(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The story begins as the Chinese emperor reads in a book about the best thing in his empire being a little nightingale that sings in a wood. He then demands that the bird be found, and after all the royal minions have failed, an assistant kitchen maid leads them to the bird.

The little nightingale is brought to the court, given a golden perch, and sings so beautifully that tears come to the eyes of the emperor. That is enough reward for the bird, who declines the gift of a golden slipper. The nightingale is put in a golden cage. Its daily walks are monitored by servants, and the bird believes that its freedom is gone.

The emperor of Japan sends a gift of a magnificent bejeweled mechanical nightingale to the Chinese court. A duet is arranged between the live bird and the mechanical one. The live nightingale is, after the failed duet, banished. The artificial bird, thought to be superior, is placed next to the emperor’s bed. It plays the same song over and over, and in time, a wheel in its workings breaks. Even after repair, the bird can sing only once a year.

Five years pass, and the emperor is mortally ill. As the author puts it, “Death was sitting on his chest and had put on his gold crown and held in one hand the imperial gold sword, and in the other, his splendid banner.” The emperor’s good and wicked deeds come as troublesome images. A replacement emperor has been chosen. The emperor cries out to the mechanical bird to...

(The entire section is 414 words.)

The Nightingale Bibliography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Hans Christian Andersen. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005.

Bredsdorff, Elias. Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975.

Godden, Rumer. Hans Christian Andersen: A Great Life in Brief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1954.

Lurie, Alison. Boys and Girls Forever: Children’s Classics from Cinderella to Harry Potter. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Spink, Reginald. Hans Christian Andersen and His World. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972.

Stirling, Monica. The Wild Swan: The Life and Times of Hans Christian Andersen. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1965.

Wullshläger, Jackie. Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

Zipes, Jack. Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller. New York: Routledge, 2005.