ever need anything, shake it. When you are in need I will send you help. All you must do is remain pious and good.” With these last words, she closed her eyes and died. The girl wept for a long time. But she remembered to plant a tree on her mother’s grave. She never needed to carry water to the tree, for her tears were enough.
The grave was covered in a white cloth of winter snow. Then the warm summer sun pulled the blanket away, and the tree became green for a second season. Then the man took another wife. The new stepmother had been a widow, and had two daughters who were fair of face but proud, wicked, and haughty in heart. As soon as the wedding was over and the three newcomers drove to the house, things went badly for the poor girl.
“What is this nasty useless thing doing in the house?” said the stepmother, taking the girl into the kitchen. “If she wants to eat bread she must earn it first. She can be our maid.”
The stepsisters took away her beautiful clothes and put an old gray gown on her.
“It looks good on you!” the stepsisters cackled.
The poor child had to do the heaviest work in the house. Every morning she rose early, carried water from the well, lit the fire, cooked, and washed. The stepsisters did all the could to mock her. Their favorite prank was to pour the peas and lentils into the ashes by the fireplace so that the girl would have to spend all day picking them out and cleaning them. At night she had no bed to lie in, so she would sleep in the ashes by the hearth to keep from freezing. And because she was constantly digging in the ashes and sleeping by the fire, she became very dusty and dirty. And so her stepsister gave her the name Aschenputtel.
Some time later, the King announced that there would be a splendid ball which would last for three days. It was time for his son to choose a wife. The two proud sisters were invited to attend. They bragged to Aschenputtel even as they made her serve them. “Come up,” they called. ‘Comb our hair. Brush our shoes and buckle them. We’re going to the Prince’s ball!” Aschenputtel did her chores faithfully, but the stepsisters still scolded her.
The stepsisters asked mockingly, “Aschenputtel, would you like to go to the ball?”
“Oh, yes,” Aschenputtel answered. “But how could I go? I have nothing to wear.”
“No indeed,” sneered the eldest stepsister. “That would be a fine thing if you showed up. We would be ashamed if people heard you were our sister. You belong in the kitchen. There you have your bowls of lentils. When we get back they must be properly sorted. Be careful not to leave any bad ones in, or you will regret it.”
And with that the stepsisters went away. Aschenputtel stood at the window and watched until the carriage vanished from her sight. When she could see them no more, she sadly went back to the kitchen and stared at the enormous heap of lentils that she had to sort.
“Oh,” she sighed. “I have to finish all of this work by midnight. No matter how my eyes hurt me, I can’t let them close. Oh, how I wish my mother knew of this!” She knelt before the stove next to the pile of lentils and was about to start sorting them when two white doves flew through the window and sat on the hearth beside her. They nodded their heads politely and asked “Aschenputtel, shall we help you pick through the lentils?”
“Oh, yes please!” Aschenputtel replied. “The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot.”
And pick, pick! Pick, pick! The doves ate away the harder lentils, which they preferred, leaving the ones good for people. In just a quarter of an hour the good lentils were sorted and clean in the pot, with not a single bad one among them.
Then the doves said, “Aschenputtel, if you want to see your sisters dance with the Prince, climb up into the dovecote.” Aschenputtel followed the birds back to their little house. She climbed up to the top of the ladder and peered inside. She saw a vision of the great hall at the palace, and saw her sisters dancing with the prince. The palace glimmered and shone with thousands of lights that sparkled in her eyes. When she had seen enough, she came down from the dovecote with a heavy heart. Then she lay down in the ashes and fell asleep.
The next morning the stepsisters came to the kitchen, hoping to see her still at work sorting lentils so they could scold her. They were angry to see that the work was finished and that Aschenputtel had managed to get some sleep. So instead they decided to tell her all about the ball.
“Oh, it was such a pleasure to be at the ball. The Prince is so very handsome, and such a fine dancer!” They said. “One of us will certainly become his wife.”
“I saw it all,” said Aschenputtel. “The flickering lights were so splendid.”
“What?” the eldest stepsister cried. “How did you see anything?”
“I . . . saw it from the top of the dovecote,” Aschenputtel stammered.
The elder sister was outraged and instantly called for the servants and ordered them to tear down the dovecote. But the younger still had some small amount of pity in her heart, and when Aschenputtel came to wash and brush her hair, she whispered, “you can still try to see the palace from the window.” But the elder sister overheard and shouted, “No! That lazy servant has a sack full of peas to sort. Aschenputtel, tonight you will sort through them, and if you don’t finish before we return tonight I will throw them all in the ashes and you won’t get a bite to eat until you do the job all over again!”
The stepsisters flounced away to the second night at the ball, but as soon as they had gone, the doves returned and said kindly, “Aschenputtel, shall we sort out the sweet peas for you?
And once again Aschenputtel replied, “The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot.”
Pick, pick! Pick, pick! The work went so quickly that it was as if twelve hands did the work. When everything was finished, the doves asked, “Aschenputtel, do you want to go to the ball and dance?”
“Goodness!” she gasped. “How can I go in these dirty clothes?”
“Go to the little tree on your mother’s grave,” cooed the doves. “Give it a shake and wish for a lovely gown. But you must return before midnight!”
Aschenputtel rushed out to the little tree and called out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! Throw down lovely clothes for me!”
As soon as she had spoken the words, a splendid silver dress lay before the tree. There were also pearls, silk stockings with silver gussets, silver slippers, and all of the right accessories. Aschenputtel carried everything back to the house, and after she was clean and dressed, she was as beautiful as a rose washed by the morning dew. As she stepped through the front door, she saw a carriage with six black horses adorned with feathers. Attendants in blue and silver livery lifted her inside, and off they went at a gallop to the King’s palace.
The Prince saw the carriage at the gate and imagined that some princess he had never met had arrived. He went down the stairs himself, and when he saw Aschenputtel he lifted her out and led her into the hall. When the splendor of all the lights fell upon her, everyone was amazed. The stepsisters stood and fumed because there was a woman at the ball more lovely than they were. Yet they never imagined that it could be Aschenputtel, who they imagined was laying in the ashes at home.
The prince danced with Aschenputtel all evening. He accorded her royal honor and thought to himself, “I don’t believe I could choose any bride more perfect than this one.” Although she had lived in ashes and sadness for so very long, Aschenputtel now felt only glorious joy.
But soon midnight came! Before the clock struck twelve, she bowed to the assembly and departed. The prince begged her to stay, but Aschenputtel hurried away, leaped into the waiting carriage, and it hurried off in the same splendor with which it had arrived.
As soon as she got back home, Aschenputtel went back to the little tree on her mother’s grave and sang out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! I return these clothes to thee!” And the tree accepted the clothes back again, returning Aschenputtel’s faded gray dress. The girl returned to the kitchen, smudged some dust on her face, and lay down to sleep among the ashes.
In the morning the stepsisters returned, sullen and silent. Aschenputtel asked meekly if they had enjoyed themselves at the ball.
“No,” the sisters pouted. “Some princess was there, and the Prince would only dance with her. Nobody knew who she was or where she came from.”
“Was it she who had the splendid carriage with six matching horses?” Aschenputtel asked.
“How did you know about that?” snapped the elder sister.
“I was standing by the front door when I saw her drive by,” Aschenputtel answered.
“Well, in the future stick to your chores instead of watching people on the road,” the eldest growled.
For a third time Aschenputtel had to dress and style her stepsisters for the ball, and as a reward they gave her another enormous sack of peas to sort and clean.
“Don’t you dare stop working,” the eldest snapped over her shoulder as she flounced out the door.
“I hope the doves don’t stay away,” thought Aschenputtel, and her heart quivered. But just as on the previous evenings, the doves came!
“Shall we sort the peas for you, Aschenputtel?” the little doves asked sweetly.
“The bad ones in your crop, the good ones in the pot!” Sang out Aschenputtel with a smile on her face.
In moments, the doves had sorted the peas, and then they said, “Go back to the tree and give it a shake. You will get even prettier things to wear tonight. Go to the ball, but be careful to come home before midnight!”
Aschenputtel hurried to the tree, shook it gently, and called out, “Shake, shake, O little tree! Throw down lovely clothes for me!”
Then a dress fell down to her, and it was indeed more magnificent than the one from the night before. It was made entirely of gold and precious stones, with gold-laced stockings and golden slippers. When Aschenputtel had put it on, it shone as brightly as the midday sun. An even more splendid carriage, stood by the door, pulled by six gray horses with tall white plumes on their proud heads. Smiling servants in red and gold livery lifted her inside and she was off to the palace.
When Aschenputtel arrived at the ball, the prince was waiting for her on the stairs. He took her by the hand and led her into the hall. Once again, everyone was amazed by her loveliness, and astonished that she was somehow even more beautiful than before. The stepsisters huddled in the corner, pale with envy. If they had known that Aschenputtel was not lying in the ashes at home but was in fact the enchanting woman standing before them, they might have died of their jealousy.
The prince was desperate to know who the unknown princess was. He wished to know where she came from and where she would go to after the ball, so he sent servants to watch for her carriage when it left. He also ordered that the stairs be spread with pitch, so that she could not run away so quickly all of a sudden.
Aschenputtel danced and danced with the prince. She was lost in so much happiness that she did not watch the clock. Suddenly, even as she was dancing, she heard the bells begin to ring. Recalling the warning of the doves, Aschenputtel fled from the ball. She flew down the stairs, but because they were coated in pitch, one of her golden slippers stuck fast. Too terrified to stop, Aschenputtel left the shoe behind. As she reached the final step, the clock struck twelve. The carriage and horses had disappeared. Gone was the magnificent golden gown. Aschenputtel stood alone in the street wearing her sooty gray clothes. She hurried away before anyone saw her.
The prince, hurrying after the mysterious princess, found the golden slipper on the stairs. He pulled it free, but by the time he reached the street, the maiden was gone. The guards he had put on watch could report nothing. They had not seen the golden carriage, nor the fine gray horses.
Aschenputtel was grateful things had not gone worse. She ran home, lit her little lamp, hung it up by the chimney and lay down in the ashes. Before long, the two stepsisters returned and shouted “Aschenputtel, get up and bring us some light.”
Aschenputtel yawned and pretended that she had been asleep. She brought her little lamp just as the elder sister complained, “Goodness knows who that dratted princess is! I hope she is buried in the ground! The prince would only dance with her, and when she disappeared he refused to stay any longer, so the whole party was ruined.”
“When she left, it was as if all the lights had been blown out,” agreed the younger sister.
Aschenputtel knew the answers to all of their questions, but she didn’t say a thing.
Back at the palace, the prince thought to himself that while all of his other efforts had failed, the slipper offered one last clue to help him find the woman he hoped to make his bride.
He put out a decree: “Let it be known,” the word went out, “That the one who fits this slipper will be the prince’s wife.”
And so all of the ladies in the land tried to wear it, but it was much too small for all of them. Some would not have been able to wear the shoe even if it were twice as big as it was.
At last the stepsisters were to have their chance. They were glad to try, for they both had pretty little feet. Each sister believed she would not fail.
But first, their mother spoke to them in secret. “Listen to me,” she whispered. “Here is a knife. If the slipper is too tight for you, cut off a bit of your foot. It might hurt, but that will pass soon enough.”
The eldest took the slipper into her room. She could get her toe in, but her heel was too big. So she took the knife and cut off a piece of her heel so that she could push her foot into the shoe. She went out to the prince, and when he saw that she was wearing the slipper, he declared her to be the bride he sought. The prince led the elder sister to the carriage and began to drive away. But just as he reached the gate, the doves called out to him”
“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go find your true bride from the ball!”
The prince bent down and examined the slipper. Blood spurted out from it. He realized he had been cheated. He turned the carriage around and returned the false bride to her home.
But the stepmother turned to her younger daughter and said, “Take the slipper. If it doesn’t fit, cut off the front of your toes.”
So the younger sister took the slipper too her room. Her foot was also too big, so she clenched her teeth, cut off a big piece of her toe, and quickly crammed her foot into the shoe. When she emerged from her room, the Prince thought he had at last found his bride. But once again, as his carriage reached the gate, the doves cried out their warning:
“Turn and see! Turn and see!
A bloody shoe! How can that be?
The slipper doesn’t fit at all.
Go find your true bride from the ball!”
The prince looked down, and saw that the girl’s white stockings were dyed red with blood that crept upwards from her foot. He turned the carriage around, brought the girl back to her mother, and said, “This isn’t my true love either. Are there no other daughters in this house?”
“No,” the mother replied. “There is only one nasty cinderwench here. She is sitting down in the ashes, and fine slippers will never fit her.”
Yet still the prince wished to see her. The stepmother refused to call for Aschenputtel until the prince insisted. At last, Aschenputtel was summoned. When she heard that the prince was at her home, she quickly washed her face and hands. As she came into the room, the prince offered her the slipper and said, “Try it on. If it fits, you can become my wife.”
Aschenputtel removed her heavy old shoe from her left foot and put on the golden slipper. It fit as if it were made for her. She bowed to the prince, but he looked her in the face and at last was able to recognize the beautiful princess. “It is you!” he cried. “My true bride!”
The stepmother and her two arrogant daughters turned pale with rage, but the prince led Aschenputtel away and lifted her into the carriage. As they drove through the gate, the doves sang out sweetly:
“Turn and see! Turn and see!
No blood in the shoe will be
The fit is perfect – can’t you tell?
Now there will be wedding bells!”