THE BROTHERS GRIMM
Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm 1855
The Brothers Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, were German academics who were best known for publishing collections of folk tales and fairy tales and for their work in linguistics. They are among the best known story tellers of novellas from Europe, allowing the widespread knowledge of such tales as Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel.
Grimm Brothers Monument at Hanau (Germany), sculpted by Syrius Eberle.
Jakob Ludwig Grimm and Wilhelm Karl Grimm were born on January 4, 1785, and February 24, 1786, respectively, in Hanau near Frankfurt in Hessen. They were among a family of nine children, only six of whom survived infancy. Their early childhood was spent in the countryside in what has been described as an "idyllic" state. When the eldest brother Jakob was eleven years old, however, their father, Philipp Wilhelm, died, and the family moved into a cramped urban residence. Two years later, the children's grandfather also died, leaving them and their mother to struggle in reduced circumstances.
The two brothers were educated at the Friedrichs-Gymnasium in Kassel and later both read law at the University of Marburg. They were in their early twenties when they began the linguistic and philological studies that would culminate in both Grimm's Law and their collected editions of fairy and folk tales. Though their collections of tales became immensely popular, they were essentially a by-product of the linguistic research which was the Brothers' primary goal.
Jakob remained a bachelor until his death, but Wilhelm married Dorothea Wild, a pharmacist's daughter from whom the brothers heard the story Little Red Riding Hood, in 1825. They had four children, three survived infancy. In 1830, they formed a household in Göttingen with Jakob, where both brothers became professors.
In 1837, the Brothers Grimm joined five of their colleague professors at the University of Göttingen to protest against the abolition of the liberal constitution of the state of Hanover by King Ernest Augustus I, a reactionary son of King George III. This group came to be known in the German states as Die Göttinger Sieben (The Göttingen Seven). The two, along with the five others, protested against the abrogation. For this, the professors were fired from their university posts and three deported--including Jakob. Jakob settled in Kassel, outside Ernest's realm, and Wilhelm joined him there, both staying with their brother Ludwig. However, the next year, the two were invited to Berlin by the King of Prussia, and both settled there.
Wilhelm died in 1859; his elder brother Jakob died in 1863. The brothers are buried in the St. Matthäus Kirchhof Cemetery in Schöneberg, Berlin.
The Brothers Grimm began collecting folk tales around 1807, in response to a wave of awakened interest in German folklore that followed the publication of Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano's folksong collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn ("The Youth's Magic Horn"), 1805-8. By 1810 the Grimm’s produced a manuscript collection of several dozen tales, which they had recorded by inviting storytellers to their home and transcribing what they heard. Although it is often believed that they took their tales from peasants, many of their informants were middle-class or aristocratic, recounting tales they had heard from their servants and several of the informants were of Huguenot ancestry and told tales French in origin.
In 1812, the Brothers published a collection of 86 German fairy tales in a volume titled Kinder- und Hausmärchen (“Children's and Household Tales"). They published a second volume of 70 fairy tales in 1814 ("1815" on the title page), which together make up the first edition of the collection, containing 156 stories.
They wrote a two volume work titled Deutsche Sagen which included 585 German legends which were published in 1816 and 1818. The legends are told in chronological order of which historical events they were related. Then they arranged the regional legends thematically for each folktale creature like dwarfs, giants, monsters, etc. not in any historical order. These legends were not as popular as the fairytales.
A second edition, of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, followed in 1819-22, expanded to 170 tales. Five more editions were issued during the Grimm’s' lifetimes, in which stories were added or subtracted, until the seventh edition of 1857 contained 211 tales. Many of the changes were made in light of unfavourable reviews, particularly those that objected that not all the tales were suitable for children, despite the title. They were also criticized for being insufficiently German; this not only affected the tales they included, but their language as they changed "Fee" (fairy) to an enchantress or wise woman, every prince to a king's son, every princess to a king's daughter. (It has long been recognized that some of these later-added stories were derived from printed rather than oral sources.)
These editions, equipped with scholarly notes, were intended as serious works of folklore. The Brothers also published the Kleine Ausgabe or "small edition," containing a selection of 50 stories expressly designed for children (as opposed to the more formal Große Ausgabe or "large edition"). Ten printings of the "small edition" were issued between 1825 and 1858.
The Grimm’s were not the first to publish collections of folktales. The 1697 French collection by Charles Perrault is the most famous, though there were various others, including a German collection by Johann Karl August Musäus published in 1782-7. The earlier collections, however, made little pretence to strict fidelity to sources. The Brothers Grimm were the first workers in this genre to present their stories as faithful renditions of the kind of direct folkloric materials that underlay the sophistications of an adapter like Perrault. In so doing, the Grimm’s took a basic and essential step toward modern folklore studies, leading to the work of folklorists like Peter and Iona Opie and others.
It should be noted that the Grimm’s' method was common in their historical era. Arnim and Brentano edited and adapted the folksongs of Des Knaben Wunderhorn; in the early 1800s Brentano collected folktales in much the same way as the Grimm’s. The good academic practices violated by these early researchers had not yet been codified in the period in which they worked. The Grimm’s have been criticized for a basic dishonesty, for making false claims about their fidelity—for saying one thing and doing another; whether and to what degree they were deceitful, or self-deluding, is perhaps an open question.
Two of the more gruesome tales are:
THE WILFUL CHILD.
Once upon a time there was a child who was wilful, and would not do what her mother wished. For this reason God had no pleasure in her, and let her become ill, and no doctor could do her any good, and in a short time she lay on her death-bed. When she had been lowered into her grave, and the earth was spread over her, all at once her arm came out again, and stretched upwards, and when they had put it in and spread fresh earth over it, it was all to no purpose, for the arm always came out again. Then the mother herself was obliged to go to the grave, and strike the arm with a rod, and when she had done that, it was drawn in, and then at last the child had rest beneath the ground.
After the publication of this next tale "How Some Children Played at Slaughtering" in the first edition of Grimms' collection in 1812, it was omitted from all subsequent editions.
How Some Children Played at Slaughtering
In a city named Franecker, located in West Friesland, some young boys and girls between the ages of five and six happened to be playing with one another. They chose one boy to play a butcher, another boy to play was to be a cook, and a third boy was to be a pig. Then they chose one girl to be a cook and another girl her assistant. The assistant was to catch the blood of the pig in a little bowl so they could make sausages. As agreed, the butcher now fell upon the little boy playing the pig, threw him to the ground, and slit his throat open with a knife, while the assistant cook caught the blood in her little bowl.
A councilman was walking nearby and saw this wretched act. He immediately took the butcher with him and led him into the house of the mayor, who instantly summoned the entire council. They deliberated about this incident and did not know what they should do to the boy, for they realized it had all been part of a children's game. One of the councilmen, an old wise man, advised the chief judge to take a beautiful red apple in one hand and a Rhenish gulden in the other. Then he was to call the boy and stretch out his hands to him. If the boy took the apple, he was to be set free. If he took the gulden, he was to be killed. The judge took the wise man's advice, and the boy grabbed the apple with a laugh. Thus he was set free without any punishment.
There once was a father who slaughtered a pig, and his children saw that. In the afternoon, when they began playing, one child said to the other, "you be the little pig, and I'll be the butcher." He then took a shiny knife and slit his little brother's throat.
Their mother was upstairs in a room bathing another child, and when she heard the cries of her son, she immediately ran downstairs. Upon seeing what had happened, she took the knife out of her son's throat and was so enraged that she stabbed the heart of the other boy, who had been playing the butcher. Then she quickly ran back to the room to tend to her child in the bathtub, but while she was gone, he had drowned in the tub. Now the woman became so frightened and desperate that she did not allow the neighbors to comfort her and finally hung herself. When her husband came back from the fields and saw everything, he became so despondent that he died soon after.