She came from the water, a creature as beautiful and mysterious as the lake she called home. But for the love of a human, she set off on a journey from which she could never return. Rusalka (whose name

means simply “water nymph” in Czech) appeared on the operatic stage in 1901, an ethereal being brought to life by the soaring melodies of Antonín Dvořák and the evocative poetry of Jaroslav Kvapil. But she and her fellow denizens of the water had been inspiring and beguiling storytellers for centuries. From the fjords of Denmark to the forests of Bohemia, the water nymph (most famously embodied in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Little Mermaid) was a celebrated member of the fairy-tale pantheon. But it was not magic that she desired, nor idolization—it was humanity, and love.

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