The Butterfly

It’s so refreshing, not to mention exciting, to get to do a fairy tale that I have not heard of, seen, read or knew about before today. I feel like I’m walking in fresh snow as I sit down to write this post, and that’s a good thing! Most fairy tales are very, very old and have been around for centuries. They’ve been picked apart and put back together in new ways, they’ve been discussed, debated, banned and treasured by generations of people from all over the world. With Hans Christian Andersen most of his fairy tales are wholey original. They have only been around a mere hundred years or so and some of his fairy tales have simply seemed to drop through the cracks and probably won’t be picked up again for another hundred years or so, if ever. “The Butterfly” is one of those seemingly forgotten stories.

When searching for the text to read the fairy tale for this week, I had only a few pages of hits came up (and most of them Tif’s!) and almost all contained only the text and a note that it was in the public domain. That’s it. See what I mean about fresh snow?

In the story “The Butterfly” Andersen writes about a butterfly who is in search for a wife. He decides that he’s too lazy to go about things the long and proper way and so decides to cut to the chase and ask a daisy (a prophet of she loves me, she loves me not fame) who his wife should be. The daisy is insulted because he hasn’t even spent time to find out her real age (no woman, as the butterfly claims, it’s early spring she is but a young girl). She stays silent and doesn’t help him. So he sets off to woo other flowers but finds a variety of reasons to dislike this or that flower: too sallow, too young, too old, too many, too sentimental and so on.

Spring turns to summer and summer turns to fall. He finally turns to the mint but the mint laughs at him and offers to be friends with benefits but not to get married because that would be ridiculous at their age. So he discovers that his vanity and shallow taste have led to him wasting his life pursuing a perfect mate that didn’t exist. He flies into a house as winter sets in and discovers that it is warm there and so he can exist for a while longer, but what was the point when he existed alone?

The humans find him at that point and pin him to a board to put him on display as they find him beautiful. He now likens himself to the flowers confined to their stalks that he has admired before. He has become the shallow beauty to be coveted. He decides it is something like being married, because of course his whole problem is that he views marriage in such a petty and vain light. A potted plant informs him that it is very poor consolation, but the butterfly dismisses it, because the plant has lived as such an object its whole life, only for humans, and that invalidated its views. The butterfly is petty, vain and proud to the last.

I wonder how much of this story was autobiographical for Hans Christian Andersen, a man who never married? I’ve seen it argued before that Andersen might have been a homosexual and if that is the case it certainly shows this tale in a whole new light. It explains why the butterfly turned at last to flowers with no blossoms after a lifetime of trying to find a mate amongst the blossoming flowers. He wanted a flower that had a continually pleasing scent that did not fade. The mint turned him down though, and was described as a female besides. All the same it would be another reason for such a marriage to be considered “ridiculous”, in that day, age not withstanding.

In this tale though the main themes were a young man turning into an old bachelor while constantly searching for a wife of incredibly high standard that adhered to several sexist ideals of womanhood. And, sadly enough not learning his lesson even at the last and ending his life alone as an objectified beauty for others (just as he wished his wife to do for him) to the end of his days. A pretty sad story in the end, all things considered.

2 Responses to The Butterfly

  1. Tif
    2:40 pm on April 25th, 2010

    I completely agree that it was a pretty sad story considering, but as I read your opinions another thought comes to mind . . . “Isn’t it ironic?!?” I sometimes have to wonder how much authors put their own story into the ones the write. You’ve got me wondering on this one!!

  2. carol
    7:07 pm on June 13th, 2010

    I had never heard of this one either. It was sad, but the ending was pretty much inevitable.

Leave a Reply