The Lives and Works of The Brothers Grimm
by Teresa Martin--@Teresa__Martin
The Brothers Grimm are a staple of popular culture. People see them in television, movies, or passing references. Since the siblings are also inseparable from fairy tales, I have frequently found myself name-dropping and quoting them in my essays. Having read their stories in High School German Class, I recognized their important contribution in recording fairy tales and, later, as the sources for many narratives on Once Upon a Time. Then, to my embarrassment, I realized how little I actually knew about them! What were their lives like, what inspired them, why did they write down the stories in the first place? In other words, who the heck were these guys? With apologies to those for whom this is self-evident, particularly German Oncers, I would put forth the assertion that this is a subject, especially in America, about which many remain ignorant. Therefore, last winter I began to study the biographies of these German scholars and was astonished by the vastness of their work, the drama of their lives, and how indispensable their achievements were to German philology.
The Grimm Brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were born a year apart in the late eighteenth century. Their family was devoutly Christian in the Calvinist Tradition, and it was to their faith that the men looked throughout their lives, especially in their political convictions, poverty, and the loss of friends and siblings by distance or death. The boys were always close companions sharing lonely childhood years away from their close-knit family while they attended boarding school. Both studied at the university level to become lawyers, but a love of research led them to work as librarians in Kassel in order to support their widowed mother and siblings. It was during this time that they began the accumulation of fairy tales, using a combination of written sources and oral retellings. The brothers’ opinions on fairy tales are articulated in their introduction to a work on legends:
The fairy tales are thus destined, partly because of their external distribution
and partly because of their innermost essences, to capture the pure thoughts of a
childlike world view. They nourish us directly like milk, mild and delicate, or like
honey, sweet and satisfying, but without the burden of earthly gravity. (Grimm)
Yet admiration for the genre was not the sole reason behind their publications. The famous collection, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, was a part of their lifelong endeavors to study and celebrate German literature, and hence the culture, in response to the French Occupation of their land during the Napoleonic Wars (David).
The first edition of Hausmärchen was published in 1812. They included famous fairy tales such as “Snow White, “Cinderella,” “Rumplestiltskin,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Red Riding Hood.” The compilation was constantly updated and revised, especially after there were concerns expressed by critics about the sexual nature of the tales. However, while this collection is the most famous of their works, the brothers published numerous volumes of other tales as well as writings on the German language itself. A work on German Grammar, and a German Dictionary, for which they only got up to “f,” is hailed to be as influential in “creating” German as Martin Luther’s translation of The Bible. Neither were their interests only for German lore. They also translated Irish and Scandinavian stories.
Due to one writing achievement after another, the brothers received honorary doctorates becoming professors and librarians at the University of Göttingen. Here they became part of the famous “Göttingen Seven” when they signed a written protest against the revocation of the Hannover Constitution of 1833 which abolished the parliament. They also refused an accompanying oath of allegiance and were fired. Thus the brothers were actually the first “Team Seven,” albeit with a different cause. After their dismissal, they were given positions at the University of Berlin (Tatar 428-9).
Their personal lives were also connected. Wilhelm was married with several children, and life-long bachelor Jacob made a home with his brother’s family. Wilhelm died first in 1859 and Jacob followed four years later. They were buried next to each other and, ultimately being at heart humble men, only wished for these simple lines on their tombs: “Here lies Jacob Grimm” and “Here lies Wilhelm Grimm.” Little did they know the vast influence they were to have on posterity, including, through the fairy tales they put to paper, inspiring the writers of Once Upon a Time. For that, Oncers are eternally grateful.
Works by the Grimm Brothers
(List compiled from “Grimm Brothers' Home Page,” Ashliman)
Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar)
Deutsche Rechtsaltertümer (German Legal Antiquities)
Deutsche Mythologie (German Mythology)
Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (History of the German Language)
Altdänische Heldenlieder, Balladen und Märchen (Old Danish Heroic Lays, Ballads, and Folktales)
Über deutsche Runen (On German Runes)
Die deutsche Heldensage (The German Heroic Legend)
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales)
Altdeutsche Wälder (Old German Forests)
Der arme Heinrich von Hartmann von der Aue (Poor Heinrich by Harmann von der Aue)
Lieder der alten Edda (Lays from the Elder Edda)
Deutsche Sagen (German Legends)
Irische Elfenmärchen (Irish Fairy Tales)
Deutsches Wörterbuch (German Dictionary)
Special thanks to Jule (@Waldseepiratin), Once Upon A Time DE (@OUATGermany), and
Mac (@Mac_loves_Ouat) for helping me with the German texts.
Ashliman, D. L. "Grimm Brothers' Home Page." N.p., 2010. Web.
Tatar, Maria. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.
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