Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Three Spinners
By Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm
From ‘Household Tales

THERE was a lazy girl who would not spin; and her mother might say what she would, she could not make her do it. At last anger and impatience overcame the mother so that she struck the girl, and at that she began to cry aloud. Now, the queen was just driving by, and when she heard the crying she had the carriage stop, went into the house, and asked the mother why she beat her daughter so that one could hear the crying out on the street? Then the woman was ashamed to confess the laziness of her daughter, and said, “I cannot keep her from spinning. She wants to spin all the time, and I am poor and can’t get the flax.” Then the queen answered, “There is nothing I like to hear so much as spinning, and I am never happier than when the wheels hum. Let me take your daughter to the castle. I have flax enough. There she shall spin as much as she will.”  1
  The mother was well pleased at it, and the queen took the girl with her. When they came to the castle she took her up to three rooms, which lay from top to bottom full of the finest flax. “Now spin me this flax,” said she; “and if you finish it you shall have my eldest son for a husband. Though you are poor, I don’t mind that: your cheerful diligence is dowry enough.” The girl was secretly frightened; for she could not have spun the flax if she had lived three hundred years, and had sat at it every day from morning till evening. When she was alone she began to cry, and sat so three days without lifting a hand. On the third day the queen came, and when she saw that nothing was spun yet she was surprised; but the girl excused herself by saying that she had not been able to begin on account of her great sorrow at leaving her mother’s house. The queen was satisfied with that, but she said as she went away, “To-morrow you must begin to work.”  2
  When the girl was alone again she did not know what to think or to do; and in her trouble she went up to the window, and there she saw three women coming along. The first had a broad paddle-foot, the second had such a big under-lip that it hung down over her chin, and the third had a broad thumb. They stopped before the window, looked up, and asked the girl what was the matter. She told them her trouble. Then they offered her their help and said, “If you will invite us to your wedding, not be ashamed of us, and call us your cousins, and seat us at your table too, then we will spin your flax up, and that quickly.” “Gladly,” said she: “come in and set to work immediately.” So she let the three queer women in, and cleared a little space in the first room, where they could sit down and begin their spinning. One of them drew the thread and trod the wheel, the second wet the thread, the third twisted it and struck with her finger on the table; and as often as she struck, a skein of yarn fell to the floor, and it was of the finest. She hid the three spinners from the queen, and showed her as often as she came the pile of spun yarn, so that the queen could not praise her enough. When the first room was empty, they began on the second, and then on the third, and that was soon cleared up too. Now the three women took their leave, and said to the girl, “Do not forget what you promised us. It will be your good fortune.”  3
  When the girl showed the queen the empty rooms and the great heap of yarn, she prepared for the wedding; and the bridegroom was delighted to get such a clever and industrious wife, and praised her very much. “I have three cousins,” said the girl; “and since they have been very kind to me, I should not like to forget them in my happiness. Permit me to invite them to the wedding and to have them sit with me at the table.” The queen and the bridegroom said, “Why should not we permit it?” Now when the feast began, the three women came in queer dress, and the bride said, “Welcome, dear cousins.” “Oh!” said the bridegroom: “how did you get such ill-favored friends?” Then he went to the one with the broad paddle-foot and asked, “Where did you get such a broad foot?” “From the treadle,” she answered, “from the treadle.” Then the bridegroom went to the second and said, “Where did you get that hanging lip?” “From wetting yarn,” she answered, “from wetting yarn.” Then he asked the third, “Where did you get the broad thumb?” “From twisting thread,” she answered, “from twisting thread.” Then the king’s son was frightened and said, “Then my fair bride shall never, never touch a spinning-wheel again.” And so she was rid of the horrid spinning.  4
  NOTE BY THE GRIMMS.—From a tale from the duchy of Corvei; but that there are three women, each with a peculiar fault due to spinning, is taken from a Hessian story. In the former they are two very old women, who have grown so broad by sitting that they can hardly get into the room; from wetting the thread they had thick lips; and from pulling and drawing it, ugly fingers and broad thumbs. The Hessian story begins differently, too; namely, that a king liked nothing better than spinning, and so, at his farewell before a journey, left his daughters a great chest of flax that was to be spun on his return. To relieve them, the queen invited the three deformed women and put them before the king’s eyes on his return. Prätorius in his ‘Glückstopf’ (pp. 404–406) tells the story thus: A mother cannot make her daughter spin, and so often beats her. A man who happens to see it, asks what it means. The mother answers, “I cannot keep her from spinning. She spins more flax than I can buy.” The man answers, “Then give her to me for wife. I shall be satisfied with her cheerful diligence, though she brings no dowry.” The mother is delighted, and the bridegroom brings the bride immediately a great provision of flax. She is secretly frightened, but accepts it, puts it in her room, and considers what she shall do. Then three women come to the window, one so broad from sitting that she cannot get in at the door, the second with an immense nose, the third with a broad thumb. They offer their services and promise to spin the task, if the bride on her wedding day will not be ashamed of them, will proclaim them her cousins and set them at her table. She consents; they spin up the flax, and the lover praises his betrothed. When now the wedding day comes, the three horrid women present themselves. The bride does them honor, and calls them cousins. The bridegroom is surprised, and asks how she comes by such ill-favored friends. “Oh!” said the bride, “it’s by spinning that they have become so deformed. One has such a broad back from sitting, the second has licked her mouth quite off,—therefore her nose stands out so,—and the third has twisted thread so much with her thumb.” Then the bridegroom was troubled, and said to the bride she should never spin another thread as long as she lived, that she might not become such a monstrosity.  5
  A third tale from the ‘Oberlansitz,’ by Th. Pescheck, is in Büsching’s Weekly News. It agrees in general with Prätorius. One of the three old women has sore eyes because the impurities of the flax have got into them, the second has a mouth from ear to ear on account of wetting thread, the third is fat and clumsy by much sitting at the spinning-wheel. A part of the story is in Norwegian in Asbjörnsen, and in Swedish in Cavallius. Mademoiselle L’Heretier’s ‘Ricdin-Ricdon’ agrees in the introduction, and the sette colenelle of the Pentameron is also connected with this tale.  6

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.