Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Catherine and Her Fate

Go To
Picture by H. J. Ford

One day Catherine was sitting in her own room when suddenly the door flew open, and in came a tall and beautiful woman holding in her hands a little wheel.
"Catherine," she said, going up to the girl, "which would you rather have-a happy youth or a happy old age?"
Catherine was so taken by surprise that she did not know what to answer, and the lady repeated again, "Which would you rather have-a happy youth or a happy old age?"
Then Catherine thought to herself, "If I say a happy youth, then I shall have to suffer all the rest of my life. No, I would bear trouble now, and have something better to look forward to." So she looked up and replied, "Give me a happy old age"

Catherine and Her Fate (sometimes Catherine and Her Destiny) is an Italian Fairy Tale.

Catherine was the very beautiful daughter of a rich merchant. One day, a woman visited her and asked whether she would rather be happy when young or when old. She concluded it would be better to get it over with and be happy in old age. The woman, who was her Fate, vanished. Soon, her father lost all his money and died. Realizing this was the unhappy part, she tried to get a job, but her Fate kept appearing and ruining it for her. Seven years later, she managed to get a job as a servant and keep it. One of her tasks was to bring bread to her mistress's Fate.

Her mistress found out why she was always crying, and told her to ask her mistress's Fate whether she could be freed. She did, and that Fate brought her to her own, who gave her a hank of thread. Catherine thought to throw it away, it was so useless, but her mistress urged her to keep it.

One day, the young king was to marry, but a hank of thread was needed to sew his wedding garment — no thread in the kingdom had the proper color. It was just the color of the thread that Catherine's Fate had given her, and the king declared she would be rewarded with an equal weight in gold.

But when it was put in a scale, no matter how much gold they put on the other side, it outweighed it, until the king had all his treasury on the other side, and threw down his crown as well. He demanded that she tell him how she had come by it, and she told her story. A wise lady of the court declared that it was time for her happiness to begin, and the crown showed that it was her fate to be a queen. The king declared she would be his, and married her instead of the original bride.

This tale is a Gender Flip of a common plot of Chivalric Romance, the Man Tested by Fate, who, having been given a similar decision, made the same choice. Also, a few tales have a married couple being given the same choice - the rest of the story normally has them split up for a decade or two. Another variant, recorded by Italo Calvino, doesn't have the choice part - it's about a princess who merely gave bad luck to both herself and whatever house she entered. The problem is finally solved by giving the girl's Fate a literal makeover.

Full text here in Thomas Crane's translation. Andrew Lang's here.


  • Disposable FiancĂ©e: The King swiftly dumps his original bride after deciding to marry Catherine.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Catherine lives in poverty for seven years before becoming a queen.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Catherine's rich father gets sick and passes away shortly after losing his fortune. His daughter is forced to constantly change cities and work as a servant or a kitchen maid.
  • Fallen Princess: Catherine's father "had greater treasures than the king". Then he loses everything within one month, and Catherine becomes a poor orphan kid looking for menial jobs.
  • MacGuffin: Catherine's Fate's skein of silk lets her meet up with the king.
  • Rags to Royalty: After living in poverty for several years, Catherine becomes a queen.
  • Rule of Three:
    • Catherine's father owned three beautifully decorated seats.
      In his reception room stood three wonderfully beautiful seats. One was of silver, the second of gold, and the third of diamonds.
    • Catherine finds work as a maid three times.
  • Rule of Seven:
    • Catherine lives in poverty for seven years.
    • Catherine's Fate is covered with seven coverlets.
  • Scullery Maid: Catherine gets hired as a scullery maid by her final employer.
  • Wealthy Ever After: After spending several years struggling, Catherine becomes rich again.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Catherine cannot do anything to change her chosen fate.