Thursday, 25 February 2016

Two Tales of Suitors

Whilst they have differing AT numbers (AT-1462 and AT-1459, respectively), the tales in this post resemble each other in that each deals with the plight of a suitor travelling around the remote farms of rural Norway, looking for a wife. In each case, the canniness of the suitor exposes a pertinent foible of the family he is visiting, which, by implication, is also that of the prospective object of his suit.

The first tale was collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen in Nord Trøndelag, and is quite straightforward:

Seven-year-old Porridge

So there was this boy, once upon a time, who went out a-courting. His mother had always wanted everything so clean that, “it should be as if windswept,” she said. The boy wanted the same, and therefore wanted a wife who was as cleanly as his mother. So he thought for a good while about how he would ever discover whether she was cleanly or slovenly. Well, in the end, he found a way. He wrapped one of his hands in cloths and clothes, as if it ached terribly, and off he set.

Where he came, he was received as it was the custom to welcome a suitor to the farm: both with ale and with something to drink, both with food and with talk. And among the first things they found to talk about was his hand, and what was wrong with it.

Illustration by Teodor Kittelsen

Oh, he had a finger that a troll had got into—a neck, they called it, he said. He had spoken to doctors and wise women, too, but there was no good cure.

But there is nothing there is no good cure for, except death, the farm folk said.

“Well, they said there was one cure,” said the boy.

What was it?

It was seven-year-old porridge, but he could not find any anywhere, he said.

“Huh, is that all?” they said. “That’s a cure you may take, for in our cooking pots, and in the old porridge troughs, there will be crusts that certainly must be seven, or even fourteen years old,” they said.

Well, they certainly were the cleanliest of folk!

The following tale was collected by Jørgen Moe in Buskerud, and borders on the risqué:

A Suitor Story

Once upon a time, there was a boy who would go a-courting. Among the places he came to was a farm where the people were in dire straits; but when the suitor arrived, you may be sure they desired to appear well-to-do.

Illustration by Hans Sørensen

The husband had just got a new sleeve on his smock.

“Sit down,” he said to the suitor. “Oh but it is all dusty everywhere.” And he rubbed and dusted all the benches and tables with his new sleeve. The other arm he held behind his back.

The wife had got a new shoe. With that, she went and shoved and kicked at everything—stools and chairs.

“There is so much in the way; it’s so untidy here,” she said.

Then they called for their daughter, that she should come and tidy up. She had got a new woollen hat. She stuck her head around the door, therefore, and nodded here and there.

“I can’t be everywhere, can I?” she said.

It was indeed to well-to-do folk the suitor had come to!

Perhaps the similarity of the formulations of the punchlines in these tales, despite their differing geographical origins, reveals an especially Norwegian sense of humour; more likely, though it shows us nothing more than that Asbjørnsen and Moe cooperated on the formulation of their tales, before publication.

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