She lighted another match, and then she found herself sitting under a beautiful Christmas-tree. . . . Thousands of tapers were burning upon the green branches, and colored pictures, like those she had seen in the show-windows, looked down upon it all. The little one stretched out her hand towards them, and the match went out.The Little Match Girl, Hans Christian Anderson
Origins of the Quote
The Little Match Girl is a children’s tale of great pathos, it was published back in 1845. The story of the little girl dying in the cold, with not a single thought to spare for her – highlights the hypocrisy of Christian society. Especially in the background of Christmas – not only does the child wander barefoot unnoticed, nobody offers her any warmth, food, or even buy her wares. She wasn’t begging but selling her matches.
Acutely aware of the state of her poverty, not returning home without a single penny was not an option for her. She spends the last day of the year lighting the matches to stay warm and allowing her imagination to protect her from the harsh reality of her circumstances. She creates her own joy with whatever tools she has and memory.
The last line of the quote echoes how she actually feels. There is love, warmth and beauty – only that it is a dream, never achievable.
The Person Behind the Words
Andersen, was born in 1805 to poor parents, fought the rigid class structure of his time throughout his life. The first significant help came from Jonas Collin. Collin was one of the directors of the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, to which Andersen had gone as a youth in the vain hope of winning fame as an actor. It was Collin who raised money to send him to school.
Unfortunately, school was a place of torture for the sensitive artist Andersen. Nevertheless, it allowed him to be admitted to the University of Copenhagen in 1828.
Andersen was not afraid of introducing feelings and ideas that were beyond a child’s immediate comprehension. This is what appeals to the children, yet he remained in touch with the child’s perspective. His stories were a combination of natural storytelling and great imagination. To that, he added the power of folk legends to produce a body of fairy tales that relate to many cultures.
A Hard World
The Danish reviews of the first two booklets first appeared in 1836. However, they were not favorable. Unfortunately, the familiar and casual tone was unpopular with his critics. Some of the stories were downright. At the time that he was writing children’s literature was meant to educate rather than to amuse.
The critics discouraged him from pursuing this type of style. Andersen felt he was working against the critics’ preconceived notions about fairy tales. He temporarily returned to novel-writing in the interim. But the reaction was so severe that Andersen waited a full year before further publishing.
In early 1872, at age 67, Andersen fell out of his bed and was severely hurt; he never fully recovered from the resultant injuries. He died in 1875, near Copenhagen, the home of his close friends, the banker Moritz Melchior and his wife. Shortly before his death, Andersen had consulted a composer about the music for his funeral. Pre-empting the end he said: “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps.”
Some Final Thoughts
Andersen’s fairy tales, consisting of 156 stories across nine volumes were translated into more than 125 languages. These stories have become culturally embedded in the collective consciousness of generations of readers. The tales present lessons of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity for mature readers too. Some of the most famous fairy tales include “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, “The Little Mermaid”, “The Nightingale”, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, “The Red Shoes”, “The Princess and the Pea”, “The Snow Queen”, “The Ugly Duckling”, “The Little Match Girl”, and “Thumbelina”.
With rich imagery and a poetic presentation, the texts have inspired ballets, plays, and animated and live-action films. Commemorating his life and works – one of Copenhagen’s widest and busiest boulevards, skirting Copenhagen City Hall Square at the corner of which Andersen’s larger-than-life bronze statue sits, is named “H. C. Andersen’s Boulevard.”
Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.