Woman’s Work

A Scandinavian tale proving that men can learn after all

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This is a story young learners of English particularly enjoy (although I also tell it to adults).
The story, collected by Asjbornsen and Moe, shows the well-known folk tale motif “The husband who minds the house”.
I first read it in Angela Carter’s collection The Virago Book of Fairytales Vol. 1 (Virago Press, 1990).
A Swedish version, When Husband and Wife Swapped Work, is in The Magic Pisspot: Swedish folk tales.

As an English teacher in Germany, I used storytelling a lot. Below are texts and pictures by children from class 5c, Edith-Stein-Schule, Darmstadt (2004) after hearing the story.

For more on the storytelling methodology I developed, read Telling stories in the classroom.

Norwegian farmer – farmhouse against hillside – flat roof, grass growing on it.

Picture by Lou

Always cross with wife. “Only woman’s work”.
She fed up – said, “Let’s change jobs.”

Next day she went to fields. He stayed home to do woman’s work.

Churning butter – thirsty, went to tap new barrel of beer in back corner of kitchen.
Heard pig in kitchen, pig drinking cream from butter churn.
He ran (with tap in hand) and wild with rage, kicked pig dead.
Remembered tap in hand – beer flooding over floor.

Picture by Wolfgang

Got more cream for butter, churning.
Remembered cow still in shed. But couldn’t leave cream – baby crawling on floor. So put churn on his back (rucksack).
Crossing farmyard, saw the well – stopped to draw water for cow – forgot cream was on his back – bent down for full bucket – tipped cream into well.

Too far to take cow to grass in meadow, but saw flat roof with grass.
Made bridge from steep hillside to roof. Pushed cow onto roof – cow eating grass.

Picture by Julia

Thought cow might fall.
So that nothing could happen, he tied rope round cow’s neck. Put other end of rope down chimney, into kitchen – tied it round his leg.

Nearly dinner-time, and no butter. Better boil potatoes.
Pot of water on fire.

Cow fell off roof, man dragged across floor, pulled up chimney until he stuck fast.

Picture by ?

Wife had finished man’s work, came home. Saw cow hanging.
Cut rope.
Husband in chimney fell down head-first into pot of hot water.

She looked at spilt cream, dead pig, beer on floor, husband in pot.
“So that’s how you do Woman’s Work!”

He was never cross again.


The video clips here are all amateur quality, shot in various theatres.

Their intention is just to show the range of my storytelling and give a flavour of a live performance.

Permission is granted for use in non-commercial educational contexts.

The videos are © Richard Martin.

Professionally recorded CDs and DVDs are available here.

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Permission to tell outlines my views on copyright

For those who are teachers: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling