The Brothers Grimm established a methodology for collecting and recording folk stories that became the basis for folklore studies. Between the first edition of , and the seventh and final edition of , they revised their collection many times, so that it grew from stories to more than Individually, they published a large body of linguistic and literary scholarship.
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Many of Grimms' folk tales have enjoyed enduring popularity. The tales are available in more than languages and have been adapted by filmmakers including Lotte Reiniger and Walt Disney , with films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty. During the s and 40s, the tales were used as propaganda by the Third Reich ; later in the 20th century psychologists such as Bruno Bettelheim reaffirmed the value of the work, in spite of the cruelty and violence in original versions of some of the tales, which the Grimms eventually sanitized.
The family became prominent members of the community, residing in a large home surrounded by fields. Biographer Jack Zipes writes that the brothers were happy in Steinau and "clearly fond of country life". In , Philipp Grimm died of pneumonia, plunging his family into poverty, and they were forced to relinquish their servants and large house. Dorothea depended on financial support from her father and sister, first lady-in-waiting at the court of William I, Elector of Hesse.
Jacob was the eldest living son, and he was forced at age 11 to assume adult responsibilities shared with Wilhelm for the next two years. The two boys adhered to the advice of their grandfather, who continually exhorted them to be industrious. The brothers left Steinau and their family in to attend the Friedrichsgymnasium in Kassel , which had been arranged and paid for by their aunt. By then, they were without a male provider their grandfather died that year , forcing them to rely entirely on each other, and they became exceptionally close.
The two brothers differed in temperament; Jacob was introspective and Wilhelm was outgoing although he often suffered from ill-health. Sharing a strong work ethic, they excelled in their studies. In Kassel, they became acutely aware of their inferior social status relative to "high-born" students who received more attention. Still, each brother graduated at the head of his class: Jacob in and Wilhelm in After graduation from the Friedrichsgymnasium , the brothers attended the University of Marburg. The university was small with about students and there they became painfully aware that students of lower social status were not treated equally.
They were disqualified from admission because of their social standing and had to request dispensation to study law. Wealthier students received stipends, but the brothers were excluded even from tuition aid. Their poverty kept them from student activities or university social life; ironically, however, their outsider status worked in their favor, and they pursued their studies with extra vigor.
The brothers were inspired by their law professor Friedrich von Savigny , who awakened in them an interest in history and philology , and they turned to studying medieval German literature. Through Savigny and his circle of friends— German romantics such as Clemens Brentano and Ludwig Achim von Arnim —the Grimms were introduced to the ideas of Johann Gottfried Herder , who thought that German literature should revert to simpler forms, which he defined as Volkspoesie natural poetry as opposed to Kunstpoesie artistic poetry. Jacob was still financially responsible for his mother, brother, and younger siblings in , so he accepted a post in Paris as research assistant to von Savigny.
On his return to Marburg, he was forced to abandon his studies to support the family, whose poverty was so extreme that food was often scarce.
He took a job with the Hessian War Commission. In a letter written to his aunt at this time, Wilhelm wrote of their circumstances, "We five people eat only three portions and only once a day". Jacob found full-time employment in when he was appointed court librarian to the King of Westphalia and went on to become librarian in Kassel.
He arranged and paid for his brother Ludwig 's studies at art school and for Wilhelm's extended visit to Halle to seek treatment for heart and respiratory ailments, following which Wilhelm joined Jacob as librarian in Kassel. According to Jack Zipes, at this point "the Grimms were unable to devote all their energies to their research and did not have a clear idea about the significance of collecting folk tales in this initial phase. During their employment as librarians—which paid little but afforded them ample time for research—the brothers experienced a productive period of scholarship, publishing a number of books between and In , Wilhelm married Henriette Dorothea Dortchen Wild, a long-time family friend and one of a group who supplied them with stories.
Jacob never married but continued to live in the household with Wilhelm and Dortchen. During the next seven years, the brothers continued to research, write, and publish. The two brothers taught German studies at the university, becoming well-respected in the newly established discipline. The s were a period of political upheaval and peasant revolt in Germany, leading to the movement for democratic reform known as Young Germany. For refusing to sign the oath, the seven professors were dismissed and three were deported from Hanover, including Jacob who went to Kassel.
He was later joined there by Wilhelm, Dortchen, and their four children. The brothers were without income in and again in extreme financial difficulty, so they began what became a lifelong project: The brothers again depended on friends and supporters for financial assistance and influence in finding employment. In addition to teaching posts, the Academy of Sciences offered them stipends to continue their research. They are written in a lyrical and highly metaphorical language, as obscure and as intricate as only German romantic prose can be.
All the same, a more or less coherent theory does emerge from the various forewords and statements, which goes far to explain the Grimms' method of collecting and the changes they made in their material. The theory is not argued with scientific consistency, but it can be extracted, much in the same way that Coleridge's critical doctrines may be extracted from his scattered writings. All the labors of the Grimms, whether in philology or in folklore, stem from a basic premise that they share with most of the major figures of the romantic movement: there is a spiritual force in nature that finds expression in literature.
Nature means not only external nature—mountains, forests, lakes—but human nature which responds to these things. Wordsworth captures the essence of the faith when he writes in "Tintern Abbey" of. The ancient poets, the Grimms and their fellow romantics felt, had lived closer to nature, and their works were therefore imbued with fundamental truths and values.
These truths and values had been given their noblest embodiment in the ancient epic poetry, much of it lost, but they still survived in the humbler form of the folktale. Wilhelm Grimm compares the old poetry to a field of grain that has been beaten down by a storm; in a few sheltered places, by shrubs and hedges, isolated ears have remained standing; these continue to grow, solitary and unnoticed; and at harvest time they are gathered by the pious hands of poor gleaners to provide nourishment for the winter and seed for the future harvest. The folktales are of course the solitary ears of grain; the pious hands are those of collectors like the Brothers Grimm; the future harvest is no doubt the future greatness of German literature that they foresaw springing from the native soil.
Ideas such as these are recurrent themes in the forewords. In justifying the time and labor they bestowed on these simple stories, Wilhelm Grimm wrote in the foreword to the volume:. Something that has pleased, moved, and instructed in such variety and with perpetual freshness contains within itself the necessity for its being and surely comes from that eternal fountain that quickens all living things with its dew, even if it be but a single drop, clinging to a small tightly-folded leaf, sparkling, nevertheless, in the first light of the dawn.
Translation cannot render the double sense of "first" in this sentence. The drop of dew not only sparkles in the early light of the dawn, but it still reflects the glory of the first dawn, that primal creative dawn in which the older literature had flourished. The "eternal fountain" was for the Grimms the mystical power of nature, the source of all good. Anything partaking of nature must be good, and so the Grimms saw a natural morality in stories that told of "faithful servants and honest craftsmen,… fishermen, millers, charcoal burners, and shepherds who live close to nature.
In fairy tales the cycle of human life is intimately related to the cycle of nature, as in the beautiful passage at the beginning of "The Juniper Tree" where the mother's pregnancy is described in terms of the fruitfulness of nature, specifically of the juniper itself:. In front of the house was a yard in which there stood a juniper tree.
Once in wintertime the woman was standing under it peeling an apple, and as she was peeling the apple, she cut her finger, and the blood fell upon the snow. She went back into the house, and a month passed and the snow melted; and two months, and things were green; and three months, and the flowers came out of the ground; and four months, and all the trees in the wood put out leaves and their green branches became entangled with each other—there the little birds sang so that the whole wood echoed and the blossoms fell from the trees.
Then the fifth month was gone, and she stood under the juniper tree, which smelled so sweet, and her heart leaped and she fell on her knees and was carried away by joy. And when the sixth month had passed, the fruit got thick and heavy, and she became completely calm. And the seventh month, and she snatched at the juniper berries and ate them very greedily, and she became sad and sick.
Then the eighth month passed, and she called her husband and wept and said, "If I should die, bury me under the juniper tree. In both "The Juniper Tree" and "Cinderella" the guardian spirit of the dead mother passes into a tree that magically protects her children. In "Briar Rose" the briar hedge is the symbol of nature guarding her rose: the princess who sleeps inside the castle.
When the right prince comes along, the briars turn into flowers that separate of their own accord to let him pass. On the other hand, nature punishes whatever is unnatural and evil. The doves who help Cinderella, peck out the eyes of her wicked sisters, and the two older brothers in "The Water of Life" are imprisoned by the mountains, as hard and unyielding as their own pride. In the many parallels between the fairy tales and Germanic mythology and legend the Grimms thought that they detected the traces of a primitive natural religion. The sleeping Briar Rose surrounded by the hedge of thorns is like the sleeping Brunhild surrounded by the ring of flames; the three spinners are the Norns; the boy who goes to Hell to bring back the Devil's three golden hairs is like all the legendary heroes who travel to the Underworld.
Such parallels suggested to the Grimms that the fairy tales were not merely delightful stories but had a deeper religious significance:. They preserve thoughts about the divine and spiritual in life: ancient beliefs and doctrine are submerged and given living substance in the epic element, which develops along with the history of a people. Thus the Grimms applied romantic theories of nature and art to the folktale. Wilhelm's prefaces reflect a strain of romantic primitivism that has been attributed to Rousseau. Although the Grimms themselves did not point this out, the folktales are a perfect example of "naive" poetry, in the sense of Schiller's essay On Naive and Sentimental Poetry ; they are the unreflecting art of men moved directly by nature itself instead of self-conscious contemplation of nature.
The folktale might well be added to the list of things in nature that Schiller, at the beginning of the essay, says have a power to move us in a particular way:. There are moments in our lives when we respond to nature—in plants, minerals, animals, and landscapes, as well as in human nature, in children and in the customs of country folk and primitive peoples—with a kind of love and affectionate regard, not because it pleases our senses, nor because it satisfies our reason or our taste … but simply because it is nature.
In such a view, folklore, the literature of "common folk" and "primitive peoples," appeared as something that had been produced, as it were, by nature itself working through human instruments, and romantic writers everywhere turned eagerly to folk literature for inspiration. Moreover, the emergent sense of nationalism gave men a further reason to cherish not only what grew from the soil but especially what grew from the soil of their native land. Thus Sir Walter Scott collected the ballads of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border , and in America Washington Irving attempted to celebrate the legendary past of a country that had barely had time to acquire one.
The Grimms, then, shared a widespread interest in the preservation and use of native culture. The originality of their contribution lay in the care with which they collected folk materials and in their respect for oral tradition. Collections of folktales had been made before, but the earlier collectors had relied primarily on literary sources and had not scrupled to change the stories in whatever manner suited their fancy.
But exactly what does this mean in when it comes to the actual matter of preparing stories received from oral tradition for publication? It may be demonstrated that the Grimms' genuine desire to preserve oral tradition was consistent, at least in their eyes, with a considerable amount of changing and adding. It certainly did not mean that they felt obliged to transmit every story word for word. The fact that, as a rule, they did not take the stories down from dictation is evident in the well-known passage describing the exceptional instance when they did.
The Grimms had already published their first volume when they discovered Frau Katherina. Wilhelm wrote of her in the foreword to the volume:. This woman is still vigorous and not much over fifty … she has firm, pleasant features and a clear, sharp expression in her eyes; in her youth she must have been beautiful.
She retains these old legends firmly in her memory—a gift that she says is not granted to everyone, for some people cannot remember anything. She tells a story with care, assurance, and extraordinary vividness and with a personal satisfaction—at first with complete spontaneity, but then, if one requests it, a second time, slowly, so that with a little practice one can take down her words.
There is no evidence here that the stories in the volume, or for that matter the stories of the other contributors to the volume, were ever recorded in this way; in fact, the implication is strong that they were not. Unfortunately all but a handful of the manuscripts from which the Grimms worked were lost. But through a lucky accident of literary history we do have a considerable number of the stories that went into the first volume in an Urfassung that makes it possible to get some notion of what sort of material the Grimms started with. In their good friend Clemens Brentano asked the brothers for copies of tales in their collection for use in a volume of fairy tales that Brentano himself was contemplating.
They generously made a copy for him of practically everything in their possession at the time. Nothing ever came of Brentano's own project, but the manuscripts sent to him by the Grimms have survived among his literary remains. They are preserved today in a Trappist monastery in Alsace and were brought out in in a handsome edition by Professor Joseph Lefftz. The tales in this interesting volume are often little more than plot summaries. Numerous motifs, later to be added, are not yet present.
Some of the stories have alternate beginnings and endings. There is no question that any of these stories was a direct transcript from oral delivery. They seem to have been sketched out from memory with the aid of notes. They are clearly meant to be reworked, and this is exactly what Wilhelm Grimm tells us in one of the passages translated by Margaret Hunt, referred to above: "As for our method of collecting, our primary concern has been for accuracy and truth.
We have added nothing of our own, nor have we embellished any incident or feature of the tale, but we have rendered the content just as we received it. Wilhelm is careful to distinguish this aspect of the collection from the question of style, and continues:. That the mode of expression and execution of particular details is in large measure our own is self-evident; nevertheless, we have tried to preserve every characteristic turn that came to our attention, so that in this respect, too, we might let the collection retain the diversified forms of nature.
Moreover, anyone who has engaged in similar work will realize that this cannot be regarded as a careless and mechanical sort of collecting; on the contrary, care and discrimination, which can be acquired only with time, are necessary in order to distinguish whatever is simpler, purer, and yet more perfect in itself from that which has been distorted.
We have combined different versions as one, wherever they completed each other and where their joining together left no contradictory parts to be cut out; but when they differed from each other and each preserved individual features, we have given preference to the best and have retained the other for the notes. From this description of their method it can be seen that the Grimms did not make free use of their materials as had been the practice of Brentano and von Arnim in Des Knaben Wunderhorn.
The Grimms felt that such reworking would destroy not only the historical value of their collection but the inner "truth" of the stories. However, this did not mean that they felt obliged to retell the stories exactly as they had heard them or that they might not combine different versions of a story or to introduce motifs from other stories in an attempt to arrive at the "best" form.
They consciously strove in their retellings to retain the flavor of oral narrative and, indeed, felt that it was their duty to purify the stories of any corruptions or artificialities that might have crept in in the process of oral transmission. They were thus not inventing details but simply drawing, like the original storytellers, on the vast stockpile of traditional material in an effort to approach the ideal form of a story, a form that might never have existed in fact but that was nonetheless "present and inexhaustible in the soul.
Instead they aimed at a version such as might have been told by some gifted storyteller like Frau Katherina, some Homer of the fairy tale. In selecting the best among several variants or in combining details from different sources, the basis of their choice was stylistic. It becomes important, therefore, to establish what they took to be the genuine "folk style"—for the changes they made in the stories are to some extent influenced by their romantic concept of the folk.
Wilhelm Grimm had stated that the ability to distinguish the true folk material from the false was a gradually acquired skill, and it was natural that as he heard and recorded more and more stories, especially those told by Frau Katherina, he should have become conscious of a definite fairy-tale style and attempted to imitate it.
The difference may be seen by comparing any of these tales with a story like "Jorinda and Joringel," which has hardly undergone any change since the volume and seems mysterious, choppy, incomplete, and yet strangely powerful.
In the first volume the tales had already been polished considerably, but not enough to suit the Grimms' friends von Arnim and Brentano. However, he drew an analogy between collecting folktales and breaking open an egg. Even if it is done very carefully, some of the white of the egg will run out, but the yolk remains intact; the yolk of the stories, he staunchly maintained, they had preserved.
Jacob and Wilhelm themselves differed on this score, and on one occasion Jacob took his brother severely to task for what he regarded as unwarranted changes. Von Arnim was much better pleased with the second volume of tales, and he wrote Wilhelm: "You have been fortunate in your collecting, and occasionally you have been quite fortunate in lending a helping hand—naturally you do not tell Jacob about this. You should have done this oftener and many of the endings of the fairy tales would have been more satisfactory.
It is obvious today that the style of the Grimm fairy tales is in large measure the creation of Wilhelm Grimm. Even in the Urfassung , the stories in his handwriting are more finished and literary. If perhaps he has received more than his due as a folklorist, he has never received sufficient recognition as an artist—except for the tribute of being universally read. For the most part the changes and additions are those that might be made by any good storyteller to make his narrative more coherent, more dramatic, and more vivid.
The Grimms supplied motivation where it was lacking.
For example, in the first edition of "Rumpelstiltskin" the miller simply tells the king that he has a daughter who can spin straw into gold. In the sixth edition we are told that he said it "to give himself an air of importance. In the second we are informed that he loved gold. In the first edition he tells the miller's daughter that he will marry her if she succeeds in spinning the straw into gold. In the second edition he thinks to himself, "I won't find a richer woman in the world. As in the examples just cited, indirect discourse and statements about what the characters thought and did are replaced by dialogue, and thus the stories acquire a dramatic quality.
The character of the wicked queen in "Snow White" is made blacker through her reactions when she thinks that she has succeeded in poisoning the heroine. In the Urfassung her reactions are not even mentioned. In the first edition we are told that she "was satisfied," that "her heart felt light," and that "she was glad. This time the dwarfs can't revive you again. Many phrases and expressions are added to give the stories a homely, colloquial flavor. When the seven kids are cut out of the wolf's belly, they hop around their mother "like a tailor at his wedding.
In the case of these last-mentioned additions, the aim is evidently not just to make a better story but to create the atmosphere of a particular kind of story. They were put in to suggest the folk origin of the stories. Indeed, some of the characteristics that one would surely expect to have come from oral tradition are often the result of skilful retouching. Asides to the audience, closing formulas, and many of the verses have been inserted. Everyone knows that in fairy tales things happen in threes. So did the Grimms, and if their sources were content with only one or two occurrences from an obvious sequence, they occasionally made up the deficiency.
Thus many of the changes they introduced were meant to make the stories conform more closely to their notion of what a folktale should ideally be like. Their ideas on this subject, as has been said, were influenced by their romantic theories of nature and literature. The most interesting changes are those in which the Grimms, no doubt quite unconsciously, modified the stories to conform with their idea of nature. Snow White's wicked stepmother was originally her own mother. The Grimms would have felt justified in such a change because of the wicked stepmothers in other stories; in any case, a mother's jealousy of her daughter would have clashed with their romantic belief in the purity of the love that mothers in folk literature ought to show for their own children.
Even the stepmothers love their own daughters! Similar revisions in other stories have resulted in occasional inconsistencies so that the same character may be called "the mother" on one page and "the stepmother" on another. Some of the most characteristic changes emphasize the role of nature in the tales.
Snow White's coffin was at one time kept in the dwarfs' cottage and lit by candles; later it was transferred to the mountainside where Snow White is mourned by the owl, the raven, and the dove. The Grimms had a lot of trouble finding a satisfactory ending for "Snow White.
The ending is actually comic. In the final version the servants carrying the coffin trip over a bush, almost as if nature itself were taking a hand in restoring Snow White to life and marrying her to the prince. In the manuscript version of "Briar Rose" when the princess pricks her finger, we are told that everything went to sleep "down to the flies on the wall. The fourth edition adds the final magic touch: "The wind dropped, and not a leaf stirred on the trees in front of the castle. Family relationships are emphasized everywhere.
The opening of "The Wolf and the Seven Kids" is an excellent example. In the Urfassung the tale begins: "Once upon a time there was a goat who had seven kids. The Grimms believed that the stories contained a natural morality, but they often pointed the moral for the reader. Thus when the queen at last feels at peace after she has poisoned Snow White with the apple, they later added, "so far as a jealous heart can ever be at peace. Consequently they were sensitive to objections raised by von Arnim and others against the first volume that certain details and stories were unsuitable for children.
To these criticisms Wilhelm replied in the foreword to the second volume with the argument that what was natural could not be harmful. He compared the stories to flowers that might, for exceptional reasons, give offense to a few: such a one "who cannot enjoy their benefit, may pass them by, but he cannot ask that they be given a different color or shape.
Yet the Grimms themselves must have felt a few colors were too strong to be natural. The first volume had contained two stories in which children play "butcher" and one child slaughters another. These tales were suppressed in the second edition. In the original version of "The Twelve Brothers," the brothers actually carry out their vow to kill every girl that they meet, and when their sister comes to the house in the forest, her youngest brother orders her to kneel: "Your red blood must be shed this instant!
The tree is the symbol of nature, and through it the murdered boy is brought back to life and his unnatural stepmother is destroyed. More than any other story, this mysterious and primitive tale reveals the connection that the Grimms perceived between fairy tales and ancient mythology and religion. Fundamentally the Grimms were right—fairy tales derive from nature, although to a post-Darwinian and post-Freudian generation nature may not always appear as the pure moral force the Grimms thought it to be.
The children's "butcher" game may seem more like nature to readers of The Lord of the Flies than the affection of Hansel and Gretel for each other did to the Brothers Grimm. We may, if we like, see all of the stepmother figures as symbolic substitutions for the mother figure, as was really the case in "Snow White. Their own intimacy gave them no reason to suspect that the hatred of older for younger brothers is by no means abnormal. This is not to say that they were wrong. The truth that they saw in fairy tales is also valid. The mother and stepmother, the good and the wicked brothers in fairy tales are, after all, dual aspects of complex human relationships that are made pure and simple in fairy tales where good and evil are given separate identities instead of remaining closely knit parts of a single psyche.
What matters is that these stories present recognizable patterns of human behavior. Although with their collection the Grimms made an invaluable contribution to the study of folklore, still their final achievement was in literature. Hoffmann, but in other European countries where translations soon began to appear. Andersen is the most brilliant example. In England Dickens, Thackeray, and Ruskin all tried their hands at writing fairy tales that in their self-consciousness are a far cry from the simplicity and artlessness the Grimms were striving for.
Many nineteenth-century novelists have what may be called a fairy-tale imagination. Objects in the novels of Dickens, like Mrs. Gamp's umbrella, have a life of their own as they do in fairy tales. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield , and Great Expectations all have typical fairy-tale plots in which an abused child must overcome obstacles in a quest for security. Aunt Betsy Trotwood performs the function of a wise woman who gives good gifts; Abel Magwitch is like the wild Iron Hans, both in his savage nature and in the magical way in which he repays and tests the young hero who has been kind to him.
Jane Eyre is both a Cinderella figure and the girl whose love releases a beast-bridegroom from his spell. In the twentieth century the tradition remains vital. James Thurber has written excellent literary fairy tales. Scott Fitzgerald created a fairy-tale world in which the kings and princesses are all beautiful but damned. All this is a way of saying that fairy tales today still speak to us and tell us about ourselves—about our hopes and dreams as well as about our fears and anxieties. They are inspired by nature, then, as the Grimms would have us believe, and they have not lost their power to please, move, and instruct.
What Wilhelm Grimm said of them in can still be said today: their very existence justifies them. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages , tr. Willard Trask New York, , p. Kleinere Schriften , ed. Gustav Hinrichs Berlin, , I, Translations of all quotations from German texts are our own unless otherwise indicated. An attractive edition published by Winkler-Verlag Munich, contains the foreword, a memoir by Herman Grimm, drawings by Ludwig Grimm, and an afterword by Herta Klepl.
Grimm's Household Tales , tr. The translation of this and the passage immediately following is our own, not Mrs. Schmidt prints the text of the Urfassung , after Lefftz, with all subsequent variants and additions, line by line on top of one another, so that one can follow the process of revision in minute detail over a period of almost fifty years. Translations of the Urfassung and the first edition version of "Snow White" are given in an appendix to The Frog King.
Alderson, pp. New York, N. Fairy stories are something of a peculiarity. And that is just how it is. The emergence of the same elements in fairy tales the world over, from Japan to Norway, does not make the investigation of the origins of fairy stories any easier, and the European fairy stories which must occupy us here for a short while are not by any means purely European products. The fairy story is the only form of children's entertainment which has long been the subject of distinguished research. The reason for this may well be found in the fact that it was not originally children's entertainment at all but that it is primarily a kind of great-grandparent of narrative literature and thus belongs to the field of literary history.
Moreover, since information about age-old folk-customs and yet older relationships between peoples can be gathered from the fairy tale, it becomes thereby an important subject for the investigation of facts about the history of nations and peoples. So far as we can take it in at a glance, probably the strongest roots lie in the Middle East. There is a perfection in the way the young and beautiful Scheherazade in The Thousand and One Nights tells the stories which purchase her her life.
This is the high peak of an ancient oral tradition revealed to the European who can enrich his own world of fairy stories with those from this new and unfamiliar one. On the other hand, however, for all their adventurousness, how little these intricate and, in part, darkly tragic tales have to do with our own children's fairy stories. Similarly, with the complexity of a novel, we find the vigorous tales of Giambattista Basile which appeared in Naples in the sixteen-thirties.
The Cinderella or indeed The Sleeping Beauty of the Italian writer to select two well-known fairy stories are tales of some intensity in which fearful murder, plain but strangely committed marital infidelity, and horrible—but ultimately thwarted—child murder all play a considerable part.
Cinderella is induced to kill her first stepmother by her second, and even more evil one; while the Sleeping Beauty is seduced in her sleep by a king who is already married. She gives birth to twins and is finally woken up through their hungry nuzzling for food. Even Charles Perrault , who was the first to tell fairy stories to children themselves, cannot quite shake off an inclination towards the courtly novel wrapped up with political ethics. And yet The Thousand and One Nights and Charles Perrault are the most distinguished ancestors of the fairy story as it was created by the nineteenth century—and created then indeed for children.
With the flowering of the novel in the nineteenth century it was natural that the fairy story should increasingly become reading-matter for children only, in spite of the great artistic impetus given by Romanticism to fairy-tale literature, which got so full of wit, satire, poetry, and fantasy that only very clever adults could fully grasp its merit. Indeed, with the growth of the children's book of today, where boys and girls are told stories of events which could actually happen to them, the fairy story has been relegated to those young children who have stories read to them or who battle their way painfully through the undergrowth of the printed page.
This age group is designated by teachers and librarians the 'fairy-story age' and by this means, especially in German-speaking areas, a limitation is imposed which has an impoverishing effect throughout the whole of children's literature. People forget that often older children, particularly girls, take a natural delight in fairy stories and that they only fully appreciate the richness of certain stories, for example those of Andersen, when they have outgrown the so-called 'fairy-story age'.
The chief point of difference between fairy stories and other tales is to be found in their apparatus of fantastic happenings such as marvels, spells, and strange transmogrifications, all of which give rise to boundless possibilities. Why should these be confined to the world of little children and cease to exist in that of the nine- or ten-year-old, giving way to the stories of everyday reality? Heidi was one of the first and most famous books of this latter kind, a combination of human and poetic insight which was written in so simple and homely a style that it conquered the hearts of children immediately.
If only it had not found so many imitators! Once the way had been paved the German-speaking peoples could not get away from it, although in more northerly countries, particularly England and Scandinavia, the lore of fairy tale with its daring possibilities penetrated the whole of children's literature, even in those age groups for whom claims to higher stylistic and intellectual appreciation are made. Now what are the characteristic features of the fairy tale? One of its fundamental qualities is its narrative flow, which stems from its very origin in the spoken word.
A second quality is that these tales for telling must be both true and not true at the same time. They must contain an inner truth which keeps them viable even though the path of the story can be anything but true, which is to say that magic and mystery are midwives to the impossible. The difficulties of ordinary life can be overcome by extraordinary means and through improbable powers, such as seven-league boots, prophetic insight or cunning , escape into invisibility, or else through the helpful support of such spirits as dwarfs, elves, and giants.
That witches, man-eaters, and evil stepmothers also belong to the powerful forces who keep the action of fairy stories on the move has brought the genre into disrepute among the modern educationists and has tempted the psychologists into many curious speculations. But at the same time it contains other elements which appeal deeply to the hearts of children: the feeble father's hidden love for his children, their own affection for each other, even in the extremities of starvation, the solitude of the wood at night, and the allurement of the gingerbread house.
The wonderful thing about them is that they express so perfectly every nation's feeling for fairy stories. Fairy stories truly embody an 'international' European literature such as is only possible in other branches of writing through the increased activities of translators. That this should be so may be accounted for by the great power of conviction which fairy-tale figures carry with them and by their ancient principles of action, which express the primitive and unconscious needs of the human heart.
As a rule it is the prospect of saving something from extinction which inspires the activity of collectors. This is the case with fairy stories to a high degree, for the spread of printing and the recession of illiteracy in Europe increasingly brought about the disappearance of story-tellers, who gained their living from the demands made upon their traditional function.
This was the situation which confronted Charles Perrault and, a hundred years later, the Brothers Grimm. Today, years on from them, story-tellers still miraculously exist in lonely mountain valleys, in iso-lated villages of Yugoslavia, Greece, or Asia Minor , even though to a growing extent they mingle elements of modern life with their ancient traditional tales.
The great collections of folk-tales which are now being established in almost every country are mostly museums of fairy-lore. Not so the stories of the Brothers Grimm, however. For reasons which it is almost impossible to explain, they managed to find the precise combination of respect for tradition and free personal expression which was necessary to give their collection its freshness, redolent of neither the study nor the glass-case and timeless as only a few works of great literature.
The enormous importance of this collection, however, did not reside solely in the consequences which followed upon its rediscovery of an ancient national heritage. It also immeasurably furthered the influence which the common elements of the fairy tale would have on the whole of children's literature from this time forward. At this stage it is probably worth while to describe briefly those few cornerstones which support the superstructure of the European fairy tale—a meeting-place where you will find witches, dwarfs and elves, princes and princesses, kings and magicians, wood-cutters and ragged children, sympathetic doves and talking storks, good and even wicked fairies, all together in a peaceable assembly.
In this book we have to deal with a long series of fairy stories which, so far as we know, found their way into manuscript in Arabia round about The provenance of some stories, however, leads back to Persia and even to India. Furthermore, the theme of the princess saving herself by telling stories existed for so long in this form that The Thousand and One Nights takes its place within a long written tradition.
Thus, so far as the older civilization of the East was concerned, the committing of these stories to writing was an act corresponding to our own in the nineteenth century, when writers settled the form of fairy-tale literature for those who should succeed them. In this way we received the ancient and mighty narrative traditions of the East, with all their overtones of oriental manners and contemplativeness. Galland's first translation was followed by countless others in almost every country in Europe. In passing, we should note the strong supposition that the Italians knew of the stories beforehand, since Basile's fairy tales, whose basic material came from the common people, nevertheless show some astonishing similarities.
Often many of those who retold the stories sought to suppress the more racy passages, inseparable from descriptions of harem life, but deemed unsuitable for European sensibilities. On the other hand, some editions turned these into the big attraction. But none of them could eradicate entirely the scent of eastern musk, the unbridled passion, the delicate and intricate filigree of the stories' construction, and thereby many of their other oriental charms.
Many great illustrators of the last two hundred years down to the immediate present have made their attempts on these stories and have served to formulate our ideas of the East more than any of the other volumes of travellers' tales. Among the German writers of fairy stories it is quite impossible to think of, say, Hauff without this literary inheritance. But even Andersen, as a small boy in his father's cobbler's shop, had these stories read to him as part of a common inheritance.
Later he was to follow the attraction which had been aroused by this childhood experience and take a journey to the Near East. Whoever reads his diaries of this journey, his fairy stories or his Picture-book without pictures will find in the work of this northern story-teller astonishing echoes of the oriental themes which he first heard in The Thousand and One Nights. Europe's earliest fairy stories to be set down on paper are without doubt the Piacevoli notti of Giovan Francesco Straparola, in which recognizable fairy-story themes appear for the first time.
The Italian folk-story, however, reveals itself in all its abundance in the book by Giambattista Basile— Lo cunto de li cunti —which first appeared in the Neapolitan dialect in five parts between and Basile, who was born around , was a soldier of fortune who occupied himself at the courts of various Italian princes in some very varied roles. He wrote odes, eclogues, and all kinds of courtly poetry in the affected manner of his times. He was a member of numerous academies, among which was one of the largest in his native Naples: the Otiosi or 'Lazybones' Academy, and he named himself 'Pigro'—the sloth.
But he also possessed something rare among the courtiers of his time: a sense of justice, an integrity and a feeling for the needs and the dignity of the Neapolitan people. In order to give expression to this he recited and wrote down his fairy stories in his native dialect.
As Grimm and Perrault were to do later, he used for his foundation the, in parts, very primitive and entirely oral traditional tales which the women of the district told to their children. These fairy stories were only printed after Basile's death in , a good sixty years before Perrault's collection.
As with Perrault's tales, these also are in no way a collection of items of folk-lore copied down straight from the mouths of the story-tellers. They are rather an expression of the powerful Baroque Age, which still lives for us in its marvellous pictures and which cannot see the sun rise without personifying it and having it sweep out the morning sky with a golden broom.
Basile's portrayals of nature are always full of this kind of personal life, even where they stand as allegories or as symbols, while the action is dramatic, often bloody or full of complicated intrigue, but always reaching its climax in the triumph of right. Unnecessary decorative details are rarely found, but on the other hand, the dialogue is witty, full of allusion, and without concessions to the prudish. This above all is Basile's instrument for conveying the truth to his age. While it cannot be denied that Basile obtained the framework of his stories from the women of his immediate locality, just as Perrault and the Grimms were to do in their time, the audience for the humane and humorous 'Pigro' of the Lazybones' Academy was composed of intelligent men—'all fellows at the same club', as we might say today.
Certainly, therefore, he did not tell them fairy stories, although he wove in many threads from these. Even so we already find noted down here such tales as Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty , just as there are clues pointing to sources in the Near East. Especially notable among these is the way the stories are arranged within a story about a treacherous Moorish slave-girl, whose wickedness is finally revealed so that the virtuous and patient princess finally gains her rightful reward. This firm framework holding the book together is found neither in Perrault nor in Grimm, but Jakob Grimm saw in Basile over the gulf of two hundred years a comrade of similar aims and helped him to his delayed fame in Northern Europe, writing an introduction to the first edition of his works in German in In Italy itself the finest translation of the book into modern Italian was by Benedetto Croce , who saw in it not just a collection of popular tales but 'the finest book of the Italian baroque'.
It has, in common with the two most famous fairy-tale collections which followed it, a naturalness and freshness which have lasted to our own times. Where wit and effervescent imagination are concerned, Basile's tales are inexhaustible and contain some ingredients so bizarre as to be seldom found elsewhere. Perhaps the most felicitous of these occurs in the scene in the bedroom when the heart of a sea-dragon is brought to the boil and the steam spreads pregnancy throughout the room; not only for the cook but also for the utensils and the furniture, so that the bedstead acquires a baby bed, the big chairs little chairs, and the chamber-pot a baby chamber-pot.
Such an ingenious animation of lifeless objects is only found again in Andersen. Charles Perrault — may not have been the first to write down fairy tales but he was the first writer of consequence to recognize that they belonged to the world of children. The whole of the vivid, power-flaunting seventeenth century was not unsympathetic to simplicity and straightforwardness, which were precisely the qualities of fairy tales.
Telling them, however, was the occupation of women.
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It is said of Le Roi Soleil that when he was a little boy in the forties of that century he could not go to sleep without the fairy tales which the ladies-in-waiting used to tell him. At the end of the century such tales, racily adapted by the ladies who told them, were paraded in the elegant salons of the Parisian aristocracy. For in doing such a thing he was likely to have become very conspicuous. Retiringly, therefore, he had the book registered for privilege under the name of his son, Pierre d'Armancour, a fact which the most recent research has converted into a suspicion that the seventeen-year-old boy could have been the actual author.
This would provide an explanation for the extraordinarily youthful freshness of the book which conquered in a trice the world of children who had never before possessed anything so much their own. After all, were not the Grimms, with their passion for collecting such stories, regarded as very singular gentlemen a hundred years later still? Even so, the assertions of an English authority on this matter Percy Muir in English Children's Books, — cannot be rejected.
He establishes that no edition in the father's lifetime bore the name Charles Perrault and that at the time of their publication the son Pierre was generally thought to be the author, having had the opportunity of getting the stories straight from his nurse. In this case it is fascinating to think that the first book of fairy stories for children in Europe could itself have been written by a very young man. This emphasis on children marks the decisive difference between Perrault and Basile, with whom he has a number of things in common.
Like his Italian predecessor, Perrault is a member of learned societies and to some extent a moralist. Both seek in the unsullied fairy-lore of the people a curative for the luxury, corruption, and self-satisfaction rampant in their own stratum of society. Basile proffers his prescription straight to the men around him, but Perrault has a premonition of the ascendancy of the younger generation.
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He offers his discovery to children, who are to be the future lords and ladies of the land, but he could not know that it was to become the intellectual sustenance of so many of their heirs. And a full-blooded and to some extent frightening fare it was to be too, a thing which one only realizes when one compares it with the wordy, moralizing tales of Perrault's contemporaries and successors, who were almost all of them women.
Perrault's language is concise but lucid. Next to beauty and wealth, the most important attributes of his heroines are courage and a healthy understanding of humanity. Blood flows plentifully while romantic charm does not even get started, as, for example, in such a story as Little Red Riding Hood , which, when told by the Brothers Grimm, possesses a sweetness in spite of the fearful scene in the bedroom which persuades even little children to swallow the whole thing as a wonderful joke.
Here, however, Little Red Riding Hood pays the penalty for her disobedience; the wolf begs her to come to him at Grandmother's bedside, and after all too short a conversation, Little Red Riding Hood follows the old lady down his gullet, never to be seen again. There is no romantic huntsman, no paying out the wolf, no happy ending with cakes and ale. In Germany readers are, as a rule, surprised when they meet stories like this, which they had believed to be typically German, in such an early version.
But the children of those days did not demand a lot of consideration for their delicate nerves. The language was direct and forceful and had not yet learned to adopt that consciously condescending tone which goes out of date so rapidly. Perrault's fairy tales have therefore kept their youthfulness to this very day and they belong to the 'daily bread' of the French nursery. Throughout its first half, the eighteenth century was once again the province of the grown-ups. With the exception of Perrault, fairy stories remained, like the old folk-tales, at most an extensively popular form of oral entertainment, even though they could now to some extent be come by in print.
They represented a truly popular formulation of the old legends, and when Goethe later encouraged the Grimms and Arnim and Brentano in their efforts to reach the natural sources of poetry, he was but keeping faith with the secret love of his own childhood.
Furthermore, his childish experiences with these books may well have provided the first impetus for his reworking into High German hexameters of the allegorical Low German beast epic Reineke Fuchs. The older the century grew, the less was children's inclination to this kind of reading matter concealed. Between the years —86 the poverty-stricken schoolmaster I. I am collecting the most trivial old wives' tales, trimming them up and making them ten times more marvellous than they originally were. My wife hopes that the whole thing will turn out to be a most lucrative piece of work.
The poor poet outlived his lucrative success by only one year. From this extremely interesting letter, from which I have quoted only a short extract, we can grasp almost everything that is worth knowing about our subject. At the same time, however, the jokingly modest reference to 'something in this line' betrays the fact that a preoccupation with fairy stories was not yet taken entirely seriously. Further, the observation that he was 'trimming up' the fairy stories and 'making them ten times more marvellous' indicates that we are not yet in the exclusive circle of the Brothers Grimm, pursuing the purity and plainness of folk-poetry.
In this he portrayed the fairytale writer: 'agreeable and comradely, of great simplicity of character and goodness of heart—a man who bore the heavy burden of his days with cheerfulness and equanimity, merriment and robust good humour. In my own childhood they were the ones I loved the best. The legendary world of the Middle Ages comes alive in them and their plots are decked out in the brightest colours, such as were never seen in the stories of Perrault nor would be in the stories of Grimm.
Their images already foreshadow Romanticism, but at the same time the stories are extraordinarily compelling. In style these tales stand closer to the Volksbuch in the respectable form given to it by Schwab and Simrock than to the folk-tale as the nineteenth century and we today understand it. But we are made to feel this difference only on the arrival of the Brothers Grimm and Ludwig Bechstein who drew the dividing line so sharply between these two worlds.
The French literary historian, Paul Hazard, describes their activity at that time as that of butterfly-catching, an occupation where it is all important to capture the specimens alive. And in a later simile he likens the result to home-made bread. Perhaps only a sympathetic foreign critic can express himself so clearly and simply—but how right he is in both his opinions. The precise words of her stories, and those of other story-tellers, they got to some extent by heart, although it would be a wrongful underestimation of these worthy brothers to regard their merit as residing only in their activity as collectors.
For adult readers the versions of the fairy tales given in the original edition are especially valuable, for they reproduce most strongly the verbal rendering of the original source.
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There is not a single superfluous word in this first edition; everything stands clearly delineated as in a woodcut with only the meagrest of necessary detail. Indeed, returning to Hazard, this is the toughest of home-baked bread, with all its aromatic flavour. But if they had continued to present their stories in this way the brothers would never have made their total conquest of the world of children. Only with the second compilation does one get the feeling that the narrators are really thinking of children as they write.
Only now are those small, delightful details added which turn this home-baked bread into the most inviting of the world's delicacies without taking away any of its nutriment. Indeed, we grown-ups can never entirely forget these characters who are for ever young. They cannot outgrow us like our own children. Scarcely have these last got on to their feet than we must start telling them about Little Red Riding Hood. While, in earlier fairy stories, the world still belonged to princes, princesses, and kings, and exceptional cunning or beauty were the least that was required to distinguish the heroes, we now find, in this Age of Revolution, that a poor miller's lad, a simple servantgirl, or a woodcutter can move the heart as much as the banished princesses and valiant knights of old.
On the other hand, in Starsilver , it is demonstrated with contrasting logic that gold and riches are a quite proper reward for those who are pure in heart. This story of the poor naked little girl in the forest on whom the stardust falls moves us in just the same remarkable way as the story thirty years later of 'the little match-girl', whose soul soars to heaven in the warmth and brightness of a blazing bundle of matches.
The two brothers, to whom the children of their own and following generations are so much in debt, were neither of them family men at the time of the first publication of their Household Stories. Born in Jakob and Wilhelm they spent much of their lives in the ducal library at Kassel, foraging into German antiquity, German philology, and German literature. Having grown up in an occupied Germany, they experienced in these years the years of the War of Liberation from onward the freeing of their country from the French. The patriotic fervour which reigned at that time was marvelously transmuted by the two brothers into an intellectual quest for the purest and freshest springs of their nation's linguistic heritage.
The wonderful fairy-story figures who were brought to life in this way have been for many of us companions throughout the years of childhood. More than all our other education they have opened our hearts, extended our sensibilities, and acquainted us even at first reading with a prose style of exemplary simplicity. And children have shown their gratitude for this gift with a century and a half of loyalty, so that today the stories are more popular than ever. But they are threatened.
In this age of ours, with its return to visual communication, they, too, have been taken over by pictures. Extravagant, all too emphatic illustrations have strangled their delicate but so much more unpretentious language, while on film Snow-White and so many other figures have been turned into goggling Hollywood stars. But even this debasement finally bears witness to the continuing power and the profound inner life of the fairy stories.
To be completely just it must be said that copying out fairy stories, whether their own or foreign ones, was not a sole privilege of the Brothers Grimm at this time.
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