Illustration by Cherry-Ksyss at from a similar story, "The Princess and the Pea"
Illustration by Cherry-Ksyss at from a similar story, “The Princess and the Pea”

“The Most Sensitive Woman” is a tale from Italy retold by Christian Schneller in Märchen und Sagen aus Wälschtirol. I read the version on D. L. Ashliman’s site. It’s from the South Tyrol region in Northern Italy, an area with close historical and cultural ties to Austria. It’s similar to “The Princess and the Pea” – you’ll see why.

Once upon a time there was a prince. (Isn’t there always?) His parents want him to get married, but he states he would only marry the most sensitive woman in the world. His parents say fine, go out and find her. The thing is by sensitive he doesn’t mean attuned to others feelings, he apparently means someone who feels pain easily, which really doesn’t seem like the best quality to seek in a wife.

The first lady he meets has her head wrapped up because her maid had pulled out a single hair when she was brushing her hair that morning. The prince decides she’s not the right one. The second has her whole body wrapped in fine linen and looks sad because the sheet she had been sleeping on the night before had a wrinkle and it made her sick. But the prince believes she is not the most sensitive.

Surprise, surprise – the third woman is the one he chooses. That magical three – no wonder he didn’t really consider the first two. She is sitting on a chair and has her foot bandaged. She is crying and looks so upset that one had to feel sorry for her. Apparently she had been walking in the garden and a breeze had blown a jasmine petal onto her foot. The prince decides she must be the most sensitive woman in the world and marries her. I’m not sure why you would want to be married to someone who is so easily hut, you’re bound to make her life miserable.

I love the last sentence. “Did he do the right thing? Unfortunately the storyteller does not know, for she has run out of yarn.” As Ashliman notes, that sentence is wonderfully ambiguous, referring both to yarn as a raw material for storytelling and as the product of a principal activity of traditional European storytellers: spinning.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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