As our carriage transports us from Hanau, birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, to Kassel, where they lived for 30 years and did the research, sorting and collecting of stories that resulted in the Children’s and Household Tales, I’ve invited a special guest to explain the significance of their work.
Dr Kristin Wardetzsky from Berlin Free University has kindly agreed to (virtually) deliver the talk she gave so enthusiastically last month at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. And it’s here that I wish I’d thought far enough in advance to have recorded her talk because there’s no way I can possibly convey her enthusiasm and love for her subject. But I shall try ….
The Grimms began to collect tales that were regarded as disposable in their day: stories from oral tradition that were in danger of being lost forever. Popular tales from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Many, but not all, of German origin. The collection of the German stories was in many ways a patriotic act, a form of intellectual resistance during the Napoleonic occupation. The Grimms, however, cast their nets wider and many of their stories are of pan-European origin. This is why the Children and Household Stories are not prefixed with the word German. (All other Grimm works are.)
The Grimms were young men when they began this work and the source of many of the magical tales were the young ladies with whom they fraternised in their early 20’s. Wilhelm Grimm married Henriette Dorothea Wild, who is known to have introduced him to Mother Holle, the story on yesterday’s blog post. This was a highly educated crowd, conversant with French culture and it is likely that the Grimms were introduced to the tales of Charles Perrault by this social circle. It is known that the Grimm’s appreciated Perrault’s language but as they rewrote his stories (Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Bluebeard for example) they reshaped Perrault’s folktales and created the fairy tale.
From 1812-1857 there were 7 editions of the Children and Household Tales. Not content with telling their own versions, the 3rd volume contained all known variants of the almost 200 stories contained in the 1st 2 volumes. There is evidence that Wilhelm Grimm was acquainted with the Mabinogion. This is an amazing detail because it was not translated into German until 1948. Proof, said Dr Wardetzsky, of truly cosmopolitan thinking. The Grimms make her so very proud for opening their minds to such wide horizons. In view of what was to come in the 20th century, she said, the Grimm brothers demonstrate that German thinking was not always so zenophobic, narrow and closed.
Time now for you sit back and enjoy the view. On this stretch of the road we pass:
before arriving in Kassel, home of the Brother Grimm Museum, where we can lose ourselves checking the manuscripts, illustrations and much more Grimm memorabilia.
I love the address: Schöne Aussicht (Beautiful View) 2 – This stretch of the Fairy Tale Way certainly has been.