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‘The Little Match Girl’ was first published in 1845 with the Danish title Den Lille Pige

Svovlstikkerne (‘The little girl with the matchsticks’). In some ways, it shares something with
Charles Dickens’s stories highlighting the plight of the poor, and indeed, we might draw a
(tenuous) link between Dickens’s famous story A Christmas Carol from two years earlier
and this story. Both have a snowy, wintry, December setting: both focus on children dying
(Tiny Tim’s death in the future Christmas glimpsed by Scrooge, of course), both contrast this
world of hunger and want with the idea of the festive feast involving a goose or turkey, and
both utilise the idea of successive ‘visions’. This comparison is a little stretched, perhaps,
and it’s not meant to be offered as a rigorous analysis designed to demonstrate a chain of
influence from Dickens to Andersen (although the two men knew each other, and Andersen
even went to visit Dickens, with disastrous consequences).
Moreover, there is no happy ending for Andersen’s little match girl. Yet both he and Dickens
appear to have wished to highlight the plight of the poor and needy to their middle-class
readers. Of course, Andersen often focuses on lonely and isolated characters
(see Thumbelina for another notable example, and just one among many), but here there is
no fairy-tale happy ending for the little match girl.

The 19th-century authors, Christmas presented the perfect opportunity for social commentary.
A favourite theme was the contrast between wealth and poverty, between the firelit drawing
rooms of the prosperous and the stark and frozen world beyond the silk curtains. For every
fictional child such as Clara in The Nutcracker, with her presents and her party dresses, there
was a ragged waif shivering on the pavement outside.

Nowhere is this pathos more excruciatingly brought to bear than in The Little Match
Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. A child is wandering the streets barefoot in the snow, but she’s
afraid to go home because she hasn’t sold enough matches and her father will beat her. As night
falls she strikes her matches to keep warm and sees visions of the loving family life that fate has
denied her. Finally, curling up beneath a street lamp, she succumbs to the piercing cold and is
borne to heaven.

Adapting this story for the stage, as the choreographer and director Arthur Pita did in 2013,
cannot have been easy. Poignancy is one thing; an auditorium full of sobbing parents and
children quite another. That Pita succeeds not only in producing a joyous spectacle, but in
leaving Andersen’s compassionate message intact, is testament to his theatrical deftness. Corey
Claire Annand is as entrancing as she is touching in the title role, and the three-strong
supporting cast of eccentric vagabonds are individually pitch-perfect.

The Little Match Girl


It was biting cold, and the falling snow,

Which filled a poor little match girl’s heart with woe,
Who was bareheaded and barefooted, as she went along the street,
Crying, “Who’ll buy my matches? for I want pennies to buy some meat!”

When she left home she had slippers on;

But, alas! poor child, now they were gone.
For she lost both of them while hurrying across the street,
Out of the way of two carriages which were near by her feet.

So the little girl went on, while the snow fell thick and fast;
And the child’s heart felt cold and downcast,
For nobody had bought any matches that day,
Which filled her little mind with grief and dismay.

Alas! she was hungry and shivering with cold;

So in a corner between two houses she made bold
To take shelter from the violent storm.
Poor little waif! wishing to herself she’d never been born.

And she grew colder and colder, and feared to go home

For fear of her father beating her; and she felt woe-begone
Because she could carry home no pennies to buy bread,
And to go home without pennies she was in dread.

The large flakes of snow covered her ringlets of fair hair;

While the passers-by for her had no care,
As they hurried along to their homes at a quick pace,
While the cold wind blew in the match girl’s face.

As night wore on her hands were numb with cold,

And no longer her strength could her uphold,
When an idea into her little head came:
She’d strike a match and warm her hands at the flame.

And she lighted the match, and it burned brightly,

And it helped to fill her heart with glee;
And she thought she was sitting at a stove very grand;
But, alas! she was found dead, with a match in her hand!

Her body was found half-covered with snow,

And as the people gazed thereon their hearts were full of woe;
And many present let fall a burning tear
Because she was found dead on the last night of the year,

In that mighty city of London, wherein is plenty of gold—

But, alas! their charity towards street waifs is rather cold.
But I hope the match girl’s in Heaven, beside her Saviour dear,
A bright reward for all the hardships she suffered here.


The Little Match girl is an original tale by Hans Christian Andersen without any direct folkloric
influence. The tale was inspired by the childhood experience of Andersen's mother. As a child, she
was often sent out into the streets to beg. She, of course, lived and grew up to give birth to Andersen.

The tale has become a classic story, most popular around Christmas time for obvious reasons. Often
reinterpreted in film, theatre, and books, the ending is sometimes changed to an ending in which the
little match girl doesn't die, but is rescued from her cold and hunger by charitable persons.

War with Sweden, allied to Napoleon, the road to democracy

King Christian IV ruled for the first half of the 17th century, and squandered fabulous wealth by leading his
subjects into the disastrous Thirty Years War with Sweden. In the process, Denmark lost both territory and
money, and the king an eye. Even more disastrous were the losses to Sweden incurred some decades later by
Christian's successor, King Frederick III.

The series of wars with Sweden resulted in territorial losses, but the Great Northern War (1700-21) brought
some restoration of Danish power in the Baltic. The 18th century was otherwise a period of internal reform,
which included the abolition of serfdom and land reforms.

In 1814, Denmark, which had sided with Napoleonic France after British attacks on Copenhagen in 1801 and
1807, was forced to cede Norway to Sweden and Helgoland to England. In 1848, a Prussian-inspired revolt in
Schleswig-Holstein ended without a victor, but in 1864, Schleswig-Holstein and Lauenburg were lost in a new
war with Prussia. Despite these major territorial losses, Denmark prospered economically in the 19th century
and underwent further reforms. In 1849, King Frederick VII (1848-63) authorized a new constitution instituting a
representative form of government, as well as wide-ranging social and education reforms.


Civil War: Christian III leads an army of mercenaries into Copenhagen, and the citizens give up hope of
asserting themselves politically. Reformation: the Danish Church is re-established as a Lutheran state church
with the king as its head.

The Scandinavian Seven Years War.

Denmark regains the island of Bornholm from Sweden. Absolutism (in the form of hereditary monarchy) is

Lord Nelson defeats the Danes in the Battle of Copenhagen.

Hans Christian Andersen is born.
Denmark goes bankrupt and has to cede Norway to Sweden.

Frederick VII is crowned.

Frederick VII signs the Constitutional Act of the Danish Realm - abolishing absolutism and introducing

Prussia and Austria declare war on Denmark and within four days Danish troops are forced to surrender due to
the enemy's military superiority.

Introduction of the law that no government can rule against a parliamentary majority.

Beginning of World War I. Denmark is neutral.


Adapted by Herman Ammann. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale.

Hans Christian Andersen's tragic story is dramatized with love and tenderness. Ragged, hungry
little Maggie tries to sell matches on the icy streets of a cold city, but no one will buy them—not
because people are malicious or spiteful, but because they are so involved in their own interests
that they fail to understand the needs of others. In desperation Maggie lights her matches to
warm herself. She doesn't get warm, but somehow her pitiful little flame lights up the world
around her. It is especially meaningful at Christmas—or any season. Maggie may be almost any
age of childhood—from a preschooler to a young high school girl. And her story appeals to
children and adults alike.

The Little Match Girl

Book and Lyrics by Jeremy Paul and Leslie Stewart, Music by Keith Strachan
Cold Victorian London and our Little Match Girl is out on the streets selling matches.
She is not allowed home with her father until she has sold them. She meets Arthur, a
cocky friendly lad who helps her sell her matches and who she begins to rely on as her
friend. Through him she dreams of a better life. Will he prove to be her saviour? As she
strikes matches to keep warm she is magically transported to a make believe world
where her wishes come to life. Could this lead to a future with Arthur that our heroine
dreams of?

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